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Beloit Janesville Symphony getting creative to combat poor economy

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 10, 2009
— It's appropriate that the Beloit Janesville Symphony is starting its season with music for the silent film "Frankenstein."

Like the scientist of the film, symphony management hopes to infuse new life into an old form, creating something different—and possibly better—than it was before.


It's still about the life and power of the music, but it must take a new form.


"There are two things happening here at the same time," said Rob Tomaro, BJS conductor and music director. "Due to the economic downturn, we were looking at serious budget cuts. We had to make an attractive season with less money."


At the end of last season, the symphony cancelled a large production of Verdi's "Requiem," citing financial concerns.


In addition, not enough sponsors could be found for the traditional July 4 concerts in Beloit and Janesville.


Secondly, BJS, like orchestras all over the country, know that they have to work harder to reach new audiences, Tomaro said.


"The programming committee was looking for a season that would satisfy traditional and nontraditional audiences," Tomaro said.


Traditional audiences are those who are willing to sit and listen—the music is enough.


Non-traditional audiences include people who have never been to a concert, aren't sure they like "serious music," or want something that doesn't involve sitting still.


They want an event.


So Tomaro and the programming committee looked at what was working in other communities, and what has worked here.


Every year, the symphony joins forces with the Beloit International Film Festival to provide live music for a silent film. It's been a wildly successful partnership, Tomaro said.


It's something other orchestras have done, too.


For its first show of the season, the symphony will be playing composer Michael Shapiro's film score for "Frankenstein," the 1931 film starring Boris Karloff.


Another "event-based" program is the April concert of Strauss waltzes with dancing and Austrian buffets before the concerts.


None of the events will take place at the Janesville Performing Arts Center (JPAC), the symphony's usual home in Janesville.


"We love JPAC, we treasure it; we'd like to return there," Tomaro said. "But JPAC is very expensive, and we aren't able to do some of the kind of events—the dancing, the dinners—at JPAC."


Some of the patrons have also complained about the lack of parking at JPAC, too. Unlike many cities, where concertgoers are willing—and expect—to park a few blocks from the theater, local folks expect to be able to park next to the front door.


Parking has especially been an issue with older patrons, Tomaro said.


JPAC's lot has 110 spaces and Hedberg Public Library, right next door, has an equally large lot.


Melinda Schumacher, symphony office manager, said she's seen an increase in subscribers, but it's too early to tell how significant that increase will be.


"We've gotten our usual subscribers, and we've seen some new names, too," Schumacher said.


Susan Behrens, former symphony board president, said she's "thrilled" about the upcoming season.


In March, Behrens had the unpleasant task of informing subscribers, musicians and singers that Verdi's "Requiem" had to be cancelled.


But she sees a positive and healthy future for the organization.


"I think this season is going to be absolutely outstanding," Behrens said. "In fact, I know it will."


Beloit Janesville Symphony 2008-09 season

Venues include the Eclipse Center and Eaton Chapel in Beloit, and Parker High School and the Pontiac Convention Center, Janesville.


Cost: Season subscription is $75 for five concerts; $25 for individual tickets; $5 for children and students. Students and children are free when accompanied by a season subscription holder.


Three of the five concerts include special bunches or meals. Tickets for those meals must be purchased separately.


For more information: Go to www.beloitjanesvillesymphony.com or call (608) 313-1200.


-- 7:30 p.m., Oct. 24, the Eclipse Center: "The Monster Meets the Maestro." Showing of the 1931 classic "Frankenstein," starring Boris Karloff as the monster. BJS will play Michael Shapiro's new film score for the movie.


The event will also include a competition for the best monster in the audience.


-- 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, at Janesville Parker High School and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, at Beloit College Eaton Chapel: A tribute to supporters of the orchestra featuring clarinetist Esther Lamneck


Music includes John Adams' "Gnarly Buttons," Rob Tomaro's "Dream Palace," Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 5" and Haydn's "Cello Concerto in G."


-- 10 a.m. brunch and noon concert, Saturday, Dec. 19, at Parker High School. Also, a noon brunch and 2 p.m. concert, Sunday at the Eclipse Center. The show is "Home for the Holidays Family Spectacular." The orchestra will be joined on stage by a Parker High School choir. Expect Santa and other specials guests.


-- 5:30 p.m. dinner and 7:30 p.m. concert, Friday, March 20, at the Country Club of Beloit. Also, a 1 p.m. dinner and 3 p.m. concert, Saturday, March 21, at Janesville County Club. The show, "Feast of Divertimenti with the Beloit Janesville Chamber Ensemble," offers a selection of light classical works.


-- 5:30 p.m. dinner and 7:30 p.m. concert Friday, April 24, at the Eclipse Center. Also, a 1 p.m. dinner and 3 p.m. concert Saturday, April 25, at the Pontiac Convention Center. The event is, "Wine, Women and Song: An Evening in Vienna, the Beloit Janesville Symphony waltz night."


Johann Strauss waltzes and dancing featuring an Austrian buffet and Viennese desserts will be featured.



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