Nézet-Séguin pitches in as orchestra focuses on finances

Posted: September 10, 2012

The publisher doesn't toss the morning paper onto your lawn, nor does the airline pilot walk down the aisle asking for your choice of beverage.

So when the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra popped up unannounced at the Kimmel Center box office Monday as season single tickets went on sale, the patron on the other side of the window was startled.

And charmed.

"He's a nice, young, exuberant and lovely person to represent the orchestra," Carolyn Platt of Abington said of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who this season becomes the orchestra's eighth music director. "I think he's a very good choice for us."

Platt, it turns out, was there to buy tickets to one of the concerts not conducted by Nézet-Séguin - she'll be hearing pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1, Jaap van Zweden conducting. Now, though, she says she'll return another time when the new maestro is on the podium. "That'll come," she said.

Nézet-Séguin, 37, takes the helm on opening night Oct. 18, but Monday the orchestra took advantage of his Montreal-to-Rotterdam travel with a brief Philadelphia stopover to sell the two tickets, and to weigh in on the nonmusical part of his job: raising money.

The orchestra brought area donors to the Kimmel's Perelman Theater on Monday morning to hear a synopsis of its recent travels and travails (a residency in China, a trip to bankruptcy court) and plans for the future.

Anyone who arrived expecting the announcement of a new large gift left unsatisfied. Though it exited bankruptcy at the end of July, the orchestra expects to run deficits for several years, and is engaged in a fund-raising campaign to fund those deficits, pay off debt, and underwrite projects.

Monday was mostly a gathering of the loyal - about 120 members of the board and staff, musicians, and philanthropists - brought together to remind themselves why the orchestra is worth saving.

"The orchestra's financial situation remains tenuous," board chairman Richard B. Worley told the crowd, which included Haases and Lenfests as well as former Gov. Ed Rendell, a pharmaceutical heiress, a venture capitalist or two, and corporate and foundation heads. "Bankruptcy only solved half the problem."

In order to complete this season and the next, the orchestra must raise $25 million in 12 months, he said. In addition, it plans to launch an endowment campaign whose goal is expected to exceed $100 million. Worley expressed optimism about the work ahead, but said, "If we do not act decisively now, we will lose the orchestra."

Neither he nor Nézet-Séguin explicitly asked for money. But Mayor Nutter did, framing his pitch in terms of the ensemble's roles as ambassador for the city and economic engine.

"We love the orchestra. We love you for loving the orchestra. Show a little more love," he said.

Nutter also spoke movingly about a neighborhood concert the orchestra played four years ago that happened to begin just a few hours after a city police officer had been killed. Nutter and the orchestra debated whether to cancel the concert, at City Hall, but made the calculation that music could be a salve.

". . . The city needed that at that moment," Nutter said.

Nézet-Séguin led a few dozen orchestra string players in a brisk finale from Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, and then spoke in expansive terms about the important place Philadelphia holds among the world's great ensembles. Orchestras that maintain a distinct sound are a rarity, he said.

"In Vienna and Berlin, they talk about their orchestras as if no other orchestras exist," he said. But mention Philadelphia, he said, and the response is: "Oh, yes - that sound."

That sound is one reason he's here. He feels, he said, that this is "the right time with the right orchestra in the right city."

And then he was off - to sell a ticket or two, and to lunch with his new donors.

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


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