Arizona ArtBeat: Phoenix Symphony

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Phoenix Symphony President and CEO Jim Ward talks about the new 2012-13 season and some of the innovative educational programs being sponsored by the Symphony.

Ted Simons: The Phoenix Symphony's new season gets underway tonight. Earlier, I spoke with symphony CEO Jim Ward. Thank you for joining us tonight on "Arizona Horizon."
Jim Ward: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Season kicks off tonight. What kind of highlights are we looking at this go-around?
Jim Ward: We have an amazing season planned. It's somewhat bittersweet for us because our music director, it's his last season. He'll be with us but it is his final season but as he transitions up to the Minnesota opera, which is where he's going, we've had the opportunity to bring in 11 world-renowned guest conductors over the season and it's very rare for us to have the opportunity to be able to do that, and I think the community's going to be very excited about the level of talent that we have coming in.
Ted Simons: Are these tryouts or just guest appearances?
Jim Ward: Anyone that comes to play with us tell me, you want to feel them out and they want to feel us out. So you never know. But, you know, definitely they're great talent that we would be lucky to have any of them come to Phoenix. It's a great season.
Ted Simons: It's good for the symphony as well for musicians to experience other conductors, see how they go about things.
Jim Ward: Each individual conductor is unique under themselves and that chemistry, alchemy that they create with the symphony is different and sometimes, it works and sometimes maybe it doesn't work. And but when it works, it is true magic and it is certainly something that our symphony members enjoy because it is invigorating and a change of pace.
Ted Simons: Is there a -- obviously, it's his last year, it's a theme but is there a overriding theme as well in terms of content, what is being presented, the music itself?
Jim Ward: It's really what we call the year of the conductor, not only because Michael's leaving but each one of these conductors are bringing something to the table. Tonight, our opening night, we have Sarah Hicks and that's not necessarily the norm in the orchestral world and she bridges the classical and pop side. She just got done on a tour with Sting, conducting his symphony. She brings something new. We have a gentleman, in his own right, he's a conductor and a pianist bringing the Russian school to us. So throughout the season, we have a number of these wonderful folks coming and it's really the year of the conductor for us.
Ted Simons: When these conductors come in, I know that certain orchestras have an identity, whether it's Cleveland, Philadelphia, in London, it's different. Does the Phoenix symphony have any particular identity in the classical music world?
Jim Ward: I think you're right, there are the big five who have established and had these long histories and have developed that kind of a reputation and theme, if you will. I think the Phoenix symphony frankly and I'm proud of this is best known for frankly its accessibility. A lot of symphony orchestras across the country aren't accessible. They're still programming inaccessible music, it's stuffy and you don't know what to do when you come. Michael Christy and our musicians over the past eight years have done so much to open it up and make people feel accessible and, in fact, we just did a patrons survey and 97% rated us good or excellent in terms of the product we're serving. We need more people to come down and experience that.
Ted Simons: What about collaboration with the ballet, with the opera? I know there's a gala, coming up here. Talk to us about that and again, is that collaboration improving? Could it still improve? What's going on?
Jim Ward: We began a little over a year ago with the generous grant from the lode star foundation to achieve a couple of things. One, to lower our expense model so that we could be more stable financially but also to increase our impact to the community. And there are three demonstrable ways we are collaborating. The first is a gala called trio, February 8th next year it's the first time in over a decade the three organizations have come together and worked together to both create more impact in the community, create more of an income for us around that event but also gives folks the opportunity to celebrate the assets that Phoenix has, which are the three organizations. 17 The second area of collaboration is we have just formed a consortium that we at the Phoenix symphony hold. It's the state-of-the-art in the industry but the ballet and the opera have been unable to access it because of its cost. As the master license holder, we're working with them to come on board as sub-licensees and this has been funded by the community so the opera can come on at a reduced cost but more importantly, we three can work together and mine each other's databases and create marketing opportunities for each one of them.
Ted Simons: A brave new world in the classical music field.
Jim Ward: It absolutely is.
Ted Simons: Speaking of that before we let you go, science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts? This program called mind over matter, what's going on here?
Jim Ward: Well, it's mind over music, but it could be mind over matter, too. And it's taking the concept of stem and adding the a, which makes it steam and the "A" is art. What we are doing is going to a pilot school, which happens to be the asu charter school on 7th street and working with their teachers to create a music-based curriculum, so everything would be music-based, to teach those fundamentals, science, technology, engineering and math. For example, you can get into physics by talking about sound waves and things like that, which are important in music. The most important thing is we are going to be measuring this on a longitudinal basis quantitatively to prove, in fact, that this kind of a curriculum can make a difference rather than hoping for the best. We will be measuring this in a very significant way. And hopefully expanding that out beyond a pilot school to entire school districts, if we're fortunate.
Ted Simons: Is this modeled after another program out there?
Jim Ward: Well, this is actually unique in the world of music. It's modeled after a program that has been done for the arts in general. But we're taking that and targeting it just leveraging music and we're the only American orchestra that's attempting to do this. We have application into the Kennedy center of the performing arts to help us train more teachers once this begins to expand. So we're excited about it.
Ted Simons: You've got a lot on your plate. Jim, it's good to have you here, have a successful season, thanks for joining us. And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, you have a great evening.

Jim Ward:President and CEO, Phoenix Symphony;

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