2017-18 season: Miller Symphony Hall leader sees renewed opportunity in Allentown renaissance
Season schedule: Page B2
Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown, home to the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, had a “great season” for 2016-17, and Allentown Symphony Association Executive Director Sheila K. Evans has an even better season in store for 2017-18.
“It was a great season. We had an amazing season last year,” Evans says.
Maestra Diane Wittry is in her 22nd season as Allentown Symphony Orchestra Music Director-Conductor, bringing world-class artists to Miller Symphony Hall, enhancing the cultural community in the Lehigh Valley.
Highlights of the 2017-18 season include “The Music of James Bond & More” in the Allentown Symphony Pops Series, Sept. 23; the “Ladies of Laughter” Comedy Series, starting Oct. 13; Tango Buenos Aires in the Live Onstage Series; Oct, 27; the Eroica Trio in the Allentown Symphony Orchestra Classical Series, Nov. 4 and 5; “Cinderella’s Christmas” in the Family Series, Nov. 25, plus the continuing Jazz Upstairs Series and the Met Opera Series telecast.
The 2016-17 season success is exemplified financially, in programming and attendance.
“Last year, we came in at 101 percent of our earned revenue target, which is great,” says Evans. “We had a surplus of over $90,000, which pays off debt from previous years.”
For contributed revenue, “We were actually at 103 percent of our targeted budget,” Evans says.
Attendance at Miller Symphony Hall was approximately 100,000, with 46,000 for the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, jazz series and non-symphonic performances. The bulk of the rest of the attendance is composed of hall rentals, including religion services by Life church, Repertory Dance Theatre “Nutcracker” ballet performances, Salisbury High School graduation and dance recitals. “It was a really banner year for utilization of the hall,” says Evans.
Pops sells out
Last year’s Disney-themed Allentown Symphony Pops concert sold out. The July 15 Allentown Symphony Pops Disney In Concert: “Tale As Old As Time,” featuring Deidre Donovan, Nathan Riley, Stephanie Gerson and Anthony Apicella is also sold-out.
Ron Demkee, Allentown Symphony Orchestra Associate Conductor since 1983, is the Allentown Symphony Pops Conductor.
“We had exceptional attendance for the Pops concerts. It started with Disney [last] June and ended with ‘Rock On’ in May,” Evans says.
The nonprofit Allentown Symphony Association with a budget of $3 million, owns and operates Miller Symphony, home concert venue for the Allentown Symphony Orchestra. The ASO has 60 tenured musicians, plus an additional 20 musicians, depending on the concert. The Allentown Symphony Association has 14 full-time employees, 10 part-time employees, and additional employees for the El Sistema program, hall administration, and food and beverage service.
Miller Symphony Hall seats 1,103 to 1,150, depending on seating configuration. The Rodale Community Room, setting for the Jazz Upstairs Series, seats about 190.
“The expenses were a lot more this year. We had a lot of maintenance issues. It’s all part of running a 120-year-old building,” Evans says.
“We are a much more complex business because of owning the hall,” says Evans, Allentown Symphony Association Executive Director for about eight and one-half years since January 2009.
“We were all over the Valley,” Evans says of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra “run-outs,” or outreach performances, including “Symphony On Ice” concert at PPL Center, Allentown; Levitt Pavilion at SteelStacks, Bethlehem; the Organ Festival at various Lehigh Valley venues, and orchestra member concerts in the Arts at St, Johns series at St. John’s Lutheran Evangelical Church in center city Allentown.
“One of the things I like to emphasize is that we work in partnership with as many organizations as we can. Each of us is more successful together than we are individually,” says Evans.
“For the Beethoven concert [Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 and Triple Concerto, featuring the Eroica Trio], we are doing a premiere of a piece for Bertoia sculptures in partnership with the Allentown Art Museum,” Evans says.
The Allentown Symphony Orchestra will perform the world premiere of “Bertoia Sound Sculptures for Orchestra” by composer and percussionist Doug Ovens.
“He’s listening the Bertoia sculptures at the Art Museum and Ursinus College by Harry Bertoia. We will be performing the concert with sculptures by Bertoia November 4 and 5. People who know Bertoia are really excited about this. We’re working with Art Museum on the transportation, security and insurance,” says Evans.
“Another partnership we are doing is ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ with the Art Museum,” Evans says. The March 10 and 11, 2018, concert features the world premiere of “Pictures At An Exhibition 2018” of new compositions based on paintings in the Allentown Art Museum. The concert includes Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” accompanied by an animation film produced by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
The “Ladies Of Laughter” comedy series, to be held in the Rodale Room, is “targeted to the new people of the downtown,” as are several of the Live Onstage series performances, including “The Queen’s Cartoonists,” Sept. 29, performing soundtracks from cartoons from the 1920s through today; The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass, a Dec. 17 Christmas season-themed concert, and, back by popular demand, Mummenschanz, “You & Me,” March 28, 2018.
“Symphony on Ice” returns Dec. 14 at the PPL Center, with a combined high school choir of 150 and 75 skaters from the Penguin Skate Club.
“One of the challenges is keeping it interesting to the people who are new to the neighborhood, as well as our traditional audience who we cherish,” Evans says of Miller Symphony Hall programming.
“One of the things that makes the Allentown Symphony unique is the education that surrounds each concert. The Friday ‘Meet the Artist’ talk is free. And it’s also part of what Diane [Wittry] communicates during the concert. That makes the music more entertaining for people who may have not had the training or interest but became interested as they became older.” says Evans.
Season ticket subscribers are offered $5 per concert parking at the Community Deck, Sixth and Walnut streets. Season subscriptions are still available. Single tickets went on sale June 1.
Amidst the new apartment and retail building construction just outside its doorstep, one small change turned out to be a big change for venerable Miller Symphony Hall.
“The marquee is so much more important than we thought it would be, with all the action around us. It makes us visible as people are driving down Sixth Street or walking down the Arts Walk. It’s been exceptionally successful. It far exceeded what my expectations were,” Evans says.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715