After five years, the Cleveland Orchestra’s Miami residency remains both prized and controversial

April 07, 2011
By David Fleshler

The Cleveland Orchestra's Miami concerts have received acclaim while also being criticized for unadventurous programming.

Now closing the fifth season of its annual residency in Miami, the Cleveland Orchestra has brought Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to public school children, master teachers to the University of Miami and top-flight performances of classics to the Adrienne Arsht Center.

Yet the residency has also vacuumed up scarce philanthropic dollars at a time when South Florida arts organizations are cutting back while giving Miami audiences a parade of lowest-common-denominator works like Bolero and Pictures at an Exhibition.

For three weeks each winter, the orchestra escapes the blustery shore of Lake Erie for the palm trees, sand and sun of South Florida, playing a three-program concert series at the Arsht Center, putting on children’s concerts – some offered free for Miami public school students — and engaging in an intense round of master classes, side-by-side performances, recitals and other events at the University of Miami and other institutions.

The residency, which holds its final concerts of the year this weekend at the Arsht Center, is one of several the orchestra has developed to expand its audience and donor base beyond its Ohio home in a city that has lost 17 percent of its population over the past decade, according to Census data released last month. (The other residency cities are New York, Vienna, Lucerne and Bloomington, Indiana.)

Opinions vary widely on the impact of the Miami residency.

“I think it’s been great for Miami,” said Hector Fortun, a Miami insurance executive who serves on the board of the Musical Arts Association of Miami, the fundraising arm of the Miami residency. “You have one of the world’s best orchestras performing in Miami, with high-caliber music, visits to local schools, making a fabulous contribution. It’s another happening like the Super Bowl and the boat show.

“People fly in from Puerto Rico, Venezuela. How lucky we are to have an orchestra of that caliber in Miami. Otherwise you’d have to go to Vienna to hear an orchestra that good.”

But even with the orchestra’s busy community activities, many local musicians still see the three-week residency as a drag on South Florida’s arts scene—-weakening the incentive for establishing a local orchestra to replace the defunct Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and crowding out the fundraising efforts of local arts organizations.

“The consensus from the musical community is that a three-week residency in no way can replace a local orchestra,” said Jeffrey Apana, an oboist and secretary-treasurer of the South Florida Musicians Association. “The Cleveland Orchestra comes for three weeks a season, and the money they’re making has been taken back to Cleveland and not spent in the local community. An orchestra in residency is not a substitute for a local orchestra. A local orchestra is part of the community and gives back to the community.”

A local orchestra, Apana adds, would provide a pool of high-quality professionals to serve as music teachers, chamber music players and performers in opera and ballet orchestras. It would also provide opportunities for freelancers to work as replacements. And any money that it raises, it spends in the community.

In the first three years of the Miami residency, the orchestra raised a total of $8,107,256 in South Florida, counting multi-year pledges, according to publicly available tax forms. Fundraising from last year and the current season has not yet been reported. The money goes toward paying part of the orchestra’s annual budget, which includes — at the high end — music director Franz Welser-Möst’s salary of $1,124,033 and concertmaster William Preucil’s salary of $467,212, according to 2008 tax forms. Welser-Möst volunteered to take a pay cut in 2009, during financial difficulties for the orchestra. (A spokeswoman declined to provide updated figures, saying salaries were a confidential personnel matter.)

The $8-10 million that the Cleveland Orchestra brings back to Ohio is especially nettlesome to many local musicians when the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra was shuttered in 2003 for a stopgap of just $2-3 million. The fact that the man who made the decision to close the Florida Philharmonic was then-board chairman Dan Lewis—a wealthy Miami arts benefactor and longtime supporter of the Cleveland Orchestra—who later became the driving force behind establishing Cleveland’s Miami residency added fuel to the fire.

Apana says that the Cleveland Orchestra is now competing with other organizations for donations. “It seems like the Cleveland Orchestra is taking money from that small pie,” he said. “I’ve heard from other organizations that the Cleveland Orchestra fundraising has impacted their fundraising.”

Still, he admits that opinions of the residency vary among local musicians. “There are certainly musicians who will tell you they like to hear the Cleveland Orchestra, to hear a great orchestra playing great music,” he said. “Others in the musical community don’t feel that positively about them.”

Fortun disputes the idea that the orchestra’s fundraising has had any impact on giving to other organizations. “That’s crazy,” he said. “That’s like saying because we have football here it takes away from baseball.”

If anything, he said, the prestige of the Cleveland Orchestra draws more people into classical music, making it more likely they will contribute to other organizations. “It makes people more enamored of music and want to open up their wallet and contribute to the Cleveland Orchestra, to the ballet, to the New World Symphony,” he said.

Not everyone is convinced. A top administrator at a leading South Florida music organization, who preferred not to be identified, firmly believes that Cleveland’s Miami residency has had a major negative effect on local institutions.

“There is no way that you can raise millions of dollars every year for the Cleveland Orchestra without impacting fundraising for the other arts organizations,” he said. “Miami is still a limited-size pie. And they’re getting a huge share.

“I wish I could say that the pie just got bigger. It didn’t. The banks and foundations who made the choice to give to them at the same time made the choice not to give to others.”

More damaging still, he believes, is that the Cleveland Orchestra’s presence prevents any burgeoning initiative for a new symphony orchestra to replace the Florida Philharmonic. “Having them here will not allow any spark for a professional, full-time orchestra to ever catch fire.”

