Butler County Symphony Orchestra musicians reach out to expand their fan base
A recent home garden tour to raise money for the Butler County Symphony Orchestra was one in a seemingly endless series of fundraisers.
Like many large and small arts organizations, the orchestra has been under financial pressure since the economy tanked in late 2007.
But the full-size professional orchestra from the small city has big plans.
Last year, the orchestra hired Matthew Kraemer as music director and conductor. He also directs the Erie Chamber Orchestra and is in his fifth year as an associate conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, which performed in New York's Carnegie Hall last month.
“We have some great art here in the Butler area, and the symphony is a big part of it,” said Ed Wadding, the president of the symphony association. “It is full of dedicated musicians. We are lucky to have found him.”
The garden tour drew people from Pittsburgh and Mercer County, visitors who Wadding hopes will attend some of the six concerts the orchestra has scheduled for next season, which starts Oct. 5.
The orchestra, which has an annual budget of roughly $300,000 and assets in excess of $800,000, is looking for new ways to raise money and extend its reach.
Wadding is seeking opportunities to perform in populous southern Butler County.
“We are always trying to attract audiences from different areas, and performing in Cranberry or Mars might be a good way to do that,” he said.
Kraemer, 36, a Richmond, Ind., native, said his experience in Buffalo has prepared him well.
“We are working to establish more concerts in more places and more educational programs. There is a need for orchestras to do that. Many orchestras have money problems. Buffalo has had decades of trouble. ... Audiences are aging, and we need to figure out how to attract a broader audience,” he said.
In Buffalo, Kraemer has conducted educational, pops and classical performances that featured artists as diverse as the Indigo Girls, a folk rock group, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti and Lang Lang, a virtuoso classical pianist.
“It is a matter of changing gears. One night it might be a rock group, then a classical concert, then a kids' concert or a ballet,” he said.
Kraemer, who trained as a violinist, served a residency with the Vienna Philharmonic at the 2006 Salzburg Music Festival. He was a recipient of the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Fellowship, named for the longtime conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
He said he's impressed with the musicians in Butler.
“I found an orchestra that was very hungry. There is lots of potential for growth,” he said.
After one season, musicians such as Virginia Netchi said they are impressed with Kraemer.
“He is very calm. It's all about the music, not him. Audiences like music that has variety, life and rhythmic drive. We are doing that with Matthew,” she said.
A longtime music instructor, Netchi said that playing in the orchestra for decades has made her a better teacher.
“You are practicing your instrument at the same time you are telling kids to practice their instrument. It makes you more aware of what you are doing as a teacher and more authentic,” said Netchi, who taught music at Fox Chapel Area School District for 26 years and has played in the Butler orchestra since the 1970s. Netchi, a flute player, is one of 76 members of the ensemble, which was formed in 1949 and has performed regularly ever since.
Orchestra members are a mix of music teachers, doctors, lawyers, even a bank president. Their common bond is that they don't want to give up music, she said.
The orchestra performs in the Butler County Intermediate High School auditorium.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.