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Published: Saturday, 6/25/2005

$1.1M grant is music to symphony's ears

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC
Conductor Stefan Sanderling leads the Toledo Symphony at the Peristyle. Conductor Stefan Sanderling leads the Toledo Symphony at the Peristyle.
FRASER / BLADE Enlarge

In a move that Toledo Symphony officials said "honors the unique kind of orchestra that exists here in Toledo," the orchestra has been awarded a $1.1 million grant, to be paid over the next three years, by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

"Nationwide, we have set ourselves apart because we are not doing business as usual. Most importantly, and in spite of ongoing financial challenges, we continue to pursue what is best for our music and musicians," said symphony President and CEO Robert Bell.

Funding was given in two categories: an allotment of $600,000 to be paid in three yearly installments and $500,000 to be used as seed money for a challenge grant, the orchestra said yesterday.

It is the third three-year grant awarded to the symphony by the foundation since 1999. The funding, at an annual rate of $200,000, has had three primary goals: to strengthen communication between management and musicians, increase job satisfaction, and better integrate the orchestra into the broader Toledo community. Musicians have been given ever-increasing roles in the orchestra's day-to-day operation, from choosing their own conductors to programming choices to financial management.

"The Toledo Symphony has demonstrated what shared leadership means: relying on every person in the organization to do what he or she does best and to contribute his or her best effort to solving institutional problems," said Kathy Maciariello, Mellon Foundation program officer.

The $600,000 portion of the new Mellon grant is marked to continue current initiatives over the next three years. The $500,000 is a challenge grant, awarded to the symphony for the first time, in which the Mellon Foundation will contribute a dollar for every three raised by the symphony. The challenge grant is designed to create an endowment that will carry the program into perpetuity. Symphony management hopes to have this piece in place by the completion of the granting cycle.

"The experience with the Mellon Foundation has enabled things that have really upgraded the orchestra. It has allowed us to attract marvelous young musicians with great energy and love for the organization," said Richard Anderson, Toledo Symphony board chairman.

While some of the Mellon initiatives have taken place behind the scenes, most have resulted in direct payoffs to the Toledo community. Examples include the recently concluded two-week-long Aeolus Festival of new music, this spring's weekend-long flute festival featuring the London-based William Bennett, and the ongoing Artists Up Close series, which features internationally known guest artists performing chamber concerts with orchestra members.

There have been other successes. Since 2001, 29 musicians have written in-house grants and been funded for initiatives varying from private music lessons to recording projects to forming chamber ensembles, such as the Odyssey String Quartet and The New Renaissance Ensemble.

Working with the Mellon "think tank" has been a revelation, said violist Reed Anderson, chairman of the orchestra committee.

"Almost a third of our core orchestra has worked with them directly. We have gained not only a greater understanding of the reality of our situation, but much better communication between musicians, administration, and board," he said.

Despite December's labor contract that required musicians to accept significant compensation reductions, morale is high. Musicians have come to feel a sense of ownership for their institution: they now contribute as partners rather than work as labor.

The New York-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation offers grants totaling some $150 million annually, $20 million of which is earmarked for performing arts and museums. Toledo Symphony is one of seven orchestras included in a development initiative designed to help that industry face increased struggles with financial solvency and cultural relevance.

Contact Steven Cornelius at:

scornelius@theblade.com

or 419-724-6152.



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