Our Views: Symphony’s changes could lead to more harmonious future

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The new name and direction of the former Beloit Janesville Symphony offer reasons to be excited.

Granted, excitement is not often associated with symphony music, but the orchestra has recognized the need to adapt to changing times to appeal to wider audiences. New Executive Director Michael Krueger is orchestrating plans that suggest a bright future.

Krueger wants the newly named Rock River Philharmonic to “explore artistic boundaries,” just as a new logo suggests. That logo creatively incorporates music with the new name through the image of a violin on a blue, free-flowing waterway.

Using the Rock River to shed the traditional two-city designation allows the organization to expand its outreach. Now, the orchestra might find welcoming audiences up and down the river—even across the border in Illinois.

The name is just the start of changes that Krueger is directing. He and marketing/outreach director Britney McKay remain the only full-time employees. He has energized the 12-member board with working committees so he and McKay can focus on their jobs.

Perhaps most important, Krueger says the philharmonic will begin its new season in January with a diverse three-part performance series. The Classical series will offer traditional music. If the Family Pops series makes people think of the Boston Pops, that’s all the better. Imagine informal, family-friendly events with parents relaxing on picnic blankets in a park while kids roam freely. The inventive Exploration series will offer attendees chances for hands-on activities while enjoying a variety of music and arts. People might think this series takes the symphony off the deep end, and “hopefully we are,” Krueger said in Sunday’s Gazette.

The symphony’s new direction also means it will go perform wherever people are. Krueger says it must provide different options for different interests. Instead of the symphony seeking support for whatever it offers, he wants it to give people what they want so they’ll naturally support it.

Krueger could be the perfect fit for this transformation. This banker and multitalented musician and artist learned from the Kennedy Center’s Michael Kaiser, considered the “Turnaround King.”

All of these hard-to-grasp changes might come into better focus when the symphony announces its new schedule this fall. Know this, however: The former Beloit Janesville Symphony could not continue on its traditional path. The recession took a toll, and the symphony had yet to recover. It canceled some performances.

Traditional symphony orchestras can be out of tune with younger generations. Right or wrong, young people often think of a symphony as stodgy old musicians attracting small audiences of older folks. Dress up or don’t attend. People today have many more choices for their entertainment dollars, and a symphony must compete.

The Rock River Philharmonic’s philosophic changes are based on making the group more relevant to more people. They make the symphony less anchored to tradition and location. The new event series seems destined to attract curious people who might never have considered attending a show. All this could create a harmonic match of music and performances to bigger audiences.

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