ICSOM at the Grammys
A number of ICSOM orchestras released recordings in 2017 that captured Grammy awards, announced at the 60th annual ceremony on January 28. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s recording of Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 and Barber Adagio for Strings won the awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Album, Classical. The performances were conducted by the orchestra’s Music Director, Manfred Honeck. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony all received nominations in the Best Orchestral Performance category.
The Nashville Symphony (NSO) achieved a three-peat when its album Higdon: All Things Majestic, Viola Concerto & Oboe Concerto garnered the award for Best Classical Compendium, the third year in a row for an NSO recording. The album, conducted by Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero, also won the award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for Higdon’s Viola Concerto, and featured the orchestra’s own James Button as the oboe soloist. The Kansas City Symphony and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra also received nominations in the Best Classical Compendium category.
The live recording of Berg’s Wozzeck by the Houston Symphony won the award for the Best Opera Recording. Conducted by Hans Graf, the performance also included the Chorus of Students and Alumni from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and the Houston Grand Opera Children’s Chorus. The MET Orchestra had two recordings that received nominations in this category—Berg’s Lulu conducted by Lothar Koenigs, and Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.
In the category of Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra won for their album Death & the Maiden with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja.
Celebrating a Hall’s Half-Century
January 2018 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Powell Hall as home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Their shared history began as a beautiful accident when the symphony had to change venues back in 1966, as plans fell through to perform at the former Kiel Opera House. Instead, the symphony ended up presenting at the St. Louis Theater on Grand Boulevard. Longtime SLSO benefactor Oscar Johnson, Jr. donated $500,000 for the purchase of the theater, and Peter Pastreich, at that time the SLSO executive director, oversaw the $3 million transformation of the St. Louis Theater into Powell Hall. As of 1968, the newly minted Powell Hall was officially the beloved home of the SLSO.
As a way of celebration, the hall was opened on January 20, 2018, for a special screening of The Sound of Music, a tribute to its former life as a vaudeville theater and also the last film shown at the theater in its previous incarnation. Along with the movie and open house, an “instrument petting zoo” was held for children wanting to try out string, brass, and woodwind instruments. Besides the event at the hall, the SLSO and the St. Louis Public Library teamed up to offer the community a free exhibit detailing the history of the building and its transformation process. The exhibit runs until March 17, 2018, at the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library on Olive Street.
Detroit Musicians Give Back
At the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, President and CEO Anne Parsons announced that the musicians of the DSO collectively made a $100,000 contribution toward its endowment. The gift, a result of one hundred percent musician participation, is intended to be the first step toward a $1 million DSO Musicians’ Artistic Excellence Fund. The fund has been opened up for others to contribute, and has already inspired some matching support from the Detroit community. This pledge of support by the musicians is in addition to the approximately $116,000 in services they already donate each season.
The musicians specified that the revenue from the gift be used to support artistic elements of the organization, and members of the Artistic Advisory and Orchestra committees will determine how the fund is spent each year. The activities to be supported include the engagement of high-caliber conductors and soloists, digital recordings, orchestral commissions, and yearly scholarships for students who participate in the Civic Youth Ensembles.
Changes at the Top in Atlanta
Sameed Afghani has been hired as the new General Manager of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. At his present job, Manager of Audio Media and Operations of the Chicago Symphony, he oversees the CSO Resound label, national broadcasts, as well as other audio/video initiatives and negotiating contracts.
Long-time ASO Music Director Robert Spano, who joined the conducting staff in 2000, has announced that he will step down in June 2021 to pursue other interests. He has no set plans for the next stage of his life, but enjoys his tenure at Aspen as well as composing and performing. He will continue to conduct from time to time in Atlanta as Conductor Laureate.
A Rochester World Premiere
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is expanding its collaborative partnership with composer Jennifer Higdon. On May 10 and 12, the RPO and its Music Director Ward Stare will present the world premiere of Higdon’s Harp Concerto. Virtuoso harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, for whom Higdon wrote the work, will give the premiere.
Kondonassis led the commissioning project, which involved a consortium of orchestras that included the RPO as well as the Harrisburg Symphony, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, the Lansing Symphony, the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra, and the Baton Rouge Symphony—intended “to bring the work to both large and small communities in a variety of geographic regions,” according to a press release.
The premiere will be followed on September 20 and 22 by a live recording of the concerto for commercial release.
In other news from Rochester, the RPO welcomed former ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge, who came out of “retirement” for a visit on February 6. Ridge, the longest-serving chair of ICSOM, separately addressed the RPO board, management, and musicians on how to become more enthusiastic and effective arts ambassadors in the community.
Florida Hits New Record
One of the highlights of The Florida Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary season was the Gala Concert featuring an Evening with Sting. Conducted by TFO Music Director Michael Francis, tickets for the December 2017 concert sold out in days and, together with the proceeds from the Gala Dinner, raised $1.5 million—an all-time TFO fund-raising record for a single event. Sting was a pleasure to work with; he attended both rehearsals in their entirety and was truly a musician’s musician. Both the audience and orchestra were excited when new Principal Clarinet Natalie Hoe was asked to ‘step out’ and open the show, accompanying Sting in the spotlight. A rare opportunity to hear Sting with a live symphony orchestra, it was a great evening for TFO and the Tampa Bay community.
