January 29, 2008 by Norman Lebrecht
A colleague in Columbus, Ohio, has alerted me to a local downturn. The city is planning to shrink its symphony orchestra into a chamber ensemble, abolishing 22 positions and cutting the concert season by half. That, they say, ought to wipe out an annual $1.5 million deficit.
“This is to try to save the orchestra and enable us to grow it into something special,” said Robert “Buzz” Trafford, chairman of the symphony board, in a comment to the local newspaper which appears to endorse the move.
Hello? Come again? Anyone at home?
Surely no-one imagines that playing Haydn instead of Mahler is going to bring crowds banging on the doors, or that kicking musicians into limbo will improve morale in the band. Cutting an orchestra is usually one short step from killing it altogether.
Columbus, where I have never set foot, has (so I’m told) an appreciative, cultured audience who don’t want to fly to Cleveland or Detroit for a symphonic experience. It also has a proud and supportive NPR station.
A city of 1.75 million can surely stump up a few donors to cover a $1.5 million hole. Slash and burn, which is what the board is proposing, is a policy that went out in the 90s with the bonfire of vanities. Someone needs to take a quick rethink and a look at the map.
Without a symphony orchestra, Columbus becomes a speck.
For more information, check www.symphonymusicians.com
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