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Credit: Jim Steere
William Jon Gray
MUSIC OF THE BAROQUE ANNOUNCES 2015-16 CONCERT SEASON
Highlights include the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers
CHICAGO, MARCH 11―Music of the Baroque today announced plans for the upcoming 2015-16 concert season. The season, the group’s 45th, opens October 18 with music by J. S. Bach and runs through May 23. An expanded calendar of 19 performances of eight concert programs will be presented in 2015-16. Six of the eight programs will be offered at both the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in downtown Chicago and the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Two programs—the ensemble’s traditional holiday brass and choral concerts and the Monteverdi Vespers—will take place at church venues in Chicago, River Forest, and Northbrook.
Music of The Baroque’s success story brings a reality check
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
Chicago, november 19—As classical music organizations continue to suffer the effects of the massive economic temblor that hit the nation some four years ago, just maintaining the status quo without major losses of funding or audience represents a victory.
One such shining survivor is Chicago’s Music of the Baroque. The Chicago orchestra and chorus, which specializes in 17th and 18th century repertory played on modern instruments, stands as a model of administrative responsibility and artistic integrity in this, its 43rd season.
But Karen Fishman, the group’s executive director, refuses to crow, or to be complacent about, MOB’s hard-fought victory. She’s been around long enough to realize how easily lack of vigilance, poor planning or, worse, another economic meltdown, could erode several decades of accomplishments in an instant.
First, the good news.
MOB’s subscription renewals are running high at the start of the season, she reports. Single-ticket sales are keeping pace with those of last year, when they dipped about five percent. Fundraising took an uptick last season and is expected to do at least as well in 2013-14. MOB’s regular venues—the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie and the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago—are selling roughly 90 and 80 percent of seating capacity, respectively, for the seven programs the group is presenting this season.
Add to this what Fishman calls a “strong, supportive” board of 23 music lovers, plus the “phenomenal” loyalty of MOB’s “solid, happy, satisfied” core audience, and you have a business model other midsized classical music groups could profit from studying.
None of this would have been possible, she points out, without the superior music-making achieved by the orchestra (made up of Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera Orchestra personnel plus freelancers in several key principal chairs), and its excellent resident chorus, all under music director Jane Glover, principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer and chorus master William Jon Gray.
Here’s where the cautionary part of the tale comes in.
“All of us in Chicago music are going through a tough period right now,” Fishman observes. “How do you get new people in the door, or, in our case, get people who come for the Bach B minor Mass to come back for something else? It’s really a struggle to fill seats and keep people in those seats. You find yourself running harder just to stay even.
“Everyone who’s got resources is throwing a lot of those resources at marketing. Both the CSO and Lyric are discounting tickets more frequently and earlier than they had been.”
Fishman says she’s also concerned that a lingering economic slump could affect a significant segment of MOB’s demographic, namely, retired people living on fixed incomes. Because current interest rates are poor, retirees are finding their incomes shrinking, leaving them with less to spend on cultural pursuits.
Taking note of the high percentage of seniors in the audience for MOB’s orchestral program Sunday evening in Skokie, I couldn’t help but share Fishman’s concern. Young people are not entering the fold in sufficient numbers to take the place of this aging, graying demographic: You see more young listeners at MOB concerts in downtown Chicago but relatively few at the ones the group presents on the North Shore. Clearly MOB faces stiff marketing challenges.