I've been awfully busy these days thinking about the state of the Symphony business of late. I've been asked by Coe College to participate as a lecturer in their Leadership Institute later on in May, and have been teaching a continuing ed. class through the University of Iowa Foundation about the history of symphonic music. Couple this with the dire news across the globe of declining audiences, fading interest in classical music, and failing arts institutions in general, I am struck by how unique and different we are in this small corner of the universe. Why? Part of the reason why we differ from most other orchestras is that our board, management and artistic leadership take a sober and unflinching view of the realities that we face, and the future challenges that are to come. Our organization spends more time contemplating the future than living in the past. When I arrived, the orchestra was in financial distress with aging and dwindling audiences (we were among the very typical statistics of our industry). Instead of repeating past practices hoping for better results, the flood forced us to reform our way of thinking, make some difficult decisions, and expand our region to perform beyond our usual borders to build additional audiences elsewhere (a long and incremental process). Serious attention to the relevancy of symphonic music to our community and society at-large, demanded the courage to make significant strategic change that is just now bearing fruit. Enter the Opus Concert Café and the return of a new and improved Paramount Theatre, in which we now enjoy a presenting partnership with VenuWorks.
I don't expect everyone to be an ardent fan of symphonic music, but it is an imperative for our survival that most in the area know that we exist and value our contribution to the quality of life in our area. Most importantly I want all to be comfortable walking through our doors on any given day, and not be intimidated or deflected by negative stereotypes of elitism. Our greatest danger is to become an island unto ourselves locked away from the lives of mainstream America. Today we have addressed this age old problem and are touching audiences who otherwise would not have known we existed. In its very brief history, the Opus Concert Café has featured chamber music, jazz, office parties, cabaret, and just this past weekend the New York comedy troupe "Upright Citizens Brigade." There's more where that came from. While it is premature to release what will be featured at the Paramount next season, I can tell you that Broadway, ballet, opera, and a variety of popular music, dance, theatre, and other entertainment presentations will be on the slate. Orchestra Iowa now has a direct hand in bringing ALL of these cultural events and more to our community. And therein lays the reason why we are so different than most if not all other orchestras in the nation. We are now a performance arts organization around which all activities support the financial health and artistic success of the symphony orchestra. Whether you come to a symphony concert or not, the mere act of attending an event at the Paramount Theatre or Opus Concert Café, is a meaningful show of support for the orchestra, and demonstrates that we are touching a vast diversity of audience that was once closed to us in the past. This is not your great-grandmothers orchestra anymore. Careful, next time you attend a rock concert at the Paramount Theatre (or country, or comedy, or Broadway et al.), likely it will have been brought to you in-part by Orchestra Iowa.
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