8 years ago

Volume 5 Issue 7 - April 2000

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S2 FEATURE STORIES Behind the Scenes continued from page 51 from the three levels of government.· We were technically bankrupt in 1 92 and there was a massive debt. That doesn't exactly control us, but we don't bring in Midori, we don't bring in Alfred Brendel to a 500, seat hall." Me: "Some of your artists have been with you for a long time, like the Tokyo String Quartet. ". · Jennifer: "Yes, we used to say they were the house band. At one point Peter Oundjian was having trouble with his hand, we said, OK, so you're having first · violin problems, we stayed with them through that. They worked as a piano quartet with Ruth Laredo, a year and a half later the cellist left. They got ·it sorted out, and they'll be back here in February 2001. We were the Toronto home for the Orford Quartet, too. And we have our ensembles-in-residence, the Gryphon Trio and the Toronto String Quartet " Me: "Do you get requests from artists to appear in your season?" · Jennifer: "Daily. And we have people we always want to bring back, like Arthur Ozoljns." · Me: "Who decides what is programmed? " Jennifer: "Usually the artists send the ·two or three programs that they're touring. We occasionally do some mixing and matching. But I'd like to say, it's 'not brain surgery. We don' t want to hear it again if we've just heard it. One year six of the eight quartets wanted to do Death and the Maiden, so we put it up for grabs. It seems to be the Zeitgeist. .. three or four people asking to plan Dvorak, then no Dvorak for years." Me: "What about your audience? You said you have subscribers who have been with you from the first season. How do you keep them coming back?" Jennifer: "Consistency. Our audience already know many of the artists in our season, and they know they can trust us for the quality of the ones who are new to them. Six of our eight quartets for 2000- :;wo 1 are Banff winners, not always first but they placed. We always keep an eye on the competitions - Isabelle Bayrakdarian won the Met, that gets you noticed, and we watch t_he international piano competitions. And it's not always the first place winners we want, sometimes the second · place is much more interesting. David Owen Norris will come in and say, 'If I could only get one pianist next year, I'd want itto be so-and-so.' Or a subscriber might tell us, "I heard the Pacifica Quartet on PBS, you should check them out. ' "We work hard to keep our audience, and we try to start them young. We invented a ticket in 1990 - we get 30 to 80 students each concert. We have master classes - someone will attend one now, and ten years later they tum up as a subscriber. We have what we call the 1835 program - if you're between 18 and 35, you pay your age. The 18 year olds get 603 off, and the 35 year olds get the same price as our subscribers. The artists · like this, too. Because our hall is small they can see who is in the audience -- last month a member of the Petersen Quartet bounded up to me at intermission to. say, 'Ms Taylor, you have people in your audience who still have black hair!' She leans back in her chair and makes a megaphone with her hands, "AND WE SERVE COOKIES AT INTERMISSION!" Me: "Do you have to be conservative to be · consistent?" Jennifer looks thoughtful. "There is what we call sandwich programming,, start out with Mozart or Haydn, then some 20th century, then finish with Beethoven or Brahms. But we decided that we would haul our series kicking and screaming into the 2Q•h century while there w as still s_ome of it left. We couldn't just add a new series, and you can't live on single tickets. So one night of each of our four series was ·designated as Contemporary Classics, and we sell that as a series, top. I was worried about what our subscribers would think, but I know they are willing to listen before they make their decision. I wrote to them. 'You don't have to like it, we're doing this because it is our time'. Well, Debussy, Shostakovitch, they're 2Q•h century, they're not hard to take. We said, 'You don't have to like it, you can always exchange your ticket.' But, 9_8 3 of them kept their tickets. We told them, 'Look, it's only for one night, · give it an ear.' We had Eve Egoyan here last week, the review started, 'It's not that far geographically from the Music Gallery to the St. Lawrence Centre ...', she laughs. "I'm not saying that I don't have people ·walking out, but nobody is throwing tickets back." Me: "They 're that lbyal?" Jennifer: "They' re that'loyal. I have one long term subscriber who has trouble watching the first violin of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, GeoffNuttall -­ he moves around a lot when he plays. ' She turns in her seat so as not to have to look 1 at him, but she's always there. We told them, 'It's only one night, give it an ear, you don't have to like it. ' I don't want to give up my Beethoven, I do want to hear other people." Me: Do you commission new works? Jennifer: "We're not commissioners. We haven't commissioned since .... " She draws a blank. "We are maybe your second performance, or your third." Me: "So you help music as well as artists and audiences to get established?" Jennifer: "Yes. We still think we are a big organization with an international reputation, and we think we have a social purpose. One of the .reasons we look at Banff winners is that they have year's commissioned competition piece in their repertoire." Me: "You present a concert a week during your season, that's too much work!" Jennifer is delighted: "Put that in!" Me: "Seriously! How do you manage the programs, the advertising, ail the stuff. .. " Jennifer: "I don't do the programs, I farm that out. There's only one of me, I farm out everything I can. My suppliers are my staff. One of the tiny things I'm proud· of is that when we were technically bankrupt in '92, we paid everyone back, 100 cents on the dollar. I still have the same limo company, we paid them off; and the same printer, too, he kept working for us while we paid him off. . I believe that, if someone does a good job for you, you don't just drop them because you found someone who does it cheaper. And I couldn't, COULD NOT manage without The St. Lawrence Centre, they give us a good rate, they have the best-organized box office i ~ the city, and Scott Laurence (Operations Director for SLC's Jane Mallett Theatre) is simply wonderful." "There's only one of me, but I'm not alone. I have a Board of Directors. Arts boards are .. can you find a nice way of saying 'pain in the ass'? But ours is a very active, very involved Board, which makes it easy for me. The executive committee especially, they are the people I talk to." Me: "Where does Music Toronto go next?" J ennifer: "We stick to our knitting. It's a life sentence: We will stay with our audience and our artists -- and, yes, our su·ppliers. The artists are important because they do it. The audience is important because that's who they do it for. If things get rough, we'll continue to say, OK this could be really dire or it could be really interesting."

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