After 16 years of producing free concerts uptown, Charlotte Chamber Music is merging its programs into the concert series at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and letting go of its original vision of music as a gift to audiences.
When the monthly First Tuesday Concerts open their season with music by Igor Stravinsky and others Oct. 2, an admission charge will accompany the move to the art-filled surroundings. At the lunchtime performance, music lovers who arent museum members will pay $5; Bechtler members will get in free. The 5:30 p.m. concert including a post-concert reception with refreshments will cost $15 for museum members, $20 for others. Chamber music will remain the focus.
The nonprofit organization that has produced the chamber-music concerts since 1996 will not continue, executive director Elaine Spallone said in an interview.
Over the past five years, Spallone said, the group confronted a series of changes, including the departure of its founder, Charlotte Symphony principal cellist Alan Black; changes of name and concert venue; and the effects of the recession.
The whole community has taken its share of hits ... especially in the arts, Spallone said. Weve experienced that in our donor base. Some supporters stepped away from the group after Black did, she added.
Black left the group in 2008 after disagreements with other leaders.
The groups tax form for the 2010-11 season, the last available, shows expenses of $187,071 and a deficit of $11,086.
Facing the challenges, we had to look at some other options to keep the concerts going, Spallone said. The group turned to the Bechtler museum, which has offered a concert series of its own since soon after it opened. Not only does the museum have its galleries as a venue, she said, but its staff can handle the concerts planning and promotion, cutting overhead costs.
A natural blend
To the museum, the combination was natural, vice president Christopher Lawing said.
Music is an important part of the Bechtler story, Lawing said. Hans and Bessie Bechtler, two of the art collections founders, were music lovers as well as art patrons. The tradition carries through to their granddaughter, Tanja Bechtler, a cellist who helped found the museums concerts.
In the concert format the museum has always used, Lawing or other speakers link the music to art works on display. The linkup with Charlotte Chamber Music offered a way to expand that programming to new audiences, Lawing said. The groups think the combination of the museum visit and the music justifies the admission charge.
The two boards of directors agreed to the linkup in late August. Spallones post will end Sept. 28, she said.
Taking on the concerts will cost the museum about $70,000, Lawing said. In addition to ticket sales, the museum has attracted pledges from some donors to help cover the expenses. The museum will encourage concertgoers who are new to it to become members, so their fees would help with the bottom line.
Why free music?
Originally called Chamber Music at St. Peters, named after the church where it began, the concert series started with a double goal: presenting free concerts while paying the musicians for their efforts. On learning about the changes in the series, founder Black said Tuesday, my first reaction is great dismay.
The groups leaders worked hard to keep the concerts free, Black said, and that objective attracted some of the most philanthropic people in Charlotte to support it.
Why is offering ... concerts for free so important? former executive director John Clark said in an email. First ... it makes access to these high-quality performances available to many who could not afford to attend. Secondly, through expanding audiences, it kept the joyful experience of the art form alive in this town.
Even without the Bechtler union, the groups present-day leaders were considering an admission charge, Spallone said. While the free admission was important to the concerts original identity, thats difficult to sustain in the long run.
This is a different day than it was 15 years ago, and the marketplace is different, she said. Especially in the wake of the recession, you have to be practical in order to ensure that the programs the community is enjoying are available.
The Bechtler will also continue Charlotte Chamber Musics Living Room Concerts, which take place in private homes. Charlotte Chamber Musics artistic director, Ben Roe former head of WDAV-FM will continue to take part in the planning, the group said.
Linking music and art
Under the museums auspices, the First Tuesday series will spotlight art alongside the music, as the museums other programs have.
On Oct. 2, the theme will be Surrealism in Music and Art. Lawing, who is trained in both fields, will be the speaker, relating the music by Igor Stravinsky, Francis Poulenc and Erik Satie to works at the museum.
The added value, Lawing said, was something we were really interested in providing the intersection between music and art.