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Orchestra rises from NMSO ashes

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Almost a year ago — on April 19, 2011 — the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, beset by myriad financial problems, closed its doors. But as one door closed, other doors opened.

Within a few weeks after the shuttering, a group of former NMSO musicians organized a concert to honor the former symphony’s supportive patrons.

A few weeks after that concert, the 79-year-old NMSO filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Then another door opened a day after that filing. Former NMSO musicians announced the creation of a new symphonic organization. It would be called the New Mexico Philharmonic. It performed its debut concert later in May.

The philharmonic is very much alive.

It began its inaugural 2011-12 season on Dec. 10, and it will wind up the season’s five classics concerts in Popejoy Hall on Saturday, April 21. Those first four concerts have drawn audiences from about 1,500 to almost 1,800. Popejoy’s capacity is 1,985.

It also presented two neighborhood concerts and two hourlong new-music concerts in other venues.

The philharmonic also is set to perform three concerts at the Rio Grande Zoo, including a Mother’s Day concert on May 13. Its current season concludes June 5 with a concert at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.

Its recently announced second season will include a series of Pops concerts.

The philharmonic is moving along without a full-time conductor/music director. A musicians’ committee in harness with executive director Marian Tanau decide on concert programming. It has brought in guest conductors at reduced rates, Tanau said.

Tanau, a violinist with the Detroit Symphony, divides his time between Michigan and New Mexico. His other duties with the philharmonic include overseeing management, hiring guest artists and conductors, fundraising and working with the board of directors.

“We are in the black,” he said. Tanau declined to give specific revenue figures.

He acknowledged that through community support and city government, the philharmonic was able to buy the NMSO’s music library, percussion instruments, music stands and chairs through bankruptcy court.

Right after the philharmonic played its Dec. 10 concert, about $40,000 in donations came in, mostly from individuals, Tanau said.

The organization is focused on ramping up its fundraising efforts and is being financially conservative in its spending.

“We don’t build the budget based on (musicians’) salaries, but we look at the salaries and the potential for ticket sales and marry those,” Tanau said. “The result is possibly fewer rehearsals.”

Most of the musicians are paid $106 “per service,” which means a rehearsal or a concert, he said. Assistant principals and principals of each orchestra section are paid more per service. The number of players in the philharmonic varies from 40 to 74 depending on the work performed.

“The musicians are paid on a regular cycle depending when the performances are scheduled,” Tanau said. “No payroll has been missed.”

“Fiscal responsibility is one of the bedrock foundational principles of the philharmonic,” said Evan Rice, the president of the organization’s board.

That means, Rice said, “that whatever we are doing is within our means and not beyond them.” He said the board won’t let ambition overwhelm its ability to pay.

“We are gradually building the organization in prudent steps. I think we are very successful,” Rice added. “… Our revenues are exceeding our expenditures.”

To help accomplish that goal, he said, the philharmonic is keeping overhead low. For example, its office occupies donated space.

Seven musicians receive hourly wages for philharmonic administrative work, such as in the music library and doing bookkeeping. Three are on staff and receive stipends. Christine Rancier, a violist, who is the executive assistant/media relations, is one of the three.

Expenditures may increase soon with expanded offerings in its second season. Rice said the estimated expenditures for the 2012-13 season may be between $1.5 million and $2 million.

Meanwhile, the organization is in contract negotiations with the musicians through its labor union, he said.

“Our goal is to save professional orchestral music in Albuquerque. To date we’ve done a pretty good job in doing that. I think our season, musically, has been well received,” he said.

Philharmonic violist Willy Sucre believes the audience has been very supportive of the new orchestra. “I believe we have a new audience coming, which is a wonderful thing,” Sucre said. “The Philharmonic is showing the audience, first of all, that the musicians are not giving up on them. … The new efforts of having an orchestra is really paying off. All around it’s a totally positive experience.”

Artistic excellence is another philharmonic principle, Rice said.

“It’s a conundrum,” he said. “As we try to maintain the highest caliber of artistic performance, that requires additional expenditures. As we are doing interesting, complex, novel pieces (of music), we have to provide ample time for rehearsal of those pieces.”

Journal reviewer D.S. Crafts has praised Philharmonic performances. He said it gave Johannes Brahms’ Second Symphony “an exultant performance that symbolizes the spirit, if not the motto, of the newly formed New Mexico Philharmonic — yes, we are here, and yes, we will succeed!”

In another review, Crafts wrote that the molto vivace movement of Antonin Dvorák’s Symphony “From the New World” “sparkled with continuous flashes of orchestral sunlight.”

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