New direction for Memphis Symphony Orchestra

One the city’s greatest musical assets looks to have a more stable future. With fresh leadership and an economical new partnership with the University of Memphis, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra continues to innovate its way back into the black. 
Last month, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO) announced collaboration with the University of Memphis (UofM) that has set the stage for interesting new programming for students and musicians and a solution to the on-going financial struggles of the organization.

MSO will continue as an independent nonprofit organization, but will rebrand as "The Memphis Symphony Orchestra in Residence at the University of Memphis."

“This unprecedented partnership will bring wonderful opportunities for both our students and our faculty in the UofM Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music to collaborate with symphony professionals,” explained UofM President M. David Rudd. “Through this new partnership, the Scheidt School of Music will gain greater national visibility as it recruits students to Memphis, for Memphis is expected to become the premier destination in the Mid-South for music training and performance, music outreach, and arts-centered, cross-sector community development.”

The MSO’s partnership with the UofM will be built on three strategies — music performance, music training and community engagement. The Memphis Symphony Orchestra will retain a presence at its former home, The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, with its Masterworks concert series. However, through The Memphis Symphony Orchestra in Residence at the University of Memphis, the symphony will also offer world-class symphonic music on campus. And this fall, the symphony’s headquarters will relocate from offices on South Mendenhall Road in East Memphis to currently unoccupied Newport Hall, located on Goodman Street on the south side of the U of M campus.

After several years of financial struggles, the partnership with the University of Memphis is providing a new blueprint for the MSO’s sustainable future.

“This is a game-changer for the MSO,” said Gayle S. Rose, Chair of the MSO Board. “The new facility will come at significant cost savings and the partnership should convince donors that the symphony orchestra has the ‘stability’ needed to enable the MSO to raise $15 million for an endowment fund that would guarantee its survival. We bring to the table a wealth of professional musicians from across the globe, a 62-year history of artistic excellence and an industry-leading community engagement program to join forces with the UofM Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music and a dynamic student-centered environment, allowing both of us to innovate in ways we could not separately.”

Additionally, there will be new artistic leadership in place to help the symphony navigate these uncharted waters. As former conductor Mei-Ann Chen departs Memphis to expand the guest conducting segment of her career, she is passing the baton to Robert Moody, MSO’s incoming Principal Conductor. Moody, a frequent guest conductor with the MSO since 2006, has signed a two-year contract (2016-2018) for the position.

“I am happy for the serendipity of timing, that I get to take the artistic helm with so much good news abounding,” said Moody. “And, I already feel a connection to the MSO. We know each other well, we like each other, and that’s a solid foundation on which to build.”

Moody’s responsibilities will include selecting repertoire and acquiring guest soloists. He said he hopes to use creative programming to tap into some of the homegrown talent available in Memphis. The 2016-2017 season will include some performers with a local connection, like violin soloist Jesse Kasinger who is a recent graduate of the U of M.
Gayle Rose, MSO Board Chair
“Programming can be a silver bullet for an orchestra,” said Moody. “It’s very important to get the buzz going and continue with the excitement of what’s going on with the symphony. My challenge will be to make the concerts great and to provide the highest quality of artistic experiences. These top quality performances at the UofM will create a rich opportunity for students, faculty, patrons and all citizens of the Mid-South to experience the full range of musical offerings created by the partnership.”

Moody said, “The MSO’s body of professional musicians will complement the world-class faculty at the UofM Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, creating a one-stop shop for aspiring musicians in the Mid-South. In addition, the MSO’s global music network will attract leading ensembles and soloists to campus.”

Additionally, he plans for guest conductors and soloists to provide master classes for UofM students each year.

“My vision for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the really powerful new fundraising opportunities that come with this partnership is that we now have a chance to take a deep breath and focus our attention and efforts on what it takes to become the most relevant 21st century symphony that we can be,” Moody continued. “As people discuss the great artistic partnerships, we now have the potential to hear The Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the UofM Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music uttered in the same phrase as the New York Philharmonic Symphony and The Julliard School or The Rochester Philharmonic Symphony and the Eastman School of Music, nationwide and beyond.”
“I believe the collaboration will become a model for future relationships between professional symphonies and universities across the country. The University of Memphis is fortunate and honored to be partnered with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. It’s great for the city, great for the symphony and great for the University of Memphis,” said Rudd.

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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