As the Oklahoma City Philharmonic prepares to launch its 2014-15 season of concerts, it seems like a logical time to examine the orchestra’s first quarter century, a period of considerable artistic and financial growth.
Between 1989 and 2014, the orchestra’s budget grew from $1.2 million to $5.3 million. The Philharmonic also has built a loyal subscriber base of nearly 5,000. More importantly, the quality of the playing has steadily improved.
“During the past 25 years, we have established deep relationships with our numerous universities, colleges and schools,” said music director Joel Levine. “New faculty hires that have joined the Philharmonic have brought a wealth of talent and experience.
“The musicians, board and management of the Philharmonic have worked together in peace and harmony to create a positive environment in which we could grow and flourish. As a result, the orchestra has developed a mature sound and established an approach to music making that is sophisticated and polished.”
In 1994, the orchestra asked acclaimed concert pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet to pick out a new 9-foot concert grand. After trying out numerous pianos in the U.S. and Europe, he chose a Hamburg Steinway that was shipped from Paris to Oklahoma City.
“Never before had a local orchestra owned its own instrument, much less one of this quality,” Levine said. “The acquisition, through the generosity of John and Mary Nichols, is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest pianos.”
The makeup of the Philharmonic has changed over the years as players retire or resign. However, one-third of the ensemble’s current 84 members have performed with the orchestra since its inaugural season.
When Levine became music director at the time this orchestra was founded, he set out to engage the same guest artists audiences would hear if they attended concerts presented by the nation’s foremost orchestras.
That list is a virtual Who’s Who of internationally acclaimed soloists, and includes pianists Van Cliburn, John Browning, Alicia de Larrocha, Richard Goode, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Stephen Hough; violinists Midori, Pinchas Zukerman, Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman; cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell, flutists Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway; and soprano Renee Fleming.
“On any given night, these guest artists are in demand throughout the world,” Levine said. “They choose to come here because they get a great accompaniment and perform to a big crowd of enthusiastic music lovers.”
Guest artists for the orchestra’s pops series have been equally celebrated, from Patti Page, Dionne Warwick, Debbie Reynolds, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Doc Severinsen, Henry Mancini, Marvin Hamlisch and Kristin Chenoweth.
Other high points during the orchestra’s first 25 years include the establishment of a family series, fostering a spirit of camaraderie with other local performing arts agencies and the first downtown summer concerts (“Red, White & Boom!”) since World War II.
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic is now poised to enter its second quarter century. The 2014-15 season will include appearances by Louis Lortie, Philippe Quint, Jason Alexander and the ever-popular Christmas Show starring Tony Award winner Beth Leavel.
“In the last few years, audience response has been more robust than it was in the early years,” said Eddie Walker, the orchestra’s executive director. “There’s a joy, a spirit in the lobby that patrons comment on. That frisson clearly plays into people’s enjoyment and satisfaction at those concerts.”
Levine’s vision for the future of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic includes the possibility of river concerts that could be a component of the “Core to Shore” park initiative, and being on the lookout for new ideas to enhance the concert experience. Levine also mentioned the challenge of remaining relevant to potential new audiences and discovering how to integrate their musical tastes into the orchestra.
“For me, looking forward to the next 25 years will include watching my successor take over when the time comes for me to step down and become a subscriber,” Levine said. “But ultimately, we want to see the orchestra strive to continue fulfilling its mission statement: To bring inspiration and joy for the community through orchestral music.”
Oklahoma City Philharmonic
For me, looking forward to the next 25 years will include watching my successor take over when the time comes for me to step down and become a subscriber. But ultimately, we want to see the orchestra strive to continue fulfilling its mission statement: To bring inspiration and joy for the community through orchestral music.”
Oklahoma City Philharmonic music director