Saving the Phoenix Symphony

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by Jay Crandall and Sybil Hoffman

azfamily.com

Posted on October 6, 2011 at 10:36 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 6 at 10:41 AM

PHOENIX -- They provide a beat to our city, sometimes forgotten but always there. That almost wasn't the case this year. This was the season the Phoenix Symphony almost went silent.

Under the guidance of music director Michael Christie, the musicians of the Phoenix Symphony strive in rehearsal to draw out all the passion they can from Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” Their goal is to drawn in their listeners.

“We know when people are sitting there and smiling or they have their eyes closed, or they’re a little bit more forward on their chairs to listen to something,” Christie said. “They are there because they need something -- something we can deliver.”

But that something came perilously close to disappearing this season with the symphony facing a $1.5 million deficit.

“At the pace that we were going the symphony probably would not have been able to survive,” said Interim President and CDO Jim Ward.

That’s simply not good business, Ward said.

“The arts are on the checklist of any company looking to come into any type of community,” he explained. “Yes, the workforce, absolutely. The education system, absolutely. But the arts are also an indicator of vibrancy and whether a community is thriving or not.”

Ward, who helped iconic products like Apple’s Powerbook, Microsoft’s Windows 95 and Nike’s partnership with Tiger Woods, wasn’t about to let Phoenix lose its symphony.

“We want to be the arts leader in the revitalization of Arizona. Nothing short of that,” he said.

It’s a worthy goal, but he couldn’t do it alone.

Everyone at the symphony had taken a 19-percent pay cut two years ago and musicians were due for a restoration. Chuck Bergins, the principal trumpet for the symphony, says music beat out money.

“To make sure that everyone had symphonic music accessible to them, we sat down and were able to say that we could accept an additional year of a wage freeze,” he said.

What’s more, many soloists will join the symphony on stage for less money because there is more heart. That’s a huge credit to the symphony and its reputation.

“So many of these musicians say, ‘I love working with the dynamic of the Phoenix Symphony. They are so flexible. They really play with me, in a way I often don't get with other orchestras,’ ” Christie said.

“Music soothes the soul, it heals the soul,” Ward said. “It’s inspiring. It’s a noble cause to be a part of.”

Behind the scenes, Ward has redesigned the symphony’s logo, its website and its ad materials, putting the musicians front and center.

“They are part of a creative fabric in this community that leads to a vibrancy and ability to thrive,” he said. “Everyone here is playing a part in filling the community with a little joy.

“Music soothes the soul, it heals the soul,” Ward continued. “It’s inspiring. It’s a noble cause to be a part of.”

For a complete list of upcoming concerts, visit www.phoenixsymphony.org.

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