Four years ago, cellists and cello enthusiasts from 47 countries - including such luminaries as Yo-Yo Ma and Janos Starker - descended on Baltimore to make music, talk shop and expand horizons.
In June, a long roster of guitarists and guitar enthusiasts from 23 countries - including electric guitar developer Les Paul, jazz great Jim Hall, noted classical artist Sharon Isbin and veteran rocker Andy Summers - did the same.
Neither gathering will be reprised, at least not under the auspices of Towson University, which presented the 2000 World Cello Congress and 2004 World Guitar Congress. The school has pulled the plug on both.
"It seems very shortsighted of the administration," says Helene Breazeale. "It leaves a void."
Breazeale was executive director of the congresses, including one for cellos in 1997 in Russia. (Breazeale remains a TU faculty member, and may return to teaching dance at the school.)
Plans were under way for the next cello congresses in 2006 (Yo-Yo Ma agreed to participate again) and 2010, as well as another guitar congress in 2008.
"Essentially, we couldn't afford to continue the program," says Susanna Craine, Towson University spokeswoman. "It is a sad decision for everybody. We've all seen that the results from the congresses are good for the university. But at this time, it just wasn't a good risk."
The 2000 and 2004 congresses offered dozens of performances in a variety of venues, master classes and symposia, and a showcase for music industry exhibitors. World premieres, wide-ranging repertoire, and one-of-a-kind concerts (such as an appearance by 250 cellists in a strip center parking lot in 2000) were all part of the appeal.
"The cello congresses never lost money," Breazeale says. "We do have some debts from the guitar congress. No one had ever done a guitar congress before. We wanted to make a big bang, and it did. ... We learned from the experience, but we aren't getting another chance."
The June guitar congress had a budget of about $600,000. Breazeale puts the current deficit under $30,000. Craine said the amount was about $100,000.
"Given the economic climate for higher education, every part of the budget has to be looked at," Craine says.
"I've been having a very difficult time with this whole thing," says Breazeale. She plans to approach other schools in the area about collaborating on future congresses.