Thursday, June 21, 2007

Niagara Symphony lives to play another day!

Sunday, June 10th was an important day for the Niagara Symphony, coming as it did as a sort of "decision day" for the future of the organization. Their month long fundraising drive would ultimately determine if the orchestra would survive to play for another season - their 60th - or they would go down to defeat, a victim of lack of funding for the arts.

The so-called "Celebration Concert" scheduled for that sunny, warm Sunday afternoon at Brock Centre for the Arts would indicate if the orchestra's optimistic concert title was fact or fiction. Fortunately for all concerned, it turned out to be fact. The orchestra played to an almost full theatre of regular subscribers and several newcomers - an important sign their message was getting out beyond their usual ranks. All in attendance were treated to some inspired playing and creative programming, ranging from one movement of Beethoven's "Pastoral" symphony to pop standards sung by the Mantini Sisters. There was literally something for everyone.

Before the musicians began to play, it was announced from the stage the orchestra - while falling short of their ambitious $ 500,000 fundraising goal, had so far raised one-fifth of that amount, which would go a long way to securing the future viability of the orchestra. It was felt sending out the positive signal the orchestra would indeed survive would secure more funding in the future, as other doners were indeed interested in helping out if the orchestra were to survive. The Sunday concert alone, a free event with donations accepted, netted the orchestra over $ 11,000 on that one day alone! That should help to put to rest the story Niagara is not ready to support an orchestra in the region.

If nothing else, this recent - and ongoing - fundraising initiative has shown management and musicians of the Niagara Symphony who their friends are, and there are many. Let's hope the orchestra does not have to go cap in hand to the public in such a public way again, but with the arts you never know. Fundraising efforts will be an ongoing project for the orchestra and that, I think is a good thing. You can never sit back and assume anything when you are running an arts organization, and that point was certainly driven home the last couple of months with the difficult decisions the orchestra board and staff had to make.

Will this result in a better, leaner and smarter Niagara Symphony? I hope so, and indeed I think so. Everyone - and every organization - needs a reality check once in a while, and the Niagara Symphony's reality check came this spring and summer.

If you want to attend their next concert, it is a traditional Canada Day concert on the afternoon of July 1st at the Market Square in downtown St. Catharines. Lot of other activities are planned but the focus will certainly be on the rejuvenated Niagara Symphony, living to play another day and well into their next 60 years!

Now, on to other things...the Shaw Festival season is in full swing at their three theatres in Niagara On The Lake, and I have already attended several performances. My star ratings will appear on the calendar page of my website, shortly, and coming in July, I will share my thoughts on productions this summer at both the Shaw and the Stratford Festivals. So stay tuned...

Mike Saunders
June 21st, 2007

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Fight Erupts During Boston Pops Concert!

This is a funny story! It is not often a classical music concert makes the news; even the opening night of the fabled Boston Pops season, though well attended, is rarely news. But last month, concert-goers experienced an unusual event on opening night: a fight broke out in the audience!

Video shot the night of the concert clearly shows two men struggling in the balcony - one with his shirt pulled off - as several people stood around them. It apparently all started when one of the men refused to stop talking during the concert and the other took exception to it. Tempers flared and a heated verbal exchange moved to fisticuffs, with at least one woman screaming.

So what do you do when you are conductor Keith Lockhart, and you suddenly hear a brawl in the balcony behind you? He stopped the concert until police, already on security detail at the concert, hauled the offenders out of Symphony Hall and probably gave them a stern talking to. No charges were laid. Gee, police on security detail at a Boston Pops concert. Go figure...

This is the first time in the 122-year history of the Boston Pops something like this had ever happened. In a statement afterwards, management said "It was an unfortunate incident, but thankfully this kind of behaviour is truly out of the ordinary at a Boston Pops concert". I prefer the comments of one official from the orchestra, who, noting the fight broke out during a medley of tunes from the movie musical "Gigi", said "It has that effect on some people."

Well...I have been to many classical and pops concerts in my time, as well as many live theatre performances, and I have never witnessed anything like this. I experience my share of bone heads who think they are at home watching television, forgetting there are others around them who can hear everything they say - usually rather loudly. I have also had to endure misguided souls who so love the music, they want to sing along with the orchestra - loudly! And don't get me started on those who eat, drink and perform other bodily functions during a performance, all of which I have reluctantly tried to silently endure. I'll have more to say about this in a future posting, but for now, let's hope decorum returns to Symphony Hall in Boston...

Now, on to an update of the situation with the Niagara Symphony here in our neck of the woods. In my first posting, I outlined the financial crisis faced by the orchestra and how they were going to go about rectifying the situation. It is a slow process, educating the public on the plight of the Niagara Symphony, and they have limited their fundraising timespan to only five weeks. Not a lot of time to come up with a projected $ 500,000 to Save Our Symphony.

Members of the Niagara Symphony have performed concerts at many venues around Niagara, from the downtown Market Square to stately Rodman Hall. Each time, the audience is asked to donate what they can to help the cause. While this is going on, Executive Director Denise Stone and her team have been meeting with municipal and regional officials to secure public funding for the orchestra. This has proven to be a tough sell, but some progress has been made, and if nothing else, municipal and regional staff are more aware of the situation than they were a month ago.

The word on the street appears to be mixed. Some do not like the idea of public funding of the arts, which is not surprising. But overall, many people are stepping up to the plate to help out any way they can, and that is indeed encouraging.

Other arts organizations have shown their support for the Niagara Symphony as well. The Pembroke Symphony Orchestra from Adelaide, Australia heard about the campaign and are hoping to make a stop on their North American tour in Niagara next January to perform a benefit concert for the orchestra. Recently the Kiwanis Music Festival Gala Concert, which I hosted as MC, and the Niagara Youth Orchestra both invited the Niagara Symphony to attend their events to solicit donations from patrons. Nice touch.

There is still time to donate and show your support for the Niagara Symphony. This Sunday, June 10th at 2:30 pm, there will be a Celebration Concert held at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock University in St. Catharines. The performance is free and seating is general admission, but donations will be gratefully accepted, and we hope at that time to get an update - certainly a positive one - on the financial situation with the Niagara Symphony.

So, the bottom line is this: do you want the Niagara Symphony to continue? If so, plan to attend on Sunday afternoon and show both your moral and financial support for the orchestra. As noted in my first posting, the orchestra gives so much to the community; now it's our chance to give back to the orchestra.

See you on Sunday!

Mike Saunders
June 5th, 2007.