Gary Hanson, the orchestra’s executive director, said there has always been a wide range of places for South Florida’s donors to contribute their money and that local philanthropy remains strong, as shown by the construction of the New World Symphony’s new home in Miami Beach.

“We are very grateful to every donor who makes a gift to the residency,” he said. “And we are supportive of the huge range of other classical music activities that happen in Miami annually. We partner with many of the organizations. And we’re confident that our donors are making sound philanthropic judgments in terms of how they invest their money in order to benefit the community.

“I think that it’s fair to say that the philanthropic community in Miami has demonstrated over and over again — and not just with the residency — the extraordinary philanthropy that’s created so much in Miami. The greatest single example is the philanthropic commitment that was made to building the new Frank Gehry building for the New World Symphony.”

At the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, the orchestra’s musicians have been a highly active presence. Among the activities this week are master classes by the orchestra’s bass, clarinet, viola, percussion, trombone and cello players, as well as forums on music business and engineering.

“I think the Cleveland Orchestra has had a very positive and profound impact on the Frost School,” said Shelly Berg, the school’s dean. “We’ve done really fantastic events with them, including side-by-side performance events, events where they perform music written by our composition students, events where the conductors evaluate our conductors conducting their players and master classes by individual instrumentalists.”

The musicians are compensated for the work, he said, although some have wanted more than the school was willing to pay.

“They do not do it for free,” said Berg. “Any time when their players have done sessions with our students, we pay them for it. I understand. I’m a performer myself, and if I’m performing in some city and a school calls me to do a master class I’m generally paid an honorarium. They charge what I consider to be a fair honorarium for world-class players who happen to be in town playing a concert.

“Some of the musicians wanted double how much we pay them,” he added. “I let it be known that I thought this was unacceptable and I thought this was a breach of what it means to give back. If you come into a community and tell them that you’re giving back, give back.”

But that issue aside, Berg believes the Cleveland musicians have been an enormous asset to the school, covering many aspects of performance and the music business at the highest professional level. “They’re great with the students,” he said. “It’s a pretty complete program. As you can imagine, it’s a great benefit to our students.”

There’s no doubt that South Florida listeners have benefited from the chance to hear regular performances by one of the world’s greatest orchestras. Among the highlights have been a sweeping performance of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, a blazing account of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 by Horacio Gutiérrez (who returns this weekend with the orchestra to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2) and a richly colored performance of a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

And yet as the orchestra experimented with various programming strategies, some South Florida listeners have sensed a whiff of condescension in its choices.

At first the orchestra’s leaders appeared to think it important to have a Hispanic name on the program, represented either by a composer, the conductor or the soloist. And while the orchestra has performed a few works by living composers, such as the violin concerto by Thomas Adès, and an occasional off-the-beaten-path work from the past, the programming in general has been highly conservative. This is particularly true of the current season, where works on the three programs have included the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, Schumann Piano Concerto, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Ravel’s Bolero, and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

“It shows a lack of respect,” said Julian Kreeger, president of Friends of Chamber Music of Miami. “It’s almost like they think we’re not sophisticated enough to appreciate other repertory. It’s like a pianist that comes down and plays the Moonlight Sonata and the Pathetique Sonata.”

The Cleveland Orchestra, Kreeger said, is not allowing South Florida to hear the repertory at which it is among the world’s best, such as the symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner (although it did perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in the first year of the Miami residency). In Cleveland they perform a much wider range of repertoire, he added, including a concert version of a Dvořák opera.

“It would have been great if they took that kind of programming to Miami,” said Kreeger. “This is where I find their programs disappointing.”

Hanson said the orchestra should be judged by the totality of its programs over several years, since that’s what it would take to add up to a single full season in its home city.

“I think we’re very much in the groove with programming in Miami,” he said. “When you have double-digit numbers of programs you have the ability to cover a lot more repertory ground than you do in three subscription programs.

“If you take the now fifteen subscription programs that we’ve done, we have covered a lot of repertory ground in that period. And in fact that’s what we will continue to do, is to bring a broad range of programming, not just within a season but between seasons.”

Few young people get to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony performed live, and fewer still get to hear it performed by an ensemble of the caliber of the Cleveland Orchestra. But under music director Franz Welser-Möst, the orchestra played Beethoven’s famous symphony for students in the gym of Hialeah Miami Lakes High School, in one of many events done for Miami-Dade County public school students.

“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful partnership,” said Robert Davis, who is in charge of music programs for the Miami-Dade County School District.

At Edison High School, he said, the orchestra under Giancarlo Guerrero (recently named principal guest conductor for the Miami residency) played the Star Spangled Banner, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, a suite from Bizet’s Carmen and Ravel’s Bolero. After the concert, a girl who plays clarinet in the Edison High School Band asked to meet one of the orchestra’s clarinetists, and wrote a note to Davis later about how inspired she was now to really practice hard.

“The kids were just mesmerized,” Davis said. “For many of them it was the first time they had ever heard a symphony orchestra. About 200 stayed behind and asked for the maestro’s autograph.”

Particularly effective with the students were the Carmen suite, because the music was already familiar, and Bolero. “A huge hit,” Davis said. “When the quiet snare drum started, you could hear a pin drop.”

The Cleveland Orchestra performs Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 (“Miracle”), Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Arsht Center in Miami, conducted by Jiří Bĕlohlávek, with pianist Horacio Gutiérrez. 305-949-6722;

Comments are closed.