Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another season ends for Niagara and Hamilton Orchestras

It is the end of May, and once again the Niagara Symphony and Hamilton Philharmonic Orchdestras prepare for the summer break. The Niagara Symphony season ended with their final Pops! concerts the first weekend of May; the Hamilton Philharmonic season ends this weekend with the final Masterworks concert Saturday evening at 7:30 at Hamilton Place. It promises to be an exhilarating concert finale with the Beethoven Ninth Symphony planned for the grande finale.

So, at the end of the season, how do things look for both orchestras as they struggle to survive in an ever more difficult arts and culture environment? Well, things are not perfect, but they are managing quite well, thank you very much. Let's take a look at both orchestras as the season draws to a close and we look forward to next year.

The Niagara Symphony launched their "Thanks and Thoughts" campaign earlier this spring, with the intention of raising $ 150,000 to help keep the orchestra on a sound financial footing while they prepare for the upcoming season. Two arts heavyweights were brought on board to co-chair the campaign: Christopher Newton, artisic director emiritus of the Shaw Festival and Peter Partridge, well-know arts supporter and wealth management consultant. As of this writing, it appears they have fallen short of their goal; however, contributions will still be accepted after the end of May when the campaign was expected to wrap up, and hopes are high the goal will be achieved. I was in the Niagara Symphony offices this week with my donation, and plans are in full swing for the next season. It looks exciting: everything from the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto to a number of neglected treasures such as Kalinnikov's highly-romantic First Symphony. On the Pops side, there will be a tribute to Arthur Fiedler and a musical story based on Dicken's A Christmas Carol, among other things. So, things are looking up. But if you have not had a chance to show your financial support for the Niagara Symphony yet, there is no better time than the present to do so. The new season is ready to go: are you ready to become a part of it?

On the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra front, they conclude their season tonight, as mentioned, with the Beethoven Nine along with the Brahms Tragic Overture and Alto Rhapsody. With exceptional soloists and the Bach-Elgar Choir and Grand Philharmonic Chamber Singers, it promises to be a great end to the inaugural season for new artistic director James Sommerville. Overall, the season would have to be considered a success, with strong sales and renewed interest in the orchestra with Sommerville's arrival a year ago. For the upcoming season, the Masterworks series includes everything from the Mahler Fourth Symphony to a performance featuring pianist Anton Kuerti along with his son, conductor Julian Kuerti. On the Pops side, musical comedienne Natalie Choquette returns to kick off the season in September, and John McDermott will be joined by the orchestra in March. The season looks great! On the fundraising front, the Hamilton Philharmonic is always looking for new ways to raise money, and on Monday, May 19th, they held a fundraiser at the Dundas Valley Conservation Area: walkers had their choice of a one-kilometre Chopin Shuffle, a four-kilometre Mozart Meander or the eight-kilometre Handel Hike. It was a great idea, and hardy souls came out for the day of fun and exercise, pledge forms in hand, but alas, the weather did not co-operate. I was on hand for the morning, set up in a tent with other vendors on site, and business was light due to the wind, rain, cold temperatures and even a brief hailstorm! But everyone was pleased with the outcome, in spite of the inclement weather, apparently, so we'll have to see if this becomes an annual event.

So, a tale of two orchestras, and two seasons coming to a close. Both look to 2008/2009 with renewed optimism, as do their subscribers. If you have not had a chance to hear either orchestra for some time or even ever, what is holding you back? You are guaranteed a great afternoon or evening, and the performers are all exceptional musicians. All they need is you!

Next time, I'll step out for my first foray to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and begin my yearly reviews of plays at Shaw as their 47th season gets underway. And later in the summer, it will be off to Stratford for their season. That should keep your humble scribe out of trouble for the summer!

May 31st, 2008.