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Minnesota Orchestra trims guests to save cash

  • Article by: Claude Peck
  • Star Tribune
  • August 24, 2009 - 11:51 PM

When a symphony orchestra announces guest-star cancellations, it's usually because a pianist broke a finger or a visiting conductor got the flu.

The Minnesota Orchestra has made changes to its 2009-10 season for another reason: to save money.

When announced late last year, the upcoming season featured concerts on Oct. 29 and 30 with guest conductor James Conlon, and on a weekend next February featuring guest conductor Robert Spano and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Those big-name guests have been canceled, and replacement concerts announced. The changes were made "for budgetary reasons," said Gwen Pappas, orchestra director of public relations.

Since formulating the 2009-10 season late last year, the orchestra, like other arts organizations, has been buffeted by a terrible economy. The orchestra since then has had to trim expenses, announcing pay cuts for management and, more recently, musicians.

It's not unheard of, but "it's a little extraordinary" for the orchestra to change its season to trim expenses, Pappas said. While they don't release figures for fees paid to celebrity guests, the orchestra applied what Pappas called "a pretty sophisticated calculus" to determine that money saved by not bringing in outside conductors and soloists won't be offset by cancellations or lower ticket sales for replacement concerts.

"We have not heard any protests yet," Pappas said, adding that season subscribers are notified about program changes and given the option to keep their seats or trade them for other concerts.

Conlon, music director of the Los Angeles Opera, was to have conducted a program of Prokofiev and Dvorak. That weekend's concerts will now be an Inside the Classics installment led by Sarah Hicks, the Minnesota Orchestra's assistant conductor, and featuring Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, the Pastoral.

The concerts for Feb. 11 and 12, 2010, with Salerno-Sonnenberg, will now feature music of Grieg, Sibelius and Mozart, led by Esa Heikkilä, a Finnish conductor (and former student of music director Osmo Vänskä).

CLAUDE PECK

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