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Arts: Oregon Symphony


The economy is especially hard on
the arts. The Oregon Symphony is trying to assuage those cuts
some creative ways to keep the
music playing.


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Carlos Kalmar (on left) is the opens Oregon Symphony's Concert in the Park. © Foreign Interest, 2009

For more information:
Oregon Symphony

Encores and Economies


By Sherry Harbert, Foreign Interest


Young and old crowded onto the grassy knoll along the Willamette River in downtown Portland to listen to the Oregon Symphony during one of the last weekends of the summer. Carlos Kalmar, the Austrian conductor from Uruguay, delighted the crowd with gracious introduction and music. The crowds came to listen to a Mikhail Glinka overture, an Antonin Dvorak dance and a Edvard Grieg suite. The free admission  was all the more inviting. The symphony has long prided itself on offering special treats with performances in the parks to its eager audience. This year’s waterfront concert was the only free performance this year, though, due to an economy that has silenced many of symphony’s public offerings.


The Oregon Symphony is one of the least publically-funded orchestras on the West Coast, according to Mayor Sam Adams who told the audience of a new program that the city hopes will increase funding for the arts. It will be a difficult sell in a state that continues to hold one of the largest unemployment percentages in the country. The symphony was already feeling the pinch of years of growing costs and fragile funding. During the last decade symphonies around the country have had to re-define their financial standings. Through it all, the Oregon Symphony looked to be more than an evening performance. Its educational program brought music and education into the classrooms around the metropolitan area. The Kinderkonzerts opened the youngest of students (Kindergarten through second grade) to music education. The symphony also sponsors community appreciation programs, along with masters’ classes and youth concerts.


Monica Hayes, director of the education and community engagement program for the symphony, makes clear that the symphony isn’t about to take on music education in public education, but to fill a small void left by cuts in funding for arts programs well before the recent economic downturn. With the symphony forced to negotiate pay cuts with its musicians this year, it is even more stretched to offer music education.


One of the most ambitious programs was reaching beyond the metropolitan area. The Community Music Partnership selected a school district per year to bring a series of educational workshops and performances to areas in the state which would otherwise rarely get a chance to experience a full professional orchestra. Two of the recent districts included La Grande and Tillamook.



The partnership brought together teachers, parents and school administrators who worked with the orchestra to bring the music to rural areas on each side of the Cascade Mountains in the state. Hayes described the program as a two-year residency which included a visit from the conductor, musicians’ ensembles that focused on particular sections of the orchestra and some community concerts. A side-by-side concert offered the chance for students to play alongside a professional musician. It is an incentive that creates a strong foundation for young musicians. The second year of the program focused on staff development so schools could continue offering music education.


The need for such outreach is two-fold. It is important that citizens have the opportunity to attend a symphony performance. It is also important to sustain the orchestra. “We need our future musicians training in the pipeline,” said Hayes. The symphony continues to look to the future of new musicians by advocating for arts funding with the state legislature. If the programs are gone, so to may be many of the future musicians. The symphony is partnering with the City of Portland and other arts’ organizations to look for new ways of funding. The musicians agreed to some sharp cuts to continue creating music for the city.


The symphony is hoping local citizens share that commitment to music and the arts. Arts’ enthusiasts can join the symphony with a membership contribution. Part of the membership benefits include a chance to listen to the orchestra in practice sessions. Another way the symphony is trying to engage its audience is by bringing ticket purchasing in-house. Eliminating a third-party entity means greater savings for concert-goers.


For a city who has shared in the benefit of the symphony for decades, the symphony is hoping that their current and new supporters agree that the symphony is well worth it.

October 12, 2009
© 2009, Foreign Interest


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