Sunday, March 21, 2004

Symphony heads to Florida to make merry and music

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's often called "Cincinnati South." The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's tour of six Florida cities, which kicks off Wednesday, will make stops in Naples and Sarasota, popular cities for Cincinnati retirees and "snowbirds" - those who winter in Florida.

Besides putting the orchestra in the national spotlight, part of the reason for the tour, music director Paavo Jarvi says, is to "remind all the important citizens of Cincinnati who have migrated to warmer lands that there is a wonderful symphony orchestra at home that needs support."

The orchestra will be touching base with longtime symphony fans and supporters "who still feel a connection with the orchestra," says Daniel Hoffheimer, chairman of the board of trustees. "They still feel loyalty, because they remember those days when they were here and enjoyed it."

Between playing concerts, Jarvi and members of the orchestra will be toasted in receptions in Sarasota and Naples.

"Our ties are there (in Cincinnati), but our love is here," says Linda Abrahamson, who with her husband, Dr. Ira Abrahamson, will host a cocktail party for 50 or 60 Cincinnatians in Sarasota, where they spend the winter.

"I was surprised at all the people who had supported the symphony that were retirees from P&G and GE down here," she says.

For the contingent of sports-loving Cincinnatians who flock to Sarasota for spring training, a group of symphony brass players will perform the National Anthem at the Reds game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday.

Many prominent and former Cincinnatians have made Florida a destination - names like Drackett, Aglamesis, Brendamour and even former Cincinnati mayor-turned-talk-show-host Jerry Springer, who works on his tan in Sarasota.

Keeping ties with Cincinnatians in Florida is nothing new. Other Cincinnati groups fly south, too. On March 29 - the day that the symphony will appear in Naples' Philharmonic Center for the Arts - Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel will be guest of honor at a Naples luncheon for friends of the Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center. (Kunzel is chair of the group that is trying to raise $52 million for a proposed K-12 arts school in Over-the-Rhine.)

Cincinnati Zoo leaders have just returned from its third trip to Naples to schmooze with longtime supporters. Kunzel was master of ceremonies for that event, too.

"There are people (in Florida) who have supported the zoo forever," says Cathryn Hilker, founder of the zoo's cat ambassador program. "They believe in it and they love the message we give: a message of hope and let's work together to make the world a better place."

The zoo's Thane Maynard, host of the "90 Second Naturalist" radio spot, agrees. "It's connecting with old friends," he says. "Erich is a great friend of the zoo. ... Many of the folks that we see have been involved or were on the board when I was beginning in the '70s."

Naples has enough critical mass of Cincinnati P&G retirees to have an annual gathering, either as a social outing or an event with a guest speaker from Cincinnati headquarters, says Linda Ulrey, P&G spokesperson.

"The downtown area (of Naples) was developed by the Fleischmann family. More importantly, we have a Skyline Chili here in Naples," says Stuart Warshauer, a retired vice president-general manager of Pierre Foods in Union Township.

Yet, the Cincinnati Symphony is traveling at a time when orchestras around the country are posting deficits and, except for the top-tier, biggest-budget orchestras, postponing tours.

"We want them to have a successful tour, and we are looking forward to meeting their conductor," says Myra Daniels, CEO of the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Performing Arts, who is presenting the orchestra in Naples.

The orchestra will not be soliciting new supporters in Florida, says Hoffheimer.

"There's no question, that by going to Florida and by having Cincinnatians and former Cincinnatians come to concerts, we cement those relationships," says Hoffheimer. "We're not asking them to write checks when we're there, but it keeps that relationship going."

Even though the Cincinnati Symphony is weathering a financial crisis (a $1.45 million deficit is projected this season), touring remains crucial, says Jarvi, who led the orchestra on a tour of Japan in November. The orchestra does not have a tour sponsor for Florida. Fees from presenters will cover the tour costs, symphony management says.

"As bad as we are doing financially, the orchestra has never played better," Jarvi told a group of 600 longtime subscribers Tuesday in Music Hall's ballroom. "It is playing with a quality I have seldom seen. Let me assure you - this orchestra is a great orchestra."

Florida dates

Here's the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra schedule on tour in Florida:

Wednesday - Vero Beach, The Community Church (seats 886)

Thursday - Sarasota, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall (seats 1,736)

Friday - Orlando, Bob Carr Performing Arts Center (seats 2,450)

Saturday - Miami Beach, Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts (seats 2,600)

March 28 - Fort Lauderdale, Au-Rene Theatre, Broward Center for the Performing Arts (seats 2,700)

March 29 - Naples, Hayes Hall in the Philharmonic Center for the Arts (seats 1,473)

Tour soloists: The Eroica Trio

Tour repertoire: Beethoven "Triple" Concerto (for violin, cello and piano) in C Major, Op. 56; Arvo Part's Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten; Mozart's Symphony No. 35, Haffner; Brahms' Symphony No. 1; Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5.



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