Utah Introduces Family Pricing
Utah Symphony | Utah Opera has recently introduced an innovative pricing structure designed to reach out to patrons with young families, traditionally a difficult audience for symphonies to reach. Under the initiative, for select masterworks and opera series, a $30 season-long ‘Family Pass’ will be made available, which includes entry for two adults and their two children, with the possibility of adding up to six additional children for $5 each. The company has also announced the creation of a Kids Club, beginning in Fall 2018, with events and activities for children.
Availability of the Family Pass began in January 2018, and will continue throughout the 2018-2019 season. That season will also include six Masterworks concerts to be performed at 5:30 pm in an effort to provide a more family-friendly hour. The success of this initiative in reaching a very important audience will be closely watched.
New Festival in San Francisco
This season, the San Francisco Ballet will present Unbound: A Festival of New Works. Some of the most innovative choreographers working today, such as Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck, will be premiering 12 new works, which will feature the music of composers such as John Adams, Jason Moran, and Oliver Davies. Beyond the stage, San Francisco Ballet will also be hosting a number of outreach activities. These will include: a series of live-stream programs that will allow viewers a glimpse into the effort that goes into creating these new works; a series of dance films that will be premiered in pop-up events around the community; and a symposium of artists, academics, and critics who will discuss issues critical to ballet in the 21st century. The festival will begin on April 20, with an opening night celebration that will feature a performance of new works, dance films, educational pop-ups, interactive installations, and a dance party. The musicians of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra are excited to participate in this unique event, and look forward to offering audiences a glimpse into the future of this exciting art form. For more information, please visit sfballet.org/unbound.
Phoenix Symphony Member Honored
Alex Laing, Principal Clarinet of the Phoenix Symphony, was one of three artists awarded the 2018 Sphinx Medal of Excellence, to be presented in Washington DC on March 21.
This $50,000 career grant is given by the Sphinx Organization to outstanding classical artists of color who exhibit “artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and ongoing commitment to leadership.”
An advocate of community engagement, Alex is the founder of a non-profit, after-school program in Phoenix that brings music instruction to kids, with a focus on youth development.
Alex is on the board of directors for the Arizona School for the Arts and co-chairs the Institutional Readiness task force for the League of American Orchestra’s Diversity Forum.
Now in its 21st year, Detroit’s Sphinx Organization is a non-profit devoted to transforming lives of young Black and Latino symphonic musicians through the power of diversity in the arts.
Buffalo on Tour
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is heading to Poland in March 2018. This is the first international tour that the BPO has scheduled in 30 years. The tour is largely the result of the orchestra’s relationship with Polish conductor and composer Krzysztof Penderecki.
The focal point of the tour is a performance at the Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw at the Philharmonic Hall. One of twelve orchestral performances to take place at the festival, the BPO’s concert will be the first performance by an American orchestra at this prestigious festival in its 20-year history.
While in Poland, the orchestra will also make stops in three other cities for performances. Prior to the performance at the festival in Warsaw, the orchestra will perform in Wrocław. Performances follow the festival in Katowice and Lublin.
The programming will focus mainly on American compositions, specifically the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, as the festival honors his legacy. Programming includes Barber Symphony No. 1, the Gershwin Concerto in F, and Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and the overture to Candide. Honoring the invitation of Krzysztof Penderecki will be performances of his Adagietto from Paradise Lost. The piano soloist on the Gershwin will be Conrad Tao.
The performances will be especially meaningful to two members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Horn section. Both principal hornist Jacek Muzyk and Associate Principal hornist Daniel Kerdelewicz are natives of Poland—Muzyk is from Kraków and Kerdelewicz from Czeremcha.
Prior to the full orchestra arriving in Poland, a wind octet from the BPO will perform and give masterclasses at the Penderecki Centre for European Music in Lusławice. They will also perform in Buffalo’s sister city, Rzeszów.
A Final Gift in Columbus
In December, the Columbus Symphony announced the single largest gift in the organization’s history—an $8 million legacy gift from the estate of Anne Melvin, long-time friend, board member, and passionate champion of the orchestra. The symphony is expected to receive additional funds when Anne’s estate is fully settled, which will add to this incredibly generous endowment gift.
Anne gave generously and consistently. While her yearly gifts will be missed, this legacy gift will serve as the cornerstone to the symphony’s endowment, helping to provide a consistent base of support for CSO programming and operations, and supporting the organization’s long-term viability. The symphony is currently engaged in an endowment campaign with a goal of $50 million.
To the musicians, Anne was more than just a donor. She was a dear, supportive friend. Diminutive in size but not in spirit she always had a delighted smile on her face and would greet the musicians by name. She was devoted to the symphony and will be sorely missed as a personal friend.