Music News & Reviews

Sacramento Philharmonic in resurrection mode; new season on tap

After a year in the dark, the Sacramento Philharmonic has announced an aggressive return to performing, with a seven-concert season for 2015-16.

The return of the 18-year-old orchestra to the concert stage has been largely engineered by a consultancy team composed mostly of staffers from the Detroit Symphony.

The comeback will begin with a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony at the Community Center Theater on June 27.

That work, also called Mahler’s “Resurrection” symphony, was picked as a fitting symbol for the orchestra’s return, said Paul Hogle, leader of the T3 consultancy. Hogle is executive vice president of the highly regarded Detroit Symphony, an orchestra with a budget of $27 million.

The fact that the orchestra will return with Mahler is noteworthy. As a symphonic work, it is not for the faint of heart. It signals that the consultancy is taking an outsized approach in returning the orchestra to the arts landscape in Sacramento.

The season, which extends through May 2016, will end with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

The full-scale return to presenting is a new chapter for both the local orchestra and opera company, both of which have struggled financially since the onset of the economic downturn in 2008. Both companies deeply scaled back the scope of recent seasons. Both canceled their 2014-15 seasons.

The two companies now operate under an umbrella organization called the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance. The alliance hired the consultancy team, called T3, in 2014. The financial terms of the consultancy were not disclosed by the SRPAA.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dan Flanagan, the philharmonic’s concertmaster, about the consultancy and its effort to revive the orchestra.

Flanagan, who is also concertmaster for the Modesto Symphony, made up for lost work in Sacramento by performing with other orchestras.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen to the orchestra; it was looking scary,” Flanagan said. “Now, I feel very positive. It looks as if the leadership have their ducks in a row and the consultancy knows what they’re doing, and the board is really stepping up. I’m very excited and motivated.”

The consultancy has made substantive changes, including a restructuring of the umbrella organization’s board of directors and a new ticket-pricing model that rolls back ticket prices to 2003 levels. Almost half of the tickets will cost less than $25. The top ticket price for any concert will be $65, Hogle said.

The orchestra also announced it will be led permanently by executive director Alice Sauro, a former Detroit Symphony orchestra manager, who came on board earlier this year.

“The relationship with T3 has been a game changer for this organization,” said Laurie Nelson, president of the SRPAA board. The consultancy contract ends in June, and it is unclear whether it will be extended or renewed, Nelson said.

The restructured board, which includes 11 new members, raised almost $500,000 for the orchestra in 2014.

Of that amount, nearly $175,000 came from 17 board members and another $200,000 from private contributions. A total of $25,000 has been raised from corporate giving. The city of Sacramento kicked in the majority of the rest for a series of outreach concerts.

For its 2015-16 season, the orchestra will operate on a $1.7 million budget, said Hogle. Most of that amount has yet to be the raised as the orchestra approaches a new fiscal year, which starts July1.

He said he believes the board will be able to raise that amount. About 70 percent is expected to come from contributions. The remainder will be garnered from ticket sales, he said.

Artistically, the orchestra will be led by a rotation of six up-and-coming conductors who currently lead regional orchestras. The orchestra had been operating under the baton of musical director Michael Morgan since 1999. Morgan will now be the orchestra’s conductor emeritus. He will not conduct any concerts in the 2015-16 season.

The concert programs will mine orchestral and vocal music, said Erik Ronmark, who was instrumental in programming the season. Ronmark is part of the consultancy team and currently general manager and artistic administrator of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

“We also wanted a well-balanced season with an operatic side to it,” said Ronmark. Some of the works programmed will demand the use of the Sacramento Opera chorus. However, the Sacramento Opera will not present any performances in 2015-16.

“Whenever you build seasons like this, you look at what sort of standard repertoire the orchestra wants to perform, as well as what will sell tickets.”

All of its concerts will be performed at the 2,400-seat Community Center Theater.

In crafting the season for the philharmonic, the consultants studied seven American cities comparable in size to Sacramento and found they were offering substantially more classical concerts. For instance, the Kansas City Symphony offered 50 concerts in 2012-13. That year, the Sacramento Philharmonic presented four concerts.

“These seven study cities seemed to suggest that, on a purely population basis, Sacramento should be able to sustain an orchestra and opera company of a size and stature more significant than previous attempts,” said Hogle.

The future of the philharmonic and the opera, he said, rests “in the community’s hands.”

“Soon, the invitation will go out into the community for subscriptions and donations and advocacy and leaders,” said Hogle. “This is where the music meets the road.”

Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee