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Sunday, 06 January 2013 23:23

NYC2GR: Unique partnership expands music center’s opportunities for programming, fundraising

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GRAND RAPIDS — Like most nonprofit executives, Cathy Holbrook knows that delegating and collaboration are vital to success.

Even so, the executive director and de facto musical director of Grand Rapids-based St. Cecilia Music Center never suspected she’d be able to hand over some of her important duties to a pair of “rock stars” from the classical music world.

That’s exactly what happened when Holbrook inked a three-year partnership with the New York City-based Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Under the agreement, award-winning chamber musicians David Finckel and Wu Han will serve as artistic directors for a new St. Cecilia’s Chamber Music Series, which debuted two months ago.

The married classical musicians — she’s a decorated concert pianist and he’s a Grammy-winning cellist — have served as co-artistic directors of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center since 2004. They have built an international reputation for performing and producing chamber music, including the [email protected] chamber music festival in the San Francisco area.

The goal of the new partnership is to bring “world-class chamber musicians to the St. Cecilia stage,” Holbrook said. It’s also given St. Cecilia an opportunity to raise its profile regionally as a presenting organization and to tap some new revenue opportunities through sponsorships, ticket sales and donor events.

The chamber series debuted in November with a performance of Dvorak and Brahms by Finckel, Han and violinist David Setzer. The concert earned a standing ovation from the audience and kudos from the local press.

The next two concerts in the series – scheduled for Feb. 7 and April 11 – feature other Lincoln Center musicians in performance.

Holbrook is quick to point out that the Lincoln Center performances at St. Cecilia are not just another tour stop by traveling musicians. Instead, the concerts take on more of a festival approach where the Lincoln Center team selects the performers, curates the music and rehearses for a special show.

In fact, the November concert by Finckel, Han and Setzer was a premiere; the trio brings the performance to the Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall this week on Jan. 11.

“It’s not about (tour) routing,” Holbrook said. “They’re handpicking performers who are heavy hitters in the chamber music world and bringing them to our stage because they want to build community around the chamber music experience.”

At the November show, the experience also included a special donor reception with the musicians the evening before the performance and a meet-and-greet for attendees after the concert. For future performances, the musicians may offer special masters classes to classical music students at local universities.

All of the extra touches are part of Finckel and Han’s mission to make chamber music more accessible and more personal, Holbrook said.

“They eat, live and breathe chamber music and want to build community around it,” she said. “We want people to get to know them.”

Han has indicated she wants to come back for the February concert, even though she’s not performing.

“She just wants to come and hang out,” Holbrook said.

The investment in the partnership was about $10,000 more than St. Cecilia had paid in the past for similar performances. Holbrook figured the Lincoln Center brand and superior quality of performances would allow St. Cecilia to generate more revenue through sponsorships and ticket sales.

“We felt we could get more sponsors based on the caliber of artists we’d be bringing with Lincoln Center,” Holbrook said. Her instincts proved right, as sponsors stepped up to support the new series. The November performance did not sell out, but she’s encouraged by the audience response, as well as ticket sales to date for the second and third Lincoln Center performances.

It’s not just about the money, though, she said.

“Our real ROI comes from creating an audience that appreciates this type of music and the experience,” she said. “That’s how it becomes sustainable.”

Read 3781 times Last modified on Sunday, 06 January 2013 00:45
Brian Edwards

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