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Published: 11/28/2010

TSO headed to ‘Mount Olympus'

For most American orchestras a performance in New York's Carnegie Hall is tantamount to winning an Olympic gold medal.

Both feats require great talent, programming creativity, years of intense training, and deep-pocketed sponsors.

"Carnegie Hall is the Mount Olympus of classical music in the U.S,," said Stefan Sanderling, principal conductor of the Toledo Symphony. "It's very important."

The Toledo Symphony and Sanderling will ascend to this acclaimed musical peak at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 7.

"It's where Gustav Mahler and Anton Dvorak conducted," noted Sanderling, who will make his own conducting debut in Carnegie that night. "I'm thrilled, happy, and proud."

Plans already are in place to import a thousand or more local music fans to the Big Apple for this stellar event. Tickets are a very affordable $25.

Best of all, for the TSO, not only is the Carnegie debut a done deal but it's an invitational.

That means symphony president Kathy Carroll and her staff are spared raising the six-figure amount required just to sit and play on the Ronald O. Perelman Stage in the Isaac Stern Auditorium. Instead, they can concentrate on raising $250,000 for travel expenses, royalties, and other necessities.

Just last week, the Toledo Symphony Orchestra heard from the National Endowment for the Arts that it had been awarded $20,000 to help underwrite Carnegie debut expenses.

A fledgling Big Apple project called Spring for Music is playing angel for the TSO and six other extremely fortunate American orchestras. (Its full name is The Festival of North American Orchestras, but Spring for Music has better cachet.)

In April, 2009, came the announcement that the Toledo Symphony had been selected for the very first year of Spring for Music performances, slated for May 6-14, 2011.

Also chosen from 65 applicants were the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, the Oregon Symphony, and symphony orchestras from Albany, Atlanta, and Dallas. (One year later, Atlanta withdrew and was replaced with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.)

Founded in 2008 by Thomas W. Morris, an orchestra executive, with David V. Foster, a New York artist agent, and public relations wiz Mary Lou Falcone, the new project sought to rectify a decline in the world of American orchestras.

"Spring for Music was born out of a confluence of disheartened observations on the state of orchestras in this country and a belief in the possibilities," Morris told the TSO board of directors during its annual meeting last month, on the stage of the Peristyle.

Morris managed the Boston Symphony before moving to the Cleveland Orchestra, where he oversaw growth and development, recordings, world tours, and a renovation of Severance Hall, the CO's home venue, over a 20-year stint. He is director of the esteemed Ojai, Calif., summer music festival.

"In this New Age of infinite choices for music," Morris continued, "media coverage was dying and, in response, orchestral programs were being dumbed down."

Morris, a brilliant, funny percussionist-businessman — he sat in with the TSO a few years back during a performance of the Hector Berlioz Requiem in Rosary Cathedral — studied at Eastman School of Music, then earned a bachelor's degree at Princeton and an MBA at the Wharton School.

"I'm a blazing idealist," he proclaimed in Toledo, including the Toledo Symphony when he added, "Some orchestras are doing very well. Their concerts are about the music. They have a sense of adventure, and they plan great programs played very well.

"There's a reservoir of creativity in American orchestras," Morris noted, adding, "size doesn't matter when it comes to creativity."

Indeed, creativity of programming was a key element in being selected, said Bob Bell, former TSO president, who entered the orchestra in the competition in 2008. However, under the rules of Spring for Music, we cannot announce the program until January 2011. Stay tuned.

For Sanderling and the TSO, this upcoming debut is a milestone, not a destination.

"It's not merely a one-night event but a necessary stop on the development that goes far beyond 2011. It proves that if you can dream it, you can do it," he told The Blade.

Now, having met the challenge of selection, the TSO is engaged in the process of raising funds for this event.

Always, orchestras walk a thin financial line, never more so than during the ongoing recession, when the arts nearly always take the first budget punches. Around the country, orchestras are folding, cutting back, and, as is the case in Detroit, coping with musicians striking because of salary and work issues.

The TSO, which has an enthusiastic and generous fan base, made pre-emptive budget trims to copE, but it still has operated with a deficit during the last two seasons. This year, perhaps because of the Carnegie "bump," ticket sales and subscriptions are showing an uptick, but red is still in sight.

"Carnegie is an incredibly expensive venture," noted Morris. Indeed, the Atlanta Symphony had to withdraw from the Spring for Music event because of budget crises.

The TSO and other Spring for Music participants are guaranteed a share of the proceeds from the concert series, an amount Wilson estimates at about $50,000.

"The new economic model for Spring for Music is based on philanthropy," noted Morris last month. "We need to raise $5 million for the first four years. Already, we are at $3.5 million."

Underwriters include the Mellon Foundation ($1 million), the Irving Harris Foundation, and multiyear gifts from Daniel and Jan Lewis and Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest. Estimated cost for each year's festival is $1.5 million.

Through a special arrangement with Carnegie Hall, the Toledo Symphony now has tickets for the concert available at $25 each. This is in advance of the national sale date, Feb. 17.

An organized plan will offer two tickets to the concert and to the afterglow party at the Russian Tea Room, plus a chance to support a musician. A total travel package through AAA of Northwest Ohio includes motor coach transportation, three nights in a hotel, some meals, a tour, and the afterglow.

For information, contact the TSO at 419-246-8000 or toledosymphony.com.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com.



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