The Charlotte Symphony is making a new move to capitalize on its popular Summer Pops series: beefing up this year's lineup with a concert that has an admission charge.
The ticketed concert featuring Latin musician Tito Puente Jr. and his band will be June 26, a Saturday. That will keep it separate from the Sunday night series that's a SouthPark institution.
The outdoor concerts at SouthPark and venues across the area attract listeners by the thousands, including many who may never have heard the orchestra in a concert hall. This year's series will feature the familiar mix of classical, movie and Broadway music - concluding, as always, with a program aimed at Independence Day.
The Puente concert is the orchestra's latest attempt to use the summer series' popularity to help pull it out of years of financial troubles.
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Last year, hit by the recession and a cut in support from the Arts & Science Council, the orchestra targeted one of its first appeals to the Summer Pops crowds. It initiated a $5 suggested donation for the SouthPark concerts, which had previously been free. At other locations, typically sponsored by municipalities, the orchestra kept the admission free but asked for donations.
Audiences contributed $147,000 - most of it from SouthPark concertgoers, the orchestra's executive director, Jonathan Martin, said Monday. In previous years, typical Summer Pops donations totaled around $35,000.
Since last summer, the orchestra has raised $4.3 million toward $5.7 million it needs for a five-year bridge fund to help it balance its finances. To reduce costs, the musicians have agreed to a pay cut.
"If you think about everything that has happened since the last time we were as SouthPark, it's staggering," Martin said.
Bringing in ticket revenue at Summer Pops is part of the orchestra's turnaround plan. It picked Puente's band for the first try, Martin said, because "these are artists who know how to work in a symphonic context - and have fun."
The orchestra is planning a pre-concert festival that will feature Latin music groups from the Charlotte area.
While the orchestra no longer faces a crisis, Martin said, it still has years of work ahead to expand its attendance and financial support. So it will have a new message for Summer Pops audiences:
"We're on a journey," Martin said. "Help us continue."