It's gotten to be an old story, but every month there's a new iteration of it: An orchestra is about to drown itself in red ink, because attendance is flat or declining, and revenue from ticket sales and especially grants and donations is declining. The usual short-term solution: Cut the musicians' pay, cull some back-row players from the strings, don't fill a couple of vacant front-office positions, cut the number of concerts, cut, cut, cut. The latest major ensemble facing these decisions is the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. It will not be the last.
But at the same time, some orchestras that have already teetered at the precipice of bankruptcy are beginning to revive. The Philadelphia Orchestra may emerge from bankruptcy as early as next month, mainly through cuts, financial restructuring and getting some debt forgiven. More innovative efforts seem to be saving the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. There, too, musicians have taken pay cuts, but the new administrator is rebuilding the board, recruiting new high-dollar donors, and trying to increase ticket revenue by getting component groups of the orchestra out of their concert-hall fortress and sending them out to various small-scale venues around the Denver region.
Also under new management, the Tucson Symphony is very gradually making a comeback, although it's hardly back up to the pay levels (let alone attendance levels) of five to 10 years ago. Typically, the article I linked to doesn't bother to mention exactly what the musicians are making before or after their 3.5-percent raise next season, but the last I heard, not too many years ago, was that rank-and-file musicians were earning less than $15,000 a year.
As are so many other orchestras, the TSO has been saving money by not filling some onstage vacancies and cutting the number of concerts (some but not all of which will be restored in the coming seasons), and doing more aggressive fundraising. Like the Colorado Symphony, it will also be getting out of its acoustically challenged home hall a little more, doing a couple of pops concerts at the Fox Theater, which is about half the size of the TCC Music Hall.
But most of the performances announced for next season follow the traditional model: a series of full-orchestra classical concerts, a series of full-orchestra pops concerts, a series of chamber-orchestra concerts, and a smattering of full-orchestra special events with the likes of Joshua Bell and Calexico (not at the same time, although that could be interesting), all except for the Fox shows in the TSO's usual performance venues.
In other words, it's pretty much a defense of the status quo. (And yes, pops concerts with superannuated bands like Queen are orchestral status quo across the nation these days.) Aren't there more creative ways to revive the TSO?
Well, how could the TSO afford real innovation? The economy is still limping, which means that private and corporate donors will continue to be tight-fisted in the near future. A bigger problem, even in good financial times, is that Tucson is home to hardly any big corporate headquarters, and the few that are here tend to focus their charitable programs on things that are not the arts. Nor are they inclined to feed their executives into local arts boards along with the annual $10,000 to $20,000 a board member is expected to provide, one way or another.
Phoenix, on the other hand, is comparatively corporation-rich. That's why Arizona Opera, founded and for decades based in Tucson, is now a Phoenix-based entity that merely ships its productions down here. Could the TSO somehow draw funding from Phoenix? Maricopa County is already saturated with arts groups, so why would the fat cats up there feed money to a Tucson group?
Because the Tucson group could be part of a consolidated statewide organization.
Back in the 1980s, leaders at the Phoenix Symphony were talking about becoming the state's official orchestra and taking over concerts in Tucson. That was a short-lived bit of muscle-flexing and crypto-bullying; before long that orchestra was on the brink of disaster itself, overextended in its Phoenix commitments alone. But it's worth thinking about how such a scheme might be made to work today, and in a way that keeps TSO musicians employed.
In the 1980s, Ernest Fleischmann, the longtime benevolent (sometimes not-so-benevolent) dictator of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was trying to sell the arts world on his idea that professional orchestras in major metropolitan areas should consolidate into pools of about 150 musicians, from which would emerge several sub-entities: a full, hundred-some piece orchestra that would give fewer but more-rehearsed concerts; a chamber orchestra or two; a professional period-instrument ensemble; a group of contemporary-music specialists; various chamber ensembles ... almost all of which would travel around the region to many different venues. The Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna Volksoper Orchestra draw from such a pool of musicians, although the players aren't under contract for those other ancillary groups. And, notably, Fleischmann himself never managed to accomplish anything quite like this during his decades in Los Angeles.
Could it work here? Almost all the musicians who play in the Phoenix Symphony, Tucson Symphony and Arizona Opera Orchestra would be folded into a single entity, sometimes converging for massive undertakings like the Berlioz Requiem but usually split into various components, serving the entire state. There would be a single administration, which would save a lot of money right there, and funding could be drawn from all over the place, not just this or that city.
