Bangor Symphony Orchestra executive director David Whitehill gets understandably excited when he talks about all the new things going on with his organization. Nearly two years into his tenure as leader of the BSO, he’s now well-versed in the ins and outs of the symphony and the community within which it operates — and now he’s ready to try out a few new things.
“This is the kind of thing we talk about when we talk about re-energizing the orchestra. This is it,” he said, sitting in his cool, quiet office in the Quirk House on Broadway. “We’re in a place where we can do all the things we’ve said we wanted to do for a long time.”
The 2009-2010 season, still not made final yet, includes an array of dynamic soloists, a few old favorites, and one sure-to-be-memorable pops concert. The BSO will bring the music of the Beatles to the Collins Center for the Arts stage on March 27, 2010, with a concert dubbed the “Classical Mystery Tour,” featuring the original members of the Broadway production “Beatlemania!”
“I think it’ll really appeal to a lot of our core audience, and will expand our audience to new ears,” said Whitehill. “Besides, I think pretty much anyone can agree that the Beatles are as important composers as any other of their time. Who wouldn’t want to hear an orchestral version of ‘Penny Lane’?”
Four of the soloists for next season have also been announced. They include up-and-coming violin dynamo Stefan Jackiw, progressive pianist Soyeon Lee, 2008 Bangor Symphony Orchestra Maine High School Concerto Competition Winner Will Bristol of New Gloucester, and a double bill of violinist Chee-Yun and cellist Al-isa Weilerstein.
“Alisa is a terror on the cello. She’s incredible. So is Chee-Yun,” said Whitehill. “You may remember that Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma played at the opening of the Maine Center for the Arts 20 years ago. I would say that this is that same type of considerable talent playing. It’s very exciting.”
The 2009-2010 season, like the season that ended with yesterday’s concert featuring Russian composers, will not be performed with a permanent conductor. The search for a new conductor began in earnest last month, and already the applications have been flooding in, from candidates in places from Florida to Australia.
“The quality and level of experience has exceeded even my expectations, which were very, very high,” said Whitehill. “We really have the pick of the litter. It’s going to be really fun for us and for our audience to get to know the final list of candidates.”
Outside of concerts and staff changes, some more new programming is in the works. Former BSO second harpist and longtime patron Constance Barnes made a $50,000 donation to fund master classes with the musicians that perform with the BSO each season. The Dr. Maurice P. King Endowment Fund, named for Barnes’ late father, himself a harpist with the symphony, will provide money to help students and amateurs from all over the state learn from some of the world’s best musicians.
“It’s a really wonderful opportunity for us to utilize the really incredible musicians that pass through our orchestra,” said Whitehill. “We can give back to the community in a way we haven’t always been able to.”
The economic downturn has affected the BSO, just as it has affected most areas of day-to-day life. To that end, the BSO has found new ways to make itself more efficient. The move of the offices from Main Street in Bangor to Husson University’s Quirk House on Broadway has helped considerably — overhead costs were slashed, freeing up thousands of dollars. Ticket sales are now handled exclusively by the Collins Center for the Arts. And, starting next season, season subscription prices will be less than previous years, because there will only be five classical concerts, as opposed to six.
“It’s only been in the past few years that we started doing six concerts a season, instead of five,” said Whitehill. “This allows us to do more new and different programming. It frees us up to do things like the Classical Mystery Tour.”
Whitehill feels that the BSO is weathering the economic storm very well — and they don’t really have a choice in the matter anyway.
“You cannot cut back on the arts. You just can’t. It doesn’t matter what area you’re in. In our case, it’s music. We can’t cut back on what we do, because to do that would just cut back on our support,” said Whitehill. “Organizations like the BSO really set the cultural benchmark for our community. We just have to be creative about how we do it.”
To purchase a subscription for the 2009-2010 Bangor Symphony Orchestra season, call 581-1755.