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New conductor ‘undeterred' by cut grant

May 22, 2009

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    May 22, 2009
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    Opera Carolina News

New conductor ‘undeterred' by cut grant

The slashing of the Arts & Science Council's support for the Charlotte Symphony means the orchestra's new music director will walk into an even tougher job than he bargained for.
The orchestra will name its new leader Tuesday. Yet the ceremony may be overshadowed by this week's news that the ASC will cut its grant to the orchestra by more than $1million.
The orchestra, which has struggled with deficits since 2002, landed in an even tougher spot Wednesday. The ASC's board of directors voted to give the orchestra a maximum of $900,000 next season – less than half of this season's $1,947,424. The orchestra's budget for this season, which ends June 30, is about $8.7million.

The orchestra has told its incoming conductor – with whom negotiations are complete – about the cut in funding, Charlotte Symphony president Jonathan Martin said Thursday.

“This is an individual who is completely undeterred by this and sees himself as part of the solution,” Martin said. “I think that's…pretty admirable.”

Martin would not name the new leader.

The ASC and Charlotte Symphony, like nonprofit groups nationwide, have been hit by decreases in donations because of the recession. The ASC's 2009 fund drive brought in only $7 million, compared to last year's $11.2 million.

The ASC cut its grant to the orchestra not only because of that, but because it thinks the orchestra's current setup is “not economically viable,” ASC president Lee Keesler said Wednesday. The verdict originated with a volunteer panel that judged applications for funding.

Hiring a conductor charged with drumming up interest in the orchestra is part of a revamping mapped out by a consultant in 2007. Other steps have included increasing donations by the board of directors, reducing the cost of the players' salaries and benefits, and spending more on advertising.

The orchestra cited progress on those fronts Thursday in a statement responding to the ASC cut. It lamented that the reduction came “precisely at a point when the CSO can demonstrate progress in many critical areas.”

Some Charlotte Symphony supporters reacted to the news less calmly than the incoming conductor.

“The CSO has spent 2 years restructuring, adapting, and changing to be a viable organization,” board member Catherine Connor wrote the Observer. “How foolish and shortsighted on (the ASC's) part to have such a monumental decision made by a volunteer panel when that plan is so near to success.”

The new conductor will replace Christof Perick, who steps down next May after leading the orchestra since 2001. The search committee included in its criteria for choosing a new director the willingness to live in Charlotte and become the orchestra's public face.
One candidate, British conductor Christopher Warren-Green, demonstrated his readiness in part by bringing along his wife to check out real estate.

The ASC's symphony cut has meaning for other arts groups, too, said James Meena, general director of Opera Carolina.

“I think this sends a message, not just to the symphony, but to everybody in the arts community,” said Meena. “Keeping our financial house in order is going to be paramount – maybe even more than the art we create.”

By Steven Brown
Charlotte Observer