The Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera wants to be your local one-stop classical music destination. The resurgent organization opens the second season of its rebirth this weekend with more than simply a concert and good wishes billowing its sails. Executive director Alice Sauro has just announced regional arts philanthropists the Thomas P. Raley Foundation have invested $300,000 in support of Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera over the next three years.
Thomas P. Raley was the founder of Raley’s Supermarkets, which also owns Bel Air Markets and Nob Hill Foods and the foundation is co-chaired by his daughter Joyce Raley Teel and her husband Jim Teel.
“We have positioned their $100,000 gift as a Challenge Grant, matching dollar-for-dollar all new and increased gifts from other individuals, companies, and foundations through Dec. 31, 2016,” said Sauro.
The SP&O receives a additional bump to its 2016-17 as its three-show “Pops!” series will be underwritten by Nancy McRae Fisher for the second consecutive year.
The good news seems to support the cautious stewardship of Sauro who took over the Philharmonic just a year and a half ago. A former violinist who worked with the Detroit Symphony and as a Broadway series contract musician until an injury derailed her performing career, Sauro has been carefully rebuilding the orchestra’s local profile. After the struggling philharmonic and opera companies merged in 2013, they went dark in 2014. They resurfaced in April of 2015 with a popular education program and accompanying concert followed by the clearly symbolic presentation of Mahler’s “Resurrection” in June of 2015.
Sauro said the popularity of the educational program let her know there was a classical musical audience in Sacramento. “We brought 3,700 kids to the Community Center Theatre. We almost filled it up twice,” Sauro said.
They were using a program created by Carnegie Hall that teaches classroom teachers how to teach music to students since so many schools don’t have stand alone music programs any more. The kids also learn how play recorders and then come to the concert and perform with the Philharmonic musicians on stage.
The 2016-17 season will have six concerts in the “Classics” series and three in the “Pops” series. The opening concert features violinist Karen Gomyo and conductor Michael Christie with the program of Britten’s “Violin Concerto” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5.”
As Sauro was getting to know Sacramento and where the Philharmonic fit in the robust performance arts landscape she realized her first “mission was to see what did Sacramento want from us? What did the community want from us?”
What Sauro found was the audience wanted “great classical music in a more relaxed setting - out in the community as well as the concert hall.” Each concert had more attendees and tickets sold than the previous one ending with selling out both the final classical and Pops concerts of last season.
The appetite for pops concerts was perhaps the most eye-opening. This summer exploration of Led Zeppelin at Bonney Field in partnership with Intercom Radio drew 2,800 people on a 100-degree day. This season’s “Pops” concerts begin Nov. 26 with the Beatles’ “Classical Mystery Tour” at the Community Center Theater with members of the original Broadway cast of “Beatlemania!” also performing. The 2017 pops concerts are “The Music of David Bowie” and “Pet Sounds Live: A Beach Boys Celebration.”
Pops subscriptions for this series are up 50 percent over last year Sauro said. Classical series subscriptions are also up from just over 1,000 last year to 1,160.
The season emphasizes familiar, accessible works. There is no permanent artistic director, with six conductors for the classical season working as guest artists. Sauro said all the orchestra members have signed on for the full season.
“We have taken on the role of working very hard to be fiscally responsible,” Sauro said, “and here we are now in year two still here and not everybody thought we’re going to make it.”
The costlier opera side of the Philharmonic & Opera remains more tentative. There will be a significant vocal component to the second concert in November while the “La Traviata” performance scheduled for the spring likely will be an enhanced staged reading rather than a fully costumed production with a constructed set.
“We are being very careful about how much we are spending,” Sauro said. “A full production of an opera can be debilitating. As we move along we may add some elements, but it will not be a fully staged production.”
Sauro pushes the organization forward with contemporary tweeks such a “tweetseats” in the upper balcony where audience members are encouraged to take out their phones and Tweet about the experience with hashtags (#sacphilopera and #sacphiloperainsider). They are moving toward having programs available as downloads for phones to be viewed at low resolution to not disturb others during performances.
“We’ve really changed the demographic: a lot more young people, a lot of families,” Sauro said. “We were taking away the stigma of your grandmother’s philharmonic.”
Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera
What: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Britten’s Violin Concerto. Michael Christie conducts with guest artist Karen Gomyo, violin.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L Street, Sacramento
Information: (916) 808-5181; sacphilopera.org