Last Thursday afternoon, I was wined and dined at The Modern, the new very upscale restaurant next door to the recently renovated Museum of Modern Art. For a Kafka-esque moment or two I thought I’d changed careers and was now a successful investment banker or a lawyer, but soon I saw some familiar classical music industry types in the crowd (freelance critics, PR handlers, reps from sister service organizations, etc.).
Why the incredible largesse, especially at a time when so many major music critics have been proclaiming the death of classical music? Turns out, they’re building a brand new concert hall in Orange County, California. Already more than 70 percent complete, the new 2,000-seat Renée & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, ostensibly the new home for Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, will open on September 15, 2006, with even more fanfare than a really fancy New York City lunch: the world premiere of a newly commissioned song-cycle by William Bolcom sung by Placido Domingo. The following night there’ll be the world premiere of another commission, this one from Philip Glass.
Wait a second, I thought that symphony orchestras were folding up right and left and there was never going to be another major opera recording and on and on. Turns out that philanthropist Henry T. Segerstrom, whose donations of land and funds have made both this and the Pacific Symphony’s previous concert hall—Segerstrom Hall—possible, realizes that culture is not only more alive now than ever but is one of the best ways to market a community. A remark he made on the Public Television station KCET pretty much explains where he’s coming from:
“I have informed my friends in Los Angeles that I think, now that we have four great halls in Southern California, it’s time for us to start marketing our joint assets world-wide in cultural tourism much as New York does. Mayor Bloomberg of New York said that cultural tourism was the second largest industry in New York after finance and Southern California can reap the benefits of this as well as share our facilities with the world.”
He’s right of course, even though culture rarely makes the headlines. He’s also not alone. Turns out that Nashville is building a comparable new concert hall (1,900 seats) for its symphony orchestra too and it is scheduled to open its doors in September 2006 as well. They even have a series of live webcams of the construction site!
The new Schermerhorn Symphony Center, named in honor of the orchestra’s recently deceased music director, seems much more a community project than the crusade of an enlightened funder. The city of Nashville donated the land and the entire construction was funded by tax-exempt revenue bonds.
So far, the Nashville Symphony hasn’t announced any top shelf commissions for the opening next year. Let’s hope they do. This year’s season opener was Leonard Nimoy narrating a performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. A premiere of a new American work would be much more exciting than that!