Goodbye, Columbus

Goodbye, Columbus


norman lebrecht

January 29, 2008

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.
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  • aloysius says:

    I’ll bet they can muster up 4 to 6 concerts a year by touring subsidized orchestras. This is the future of music in smaller markets. No big deal.

  • David Bower says:

    Bravo! Exactly right. There’s nothing like an orchestra at war with itself (take the Seattle Symphony, for example).
    Actually, as a former Ohioan, the folks in Columbus wouldn’t have to fly to Cleveland (2 hour drive) to hear one of the finest orchestras in the world or Detroit (ca. 3 hour drive), an orchestra on the upswing. They could also drive about an hour to Dayton to hear their underappreciated Philharmonic or especially to Cincinnati to hear the world-class ensemble that has always been there and has been further polished by Paavo Jarvi. One could go to Toledo, as well, or even a moderate drive to hear the fine collegiate orchestras at the Oberlin Conservatory, the Cleveland Institute of Music, or the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. Columbus is ideally located in the center of the state to make it a fairly easy trip along well-traveled superhighways to reach those destinations.
    But that’s not really the point, is it? Columbus is the capital of Ohio and either the first or second largest metropolitan area in the state. The city has plenty of culture, supports professional sports teams, and has an active philanthropic community. The idea that Columbus can’t also support a full-sized symphony orchestra seems a bit far-fetched.
    Without an orchestra, Columbus might not become a speck, but it would most definitely become, well, less. I hope that this tactic by the Columbus Symphony’s Board is just a wake-up call for the citizenry and philanthropic sector. Let’s hope they don’t realize how valuable a cultural asset the orchestra is until it’s gone.

  • Scott Taylor says:

    Why does this issue not come to the fore? Certainly Columbus has the resources to maintain a symphony. Can the board not communicate the essential needs to maintain a full symphony to this community. If not, let’s get a more astute cadre of board members.

  • Steven Streets says:

    Like they tell me at the bar I never know when to shut up. I started busking for 2 purposes in2000 it was the best way to get my vocal chops to peak for the CSOs Carnagie Hall debut. and to prepare a street schtick to enable my own defection to NYC while there.I was amazed at the reception I found on the NYC street compared to my beloved SUCKUBUS Ohio.I came back because I recognised what a privlige it is to perform with this outstanding Orchestra, even as a volunteer. This is a State Capital in the political big league.I drove a taxi here 24 years and read every paper every day. I know from the partys involved the tell tell signs of union busting when I see it again. As if currency depreciation wasnt enough to drive down real wages.In my schtick I telltourist’s;”COLUMBUS, it aint the Big Apple,it aint the Big Easy, its the BIG…HARD..ON”

  • Phil says:

    You must be on the board, eh aloysius?