Wow. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. Can you give a bit of a then-and-now summary for us?
At the time of the merger, the Redding Symphony was financially teetering and the Chico Symphony had a real identity crisis – could it stay a university orchestra, or was it going to be a semi-professional orchestra. Because I had been hired to be music director of both organizations, it seemed logical for me to suggest that we merge, bringing the resources of both cities and the university to bear on the problem of how do we keep orchestral music alive in the north state. It was not an easy transition for either community, but we have grown and matured amazingly over the past decade.
We are going through a period where orchestras and theaters and dance companies are literally closing left and right. The NSS is thriving. We suffered, like everyone else, at the beginning of this “Great Recession,” but we adjusted quickly, and now we’re on a growth trajectory again.
I am really proud of what we have accomplished artistically. We’ll never be the SF Symphony or the LA Phil, but we’re not trying to be. However, I would hold us up favorably against any regional orchestra in the state. We have great musicians who come from all over northern California and southern Oregon to play with us, and we put on some great shows.
We really have become what our name identifies – a professional orchestra for the whole north state. When we started, we played 8 performances in two cities (Chico and Redding). Last year we played 19 performances. We’ve played in Roseville, Oroville, Paradise, Chico, Orland, Red Bluff, Anderson, and Redding. This year, we’re adding Weaverville. We’ve received some big grants. In addition to our 4 mainstage concerts, we’re doing a Holiday concert, two chamber music concerts, a children’s concert in November, and we’re writing and performing a brand new children’s concert to be premiered at RSA in May.
With that in mind, what do you wish you knew then that you know now, or was ignorance bliss?
That’s a funny question. I like it. I think that I’m glad I was 10 years younger when we started this. It was a lot of work at the beginning. It’s probably more work now, but we had a lot of persuading to do back then, and we really had to invent a structure for a two-city board of directors. If there’s one thing – I might have suggested that we work “California” into the name so that when you Google “North State Symphony” you wouldn’t get North Korea as a result.
I know performances are probably like children, and you don’t like to play favorites, but you must have some that hold some especially dear memories.
Our performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony a couple years ago really stands out. One, because some people thought we couldn’t pull it off – it’s so difficult and calls for so many forces, it’s a real challenge for a regional orchestra. And, two, because some folks didn’t think we could get an audience for the performance. It turned out to be our biggest audience ever!
How has it worked having one symphony serve multiple communities?
It has worked very well. I think this is the model for the future. It takes a full scale effort in both cities to raise the money to keep the orchestra going. It’s very hard work for the board and the staff, and there’s a lot of driving between towns, but it’s well worth it. Redding and Chico have very different personalities and populations, and that is a strength for the organization.
Have audiences changed in the last 10 years? How about your musicians?
If you look at the works we’ve done over the decade, it’s a really big list of really big pieces. Our audience has grown with us. Our crowd loves the music and the experience the NSS provides. I have definitely eased our audience toward more contemporary music over the years, and even though the classical and romantic repertoire remain our bread and butter, the audience seems much more willing to hear new works than they were ten years ago.
The musicians keep getting better and better. No question about it. We have really developed a North State Symphony sound. Unless you hear a bunch of different orchestras, you might not notice that, but for us, it’s a signature quality of what we do.
I have to ask, but how has the economy affected the symphony? Or has it?
Oh, it definitely has, as I mentioned above. It’s hard work, these days, fundraising. But we’re fortunate. We have some very dedicated business sponsors, a hard working board, the continued support of the university, and a very, very committed individual donor base. We are especially careful right now, with our budget, because we don’t take our support for granted, but right now, the NSS is thriving.
What do you have up your conductor’s sleeve for the next decade?
I am working on several projects. We will always stay true to our core mission, which is playing the great symphonic works in our mainstage concerts. But, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we can connect with our community in a larger way. I don’t want to reveal a lot yet, because I’m in the early planning stages, but I’m hoping to be able to do some free concerts for the public, to explore collaborations with Country Music stars, to further extend our youth outreach.
Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.