Idaho Arts Quarterly » Newsworthy

Let's Get Together

The Boise Philharmonic gets friendly for their '09-'10 season


With the confidence of a barrel-chested military general, Mozart's Symphony No. 41, also known as the Jupiter symphony, asserts its presence with a full-orchestra rush. After a half-breath, a fluttering of strings hedges a soft response. Written during a six-week period in the summer of 1788, along with two other full-length symphonies, Jupiter paints a story that seethes operatic drama within the first few seconds.

"Mozart, even when he's writing a symphony for a full orchestra, operatically, he's thinking about characters in the music and in the sound," explains Boise Philharmonic Music Director Robert Franz. "He had already written many of his most famous operas, and was steeped in the theater, so there's just no way that that didn't inspire him. You can hear it in the music—you can hear the characters come alive."

To drive home Jupiter's inherent drama, Franz invited Opera Idaho soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge, tenor Karim Sulayman and the Opera Idaho Chorus to work their diaphragms during the philharmonic's performance of the piece in January 2010. Galvanized by what he describes as Idaho's "incredibly rich and deep artistic tradition," Franz tailored much of the philharmonic's '09-'10 season to spotlight collaborations with a number of area arts organizations.

"For the size city that Boise is, to have a philharmonic, an opera, a ballet, an art museum, a Shakespeare festival, it's very amazing and very inspiring, truthfully," says Franz. "There are incredible artists in Boise, and that hit me when I arrived. It was my inspiration for next season."

Soon after Franz arrived in Idaho a year ago, he made it a point to connect with the director of each major arts organization in town. Because Ballet Idaho Artistic Director Peter Anastos and Opera Idaho Executive Director Mark Junkert were also new kids on the Boise block, the three developed an immediate bond.

"The three of us all made a commitment that we would try to work more together than we had done in the recent past," Junkert says.

In addition to teaming up with Opera Idaho, the philharmonic also developed a "Salute to Ballet Idaho," which premieres in April and features dancers flexing their muscles to selections from Milhaud, Stravinsky, Ibert and Ravel. In March, the philharmonic's "Salute to Shakespeare" will invite Idaho Shakespeare Festival actors to take center stage for Liszt's Hamlet and shine during Diamond's Romeo & Juliet. Though Idaho Shakespeare Festival Producing Artistic Director Charlie Fee has been involved in the Boise arts community quite a bit longer than Franz, Junkert or Anastos, he views artistic collaborations like these as both thrilling educational opportunities and a chance to court new audiences.

"Beyond whether or not it sells more tickets, it's just artistically really exciting," says Fee. "Everybody grows from working with the other companies because we all bring different skill sets and we bring different work habits. It's just great for the artists themselves to collaborate with other artistic directors."

In addition to their partnerships with Opera Idaho, Ballet Idaho and Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the philharmonic will usher in their new season on Sept. 25-26 by joining hands with members of Boise Master Chorale, Boise State Chorus and Boise State Orchestra to present Holst's The Planets. By providing a platform for Boise's many talented artists, Franz hopes the performances will help attract a younger audience, one that might not traditionally attend the philharmonic.

"I feel like my role as music director is to be an ambassador of classical music," says Franz. "I try to connect with people where they are, and I think that's really cross-generational. That's how you really get more people into the hall."

At a time when arts institutions across the country have been slapped by a drop in donor funding and then punched by the economy's drain on attendance, developing innovative ways to draw in crowds—either through courting younger audiences or by luring in new audiences through collaborations—has become the key to survival.

"We're thinking about how we can really ramp up the product—keep the product at an extraordinarily high level, keep it as interesting as it is, but keep the finances under control," says Franz. "In a way, you could conceive that it's a little bit daunting or a little bit dampening, but on the other hand, for me, it's a little bit inspiring. It's kind of like a puzzle—you have to figure out how to do more with less."

Junkert says the abysmal economy has also presented issues for the opera industry, rattling off a list of large opera houses that have closed over the past year. To succeed in this new environment, he said that Opera Idaho, too, has had to make some drastic changes—like moving to different venues, increasing the number of operas they're performing and participating in several collaborations.

"This year, we will have [Franz] conduct our first opera, Faust, in the fall and Peter Anastos will stage-direct Cinderella in February 2010," says Junkert. "So that's our attempt to realize collaboration a bit more."

In Fee's opinion, the current economic situation is a time for reflection, and above all, a time for innovation.

"I think what we've seen is a period where the performing arts in Boise have really come of age and we've got extraordinary companies all around us," says Fee. "Everybody has a lot of work to do. We have a lot of challenges facing all of us in terms of the economy. The question now over the next three to five years is how do we all survive? How do we all continue to grow and how do we all grow artistically?"

Working well together may just be a major part of the solution.

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