It took 11 years for Sergei Rachmaninoff to gain enough confidence to premiere another symphony after his first ended in disaster. More than a century later, this masterpiece marks another comeback – this time for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, who is determined to stay on course for its first Masterworks series performance even through the most challenging periods.
It’s like a clarion call, music director and conductor Andrew Constantine says. You have to announce yourself with something big and splendid. Rachmaninoff is a great example of that.
Facing a deficit of more than $2.3 million and ongoing contract negotiations with its musicians, the Philharmonic’s musicians union announced Wednesday that it is prepared to strike if the executive board continues to propose budget cuts that would significantly reduce the number of full-time musicians and their salaries.
The musicians plan to perform Saturday and will continue to work as long as both parties continue negotiating, union officials say.
Constantine, who was interviewed before Wednesday’s announcement, says that despite the distractions, the bottom line is that everyone wants to see the orchestra on stage.
It’s certainly in the back of your mind – and that’s somewhere you need to push it. It’s the nature of the business that every few years when the contract is negotiated with any orchestra, the time is usually in close proximity to opening night, he says. There’s always a degree of angst and concern over it, but I’m sure that both parties want to make music in an as amenable atmosphere as we can.
The Masterworks program on Saturday first opens with a piece by Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20. World-renowned pianist Alon Goldstein will accompany the orchestra.
He (Goldstein) is an absolute poet of the piano, Constantine says. I’m really excited we’re playing some Mozart together. It’s a gorgeous piece of music. It has a very beautiful slow movement; it has a very dark and turbulent opening to it that sets the scene, which is actually calm. It’s a completely different movement.
The evening’s centerpiece, Symphony No. 2, is a crowd-pleasing composition that illustrates how Rachmaninoff transformed his mire into a masterpiece.
The Russian composer experienced a nervous breakdown after a disastrous performance of his Symphony No. 1 in 1897 earned him harsh criticism. It took the composer three years of psychotherapy and hypnosis before he could write a large-scale piece. He gained some assurance when his 1900 Piano Concerto No. 2 became wildly popular; however, he still went through many revisions of his Symphony No. 2 before its premiere in 1908. Though the piece was well-received, Rachmaninoff swore that he would never write another symphony – and he didn’t for nearly 30 years.
It’s such a powerful, autobiographical and deeply felt piece of music. There’s a lot that he is bringing forward after the nervous breakdown, Constantine says. It had a dramatic effect on him. This is an example of him writing very lush, romantic music that strikes a chord with everybody who hears it.
Opening the season with traditional classical pieces, he says this Masterworks season will blend familiar and unfamiliar works, along with bolstering eight American composers; four of whom are contemporary composers creating music today. Although orchestras are fighting an uphill battle to get people into seats, Constantine says it’s also important for him to build a relationship with audiences and present works they may not know as well as Rachmaninoff.
You want to keep people happy in what they hear, but you want to build this feeling of trust with your audience. That’s what I work toward most, he says. I don’t think too much in those commercial terms. It’s like the negotiations, it’s something that plagues your mind, but it’s important to me to first have this feeling of a relationship with the audience and I think that’s what we have.
The Philharmonic saw an increase in concert tickets sales last season. J.L. Nave III, president and CEO, says that the Masterworks subscription revenue this year is slightly ahead of what the Philharmonic made last season.
I attribute it to the programs Andrew put together and just the incredible energy and talent our orchestra has to perform this kind of music. It’s been exciting people, and it’s being spread through word of mouth, Nave says. Our goal is to have a balanced budget for the 2013-14 season, and then we have the task of reducing that deficit. All of our debt is in a line of credit at this point – we just need to start the process of paying it down and getting it reduced.
Nave says both the executive board and musicians are aware of the challenges and are well-prepared to take the time needed to reach a resolution.
Both sides do not want any interruption to the season. Our sole focus is finding a mutual agreement. That’s where our energies are focused on right now, he said this week. I think what’s important to understand is that these are difficult conversations. Our musicians are incredibly important to our organization – they are the product. They perform the music. These are important and difficult conversations, but the fact we can sit down and have these conversations and maintain a mutual respect and understanding has been very positive.
With a season that includes a performance with the Fort Wayne Ballet, photochoreography and a world premiere of a contemporary piece, Constantine says it’s all about enjoying the music, despite the business.
It’s important to realize there is so much great music out there and you only hear a fraction of it. That goes for me as much for anyone in the audience, he says. One of my objectives is to expand people’s knowledge of great music. I think it’s important for an orchestra like ours and a music director like myself to do that. I hope the audience likes that approach; they seem to be. The more people who come to the concert is great for us, and it’s great for Fort Wayne.