I wasn’t able to attend the Oregon Symphony’s annual membership meeting this afternoon due to teaching commitments, but I did read the summary by local arts journalist James Bash, and I have some thoughts of my own.
First of all, it must be said that the financial situation of the symphony is undeniably precarious. It is a very serious threat to the future health of the orchestra, and steps must be (and have begun to be) taken to improve the financial underpinnings of the organization.
This having been said, the orchestra continues to perform at a very high level, and we are performing interesting, engaging programs. In addition, I feel that in Elaine Calder we have found just the kind of no-nonsense leadership that we need to get ourselves out of this financial mess. In a remarkably short time she has really gotten a feel for what works and what doesn’t within the organization, and is rapidly developing a snapshot of the inner workings of the arts scene in Portland.
I also feel that the musicians are cognizant of the issues facing the organization, and are willing to be partners in finding unique, collaborative ways to solve these problems. I don’t think (as someone with no special or advance inside knowledge) that there will be major changes in what symphony patrons see when they go to concerts, but there will doubtless some changes behind the scenes that will enable the organization to grow and thrive in the coming years.
My biggest fear is that, in the short time of transition and restoration, the symphony will fall out of the top echelon of arts organizations that create buzz and excitement in the community. We’ll continue to be the largest, in terms of budget, but in the arts coverage of the past year or so I’ve noticed much more focus on innovation at the Oregon Ballet Theater, exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum, and other such organizations as Body Vox, Whitebird Dance, and Portland Center Stage. I hope that we’re able to keep a good balance between ensuring survival and creating new and interesting experiences at and around our concert presentations.