Like many arts organizations, the Sacramento Philharmonic was forced to shorten its current season because of the recession. But tonight through Monday, some of the orchestra’s musicians are getting extra work, thanks to federal stimulus money.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated $50 million for arts groups. The Philharmonic is using its $25,000 grant to help fund free concerts in neighborhood venues, including Oak Park’s Guild Theatre.
As Capital Public Radio’s Paul Conley reports, the orchestra’s goal is not just to help stimulate the economy… but to stimulate interest in classical music.
CONLEY: When I met with conductor Michael Morgan at a Guild Theatre rehearsal this week, my first question was how he believed federal funding of the arts would stimulate the economy.
MORGAN: "Well I thought actually when that debate was going on about the stimulus package that one of the fastest ways to get money back into the economy was in fact to put it in the hands of arts organizations because we are definitely not gonna hold on to it because we can’t. We need to get it right back into the hands of our people who will then go out and spend it."
CONLEY: But Morgan sees these concerts as more than just extra work for his musicians. He says they provide opportunities for outreach and are part of the Philharmonic’s overall strategy of Morgan calls community engagement.
MORGAN: "You do things that give the audience a chance to take a chance on you, in their neighborhoods, out away from the concert hall, where the people are. And your hope is that they will then take a chance on coming downtown to a concert."
CONLEY: You might say Morgan is taking a bit of a chance with his programming of these family concerts. Instead of typical holiday fare like Peter and the Wolf, he’s programmed three works for chamber orchestra, including “A Soldier’s Tale,” the lengthy narrated work by Igor Stravinsky based on a Russian fable that is at times a little dark.
MORGAN: "One of the reasons we did such a different program is because Sacramento actually does have a lot of great things going on. And frankly the Philharmonic doesn’t want to duplicate any of those other great things already going on. We come along and we play unusual pieces that won’t show up on those other concerts."
CONLEY: Unusual pieces like “Masked Ball,” which also features a singer, by 20th Century French composer Francis Poulenc. Clarinetist Patricia Shands was among the musicians rehearsing the piece on Wednesday.
SHANDS: "Poulenc is one of my favorite composers because there are some of the most beautiful melodies you ever heard that come wafting out of his music and at the same time he can blow raspberries in the next second at the audience as well."
CONLEY: Shands says one thing family audiences will enjoy about this piece is its wide-range of percussion.
SHANDS: "Yes definitely. He’s got a great sense of humor to say the least. And so you get the whistles and you get the whip snaps and it always comes at a time when you don’t quite expect it."
CONLEY: Something audiences can expect at these concerts is an informal and intimate atmosphere.
SHANDS: "It’s up close and personal and these small spaces allow the audience to be literally among the musicians, inside the music."
CONLEY: The Philharmonic wants to keep that relationship going even after the music stops.
FELDMAN: "These concerts are also meant so that people will stick around after the concert."
CONLEY: Marc Feldman is the executive director of the Sacramento Philharmonic.
FELDMAN: "They can talk to the musicians and the musicians can demonstrate their instruments and show the kids the bassoon and the oboe and the trumpet and how they work. Cause usually in a concert the musicians come in one door and the public goes out the other door. In these concerts we’re meant to meet to talk to stick around and maybe have a glass of soda together afterwards."
CONLEY: Partially funded by stimulus dollars, this series of neighborhood concerts can be thought of as immediate work for musicians hard hit by the recession. Or, as investments in audience-building so the Sacramento Philharmonic can weather possible future economic troubles. Either way, Maestro Morgan says he has one main goal for the concerts.
MORGAN: "This series really is about enjoyment all the way around. The musicians are having a wonderful time playing these pieces. They’re very entertaining, colorful pieces. And if you can share that feeling that so-called classical or orchestral music is in fact a lot of fun, then we have done our part. That’s really the point of this series."
The Sacramento Philharmonic's chamber orchestra will perform a program of Igor Stravinski's "A Soldier's Tale," Bohuslav Martinu's "Kitchen Revue," and Francis Poulenc's "Masked Ball" in free concerts on Friday, December 4th at 8 p.m. at the Guild Theatre in Oak Park; Saturday, December 5th at 5 p.m. at Del Paso's Artisan Gallery; Sunday, December 6th at 3 p.m. at the Temple Or Rishon in Orangevale; and Monday, December 7th at the B Street Theatre in midtown Sacramento.
For complete details, click on the Philharmonic's link at the right.