The Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra’s theme for its 2017-18 season, which opens Saturday, is “More than Music.”
What is that supposed to mean?
“It’s more than that with our outreach,” said CEO Kari Heilman.
Heilman said that the BSO’s four outreach programs — efforts to attract more concert-goers and build the audiences for the future — are growing and expanding their reach. Business supporters of the orchestra have sponsored 5,220 tickets for the BSONext program, which brings students, through their schools, to regular Saturday evening concerts.
“They get a pre-concert lecture just for them with (conductor Stilian Kirov) coming in to talk them,” Heilman said.
Heilman said the students also get to hear from the guest artists and orchestra musicians.
“Just for these students to see them talking like normal human beings and then 20 minutes later see them doing these extraordinary things — that’s a really cool experience,” Heilman said.
Heilman said this year the BSO has added special student discounts at participating restaurants to make each concert a complete event.
Heilman said the BSO’s Young People’s Concerts, which have been operating for more than 30 years, will serve about 12,000 Kern County schoolchildren this year. Already vamped up with mimes, puppets, dancers and other performers, the BSO is expanding the reach of these concerts by offering tickets for individual children and their parents — a nod to the growing number of home-schooled children.
“As home-school becomes more popular, we were getting calls from parents,” Heilman said.
Heilman said the orchestra is doing more direct advertising to the home-school community.
The Kids Discover Music program has been the orchestra’s contribution to music program cutbacks in schools. BSO performers visit schools, performing and lecturing about music.
The more broad-based outreach has come with the restoration of pops concerts during the year. The “Home for the Holidays” concert remains on this year’s calendar, but the other concerts represent new ideas. Instead of a film music concert in the spring, this season’s spring pops will focus on rock 'n' roll, as performed with orchestra. The third pops concert, which took place Friday, was an ambitious project with Jennifer Sampson directing the Tom Stoppard play, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,” with music by Andre Previn.
“Stilian met Jennifer this summer while doing a presentation at Downtown Rotary,” Heilman said. “Stilian had known about that play forever and had always wanted to do it.”
Heilman said this production was a real stretch for the BSO, but worth the effort.
“I think there is a following in Bakersfield for this kind of thing,” Heilman said.
What is not growing is season ticket sales. Heilman said that declining interest in buying tickets for all six concerts appears to be a real trend.
“As people get busier, people are less and less willing to commit to six weekends,” Heilman said.
Heilman said the BSO is offering a “Pick Three” packaging, but is relying on single concert ticket sales.
“A lot of people buy last minute — it’s Bakersfield,” Heilman said. “Single ticket sales are up and I think will continue to be. That seems to be the trend.”
That trend apparently hasn’t hurt the orchestra financially. Heilman said the BSO finished last year in the black, and despite the “internal challenges” of last year — a reference to CEO Bryan Burrow’s mid-year departure — Heilman said the orchestra is ready to proceed this year, with a budget of just under $945,000.
The challenge for this year will be conductor Stilian Kirov’s status. When hired in 2015, Kirov was signed to a three-year contract — this is the last year of that agreement. Both Heilman and Kirov have refused to say any more than that they are “discussing” Kirov’s future with the orchestra. Kirov has had a second commitment — the Symphony in C, based in New Jersey — while he has conducted the BSO, and has just started his first season with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. Kirov will miss one concert this season due to a scheduling conflict with the IPO.
So where is the discussion going?
“There is interest on both sides, absolutely,” Heilman said. “(Kirov) is in demand; however, he does love Bakersfield and he loves the people here.”