Here to stay?  

Colorado Springs Philharmonics second season aims to please

click to enlarge Music Director Lawrence Leighton Smith conducted last - weeks performance of  Carmina Burana. - JANE MCBEE
  • Jane McBee
  • Music Director Lawrence Leighton Smith conducted last weeks performance of Carmina Burana.

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic opened its second season with the full orchestra, Colorado Springs Chorale and Children's Chorale this past weekend, performing Carl Orff's beloved Carmina Burana. A showstopping piece in its own right, Carmina is often thought of as a crowd pleaser, and this weekend was without exception. Saturday night was nearly a sell-out, and the crowd responded enthusiastically at the end of the performance.

On the whole, the performance met the challenge. The strings, led admirably by concertmaster Michael Hanson, were articulate, clean and played with certain spunkiness. The brass, while well played, tended to overwhelm the singers, particularly the altos and basses in softer moments. However what was oftentimes apparent was an unclear expectation or understanding of tempo and dynamics. Throughout the piece, tempos seemed to take either the chorus or orchestra off guard, lending to a somewhat disjointed interpretation of the work. When the tempo was too fast, words were difficult to understand, with the chorus valiantly struggling to keep up and stay the course. It appeared also that the orchestra was taken aback by certain entrances and timings.

The soloist of the evening was baritone Peter Tuff -- rich, articulate, natural. His "Dies, nox et omnia" was exquisite, full of passion, doing justice to the rather difficult falsetto that Orff included for the baritone (emphasizing the lust and eros for his lady). In contrast, Tenor Brian Patrick Leatherman left this reviewer cold, as his antics of the dying swan were far better than his vocal performance. Soprano Judeth Shay Burns looked stunning in her gown, but her voice was mismatched to the role she sang and often her vibrato seemed to run away with the words and her voice.

As its stand-alone opening, the orchestra performed Prokofiev's "Lt. Kije's Suite." It is common to hear the Troika movement performed during the holiday season, and it's always a pleasure to hear the entire piece (which is rarely done). The strings were honeyed, with notable playing by principal bassist Joe Head and principal cellist Susan Smith during the Romance movement of the suite.

Dialing for dollars

All in all, it was a good performance, which leads to the next question: How long can the Colorado Springs Philharmonic sustain itself? It is not uncommon to see an executive director or president of the board solicit the public from the stage later in the season, but the Carmina performance began with cheerleading comments that quickly turned to solicitations for attendance and cash by Philharmonic Executive Director Susan Greene.

The dominant theme in various interviews about what challenges face the organization this upcoming year was money. Larry Gaddis, who serves as corporate counsel for the Philharmonic, laid the groundwork.

"The immediate challenge is our fund raising," said Gaddis. "Last season many people dug deep into their pockets; this season the foundations have cut back to their normal funding levels and we need more dollars from our community."

According to Executive Director Greene, the total fund-raising goal for the 2004-2005 season is $1 million.

click to enlarge Baritone Peter Tuff was a featured soloist in last weeks - performance of Carmina Burana.
  • Baritone Peter Tuff was a featured soloist in last weeks performance of Carmina Burana.

This challenge is further complicated by the Philharmonic's seeming lack of a fund-raising structure traditionally found in one of two places: either the board or organized fund-raising volunteers, such as a symphony guild or council. The board of the Philharmonic currently consists of two community members (a doctor and a lawyer), two musicians and Greene.

Asked how the Philharmonic would overcome these two shortcomings, Greene addressed these specific issues.

"Oftentimes, larger 35- to 40-member boards are time consuming and not always financially beneficial," said Greene. "The board needs to be supportive and not drain the organization's resources -- small but mighty. To raise the money will take a lot of personal one-on-one contact by myself; we are doing invitation-only events, a letter-writing campaign and public appeals [such as the one heard Saturday night]."

While the Philharmonic is currently pursuing expanding the board, it's not looking for membership to surpass seven to 10 members, according to Greene. As for fund-raising volunteers, nothing appears to be in the works at this time.

"People who believe in this organization don't need a place on the board," she said. "Many will give and solicit on our behalf without board affiliation." In an announcement from the stage Saturday night, a recent vote of confidence in the new organization by the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) was announced. The NEA approved a $10,000 grant for the Philharmonic, a rare decision for the Endowment, which normally insists that an organization operate for a minimum of three years prior to submitting a grant proposal.

On with the show

Artistically, the Philharmonic, according to Music Director Lawrence Leighton Smith, is moving in the right direction, but not without its own challenges and opportunities. Leighton Smith extended kudos to the musicians and the local union for their unwavering dedication and willingness to launch a classical music organization following the bankruptcy of the Colorado Springs Symphony two years ago. One of the artistic challenges, says Smith, is the need for greater strength between the orchestra roster and increasing the overall pay scale per player. A long-term contracted player may waive up to one-third of his or her services if offered alternative higher paying employment. This issue alone raises concern for Smith.

"While it is completely understandable from a financial standpoint, it's tough to build an ensemble when that option is available," he said. "When our players opt out, we fill their position with subs, and quality sometimes suffers."

Ending last season in the black was a high point for everyone involved in operating the Philharmonic. This year's challenge is to broaden the audience base, the music director, executive director, board and musicians agree. Reaching more people -- whether through free performances, pops and family concerts or playing in various venues -- is seen as crucial to the survival of the young organization.

Without long-term planning, the Philharmonic is running day to day, month to month. Although plans are underway for contracting next seasons' artists, longer term strategic planning is on the sidelines until the organization becomes stronger financially.

Several unknowns are present as the Philharmonic moves forward; perhaps the largest looming is the relationship with the Pikes Peak Center, recently sold by the county to the World Arena. Many local groups are holding their collective breath as they wait to see what the new management will do with regard to rental costs of the facility, availability of dates and the Pikes Peak Center's anticipated restoration.

Looking forward this season, the Philharmonic gives four additional concerts in the month of October. Hooray for Hollywood with Thomas Wilson conducting is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 16, followed by the next classical performances featuring Beethoven's "Emperor" Piano Concerto and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra (a favorite of Mr. Smith) on Saturday, Oct. 23, and Sunday Oct. 24. The month concludes with a family Halloween concert on Sunday, Oct. 31. All four performances will be held at the Pikes Peak Center. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 520-SHOW.


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