Monday, September 26, 2011
New Century Chamber Orchestra's 20th Anniversary Season
Artistic organizations, like businesses and human lives, have their own ups and downs and it's particularly fun to be around any group that is on an upward trajectory. For instance, the New Century Chamber Orchestra, a conductorless string ensemble, has had three music directors in its twenty-year history, starting with concertmaster Stuart Canin for seven years and for the last three years, the violin soloist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg who has brought a whole new level of energy to the group.
Last Tuesday, there was an open rehearsal for their 20th anniversary season's first concerts around the Bay Area, and it was fascinating to watch the give and take between Nadja and the various members of the orchestra on everything from tempo to expressive choices.
After the rehearsal, a dozen of us were invited to talk with Executive Director Parker Monroe, Board President Paula Gambs, and Nadja herself (above left), who turned out to be funny and smart. "I'd never been a conductor or a music director before this, so I asked various friends in the industry for advice. 'Beware of your Board,' was instruction number one, and 'Don't become personal friends with your musicians' was instruction number two. Those are probably good pieces of advice, but I didn't follow them because I was blessed with a great Board of Directors led by one of the most wonderful people I've ever worked with, Paula Gambs. Plus, I loved my fellow musicians in this ensemble on first sight, so there was no way I could keep them at arm's length."
Executive Director Parker Monroe also shared the startling news that while most local arts organizations have been struggling mightily in the last three years of recession, the Nadja-led New Century Chamber Orchestra has produced a remarkable statistic. "67 is the number," he said. "Our attendance is up by 67% and our donor base is up by 67% over the last three years. It's amazing."
The orchestra went on its first tour last winter to the Midwest in the middle of a blizzard, and still managed to sell out houses and thrill audiences who weren't used to classical music groups playing with their intensity. "When I went to the first rehearsal three years ago," Nadja related, "the rehearsal space was in a glass room where strangers could walk by and look at you as if you were fish in an aquarium and the sound was ghastly. I asked why they were rehearsing in such a crummy location, and the response was on the order of 'We're lucky just to have this place for rehearsals,' and my response was 'Well, that attitude is your first problem.' "
On account of a cold that arrived with a whammy on Saturday, I didn't make the concert this weekend of Bloch, Mendelssohn, and a modern "Carmen" reworking by the Russian Rodion Schedrin, but the accounts from Axel and Jeff and Joshua made it sound wonderful.