58th ASOL Conference Drums Up Hope for Orchestras

Reports of orchestras filing for bankruptcy, severely reducing their season offerings, and cutting back on expenses have been rampant in local newspapers across the country, and once again the future of orchestral music in the United States has come under fire. But the week of activities at the American Symphony Orchestra League‘s 58th National Conference usurped the gloomy attitude of the press, replacing it with optimism and encouragement. Over 1000 administrators, musicians, trustees, volunteers, and vendors gathered in San Francisco last week to celebrate the American orchestral community and strategize ways to overcome difficult economic times and preserve one of the country’s most beloved artistic institutions.

At the conference’s closing awards ceremony and celebration on June 20, incoming President and CEO Henry Fogel reported to the crowd that of the approximately 900 member orchestras of the League, only 8 had disappeared during the 2002-03 season, a percentage nearly identical to the situation in the last economic recession. He reminded the audience that many of the orchestras that had suffered in the past have since been reinstated and are in many ways stronger that they were before.

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia followed up by assuring the audience that the NEA is aware of the financial problems that many orchestras face. Emphasizing his dedication to restoring the NEA to its place as “one of the premiere American public agencies,” he spoke out against the arts becoming a pawn of left and right wing factions, and quoted Lou Harrison, saying that music was something that one should, “Cherish, conserve, consider, create.”

And while one cannot predict when the nation’s economy will begin to turn around, the ASOL renewed its commitment to the orchestral community by announcing several new programs and honoring outstanding contributors to the field.

Fogel stated in his address that he was “encouraged by our field’s embrace of new music.” And his word becomes action with two new League initiatives dedicated to advancing orchestral repertoire and fostering relationships between orchestras and American composers. Firstly, additional funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music will extend the reach of the MUSIC ALIVEresidencies, a joint program between the League and Meet The Composer established in 2000. The program can now offer residencies that will be lengthened and enhanced into multi-year, full season residencies intended to facilitate collaboration between composers and orchestras by allowing them to develop a deep rapport over time. Extended residencies will begin during the 2005-06 season.

And in addition to the improvement to the MUSIC ALIVE program, the League unveiled another partnership with Meet The Composer that will provide opportunities for smaller budget orchestras in the United States to play new works. Aimed at the more than 200 member orchestras with an annual operating budget of $420,000 or less, Made in America arranges for new works to be commissioned by consortium of several dozen small-budget orchestras. By encouraging many institutions to work together on the commissioning of one major work, the program helps orchestras with a limited budget overcome many of the financial hurdles of presenting new music and it also assures that the work will have a life after its premiere, receiving multiple performances with all of the orchestras that were a part of the commission. The fruits of the program will first be experienced in the fall of 2005, when a Joan Tower work is premiered.

Beginning in the 2004-05 season, the League’s American Conducting Fellows Program will place up to 6 young conductors with orchestras for residencies lasting between 2 and 3 years. “We have long had highly gifted conductors in America. What we have not had is a sustained system of training to develop that talent,” Fogel explained.

For another of the League’s fellows programs, the prestigious Orchestra Management Fellowship Program, which provides on-the-job training to aspiring orchestra mangers, Fogel announced that an endowment had been established. The endowment was made possible by major gifts from The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, totaling $3.5 million. (Read an address about the program from recent fellow Olga Mychajluk.)

The League was also pleased to announce the creation of a new honor, The Bank of America Awards for Excellence in Orchestra Education, which will award prizes of $7,500 to three organizations annually. The first winners are expected to be announced in September.

In addition to the impressive changes in their program offerings, attendees witnessed a 30-second Television Public Service Announcement with the tag line, “Exercise Your Emotions: Attend a Live Orchestra Conference” and encourages viewers to find orchestra concerts in their community through www.findaconcert.com. The campaign and the website will be launched publicly in September as well.

