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Symphony looks to reach out

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Nobuko Oyabu

Guest conductor Donald Schleicher leads the Quad City Symphony Orchestra and pianist Jeffrey Biegel in Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F at Centennial Hall, Augustana College, last November.

It's been a rough year for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, but things seem finally to be looking up for the organization.

The symphony has seen an increase in annual fund-giving over last year -- $189,364 vs. $178,236 a year ago. They've got a brand spanking new executive office at 327 Brady St. in Davenport. They're mightily pleased about a capacity crowd at the Holiday Pops in November. And they're overjoyed with the response of more than 270 applicants for the open conductor's job.

So how has the symphony made it through the rocky shoals of 1997 intact?

``The organization remains focused on its mission, to enrich the cultural life of the Quad-Cities region by providing music of the highest quality and music education to the region,'' QCSO executive director Lance Willett said. ``That mission has always guided the organization and has anchored us, and will continue to.''

Right now, the top item on the group's ``To Do'' list is to find a new artistic director. While guest conductors will fill the rest of this season, next year will bring a fresh crop of conductor candidates, followed by a selection at season's end.

For now, the QCSO is narrowing down the rather large field of contenders. ``The pool is very strong. We've been very pleased with it,'' Mr. Willett said. ``Hopefully within the next few weeks, we'll be able to pull the number down to a more manageable one.

``Obviously, the person's artistic credentials have to be of the highest order,'' Mr. Willett said. ``They have to be able to work with a community orchestra. They have to have the ability to work off the podium and establish productive relationships with all segments of the organization and the community at large.''

The new conductor likely will have to usher the symphony into a new era for the community and symphonic music in general. With increasing competition for the entertainment dollar locally and nationally, and cuts in school arts programs that undercut youth interest in classical music, symphony organizations are faced with some daunting challenges.

``Our new music director will provide us with some of that guidance to steer us in meeting those challenges,'' Mr. Willett said. ``In general, our organization will need to continue to know its audience, know what its audience wants at a particular point in our program planning, but without compromising the product we deliver, which is symphonic music.

``We need to expand our outreach programs, we need to address the issue of adult education,'' he said. ``We have a very long and impressive roster of education in the schools, but adult education is a new challenge. Some of our potential audience is not prepared to participate because they haven't had the opportunity to know anything about (symphonic music.)

``We have to build the next audience and we have to build the next group of players,'' Mr. Willett said. ``This is a community orchestra, and will always be built with the players that are with us, that live in our neighborhoods. And we have to make sure that there is a constant supply of quality players for our orchestra today and 25 years from today.

``And of course there are marketing issues that need to be addressed in new and innovative ways, and simultaneously we have to also do a lot in tandem with other community organizations,'' he continued. ``One of the new developments across the last few years across the spectrum is that very few of us (in the entertainment scene) can afford to act independently. We do better when we partner with each other, whether it's us with Festival of Trees or whoever. Those kinds of partnerships are really the wave of the future.''

However, along with overcoming the hurdles of the future lies a good deal of promise and opportunity for conquering them, Mr. Willett said.

``I'm looking forward to working with the next music director, it's going to provide some new opportunities,'' Mr. Willett said. ``I think in general the organization is looking forward to taking a look through our music director at even our most basic programs. We're going to look at how to still do what we've done successfully, maintain that integrity and yet still remain relevant and grow. We're ready for some fresh input into the way of which we can deliver our services to the community.''

The organization is also looking to establish a larger profile regionally and nationally, working more closely with orchestras of its size. In addition, they're high on a volunteer organization that has boomed in recent years and only seems to be heading towards greater growth, Mr. Willett said.

All of it adds up to a bright future for the QCSO, he said.

``All the signs are good for the symphony, by whatever measure you want to take -- financially, programswise, relationships with the business community, volunteers -- for an organization in transition it's a pretty remarkable achievement,'' Mr. Willett said. ``It says a lot about the organization and community and the recognition of what we do.''

-- By Sean Leary (February 9, 1998)

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