By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The New York Philharmonic's surprise announcement last Monday that it was moving from its Lincoln Center home to Carnegie Hall was news to the music industry. The merger of these two institutions will have repercussions all the way to Cincinnati and other cities with major orchestras that tour.
When the Philharmonic takes up residency in Carnegie Hall, probably in 2006, its calendar of about 130 performances annually will not likely leave room for the hall's visiting orchestra series, ranging from orchestras of the heartland - such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - to the Vienna Philharmonic.
"I think there are a lot of nervous artistic administrators, wondering how it's all going to work out," says New York publicist Milina Barry.
The announcement of the merger - which will result in a combined endowment of $350 million - came before the parties had worked out specific details.
CSO watches and waits
The news surprised Steven Monder, president of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, who received a fax from the Philharmonic's executive director Zarin Mehta.
"Our orchestra performs regularly in Carnegie Hall," he says. "One would assume there will be future dates available ... but we don't know how many, or what Carnegie's plans will be for a visiting orchestras series, nor what their priorities will be for the hall."
CSO music director Paavo Jarvi, who in March made his debut with the CSO at Carnegie Hall in the "Great American Orchestras" series, said that the CSO had a firm invitation to return, although it is not on the calendar next year.
Spokeswoman Ann Diebold says the hall will honor previous commitments, and will continue to present visiting orchestras.
"The tradition of ... presenting great orchestras of the world is important, and we are committed to continuing that," she says.
But with the Philharmonic performing four nights a week in the 2,804-seat Isaac Stern Auditorium, few days of the week will be left for the special programs, visiting artists, orchestras and chamber ensembles. Diebold says that chamber music will be moved to the basement-level, 640-seat Zankel Hall, opening in September. But visiting orchestras, such as the CSO, have no idea whether there will be room for them.
"It's just really not clear yet what the implications of this potential move or merger might be," agrees Jack McAuliffe of the American Symphony Orchestra League.
The CSO began performing at Carnegie Hall in 1917. For the past three decades, it has appeared annually. The May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Pops have also appeared.
It is America's most prestigious stage, celebrated for its acoustics. Built in 1891 and saved from the wrecking ball in 1960 by violinist Isaac Stern, it is the destination of every serious musician. It was the home of the New York Philharmonic from 1891 until 1962, when the orchestra left for the new Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center.
The news comes at a time when many orchestras are experiencing severe financial troubles. Last month, the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra folded. Today, the Louisville Orchestra is expected to declare bankruptcy.
New business model
The merger emphasizes, Monder says, "the fact that all major arts organizations are looking for meaningful new ways to operate ... that could help them stay dynamic and strong in this very challenging economic environment."
If Carnegie Hall retains its visionary programming and educational programs - many of which were established by onetime Cincinnatian Judith Arron, who died in 1998 - the arrangement will likely benefit both partners. Cautious programming - a recurring complaint of the Philharmonic's critics - could have a disastrous effect.
And the merger might be a boon for Lincoln Center, which could see numerous ensembles clamoring for a place to play. But will orchestras settle for playing in Avery Fisher, a hall that has been plagued with acoustical problems and never had the cachet of Carnegie Hall?
"I think they will," says Connie Shuman, a New York publicist who represents conductor James Conlon as well as several major orchestras. "In the end, it's a New York concert. My guess is, they won't like it, but if you want a New York performance to be heard by national and New York critics, that's where you're going to go."
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