While all of these exciting developments certainly raised the spirits of many in the orchestra world, a highlight of the week, as usual were the two awards ceremonies that honored outstanding individuals for their contributions to orchestral life. Of particular note were the ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming, which recognize organizations with a visible commitment to contemporary American music, and the ASOL’s highest honor, the Gold Baton, this year presented to Michael Tilson Thomas and Gordon Getty. A complete list of award winners follows.

The Gold Baton
Michael Tilson Thomas
Gordon Getty

The Helen M. Thompson Award
Mark C. Hanson

ASCAP/League Awards for Adventurous Programming:

John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music
Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi, music director

Morton Gould Award for Innovative Programming
The Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst, music director

Leonard Bernstein Award for Educational Programming
New York Youth Symphony, Paul Haas, music director, Barry Goldberg, executive director

Awards for Programming of Contemporary Music Orchestras with Annual Operating Expenses more than $13.25 Million
First Place
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, music director

Second Place
Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen, music director

Third Place
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Mario Venzago, music director

Orchestras with Annual Operating Expenses $4.8 – $13.25 Million
First Place
New World Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, artistic director

Second Place
Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, music director

Third Place
The Louisville Orchestra, Uriel Segal, music director

Orchestras with Annual Operating Expenses $1.6 – $4.8 Million
First Place
Brooklyn Philharmonic, Robert Spano, music director

Second Place
Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Neal Gittleman, music director and conductor

Third Place
Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Edward Cumming, music director

Orchestras with Annual Operating Expenses $385,000 – $1.6 Million
First Place
Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano, music director and conductor

Second Place
Albany (N.Y.) Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller, music director and conductor

Third Place
American Composers Orchestra, Steven Sloane, music director and conductor
Robert Beaser, artistic director
Dennis Russell Davies, conductor laureate

Orchestras with Annual Operating Expenses $385,000 or less
First Place
Camellia Symphony Orchestra, Eugene F. Castillo, music director and conductor

Second Place
Plymouth Symphony Orchestra, Nan Harrison Washburn, music director and conductor

Third Place
New England Philharmonic, Richard Pittman, music director

Collegiate Orchestras
First Place
Peabody Symphony and Concert Orchestras, Hajime Teri Murai, director of orchestral activities

Second Place
Manhattan School of Music, David Gilbert, resident conductor

Third Place
Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale, Lawrence Leighton Smith, music director

Youth Orchestras
First Place
Orange County High School of the Performing Arts Chamber Orchestra, Christopher Russell, music director

Second Place
Vermont Youth Orchestra Association, Troy Peters, music director and conductor

Third Place
Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Allen Tinkham, music director

Festival Orchestras
First Place
Cabrillo Music Festival, Marin Alsop, music director and principal conductor

Second Place
Colorado Music Festival Orchestra, Michael Christie, music director

Third Place
National Repertory Orchestra, Carl Topilow, music director

Volunteer Council Gold Ribbon Awards

Sally Parker Education Awards

  • Houston Symphony League, Ima Hogg National Young Artist Competition
  • Huntsville Symphony Orchestra Guild, Young People’s Concerts
  • New Mexico Symphony Guild, Peter and the Wolf

Volunteer Council Fund-Raising Awards

  • Atlanta Symphony Associates, 2002 Decorator’s Show House
  • Brazosport Symphony League, Notable Cuisine: Menus and Melodies
  • The Volunteer Committees for The Philadelphia Orchestra, Perfect Harmony: A Dinner with the Musicians
  • Waukesha Symphony League, Symphony Safari Ball

Volunteer Council Membership Award

  • The Symphony Guild of Charlotte, Inc., New Member Retreat

Volunteer Council Service Awards

  • Pacific Symphony Orchestra League, Music on the Move
  • The Volunteer Committees for The Philadelphia Orchestra, Audience Development—Philadelphia Orchestra Ambassador Program

Audrey Baird Ticket Sales Award

  • Omaha Symphony Guild, Red, White, Blue & You! 2002 Season Ticket Sales Campaign

The MetLife Awards For Excellence in Community Engagement

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Armonía, Musicians Residency Program

Pittsburgh Symphony
Bayer Audience of the Future

Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, Inc.
Building Bridges