Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's Japan or bust for CSO backers

By Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer • jgelfand@enquirer.com • October 22, 2009

Without a group of loyal music lovers, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra would not be touring Japan in the coming two weeks.

The orchestra, led by music director Paavo Järvi, leaves today for seven concerts in four cities through Nov. 5. The tour will be funded through a combination of fees paid by presenter Japan Arts, with nine local couples and a family foundation making up the difference of $200,000 - an estimated 20 percent of the cost.

Some patrons, proud that the hometown orchestra will represent Cincinnati abroad, did not have to be convinced to support the tour. Others were persuaded by the music director that touring was important to maintaining the stature of the orchestra.

"The reason we gave was because Paavo was so passionate about this, and so absolutely convinced us that this needed to happen," says Sue Friedlander of Hyde Park, who with her husband, Bill, has attended the symphony for more than 50 years. "My mixed feelings are, is this really necessary to take the orchestra this far away, or anywhere? But (Järvi) feels that it's very important to not only expose the world to our orchestra, but to expose them to other halls, and other venues and other audiences."

The Friedlanders are among a group of patrons and fans who are packing their bags to meet up with the orchestra for concerts in Tokyo. The tour will include two concerts in Tokyo's famed Suntory Hall - regarded by many as the "Carnegie Hall" of Japan. The CSO will also visit Nagoya and Nishinomiya (near Kobe) and make a return visit to Yokohama.

The orchestra's last tour to Japan in 2003 was partly underwritten by Toyota Motor Manufacturing, North America. But a 12-city, five-country European tour last April, which had no tour sponsor, ended up costing the orchestra $800,000.

Corporate donors are still giving to the arts, although in the current economy, it's often in smaller numbers, and they may be more selective about what they sponsor. The orchestras of Philadelphia and Boston canceled international tours this year because of the economy.

"It's true that the overall corporate sponsorship environment has been affected by the economy," says Judith Kurnick, spokesperson for the League of American Orchestras, a support group. "Whether it's about touring or not, we don't know. But there's no question that everybody is looking much more carefully about what they're able to give and where it goes."

Longtime symphony fan Peter Courlas, a psychotherapist who practices in Montgomery and lives Downtown, was glad to help send the orchestra to Japan. He and fellow donor Nicholas Tsimaras are also traveling to Tokyo to hear the CSO's performances.

"I really feel a sense of pride in the orchestra," Courlas says. "I've been a subscriber for 50 years, and week after week, they've given me so much joy. Paavo and the orchestra have contributed so much to the artistic culture of our city, and with the recession they made considerable financial concessions, wanting to maintain their high standards. It says a lot about their integrity as an ensemble."

After unprecedented cost-cutting measures last season, including musician concessions, staff reductions, administrative and staff pay cuts (including Järvi) and the elimination of recordings, the orchestra's president, Trey Devey, was determined that this tour be funded before today's departure. Originally planned to three Asian countries, the tour was scaled back to Japan only.

Arrangements with tour presenters are not made public. But on average, it costs at least $500,000 per week for orchestras to tour internationally. Tour costs include not only flying the musicians to Japan and paying for their hotels, but also trucking 18,880 pounds of musical instruments and equipment to Chicago, to be flown separately by cargo plane to Tokyo - and back.

"We don't go unless it's fully funded. We were concerned that the amount of money raised wasn't sufficient, and we didn't want to have a deficit situation," says Melody Sawyer Richardson, vice chairman of the board, who also will be traveling to Tokyo. "We're really proud of our orchestra and want to share it with the world."

Patron Chris Neyer of Mount Lookout, who supported the trip with her husband, Tom, president emeritus of Al Neyer Inc., says they agreed because Järvi made it clear that touring is important to him, and she wants him to remain in Cincinnati. The orchestra under this maestro, she believes, makes the region an important draw for businesses wanting to relocate.

"I am proud of the orchestra, but I love it with him," she says. "You have no idea how many big companies come into Cincinnati and ask about the cultural scene. It's very important to drawing people."

And that quality of life in Cincinnati translates to audiences abroad.

"An orchestra represents a set of values about a city," says the League of American Orchestra's Kurnick. "It really communicates that there's a rich, vibrant, not only cultural life, but quality of life. .... What other organization carries the name of the city in a way that is so visible and that makes such an impression?"

To Otto Budig of Indian Hill, president of the Otto M. Budig Family Foundation, it's about civic pride, whether it's for the Bengals, the Reds or the Cincinnati Symphony.

"I'm convinced that our symphony orchestra is one of the finest in the country, if not in the world. But the only way we can prove to the world that we are as good as we say we are is by traveling the world and showing our stuff," he says.

John Palmer, vice chairman of the Ohio National Life Insurance Co., who lives in Indian Hill, and his wife, Farah, are also packing their bags for Japan.

"It's important to show them off, and it's also because they are really so good. These things can be transitory, but they are just strikingly good. At their best, they are fantastic," Palmer says. "It was something that was important to them, and I wanted to support it. It's as simple as that."

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