Arizona Artbeat: Phoenix Symphony

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The Phoenix Symphony’s new season is getting underway. Symphony president and CEO Jim Ward will discuss the new season.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" looks at the Phoenix symphony's new season, which features, among other things, a new music director. Joining me now is Phoenix symphony president and CEO, Jim Ward. Good to see you again.

Jim Ward: Good, Ted. Good to see you.

Ted Simons: How are things with the symphony?

Jim Ward: The symphony is doing really very well, and we're finishing up a blockbuster season this season and looking forward to an even better season next season.

Ted Simons: First time we talked, first time you took over, the symphony wasn't doing all that well and it seems like things have improved. Is that true?

Jim Ward: Absolutely. Just on the business side, when I came on board about three and a half years ago, the symphony was not doing very well. There was a structural deficit and debt. But due to some great work from our musicians who sacrificed some salary restoration and a great staff and a great board and community, we have paid off all of our debt. We have managed to balance our budget and we're looking great as we move forward.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask, what is the relationship now with musicians and contracts and salaries, the whole nine yards?

Jim Ward: Well, listen, our musicians a number of years ago took a 19% cut in their pay, the largest of any American orchestra up until that time. They sacrificed the restoration of that salary to give us enough time to be able to stabilize the symphony, and we have gotten them back on a path towards that. Not completely there. But I believe if you were to ask them, they would express great confidence in the direction of the symphony and very good morale overall. And so we have a great relationship.

Ted Simons: A new direction as far as music is concerned. New music director, Tito Munoz, who is Tito Munoz?

Jim Ward: Tito Munoz is a ball of fire, is who Tito Munoz is. Tito grew up in Queens, New York and road a subway train to the famed school, the LaGuardia School. Then he went to Juilliard Prep. and then debuted with the National Symphony Orchestra. He then went to Aspen and summer festivals and won all of the music director awards. He was an assistant conductor at the Cincinnati Orchestra and then a resident conductor at the famed Cleveland Orchestra, arguably the best in the world. Went on to be a music director at the Orchestre Nancy in France , and now he's coming to Phoenix, all in the span of a number of years, and he is about 30 years old. So, he has done a lot in his time frame.

Ted Simons: What does he bring to the Phoenix symphony?

Jim Ward: Well, he brings three things, Ted, that we were very focused on in terms of our selection. First of all, he brings chemistry and inspiration with our musicians. And that's critical to having the sound be produced at the level that it needs to be produced. That's the first thing. Secondly, he brings a commitment to our overall vision and mission of helping to educate the next generation of creative workforce here in Arizona, and Tito is very committed to education and our community outreach programs. And that was extremely important as well. And then the third thing that he brings to us is because of his both wisdom and youth at the same time, he brings to us the capability of trying to determine what the next generation of a symphony is. What the 21st Century symphony looks like. What symphony 2.0 might be and how that might appeal to a younger audience, of which he is a member.

Ted Simons: What does symphony 2.0 look like?

Jim Ward: Well, Ted, there are a lot of things we have observed over the course of time with a younger audience. Of course, it has developed with potentially a shorter attention span, digesting media in shorter chunks. A younger generation also digests music and visuals at the same time. And so, that suggests different programming options for us, incorporating audiovisual elements, having different length concerts, incorporating social elements, literally socially with other people and also social media as well. So there's a whole new horizon of things that we could potentially do with the Phoenix Symphony and that is something that Tito brings as well.

Ted Simons: And I want to talk about the next season here and the schedule and what you have planned there, but back to Tito really quickly. You mentioned chemistry and how important that was. I mean do audition these guys in front of the orchestra? Do you watch their body language? Do you get their input? Do you want to hear what each section has to say?

Jim Ward: All of the above. Tito, we spent two and a half years identifying who our next music director would be. And the orchestra members are extremely involved, both from a committee perspective, but then after every candidate comes in, we do a quantitative study with the orchestra who gives us their input and qualitatively we sit down with them as well. Tito actually came in twice. And you also sit in the audience and hear the sound and see how the audience reacts and you see that interaction. And there are many, many variables that go into this. But absolutely the musicians are involved.

Ted Simons: Now let's talk about -- we mentioned symphony 2.0 and how you need to kind of change things a little bit. I noticed next season, you got everything from the music of Queen--you better play Bohemian Rhapsody in that one--and Led Zeppelin and Neil Diamond to Dvorak's 9th, which I love the Largo movement. It's about the only thing I can say with knowledge that I know about classical music. I mean, talk about this next season, and again with the new music director, what changes?

Jim Ward: Well, Tito was involved in the development of our next season as well as our musicians. We have a great, great season. It is going to kick off with opening night. Tito's first entre to Phoenix. And he's going to be conducting Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, which is a personal favorite of his. But then Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, which everybody knows because it's used as a music track to every trailer and T.V. commercial known to mankind. But it is actually an amazing work. We're going to have our symphony, 140 members of the Phoenix Choir, and the Phoenix Boys Choir all on stage at the same time. So it is going to be a magnificent jump-off to the season.
But we have an amazing classic season program and pops as well, and it is diverse from a brand new legend series, where we're bringing in, in effect, cover bands to cover the music of Led Zeppelin and Queen and the number one cover band for Neil Diamond, Super Diamond, but to play with the symphony orchestra, and that's great. We are also going to be projecting for the first time here in Phoenix the great movie "Singing in the Rain" and we will be playing the score live while you are watching that movie. So that's great. We're also doing a unique collaboration, believe it or not, with Phoenix International Raceway who's celebrating their 50th anniversary, and also Barrett Jackson. And we're going to do a benefit where we will shut down streets in front of symphony hall, create pit row and bring cars in and then have everyone go inside for a concert called "The Speed of Sound" and we're going to celebrate racing and cars with music and movie clips and all sorts of fun activities.

Ted Simons: Before you go, we only have about 30 seconds left. The long time subscription holders here, how are they handling all of this stuff?

Jim Ward: Oh, they are handling it well. In fact, the normal churn or degradation of subscriptions in the industry is 12 to 15%. We're holding steady and, in fact, because of Tito Munoz, we are actually increasing subscribers this year. They are very excited about it. In addition to the fact we are up 20% in single ticket sales as well.

Ted Simons: It sounds like things are happening and an exciting program. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Ward:President and CEO, Phoenix Symphony;

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