Orchestra Digest: December 17

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This week: Toronto Symphony deficit, New York Phil agreement, and other financial news - as well as advocacy campaigns, Bramwell Tovey's departure, and much more.
Financial news from far and wide
'Tis the season for orchestra financial reports: some naughty, others nice. In the latter category, the Detroit Symphony has reversed its course (and Detroit's) and stayed in the black, the New York Times reports. The Detroit Opera House, home to Michigan Opera Theatre, has been thriving as well, Hour Detroit Magazine reports.
The Cleveland Orchestra's latest financial report contains "virtually nothing but good news", the Plain Dealer reports. Revenues, attendance, and endowment all increased in fiscal 2013, and gifts to the Annual Fund topped $10 million. Another recent Plain Dealer article discusses The Cleveland Orchestra's strategic use of touring to build an international audience base.
The Toronto Symphony posted a $1.2 million deficit in the last fiscal year, the Toronto Star reportsThe National Post's Arthur Kaptainis also weighed the gloomy numbers. The TSO is in a search for a new CEO, and declining revenues will be of major concern for Andrew Shaw's successor. 
Milwaukee Symphony management and musicians reached a deal to reduce the orchestra's size through attrition, the Journal Sentinel reports. The MSO still needs to raise $5 million within the next two months to resolve an urgent cash flow crisis. 
In response, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board called on the community to step up: Love the MSO? Now is the time to show it. ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge also made the case in a letter to the editor.
The Nashville Symphony received a welcome Christmas gift from singer Taylor Swift, Music Row reports. Swift donated $100,000 to the Symphony, which recently faced its own serious financial crisis. 
And the New York Philharmonic has reached a 4-year agreement, retroactive to September 2013, the New York Times reports. While neither side discussed specific terms, the agreement includes modest wage increases and maintains the current pension benefit levels for the first three years; the final year's pension terms are still to be negotiated. 

Read more: Orchestra Digest: December 17

Orchestra Digest: November 29

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This week: Celebrating Britten in London, a new exec in Charleston, the state of Canadian unions, and more...
Orchestra London is celebrating Benjamin Britten's centenary this weekend, with the Canadian premiere of Britten's Double Concerto for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, written at age 18. The London Free Press previews the concert with a video performance by associate concertmaster Mary-Elizabeth Brown. 
The Toronto Star reports on the state of the Toronto Symphony, with key vacancies in executive director and marketing and communications director positions. Critic Martin Knelman points to vital partnerships between music directors and executive directors of other successful orchestras.

Read more: Orchestra Digest: November 29

Memories of China

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by David Thies-Thompson, National Arts Centre Orchestra

On October 4 the National Arts Centre Orchestra embarked on a monumental tour of China. This 18-day tour included the major cities: Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai but also took us to Guangzhou, Chongqing, Fuling, and Tianjin.

The vast scale and enormity of these cities was quite overwhelming! The traffic was simply unlike anything most of us had experienced, both in volume and driving style. All we could discern is that the first to the intersection has right of way (and that the horn is both brake and turn signal!). We thankfully didn’t witness any accidents and cars appear in excellent condition, so the locals seem to be just fine with the rules of the road. There were bicycles, but far fewer than I had anticipated; cars really are a predominant feature, unfortunately. We did learn that in Beijing there are limited numbers of new cars allowed for purchase, and that, interestingly, depending upon the last digit of the license plate, the car must not be driven one assigned day of the week. Our guide to the Great Wall noted that he takes his ‘‘BMW’’ to work in Beijing (Bus/ Metro/Walk.)

We played a joint concert with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. Even with only one rehearsal, it was a successful performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. NACO accompanied cellist Amanda Forsyth for Alexina Louie’s ‘‘Bringing the Tiger Down From The Mountain II,’’ a fitting piece given the setting. John Estacio joined the orchestra on tour. His composition ‘‘Brio: Toccata and Fantasy for Orchestra’’ was warmly received at every performance of the work. 

Fuling, a ‘‘tiny’’ rural outpost, with a population of six to seven million, was a two-hour run-out from Chongqing. We performed in the newly constructed concert hall (the stench of fresh paint was still present). Much of the city had been relocated up a steep hillside due to the flooding of the Three Gorges Dam project. It was evident that we were the first western orchestra to perform here. The audience was completely unfamiliar with Western concert etiquette, with audience members texting, talking, and walking around. During the tutti of the Mozart Concerto, Maestro Zukerman had to shush them before his solo entry. Even before the concert, when we were ready to tune, the huge video monitors on either side of the stage came alive with ads for an upcoming hip hop show and for Audis – it was hilarious! The Tianjin and Beijing concert halls, on the other hand, were beautiful, ultra modern, and state of the art, with exquisite acoustics and backstage amenities. 

Not everyone loved the local food and sightseeing, but many of us ventured out, particularly for a memorable trip to the Great Wall with several donors who joined us for the last three cities of the tour – Tianjin, Beijing, and Shanghai. Governor General David Johnston, John Baird, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson joined the orchestra for the last concert.

Educational outreach played a large role on the tour with events throughout, notably at Xinhai Conservatory in Guangzhou, Beijing Central Conservatory, and in Shanghai. There is abundant talent!

NAC CEO Peter Herndorff, Board Chair Julia Foster, and much of our management accompanied us on the tour. It was invaluable having this demonstration of support. Embedded journalists were also on the trip allowing for unparalleled press coverage.

It was a once in a lifetime experience! 

This article originally appeared in OCSM's newsletter, Una Voce, Vol. 21, No. 2 (November 2013)

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