Tulsa Gets a New Orchestra, Four Years After It Lost Its Old One

Classic Arts News   Tulsa Gets a New Orchestra, Four Years After It Lost Its Old One
The debut concert of the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra on November 3 signaled a new era for the city, which has been without a full-time orchestra since the Tulsa Philharmonic folded in September 2002.

Conductor Jos_-Luis Novo led the orchestra's debut concert at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, which included Shostakovich's Festive Overture; the Intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana; Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

The fledgling orchestra is the brainchild of retired neurosurgeon Frank Letcher, a board member for the Tulsa Opera, who worked closely with the defunct Philharmonic.

Letcher told The Greater Tulsa Reporter that, after studying the collapse of the Tulsa Philharmonic, he realized that "middle-sized cities couldn't finance their orchestras on the old model of ticket sales combined with corporate and individual contributions. The Philharmonic wasn't alone in its problems; the year it failed (2002), nine other orchestras closed their doors. When times became hard in an area as they did in Oklahoma when oil prices struggled, it became difficult if not impossible to make the budget."

Audiences were not replenished, he added, a problem made worse when the Philharmonic ceased performing in schools.

The musicians of the Tulsa Symphony (TSO) will be responsible for all aspects of governance, including marketing and fundraising. The orchestra will have a staff, but musicians will be expected to assist with day-to-day operations and the planning of educational and audience development initiatives. The musicians selected the repertoire for the four remaining concerts this season, which will also take place at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

TSO trumpet player and orchestra manager Tim McFadden is one of only four full-time members of the orchestra with a contract to date, although he hopes eventually to hire 50 full-time musicians, plus and others, as needed, on a freelance basis, according to the Reporter.

Barbie Reif, the operations manager and only non-musician on the payroll, told the paper that the orchestra has raised over $500,000 in less than a year. The current operational budget for the next year and a half is $1 million; the orchestra hopes to eventually reach a $5-$7 million budget. The Tulsa Philharmonic budget was about $3.2 million a year.

The Tulsa Philharmonic, the city's first fully professional orchestra, shut down due to precarious financial conditions and poor management after 54 years of operation.

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