Today I read an alarming article from Minnesota Public Radio entitled, “Do the Twin Cities Need 2 Orchestras?” by Euan Kerr. The title, in my opinion, is phrased to be purposefully provocative and my initial reaction was an outraged “Of course it does!” I know several members of the Minnesota Orchestra, and many of my former musicians at the School of Music have gone on to perform in symphony orchestras. Of course two orchestras are better than one.
I calmed down a little as I read; the article itself raises this subject for discussion rather than taking a negative stance toward our dual orchestra situation in the Twin Cities and I learned a few things too. Did you know that St. Paul, Minnesota is the only city in the United States with a professional chamber orchestra? And that the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is, in fact, internationally renown? And that the Minnesota Orchestra has existed for over a hundred years? And that the respective annual budgets for the MO and the SPCO in 2011 were $30 million and $11 million?
Kerr’s article indicates there is and has been for some time uncertainty about the Cities’ continuing ability to financially support two orchestras. And the number seem to support this: according to Jon Campbell, the Minnesota Orchestra’s Treasurer, their donor gifts and endowment levels have been “trending down over the last four years, due to the economy,” and the orchestra is reporting an operating loss of $2.9 million for 2011.
But Kerr also quotes Bruce Fidge, president of the International Conference of Symphony Orchestra Musicians as saying “Orchestras, like sports teams, bring prestige and people…to a city. They are an integral part of a thriving arts community.” I agree with Fidge. One of the things I love about the Twin Cities is the number of artistic events happening any given week. According to the Mayor of Minneapolis R.T. Rybak, “When you add [Minneapolis’ visual art scene] to Minneapolis’ outstanding theater, music and performing-arts attractions, you have one of the world’s great metropolitan regions for being an artist and loving art.”
I think we should fight for our orchestras: for our TWO orchestras. In ancient times, musicians often had patrons or kings who would support them while they devoted themselves to their art. While we no longer live under that system (a fact which has its positives and its negatives) there are still of course ways to support the arts. And by ‘fight for our orchestras” what I really mean is attend their concerts.
One of the other major advantages of having two major orchestras in the Cities that I experienced as a student at the University of Minnesota was that my professors were members of these orchestras: the two examples of this being my harp professor who is principle harpist of the MO and my orchestra conductor who is the Director of New Music Projects for the SPCO. What an advantage for me as a student!
Being a poor (not quite starving) musician myself, I sometimes feel reluctant to attend too many concerts; the cost adds up quickly. But I’ve decided recently that I as an artist who would like to be supported not only want to, but must, support the arts. And I urge you to do so as well!
Stephanie Claussen is a professional harpist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She performs on her harp throughout Minnesota in various concerts, recitals, and collaborations with other musicians. Consider signing up for her e-mail newsletter to be notified directly of upcoming performances and important announcements.