Orchestral spring? well, it's certainly open season

Orchestral spring? well, it's certainly open season


norman lebrecht

April 21, 2011

Another day, another orchestra bites the dust.
The New Mexico Symphony is the latest bankruptcy in America. Bedfordshire Youth Orchestra the most recent British casualty of funding cuts. In Albuquerque, NM, the musicians learned their fate from reading newspapers. In Britain no print or broadcast medium has yet reported the death in Beds.
These are just symptoms of a sweeping phenomenon. Orchestras in Holland await their fate. Musicians in Philadelphia are discovering in court papers that one of the reasons their orchestra has filed for bankruptcy protection is to evade its pension duties – to the musicians.
In Rio de Janeiro, the sackings continue at the Brazil Symphony Orchestra. Its conductor, Roberto Minczuk, is reported to have resigned from the Municipal Theatre (though not the OSB) and is having to deal with a growing foreign boycott. In Buenos Aires, the Teatro Colon is strike bound. 
Where will it all end? The scenario is open-ended. Hardly any orchestra is immune. Gearing up for a bleak future, the New Mexico musicians remember a tribute last year (below) from one of America’s elite players, a member of the vaunted Cleveland Orchestra. But Cleveland itself is not immune to the winds of change. Several managers have told me they expect that, after Philadelphia, it could be the next to go.
These are dire times. And, as Richard Waugh points out below, we are all in the same burrow.

Thursday, March 04, 2010
By Richard Waugh
Violist, Cleveland Orchestra
NMSO, an Underfunded Jewel, Deserves Your Support
From 1987-1990, it was my great honor to serve as assistant principal violist of the
New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. I have since moved on to serve as principal violist of
the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and am now in my 16th season with the Cleveland
Orchestra, an ensemble called by many reviewers as one of the three great orchestras in
the world, along with those in Vienna and Berlin. But this is not about me, I am merely
mentioning my qualifications for voicing my particular opinion.
After not having heard an NMSO concert in years, I was back in town visiting family
and was fortunate enough to attend the Feb. 26 performance. I was deeply moved and
impressed by the concert, start to finish.
Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms featured the NMSO Chorus. If forced to choose
between the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the NMSO Chorus, I’d take the one in
Albuquerque. The Liebermann Concerto for Flute and Orchestra featured Valerie
Potter, the NMSO’s principal flute. I have never heard finer flute playing. The Beethoven
Symphony No. 3 featured impressive blending, ensemble and intonation in every section
of the orchestra. I have performed this piece dozens of times and found Maestro
Guillermo Figueroa’s interpretation fresh and exciting.
No, I am not a trained music critic. The point I’m trying to make here is about the
tremendous quality of what I heard.
What is striking to me is how much the Cleveland Orchestra and the NMSO have in
common. Both are composed of world class musicians who have dedicated their lives to
the art of music and to the city in which they live.
The casual listener might be hard pressed to hear the difference between the two, yet
the annual budget of the Cleveland Orchestra is 10 times that of the NMSO. Are there
NMSO musicians gifted enough to leave and play in major orchestras elsewhere?
Absolutely! Yet for the love of Albuquerque, they choose to stay.
Cleveland is referred to as “the mistake by the lake.” Forbes Magazine recently called it
the most miserable place to live of all major U.S. cities. Yet with a dwindling population
and an exodus of major corporations, the city still supports its beloved orchestra. 


  • Richard’s letter is truly a testament to this jewel of an orchestra now remembered as the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Figueroa did indeed take this orchestra to new heights. Back in the late 1980s, I performed with the then New Mexico Symphony conducted by the very talented Neal Stulberg, on two separate occasions. With Guillermo, we performed Lowell Liebermann’s Third Piano Concerto (Richard refers to Lowell’s wonderful Flute Concerto in his letter), and we were scheduled to perform William Bolcom’s “Prometheus” and Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy” in October. For the city of Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico, we can all hope and pray that the day will come again that a symphony orchestra can be re-created to serve the state and to enrich the lives of the people in New Mexico–especially the next generations for which the music will be a necessary part of their growing lives.