ASO in orchestrated effort for wider audience

Selling souvenirs part of giving symphony greater visibility in the region

July 02, 2004|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On one level, the life blood of an orchestra is the music it plays.

But in this age of declining audiences and a dumbed-down, ever-changing popular culture, orchestras must be more entrepreneurial to survive.

That explains why Annapolis Symphony Orchestra headquarters - in the hot, humid Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts - is full of ASO T-shirts, caps, illuminated wands and blinking violins.

The orchestra is preparing for its Independence Day concert tomorrow at 8 p.m. at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold.

But the souvenirs aren't merely about fund raising, says R. Lee Streby, the ASO's executive director. From his vantage point as head of the orchestra's administration, the trinkets are about increasing his orchestra's visibility.

"Our vision statement calls for us to be recognized as the best regional orchestra in the country," says Streby, 37, who came to Annapolis this past winter after holding arts administration posts in New York City and Columbus, Ga.

"We also want people to know us as one of the jewels of the Baltimore-Washington area and of the whole Chesapeake region," Steby says.

"And the first step toward both these goals is to be better known in our own back yard."

The July 3 program will be conducted by Maj. Tim Holtan of the U.S. Army Bands Staff Office.

The Sept. 6 Labor Day concert at Quiet Waters Park will spotlight Annapolis Chorale conductor J. Ernest Green on the podium.

"We're hoping to draw thousands to each," Streby says.

Visibility isn't the only item on the ASO agenda. The orchestra also is repositioning its marketing in an attempt to attract younger audience members and others who might need some encouragement in embracing the classical idiom for a full concert season.

"This is an instance where our size helps us," says the executive director.

"We offer a built-in flexibility that could be quite appealing to classical neophytes. A subscription to the ASO is only a five-concert commitment as opposed to the 10- to 20-concert commitment you can find with major orchestras," he says.

Streby's assistant for marketing and publicity is Amy Consoli, who arrived in January from an administrative post at the Paper Mill Playhouse, a major theatrical house in Millburn, N.J.

Together they will implement a plan that calls for the ASO budget to expand from $862,000 in 2004-05 to $1.3 million in five years.

The "old hand" on deck is Marshall Mentz. who begins his eighth season with the ensemble, following a promotion to orchestra manager.

The jack-of-all trades post will have him overseeing orchestra personnel, coordinating concert logistics, engaging soloists and running the orchestra's educational programs.

"Actually, the new title is more of a recognition of what I've already been doing than a change in my routine," Mentz says, "but, hey, I'll take the promotion."

Together with Sharon Dickerson, a three-year ASO veteran who runs the box office, and a new director of development soon to be named, Streby, Consoli and Mentz form the core of the management team.

"Perhaps our biggest task is convincing people that what we have to offer is accessible to them," says Streby, looking beyond the two summer concerts to the 2004-05 season, which will culminate with the naming of the orchestra's new conductor next spring.

"We know how accessible and how wonderful the music is, which is why we are so passionate about our orchestra," Streby says.

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