By Liz Newberg
staff writerNEW BRITAIN — The sound of music is making its way back to New Britain thanks to an innovative new partnership between two suprisingly different groups.
The New Britain Symphony Orchestra is joining forces with the Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, an affiliation that will combine old tradition with a younger up-and-coming group to create a new musical experience for not just New Britain but the region.
And it couldn’t have happened at a better time as this year marks the first time in NBSO’s 62-year history that there was no concert season.
The death of former conductor Jesse Levine, combined with the death of the symphony’s managing director Catherine Stockman and the economic meltdown, created a perfect storm that saw an already weak customer base dwindle and the costs of prodcuing concerts go up dramatically.
“Once we fell into that vortex, it was like a typhoon that we just couldn’t get out of,” said Richard Judd, NBSO board member,
The new organization, called New Britain Symphony — Connecticut Virtuosi, plans to offer a concert season featuring three full symphonies, three operas and three chamber music concerts starting this fall.
The success of the CVCO concerts and the younger audience they attract under the instruction of artistic director Adrian Sylveen impressed the NBSO board and earned their support.
“Adrian reaches out to the community in all areas,” NBSO president Nancy Judd said. “The exciting thing is that these two organizations have two very different audiences and we are bringing them together. Part of our mission is to provide an extraordinary musical experience for young people. This is where it all begins and we have to work together to bridge that gap because both sides have something valuable to offer.”
Longfellow wrote “music is the universal language of mankind” and given the diversity of New Britain, a renewed music culture could certainly bring people together in a creative and entertaining way Judd believes.
The group realizes there is a long road ahead of them to reach that goal but Sylveen said as a musical community they have an obligation to reach out to the different ethnic groups of the area to create a sense of belonging.
“We want everyone to feel at home with our music but at the same time break out of their comfort zone and try something new,” Sylveen said. “We have to make it work for all people in New Britain, whether Jewish, Polish, Spansih or Italian, you name it. So we will pay attention to national music as it reflects a sense of identity and cultural heritage.”
To create that accessibility, the model of a subscription-based series had to go, said Richard Judd. Sylveen’s experience operating concerts on a “suggested donation” basis combined with his creative fundraising and use of social media, internet and email as a marketing tool is just what the NBSO board needs to move in a new direction. While NBSO has struggled with marketing, Knaus hopes the collaboration will address those weaknesses and allow the new organization to take advantage of the huge potential audience within a 30-mile radius of New Britain.
“The benefits of working with Adrian is that he has great experinece choosing great musciains that will bring a different amalgamation than we have ever seen before in New Britian. And he is a top violinist as well,” Judd said.
Together the two organizations are on the way to creating a vibrant music scene that can cross cultural barriers while bringing real economic benefits for the city.
“There are lot of exciting things going on here in the city,” according to Judd. “New Britain is a great place to come. We have a world-class art museum, CCSU and now we are creating a musical hub.”
CVSO also has a strong educational tradition reaching out to schools and community colleges that they plan to maintain.
“That is the future of our audience,” Sylveen said. “We have a duty to expose the kids to the beauty of music and they do get it. I see the results in the students’ reactions all the time.”
While Sylveen acknowledges NBSO reflects tradition, his group is a relative newcomer to Connecticut with 13 years experience and a model that uses fewer musicians and yet attracts a younger audience. This combination is what makes his group a success, accroding to the maestro.
“We are inheriting a great treasure of tradition and have common ground like never before, allowing us to create an artistic reality for a huge group of people,” Sylveen said. “Lots of people want to participate in music and in their community but in this economic climate they just can’t. It’s important that we are bringing the world of music to a greater audience and open up their eyes to they power of music.”
While there’s plenty of hope for the future, NBSO board isn’t breathing a collective sigh of relief yet.
“It’s a long road ahead of us but there is a lot of excitement to see where this will take us. Our visions are one and the same,” said Peter Knaus, NBSO’s executive vice president. “While music speaks directly to the soul, it’s now our job to make sure everyone is able to hear.”
Sylveen agrees that a main goal has to build an audience base. When he hears young people say classical music is boring, he reminds them that Beetohoven came before the Beatles; the violin came before the guitar. Without one, we wouldn’t have the other.
“We have a responsibility and a community obligation to shape our musical offerings in a way that is attractive to all generations, nationalities and ethnic groups,” he said. With that in mind, New Britain can look froward to becoming fluent in the “univeral language of mankind” — music.