Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Tempest in a Teapot Turns 10

Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Philadelphia, second largest city on the eastern sea board and home to a busy music scene.

Though most of the attention has recently been drawn towards the Philadelphia Orchestra, the local baroque orchestra has some news of its own.  Celebrating its tenth birthday this season, Tempesta di Mare will be offering four concerts over two weekends in March as part of its "opus 10" celebrations. The concerts will feature works which have been catalogued by the number 10, such as Vivaldi's op. 10, Bach's BWV 1010, Leclair's op. 10, and so on.

One of the youngest period orchestras in North America today, the little tempest in a tea pot has developed a strong following in the city, seeing a budget increase of 1000% since its conception. The two directors, flutist Gwyn Robinson and Lutenist Richard Stone, have worked hard to see their project successful. "For a number of years," says Gwyn, "Robert and I volunteered our time to get all of the work done behind the scenes." Today, the orchestra has a full-time staff member and four other part-timers (of which two are the directors) who do all of the administrative work. "It's nice to have people we can trust [with this work]!" notes Gwyn. It must also be nice being paid for it, too.

The orchestra developed out of a chamber ensemble of the same name which performed between 1996 and 2000. After being invited to the Prague Baroque Festival in 2000 to perform a reconstruction of a Weiss Lute concerto, Gwyn and Richard decided that they'd rather begin an orchestra than do a pickup one for the odd larger performance. An issue of quality, Gwyn noted that "it's just not possible to have a consistent pickup touring orchestra play at a high level."

After consulting their neighbor, an accountant, and persuading them to join their board of directors, the trio incorporated in 2001 and set the gears in motion. Interestingly, the orchestra didn't have their first concert until the fall of 2002. "We took the whole first year to get the administration in place, write grants and fund-raise, find a venue, and set up the first concert series," noted Gwyn.

The first concert series was completely free to attend, though there was a catch. Anyone wishing to enter the hall had to give their name and mailing address to the orchestra. "Immediately following every concert," says Gwyn, "we sent out a fund-raising letter to all of those who 'signed in' to followed up with them." Clearly a successful gimmick, the orchestra built a strong mailing list in a short amount of time.

Though there haven't been any 'breakthrough' years in terms of funding, their budget has consistently increased. More recently, the orchestra began performing each program twice, one at the Arch Street Friends Meeting House, a more central venue; and one at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, which is North-West of the downtown core. "Playing each concert twice not only increases the quality of the performance," says Gwyn, "it becomes much more satisfying to us, [the performers], to be able to share this music more than once."

If you're in the Philadelphia area this month, check out the "Opus 10" celebrations on May 12,13,19, and 20.

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