Rise in turnout for Philadelphia Orchestra at Mann Center

Posted: September 20, 2010

The Philadelphia Orchestra may struggle for listeners in its Verizon Hall subscription season, but crowd size rose this summer at two of its outdoor venues.

The orchestra's nine concerts at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park drew 40,838 listeners, up 10 percent from 37,138 for nine concerts in 2009.

In Upstate New York, Saratoga Performing Arts Center officials said attendance had jumped 21 percent from last summer for Charles Dutoit's 21st and final season as artistic director of the orchestra's annual residency.

The Mann's president and chief executive officer, Catherine M. Cahill, credited dry evenings and relatively comfortable temperatures - plus the "dynamic and inventive" programming.

"There was a definite energy, a lot of new faces," she said, noting the introduction of popular artists like jazz-pop trumpeter Chris Botti and a Planet Earth Live concert in which the orchestra provided the soundtrack to a nature film.

"We're doing a lot of survey work after each concert," Cahill said. "A lot of people said they never heard the Philadelphia Orchestra and were inclined to go back. Our audiences for last year and this year's galas were quite diverse, and we're proud of that."

This year's gala featured former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as pianist in one movement from a Mozart piano concerto, and soul singer Aretha Franklin. The concert - with 7,321 listeners - plus related fund-raising brought in, after expenses, $260,610 for the Mann's education programs.

One could argue that Rice and Franklin sometimes reduced the orchestra to a bit player, especially when, unbeknownst to orchestra and Mann officials until intermission, Franklin chose to be backed by a recorded orchestra during her opera arias, while Philadelphia Orchestra musicians sat with their instruments in their laps.

Asked about the episode, Cahill said, "Aretha - she's the Queen of Soul, a unique personage, revered in her musical universe and a consummate performer, and we were grateful to have her."

The Mann is continuing on its track of popularizing its artist-and-repertoire roster. This summer was Rossen Milanov's last as artistic director of the orchestra at the Mann, and it's not clear whether a conductor-as-personification - as Dutoit once was - will be engaged in the future.

But there are even bigger questions to be addressed. The orchestra's current strategic planning will likely change how and where it allocates its time in summers. Talks with venues in Saratoga Springs, Colorado, and Montreal are at various stages, and the Mann awaits further discussion regarding where it fits in.

"Everything is on the table," said Cahill, who is eager for the orchestra to be at the Mann as much as possible. "It's what makes the best sense for the Mann Center, since the Philadelphia Orchestra [for which the Mann was built] has been and always will be the premier orchestra at the Mann. But we can't just sit here and wait for those decisions to be made. We have to be a part of the process."

Regardless of the number of Philadelphia Orchestra concerts next summer and beyond, Cahill said the Mann was committed to programming no fewer than nine classical concerts each season.

"We're looking at international and national orchestras and ensembles. We have other artistic projects which we're trying to sign to enliven the campus," she said. "We're looking at multiple-year commitments, and we expect the Philadelphia Orchestra to be a part of that."


Contact culture writer Peter Dobrin

at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/philly/ blogs/artswatch/

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