Abandoning Haddonfield to become Symphony in C

"This started a few years ago when we realized the symphony isn't connected to one town," said music director Rossen Milanov.

Posted: September 05, 2007

Southern New Jersey's most symphonic misnomer finally has been laid to rest: As of today, the Haddonfield Symphony is rechristened Symphony in C.

With a core audience in Cherry Hill, growing interest from Philadelphia and a home concert hall at Rutgers University in Camden, orchestra officials are engineering an identity change that consigns to history geographic allegiances to Haddonfield. The new name conspicuously lacks any neighborhood-orchestra aura; players are under-30 conservatory students and graduates from the Juilliard School, Curtis Institute, Temple University and elsewhere.

"This started a few years ago when we realized the symphony isn't connected to one town," said Rossen Milanov, the orchestra's music director since 2000. "The new name is a nod to Stravinsky's Symphony in C, but it could also mean Camden, so the geographic connection is more vague.

"C major is the key of optimism, brightness and light, things associated with our performances with young people. There's also commitment . . . needed to be among the first to move to a problematic area and be an example to other organizations to follow us to Camden."

The name is only one of the more visible changes to be announced today at the university's 655-seat Gordon Theater, the orchestra's home base for the last year. Addressing concerns about Camden's safety, a constant loop of shuttle buses will greet orchestra patrons emerging from the PATCO High-Speed Line, which has an increased promotional partnership with the orchestra.

Though Haddonfield Symphony archival performances have been heard on WHYY-FM (90.9), the Symphony in C now will have its first regular radio presence, this time on WRTI-FM (90.1). The format won't be traditional. "Rossen will introduce things, but we'll also equip him with a tie-pin microphone during rehearsals. It's going to be a kind of fly-on-the-wall approach," said WRTI arts and culture editor Jim Cotter. "So he'll narrate, but also be part of the story."

Though the orchestra traditionally has given only one performance of each program, three of five concerts last season did turn-away business. In the new season, the opening program on Oct. 6 of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky, with the Philadelphia choral group Singing City, will be repeated the afternoon of Oct. 7, a Sunday, in what orchestra president Trevor Orthmann calls a pilot project that could lead to more program repeats in future seasons.

"I see . . . moving many of our older patrons into the Sunday peformance, and possibly seeing an increase in newer and younger audiences on Saturday evenings," he said.

Numerous graduates of the former Haddonfield Symphony have gone on to major positions, such as cellist Yumi Kendall (now in the Philadelphia Orchestra), oboist Ariana Ghez (now principal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) and the recently appointed New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert (who led Haddonfield from 1992 to 1997). The orchestra continues its partnership with Astral Artistic Services, whose young-artist roster has brought the likes of pianist Simone Dinnerstein into concerto slots with the orchestra.

Though orchestra officials say there's no competition with the New World Symphony, a much-publicized postgraduate training orchestra that is based in Miami Beach and directed by Michael Tilson Thomas, Milanov points out that his orchestra's location within 100 miles of some of the best American conservatories doesn't require residency relocation; the quality of the players, he says, has risen "significantly." Each player auditions for a four-year term and can re-audition for four more years. Few stay for the eight-year maximum.

In the history of symphony orchestras, even the most outdated names - such as the Tone Hall Orchestra of Zurich - seldom are changed. The few changes that are made (such as the Minneapolis Symphony's change to the Minnesota Orchestra) aren't as radical as Haddonfield's, whose rejected monikers included Apollo Symphony and Bridge Symphony, Milanov said.

Orthmann noted that funding potential was one motivation for Symphony in C's new name. The neighborhood-minded orchestra holds summer music camps for Camden high school students and invites them to dress rehearsals, but the neighborhood feel of the old name was a minus for corporate and foundation fund-raising, he said.

Though ticket revenues for the forthcoming season now stand at 10 percent higher than last season, and the orchestra's annual budget rose from $832,000 to $890,000, orchestra officials talk about the future in uphill terms - given the limited range of restaurants and few nighttime attractions in and around Rutgers. Nonetheless, Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts plans three performances this season at Rutgers.

Part of the lure for performers is the Gordon Theater acoustics, which also attracted WRTI's Cotter: "In their new venue, they sound stunning."

Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

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