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ESTABLISHING FIRM BASES FOR THE FUTURE : A TIME OF STABILITY FOR ORCHESTRAS

Conductors of two Orange County orchestras view their upcoming fall seasons as periods for consolidating gains before venturing into new territory.

“We’re holding our own and are conscious of what we can accomplish with the budget we have,” said Roger Hickman, newly appointed conductor of the 8-year-old Irvine Symphony Orchestra, which will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at the South Coast Community Church in Irvine.

“At the same time, we’d like to reach out more and try to expand for the years to come,” Hickman said.

Similar thoughts were expressed by Micah Levy, conductor of the Orange County Chamber Orchestra.

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“This is a period more of stabilization than of growth,” said Levy, who will open the ensemble’s fourth season at 4 p.m. Sunday at Loyola Marymount University’s campus in Orange, with a repeat of the concert at 8 p.m. Monday at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa.

“But in stabilizing, you need further growth,” Levy said.

The Irvine Symphony has good reason to be wary. Last season the 50-to-60-member orchestra canceled more than half of the concerts it had originally announced.

“We did that out of caution,” Hickman explained. “We don’t like to schedule concerts unless we have the funding in advance. We’re quite secure now. I don’t know the dollar amounts (for this year’s budget), but I know we have the money.”

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(Costs for an average concert run between $6,000 and $12,000, according to publicist David Kidd.)

A violist with the orchestra for two years, Hickman succeeds Peter Odegard, who founded the orchestra eight years ago. Odegard will continue as the organization’s director, determining repertory and occasionally conducting.

Hickman’s background includes a stint as chairman of the music department at the University of Hawaii and a member of the Honolulu Symphony from 1982-1984. He also teaches at Cal State Long Beach.

What distinguishes the Irvine Symphony, Hickman said, is that “we’re not an organization that just plays at people.”

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“We try to explain things. We’ll stop a work and say a few words about the composer and the composition. We’ll tell them, ‘Listen for this,’ or, ‘This is the most fascinating thing about this piece.’ Audiences tend to really enjoy that.

“This emphasis on community service and education is really quite different than any organization I have been with.”

Reflecting that drive, the orchestra has designated proceeds from Saturday’s concert to be used to benefit the Irvine Childcare Project, a program that funds child-care facilities for city employees and Irvine residents.

Works scheduled include Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals,” in which Irvine Mayor Larry Agran will serve as narrator, and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” with City Councilman David Baker as narrator.

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The season continues:

--Dec. 13: Benefit concert for UNICEF: Premiere of Peter Odegard’s musical based on Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”; Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”

--Feb. 1: Excerpts from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”; Mozart’s Serenade in G, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”; “Dance of the Hours” from Ponchielli’s “La Giocanda.”

--March 14: Pops concert of Broadway show music and lighter classics.

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--April 4: Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and Strings; Mozart’s Concerto in C for Flute and Harp; Hanson’s Serenade for Flute, Strings and Harp.

--May 2: Irvine Youth orchestra and Youth Band will perform music by Mozart, Bach, Britten and local Irvine Conservatory of Music students.

-- May 23: Concert version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Ruddigore.”

Levy, discussing the advances made by the Orange County Chamber Orchestra, says “In terms of audience, every year we grow. We’re doing all right.”

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According to Levy, this year’s budget is about $100,000, and subscriptions are up “over 100%.”

“Last year, we had about 200 subscribers and a lot of walk-ins,” he said. “This year, so far we have around 500.”

“Additionally, all of our artists have sponsors this year,” Levy said.

Four are supported by the Pro Musicis Foundation, a New York organization founded in 1965 to promote careers of young artists, and one by the Harry and Grace Steele Foundation, based in Newport Beach.

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Levy has devised a special ticket sale campaign:

“Anybody who buys a season ticket will receive four coupons to get two dinners for the price of one at four restaurants,” he explained. “The restaurants are happy to do this and it boosts ticket sales.”

Is this a gimmick?

“Frankly it’s just a marketing tool. Why not? You have to compete in the marketplace. An orchestra is both an arts organization and has to be run like a business. We’re not in Europe, where arts are supported by the government, so we can’t afford to lay back. We can do what we can.”

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Scheduled for Levy’s first program are works by Vivaldi and Mozart (pianist Robert Taub performing Concerto No. 15 in B flat), plus music by the lesser-known composers Irving Fine (Notturno for Strings and Harp), Fela Sowande (African Suite) and Alexander Tcherepnin (Bagatelles).

“I have this thing about discovering new or fairly old works,” Levy said. “That’s how I put programs together. They’re ‘new’ works if I’m not aware of them,” he laughed.

The season continues:

--Jan. 11 and 12: Bruch’s Serenade for Strings; Albinoni’s Adagio; Haydn’s Symphony No. 77; Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, with tenor Grayson Hirst and French horn player Richard Todd.

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--March 28 (at 8 p.m. at Garden Grove High School, 11271 Stanford Ave.): Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings; Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat, with soloist Elizabeth Wolff.

--May 3 and 4: Boyce’s Symphony No. 1; Hovhaness’ “Celestial Fantasy”; Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings; Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, with soloist Pamela Frame.


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