Part 2 of Capital Public Radio's 3-part series "The Show
Must Go On"
Many people are surprised to learn that the Stockton Symphony is
the third oldest orchestra in California, and that it has
hosted star soloists Van Cliburn and Itzhak Perlman. But for
the past 14 years, the brightest star in the orchestra has been its
charismatic conductor, Peter Jaffe. Executive director Jane
Kenworthy found that out from the city's top politician.
As the mayor of Stockton said to me in my first year, more
people know Peter Jafee's face than know my face.
But Jaffe has more than just a magnetic personality. He
has a musical pedigree to match. Violinist and
concertmaster, Christina Mok.
Part of the reason why we could keep the level of
performance consistently high is because we're working with
somebody who demands so much of us. You know he makes the
orchestra players give, give their best.
Under Jaffe's leadership, the Stockton Symphony has won
accolades for its polished performances and creative programming,
and for commissioning new works by composers like Chris Brubeck who
wrote this piece for the symphony in 2005.
[MARK TWAIN'S WORLD MUSIC]
Last fall, as Peter Jaffe was preparing for the Symphony's
82nd season, he soon found himself bracing for some harsh economic
You started first getting those clues during the summer of
course, but I think you know during September and October you
realize not only is it going down but it might not go back up for
quite some time and it was really kind of a freezing wake up call
for the whole organization.
The symphony's corporate and charitable donations were way
down, so executive director Jane Kenworthy focused on increasing
ticket sales. But first she had to ask an important
Are we pricing ourselves too high for what Stockton can
To find the answer, Kenworthy rolled out what she called the
"Pick Two" campaign.
We offered folks the chance to buy the best seat in the house,
or any seat in the house, for just $19, provided that they bought
more than one concert.
We sold 25 K dollars worth of tickets in six days.
It was a valuable cash infusion, says Kenworthy, but the
couldn't keep pace with the symphony's growing
deficit. Endowment funds were hit hard by the stock market,
and the symphony had already taken out a line of credit. Kenworthy
and her board decided cuts were necessary.
The thing that made most sense was to eliminate from the
program that which had traditionally sold the least well. So
we did choose to eliminate the family concert.
And that caught the attention of local tv news.
(KOVR) The Stockton Symphony has hit a sour
note. They're canceling programs like the family concert
series in Tracy and Stockton. It's likely the symphony's first
cancellation in its 82 year history.
One of the hardest things for me personally was seeing that
family concert go.
Conductor Peter Jaffe
Because I think it had so much value to it, educational value,
artistic value, community value, outreach. Ultimately I think
all the decisions we made artistically were the right ones, but
that was really tough and I want to see us bring that
Programming wasn't the only casualty. The symphony's
already small staff was further reduced by cuts and
It was really hard to lose our fund development position,
resignation of our marketing director and our education director,
and they left under the most amicable circumstances, we loved all
of those people, but when you have organizations that can hire
those people away, what can you say?
And how were orchestra members like Christina Mok dealing with
I am an optimist. (laughs) I never actually doubted that we
will make it through this tough time. I think we're
Ultimately the symphony stopped the bleeding. But the
turnaround didn't happen overnight, nor is it over. For
executive director Jane Kenworthy, survival hinges on one
You have to be responsive to your particular community and if
you are not, you're going to be gone.
That's why Kenworthy sent out numerous audience surveys last
year. She and her staff made personal phone calls thanking
subscribers. Jaffe opened his rehearsals to audiences, and
orchestra musicians dined with patrons. In the end, the
community responded in a big way. Ticket sales were up, with a
number of sold out houses. That made a big difference to
It just gives us meaning to what we do, you know to see a full
house it feels good, it gives us energy.
For Peter Jaffe, that's a feeling that has stayed with
him as he prepares for the start of another Stockton Symphony
Well I feel almost inexplicably energized, you know this is a
time when every single indicator would say, you know, where is that
energy gonna come from? But I guess the energy comes from a.
enthusiasm for our art, but b. an incredible sense of gratefulness
to all the people that keep it going… the board, the staff, and the
musicians, but even more the audience… the community.