Orchestra Improvement

The Catalina Chamber Orchestra has big plans and needs community support to make the plans reality

About to dive into its 14th season, the Catalina Chamber Orchestra is poised to professionalize. All it needs, of course, is money. And that means assembling a fresh board of directors eager to raise funds.

"To be honest, we burned out a lot of the old board members," admits Enrique Lasansky, the orchestra's music director. They handled too many details of day-to-day operations, like selling ads for the programs and handling concert logistics. Now those duties have been taken on by committees of musicians and new manager Leslie Martin Howell, so the board can focus on overseeing large-scale policy matters--and raising money.

This season's budget will fall somewhere between $45,000 and $50,000; according to Lasansky, it's been hovering there for a few years. "We want to double that soon," he says.

More money would increase the payments to musicians. Currently, the 15 to 30 players (depending on the music being performed) receive $20 per rehearsal or concert; Lasansky wants to boost that, perhaps gradually, to $50 per service, a rate only the group's core string quartet enjoys. "We want at least to be competitive with the Tucson Pops Orchestra," Lasansky says. That group, which gives free spring and autumn concerts at Reid Park, includes members of the Tucson Symphony and other local professionals.

The Catalina Chamber Orchestra includes some members who also play in the Tucson Symphony or Arizona Opera Orchestra, as well as music teachers, retirees from the UA and TSO and other enthusiasts.

Lasansky has good reason to want to professionalize his semi-pro orchestra, and better reward the players for their work; the Catalina Chamber Orchestra may present only a five-concert season, but alongside standard items by Beethoven and Bach, it plays a great deal of music by living composers, many of them living in Tucson. Some musicians may be able to play certain pieces by Beethoven and Bach in their sleep, but preparing unfamiliar new music takes work.

"Because we pay so little, it's hard to be stringent about attendance," Lasansky says. "The players do the best they can to come to as many rehearsals as possible, but sometimes if they have a conflict, you can't blame them for going somewhere else." Lasansky shouldn't feel too bad about that; even at the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Orchestra, it's never certain that all the musicians at a performance actually showed up for rehearsals.

Last season, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra got a lot of attention for commissioning and premiering nine concert openers of five to 10 minutes each. The Catalina Chamber Orchestra routinely performs far more substantial new compositions than that. Consider the repertory for the coming season.

The opening concert, Nov. 14, compares and contrasts two 18th-century works--Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 and Haydn's Violin Concerto in C with soloist Mark Rush, of the UA music faculty--with two seminal works of the 20th century, Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto and Webern's compact Symphony. "These pieces are similar structurally and theoretically," explains Lasansky, "so we hope to show how modern music, which can seem daunting and complex, evolved from classical works." By Catalina Chamber Orchestra standards, that's conservative programming.

The holiday concert with the Pima College Choir, Dec. 12, is pretty safe fare, but alongside Christmas carols arranged by John Rutter and music by Corelli and Vaughan Williams will be the Christmas Cantata by Daniel Pinkham, one of America's leading living composers of choral music.

Things get even more interesting on Jan. 16, when Beethoven's Second Symphony and Vaughan Williams' fairly seldom-played Tuba Concerto will be prefaced by two truly rare works: Three Women by Daniel Echeinbaum, who Lasansky discovered in the UA graduate music program, and the Viola Concerto of Philadelphia-based David Finko, a former Soviet nuclear submarine engineer who defected to America in the 1970s. "I was stunned by the power and beauty of the work," says Lasansky. "I want to bring Finko here for the performance."

The season's final regular concert, aside from a free family program in May, falls on March 12. Besides the familiar Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1 (with soloist Alexander Tentser) and Respighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances" Suite No. 1, the program will feature the world premiere of Universes Eternal by local composer and electric guitarist Pete Fine. "It's a mammoth, 45-minute work," says Lasansky, "very impressive, and very accessible."

Lasansky declares, "The orchestra has a real niche in this community, so we owe it to everyone to improve the artistic quality and upgrade every other aspect of the organization, like where we play." This season, the group is moving to the acoustically pleasing Proscenium Theater at the Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

Lasansky adds, "We need the community's help to establish the orchestra as a permanent fixture in Tucson's arts community." That means forking over dough and attending concerts, of course, but Lasansky is also looking for volunteers to help out with various tasks; no musical ability required for that.

As for people who do have musical ability, auditions are being scheduled for Oct. 2. To arrange an appointment and receive repertory, call 780-0407.