An American quiet: How a state capital lost its music

An American quiet: How a state capital lost its music


norman lebrecht

September 23, 2014

We reported last month that Sacramento, capital of California, is the largest US city without a functioning orchestra or opera house.

One man cares. A lot. Gregg Wager, a local music critic, explains for Slipped Disc readers how the music died in his town.


Sad Sac Swan Song



Is there anything more horrible than curbing your enthusiasm about the arts, lest you offend the locals who believe their paradise is beyond reproach? I’ve lived in Sacramento long enough to have learned how to artfully indicate to even its most stubborn provincials its genuine world-class accomplishments (such as being the city that founded Tower Records).

Then again, when two of this city’s mainstay arts organizations have all but gone precariously and simultaneously belly up, artful words seem less appropriate than that more immediate form of communication called blowing raspberries. Combining such skills as a music critic, I tried six years ago to warn, prophesy, naysay, finger-wag, and even augur about what might be to come, in light of the Philharmonic’s then checkered recent past and timid news coverage from the city’s only remaining albeit quickly disintegrating metro daily newspaper, the Sacramento Bee: .

            Then last year, the Sacramento Philharmonic and the Sacramento Opera joined forces in a shotgun marriage of sorts called Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance (SRPAA) and brought in a capable ringer working in Europe named Rob Tannenbaum to serve as its general director. This ringer would oversee a combined budget of over $2 million, and actually took over artistic direction last February when a production of Il trovatore required it. Last January was also a moment of optimism when a private donation of $500K promised to continue SRPAA, even if few Sacramentans even knew of this arcane acronym, let alone how to pronounce it.

Then the dominoes fell. In April, Tannenbaum resigned. Last August, SRPAA “cancelled” its “Fall Season” (leaving open the possibility of one collaborative concert in May 2015 by the Philharmonic with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, although the program and exact dates remain unannounced). All was attributed to there being only $131K left in the SRPAA coffers.

Philharmonic member Thomas Derthick laments a long string of misfortunes, at times resembling an undisciplined food fight. “Everyone’s afraid to talk while the patient is still breathing,” he explained in a telephone conversation, providing insider analysis as to why the Bee might have been sitting on the ongoing death spiral of these organizations, as well as to why no donor is really ponying up now to save them. “Whether you should now write a requiem or obituary, I can’t really say.”

            Well, I’d blow a raspberry, if I knew how to spell it. Otherwise, resquiat in pace.