How to Kill an Orchestra

posted in: The Arts, Politics | 0

This is a testimonial and a cry of pain: I have been an ardent Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra subscriber through two husbands, five or six jobs, and three houses. I’ve watched the orchestra grow in size and expertise, in ensemble and solo work, in glory and power.

     Now the board of directors wants to eviscerate the orchestra, proposing wage cuts of 57-67 percent, drastically reducing the number of concerts requiring a full ensemble, and bringing in outsider “guns for hire” to play on a concert-by-concert basis. As violist Evelina Chao laments in a recent Pioneer Press article, this will be the end of the SPCO as we know it, as we thrill to hear it perform.

     As she points out the musicians have done more than their share to keep the SPCO working at its current excellence. They play free concerts, they’ve accepted reductions in pay that have saved the orchestra $2 million over ten years.

     I suspect that management has made two grandly erroneous decisions recently:
     a. to reduce ticket prices almost beyond belief–we pay ONLY $10 per concert per person as subscribers at a low level. Even as we have not complained, it has seemed ridiculously cheap.We would gladly pay double that!
     b. agreed to a multi-million dollar plan to renovate a small theater in the Ordway as the SPCO’s permanent home. No one asked us, but if they had, we’d have said, NO WAY. The Ordway is a jewelbox concert hall, one of the most beautiful in the world. Why would we want to be cramped in a little theater? Not to mention the huge funding cost this has put on the orchestra’s shoulders.

      There is only one thing to do: PROTEST. Write to Dobson West, President and Managing director at The SPCO, Hamm Building, 408 St. Peter St., Saint Paul, 55102. And contact your city council member and Mayor Coleman. If cities as diverse as Milwaukee, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Houston can fund a fine home-town orchestra, we in Saint Paul can certainly come together and keep afloat one performing at its peak.

     “Outsourcing” doesn’t work in many corporate situations–how many times have you hung up from Delta Airlines because the person on the other end of the line can’t speak understandable English? And it will be the death of this orchestra. We want to keep the SPCO at its current lively, talented, fully funded ensemble. If we wail, many of us will fade into the woodwork, and bite our nails in frustration. We will not cross the river to hear the “other” orchestra.

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