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Backers support musicians but say US&O needs fix

Published March 13, 2005 1:08 am

Wavering: Some are put off by US&O's marketing
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Longtime symphony and opera supporters say they are still drawn to the organization's performances, but the merger hasn't won all of them over.

Glenda Shrader, a former Symphony Guild president said, "I continue to support the musicians and attend all 18 Masterworks concerts, chamber concerts and others. However, the camaraderie I felt before with other Conductor's Circle members has diminished."

Dorotha Smart, a former member of the Utah Symphony board's executive committee, said she resumed her ticket-buying and donations last year in support of the musicians, but adds, "I waver about continuing my support if bad management practices go on. Had they stayed separate, I wonder if these organizations would have come up with such big operating deficits. I would like to see the merger undone, as we were told it could be. While we can't get by without the graciousness of those that give big donations, the crucial segment of symphony's support has been from music-lovers who will sacrifice from tight budgets to buy tickets. We must have an audience."

Smart is not alone in calling for a reversal to the merger, but the Morris Report says undoing it could cause further damage - confusion in the community, disagreement over division of assets and loss of time. The report concludes that stakeholders "must make the merger successful."

Former Opera Guild President Linda Schweikardt continues to attend operas and concerts but is offended by current marketing campaigns, which offer "punch lines" instead of focusing on the music.

"Operas this season have been superior," Schweikardt said. "Some of the advertising, however, is tasteless, rude, and low-brow, and a disincentive to buy tickets." Schweikardt takes particular issue with an ad for the opera production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that concludes with the tag line "Anyone can fall in love with a donkey."

Symphony orchestras survive by having several audience bases and by providing attractions for each. US&O sales reports show that Russian conductor Pavel Kogan's extreme popularity with a segment of the Utah Symphony's audience was a ticket-revenue booster during Kogan's years as US&O's principal guest conductor. Kogan's fans have been vocal in their displeasure since Lockhart and Ewers decided not to renew his contract. Though Ewers declined to be interviewed Friday, she said through a publicist that the donor who created an endowment to fund Kogan's salary requested withdrawal of those funds. "The decision has nothing to do with the change in Pavel Kogan's position with the US&O," said her written response.

In a recent personal interview, Kogan said concert programming that strays too far from the standard orchestral repertoire is partly responsible for audience declines, and he says former Utah Symphony conductor Maurice Abravanel's programming style should serve as a model.

"He did a lot to bring people to classical music and the Romantic repertoire - with modern music too, but of great quality and in good proportion."

Ultimately, audiences will vote with their pocketbooks, Kogan said:

"The ticket sales show something. Each side can say all they want, but people have their own mind and opinion. If you took out your wallet and paid money for a ticket - no one can force that."