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Music

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If you go
What: Fort Wayne Philharmonic presents “Opening Night: Bursting with Life”
Where: Embassy Theatre, 125 W. Jefferson Blvd.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Admission: Tickets, from $15 to $60, are available by calling 481-0777.
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne Philharmonic maestro Andrew Constantine enjoys watching Manchester United on TV at J.K. O’Donnell’s.

Maestro pulls back curtain

If you follow European football, then you may be able to predict the whereabouts of Fort Wayne Philharmonic maestro Andrew Constantine.

Whenever Manchester United is playing and the time difference is favorable to Hoosier business hours, the British-born Constantine can usually be found in the back of J.K. O’Donnell’s watching the game live on a big-screen TV.

Sometimes he is joined there by teachers from Homestead High School and by some of Constantine’s staffers.

“They turn to me and say, ‘I don’t know what’s going on,’ ” Constantine says of his staffers. “And I tell them, ‘Just shut up and watch.’ ”

Constantine is passionate about European football, aka soccer, and he is passionate about classical music. He freely borrows metaphors from one discipline to describe the other.

He says he has come up with several defensive strategies for dealing with the difficult parts of Jonathan Leshnoff’s “Starburst,” which he will conduct Saturday as part of “Bursting with Life,” the orchestra’s season-opening concert.

“There’s always a sporting analogy to suit,” he says.

Leshnoff is not only a living composer; he’s a young one. He is only in his late 30s.

Constantine came to Fort Wayne promising that the Philharmonic would play more modern music, but he never said unpalatable music.

“I have always said I wouldn’t be interested in performing it if I wasn’t interested in listening to it,” he says.

Whatever highfalutin phrases Leshnoff might use to describe “Starburst,” Constantine compares it to a train speeding along a railroad track.

“Wonderful,” he concludes with palpable pleasure.

Constantine says the orchestra has commissioned a work from Leshnoff, not only because they like the cut of the composer’s jib, but because commissioning works conveys honor upon the commissioner.

“I want to get the word about the Fort Wayne Philharmonic out there,” he says.

The Fort Wayne Philharmonic, like many other orchestras in the country, has had to work harder than ever to remain financially sound amid an economic downturn and rapid changes in the public’s musical tastes.

J.L. Nave, Fort Wayne Philharmonic president and CEO, says the orchestra ended the 2011-12 season with an accumulated deficit of $1.8 million.

“It’s a figure that is larger than anybody wants it to be,” he says. “It’s not sustainable in the longer term, but it’s not so large that it can’t be managed.”

Nave says the Philharmonic board established a sustainability task force a few months ago.

The purpose of the task force was to “take a look at the history (of the organization) and come up with a set of recommendations that the board could act upon.”

The task force has provided no specifics yet, he says.

“The Fort Wayne Philharmonic is in no immediate danger,” Nave says. “We’re fortunate to have the time and resources to be able to take our time and talk through these things.”

Nave says the musicians’ contracts expire in August 2013, and while he didn’t specifically cite the current mess in Indianapolis as a timely if unfortunate cautionary tale, most eyes in the classical musical business are unquestionably trained on that city right now.

Unionized musicians and the Indianapolis Symphony are embroiled in a contract dispute that has necessitated the cancellation of performances and a lockout.

“The gap between what the musicians’ union is proposing and what is essential to economically sustain the ISO’s future is just too great,” a Sept. 9 news release from the symphony read. “The union’s proposed extension would only exacerbate the ISO’s already difficult financial challenges.”

Nave says the Fort Wayne Philharmonic wanted to “start these conversations sooner rather than later so we can take the time we need to solve our issues collaboratively.”

“(Our musicians aren’t) paid lots of money to begin with,” he says. “We certainly want to protect them and protect the artistic quality (of the orchestra) as much as possible while understanding the financial realities that we’re in.”

Asked how he would describe the health of classical music in this country at the moment, Constantine responds, “(Expletive); how do I commit myself to an answer to something as big and scary as that?”

Constantine says some orchestras have come up with ingenious ways to address these relatively fresh challenges. But with many school districts canceling or greatly truncating art and music programs and arts funding in general trending downward, the people who tout the benefits of music and other creative endeavors fight an uphill battle.

“How many times do we have to shout from the rooftops the benefits of a musical education?” he asks.

Constantine says studies have linked musical education to increased cognition, maturity and coordination. It would be hard to find something that music education doesn’t have a felicitous effect on, he says.

“I am discouraged because we have pile after pile of tome upon tome that attest to the benefits that a cultural education brings people – arts in general and music, specifically,” Constantine says. “But we only pay lip service to that.

“It’s always a challenge to get the message across that life is diminished so much if it doesn’t have a cultural component,” he says. “It becomes mere existence.”

Apparently, many of the new patrons who have been lured to Embassy Theatre by reduced ticket prices got the message that culture is vital.

During Constantine’s tenure with the orchestra, some concertgoers started breaking long-standing traditions regarding decorum during classical performances by clapping between movements and “going crazy at the end of concerts,” Nave says.

“I have had a couple of people come up me and say, ‘Oh my gosh. People clapped between movements,’ ” Nave says. “And I’ve said, ‘You know what. I love it. I think that’s wonderful.’ ”

Constantine insists that there’s nothing stuffy about what the orchestra is up to these days.

“We’re not just a load of poncy guys in penguin suits playing music to the people who can afford to go,” he says. “Yes, there has always been a vested interest in making serious music an elitist, private club. But that’s just not true anymore.

“But the myth is hard to dispel,” Constantine says.

spen@jg.net

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