In a career that spans more than five decades, renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman has performed with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, including one right here in Central New York.
Perlman last performed locally in 2004 as a soloist with the now-defunct Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. Another Perlman visit seemed unlikely following the SSO’s bankruptcy in 2011, but a new orchestra, named Symphoria, rose from the ashes, thanks to several SSO musicians who worked to create a new, more sustainable company.
The young orchestra, now in its third season, is developing strategies to cultivate a regular audience. One concept includes Perlman’s return to the Salt City on Sunday, Nov. 1, 3 p.m., at the Mulroy Civic Center’s Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater. The Israeli violinist will perform Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto” with Symphoria as part of Temple Concord’s Regina F. Goldenberg Cultural Series.
“It definitely puts the orchestra on a national stage,” said Lawrence Loh, Symphoria’s music director. “We expect that this will not just be people from Central New York, but that it’s going to draw a much wider audience because it’s such a rare opportunity to see Itzhak Perlman.
Born in 1945, Perlman studied at New York City’s Juilliard School, where he now teaches. In 2001, he performed with pianist Rohan de Silva at the Civic Center for the inaugural concert of the annual Goldenberg concert series, which features a variety of professional musicians and other guest artists.
Series coordinator Vicki Feldman said that Temple Concord is funding both Perlman’s and Symphoria’s artist fees, and that Symphoria’s musicians often perform for the Goldenberg concerts, which usually take place at the temple.
“We wanted our musicians to have the opportunity to play with (Perlman),” she said. “It would be great for the orchestra because they’re only in their third season.”
Symphoria managing director Catherine Underhill said that partnerships with local businesses are essential to developing and sustaining the community’s appreciation for classical music. Perlman’s upcoming concert provides a “particular impetus for building those relationships.”
During the violinist’s visit, four local hotels, including the Jefferson Clinton and the Genesee Grande, are offering weekend packages to concertgoers. Two restaurants, Phoebe’s and Pastabilities, are offering discounts to patrons with concert tickets.
“Once we increase our visibility, people will understand what a rich cultural opportunity Symphoria provides through its programming and community partnerships,” Underhill said.
With close to 1,500 subscribers, the orchestra’s operating budget is $1.8 million and climbing, which is about one-third of the SSO’s budget before the company’s bankruptcy. The musicians, consisting of 50 core members with additional performers hired on an ad hoc basis, earn roughly 30 percent of what the SSO musicians earned as they now perform fewer concerts per season. Symphoria operates with a staff of seven compared to the former orchestra’s staff of 17, and Symphoria’s board members number 11 instead of the SSO’s more than 40.
“We need to keep in mind that we’re not trying to resuscitate the former institution,” Underhill noted, “but rather create the orchestra best suited to serve our community and region.”
Rachelle Schlosser is the director of media relations for the League of American Orchestras, based in New York City. The organization is dedicated to preserving and enhancing orchestras’ cultural presence on a national level. She said that Symphoria’s concerts help local businesses in a symbiotic manner.
“People that come to hear these organizations wind up spending their dollars locally, and it’s a really great way of feeding local businesses,” Schlosser said. “As you’re going out into the community and partnering with these smaller organizations, you’re attracting more people into the concert hall. It’s a win-win.
According to Underhill, the Perlman concert had nearly sold out a month in advance. Loh said that this is a good sign.
“We’re creative about our programming. We don’t just program ordinary concerts, and I think that’s another way to build trust,” he said. “We hope that the audience will come to trust us enough to make artistic decisions that will interest them in ways that maybe they didn’t expect.”