If it were done correctly, it could be more cost-efficient, it could provide more steady and perhaps better-paying work to professional musicians who currently aren't always used to their best advantage, and it could increase the diversity of professional music-making not just in Tucson and Phoenix but also in the state's underserved (and unserved) communities.
And if it were not done correctly, it could be a spectacular, grisly disaster.
Democrat David Ruben is dropping out of the U.S. Senate race.
He was to be the only person running against Democrat Richard Carmona in the statewide primary, after former state Democratic Party chairman Don Bivens bowed out of the race earlier this year. Ruben makes no mention of his exit from the race on his campaign website, but told the Arizona Daily Star and the Arizona Republic he didn't think his signatures would hold up to a challenge.
That paves the way for Carmona to raise money and continue campaigning unopposed until the Republican primary Aug. 28 is decided. That primary is already contentious between U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake and businessman Wil Cardon. Two other Republicans join them on the ballot, Bryan Hackbarth and Clair Van Steenwyk.
Another potential ballot change comes in Congressional District 1, where Republican Jonathan Paton announced today he is challenging Republican Gaither Martin's signatures. Paton filed a lawsuit alleging Martin incorrectly filled out petition forms and that more than half of the signatures he gathered to qualify for the ballot are invalid, according to a news release from the Paton campaign.
If Paton's challenge to Martin's candidacy is successful, he will still face a primary election with Republicans Patrick Gatti and Douglas Wade in the large district that spans from Oro Valley and Marana in Southern Arizona, to the state's northern border with Utah, including the city of Flagstaff.
Though they are two separate states divided by an international boundary, Arizona and Sonora can be viewed as a single economic region, according to the Arizona-Mexico Commission which holds its summer meeting in Tucson this week.
The commission is a cross-border, nonprofit developed to promote trade, advocacy and information sharing between the two border states. Created 53 years ago as part of the University of Arizona's Arizona-Sonoran International Conference on Regional Development, the AMC includes 15 binational committees, including economic development, health, education, security, water, and environmental issues.
Both states are linked by economic, social and environmental threads.
Economically, the two states created a combined $258 billion in economic development, according to a 2009 economic report from the Eller Economic and Business Research Center at the University of Arizona.
Border trade one of the primary issues of the committees, which will focus on upgrades to the Nogales and San Luis port of entries, including an expansion of equipment for the US Customs’ expedited traveler cards in southbound lanes, using a $1 million grant from the Arizona and U.S. federal transportation agencies.
Environmental protection of watersheds and species along the border is also covered.
During the meeting, the environmental committee will discuss new plans to protect the Las Ciénegas National Conservation Area, 45 miles southwest of Tucson, as well as protection for wild doves and turkeys, as well as black-tailed prairie dogs, and javelina. The committees will also focus on water issues, starting with flooding between Douglas and Agua Prieta, as well as a plan to evaluate the decline and overuse of the Santa Cruz aquifer.
Similarly, the exchange of air water data between the Sonoran Ecology and Sustainable Development Commission (CEDES) and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to exchange particulate data from air quality reports for the cities of Nogales, Sonora, Hermosillo, Obregon and Agua Prieta.
Committees will also meet to discuss a “International Border Games” project that will create an exchange of athletes from professional and semi-professional teams between Arizona and Sonora, as well as deal discuss new training and equipment donations for first responders in Sonora and the Tohono O’odham reservation.
Here's a fun little list from WQXR: The Top Five Faked Classical Performances. I wouldn't get too upset about anything that takes place outdoors, which is a horrible sonic environment for acoustic music (including big orchestras); the sound comes out of the mouths and instruments and instantly evaporates, except sometimes in the case of brass instruments, which project better. Music performed outdoors, whether it's at a soccer stadium or at the Reid Park bandshell, has to be amplified if it's going to come across, and the on-the-spot amplification usually isn't all that good. So if performers are going to mime to a recording, it's all right with me; no outdoor performance is going to provide any kind of authentic musical experience anyway. The faked recordings are another matter entirely ...
The political world is buzzing with the possible reemergence of Gabrielle Giffords on the political scene. According to The Hill newspaper and the Huffington Post, Giffords is getting ready to launch Gabby PAC in the coming months. That announcement came at a Washington, DC fundraiser featuring Giffords.
The former member of Congress reportedly may also have a spot on the program at the Democratic National Convention in August. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Democratic national chair, is one of Giffords closest friends. The convention will nominate President Obama for a second term. The President visited Giffords in the hospital last year after she was shot.
Before all of those events, Giffords will make an appearance at a get out the vote rally at the Rialto Theater in Tucson.