About The Miami Symphony OrchestraInterview with Chairman, Rafael Diaz-Balart by Federico Garcia
Interview with the Chairman
F.G.: You have been the Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Miami Symphony Orchestra (MISO) for several years and have played an important role in keeping this relatively young organization alive in a community that has had its crises regarding the support of cultural organizations. You have also been a key person and will surely continue being so during this new phase of the orchestra under the musical and artistic direction of Maestro Eduardo Marturet. In your opinion: What are the strengths and what are the weaknesses of the MISO today in Miami ? Which will be the most significant challenges you will face as Chairman of the Board?
R.D-B.: I have had the honor of being involved with The Miami Symphony Orchestra for more than 12 years. I have been Chairman during two terms. During the second term, I was Chairman for five years. The orchestra has endured very difficult moments, but it has been these difficulties that have strengthened the organization. We have learned to operate with limited funding. Still, year after year we have developed excellent musical programs that have been a delight to all South Florida audiences. The fact that we fill our performances is proof of this. Among our weaknesses is the fact that the community perceives us as the Hispanic Symphony. This occurred because Maestro Manuel Ochoa, a Cuban, created the Symphony and its original board was comprised of Cuban-American members. Although this has changed, it will continue to be a challenge for me to ensure that all segments of our diverse community are represented on our Board. The biggest challenge for the MISO is to be perceived as the orchestra for all Miami. This will be achieved by having community-wide representation on the Board of Directors.
F. G.: You are right. Recently all press reviews have complimented the performances of The Miami Symphony Orchestra, and I perceive a notorious enthusiasm about the musical program that the Orchestra has been offering to Miami audiences. Do you think it is imperative that the present and future Board of Directors should profess a particular passion for the music?
R.D-B.: Maestro Eduardo Marturet has definitively incorporated new and forceful programming that has been very well accepted by all of our audiences. Several times, I have expressed that the addition of Maestro Marturet to the MISO has been a blessing, thanks to the vision of Maestro Manuel Ochoa. We are sure that with the excellent leadership of Maestro Eduardo Marturet, the Symphony will achieve great strides. Once any Member of the Board experiences one of our Symphony Concerts, from that moment on, he or she becomes passionate for the music and our institution. You do not have to be a connoisseur of music. You just have to like music and this happens while listening to a good concert. Members of the Board regularly attend MISO concerts, not because they must, but because they like them and are fascinated with what they are experiencing. Also, all of them have the best wishes for the Orchestra: they want it to grow to the highest levels of excellence, and this will be achieved working together with Maestro Marturet.
F. G.: I perceive in your answer a strong belief and a contagious enthusiasm for the role The Miami Symphony is playing within The Miami Community. What is the message you would send to the daily increasing audiences that have become loyal fans of the MISO? What would you tell them to be more connected with the Orchestra?
R.D-B.: When we visit Europe, we concentrate on seeing the artistic heritage of earlier and ancient cultures and civilizations. It is the artistic expression of each people that ultimately survives. Music is also an artistic expression of a people’s culture. Therefore, The Miami Symphony Orchestra’s music is the artistic expression of our community today. It is imperative that the entire community support the Symphony. By doing so, we are supporting the enhancement of culture within our community and the quality of life of our community is improved.
F. G..: It is exactly the concept of improving the quality of life which creates the awareness in the community to preserve what is theirs, and to invest in their own. A lot has been said about investing to import culture instead of investing in one’s own. How is The Miami Symphony Orchestra financially affected by the fact that the Miami community is investing considerable resources to bring the Cleveland Orchestra to Miami a few weeks a year?
R.D-B.: I think two is better than one. I believe it is a positive thing to have the Cleveland Orchestra in Miami for the next seasons. It is without a doubt, one of the best in the world. Having it in Miami enriches us. But, I am also aware that there is a high sponsorship cost for a guest orchestra in a community that is not accustomed to financially supporting its cultural institutions to the levels that it should. This means that institutions such as The Miami Symphony Orchestra need to look for new sponsors and new sources of funding that exist in our economically powerful and growing city. Additionally, Miami is acquiring maturity in relation to the arts.
F. G.: It is heartening to listen to your optimistic and constructive opinion regarding this topic that has been subject of much controversy in the city. There is no doubt that apart from political and geographical borders, the Cleveland Orchestra should be considered a world legacy even though its presence in Miami is very short during the concert season. The only local orchestras we have are the New World Symphony and The Miami Symphony Orchestra, and each one offers a different repertoire. Do you think that The Miami Symphony Orchestra will be able to increase the amount of performances and concerts to satisfy the constantly growing demand from the audience?
R.D-B.: One of our main goals is to offer more concerts. Everybody at The Miami Symphony Orchestra, including Master Eduardo Marturet is anxious to increase the number of concerts during our season. We will accomplish this subject to funding availability. Sometimes I wonder if the audiences are aware of how expensive it is to present a concert.
F. G.: It is clear that often the audience does not know the complexity behind the organization of a concert. The famous phrase "the show must go on" is a good description of the pressure it takes to be able to raise the curtains on time and provide what was announced. The awareness of the value of each ticket in relation to the cost of the performance sometimes does not exist. Quite the opposite of what happens in European countries in which the orchestras are financed by the state, in the United States private funding is indispensable for the well being of the Symphony and it is a determining factor in being able to increase the number of concerts. What encouraging words do you have for the audience regarding this important topic? What options does The Miami Symphony offer to receive donations or funding?
R.D-B.: Obviously, the European and Latin American tradition of the arts being sponsored mainly by the public sector does not exist in the Unites States. Here it’s the private sector that sponsors the arts. Historically, The Miami Symphony Orchestra has received good support from the public sector. Nevertheless, we need to increase support from the private sector. Without it, we cannot grow and develop to the higher levels of excellence that are needed for us to continue to delight the audiences and help improve the quality of life in our community. Sponsors or donors should consider their donation as a contribution to the culture of their community, and not solely as a donation to the Symphony. A donation to the Symphony is a contribution to the betterment of the quality of life of our community.
F. G.: Ownership of the concept of quality of life by the community at large is very important for the community to feel compelled to donate to The Miami Symphony Orchestra. We know that many season ticket holders also give generous donations that add up to considerable sums. The Miami Symphony Orchestra has been reaching box-office goals for all its concerts, with full houses, an excited audience and great reviews of the performances. But, it is obvious that private sector support is still needed to place the Symphony at the desired levels. What is your vision, as Chairman of the Board, in regards to the private sector funding that is needed to make The Miami Symphony Orchestra the most important orchestra in the city?
R.D-B.: Unless the Orchestra is fully embraced by the community as “its own orchestra,” we cannot achieve complete success in obtaining the necessary funds to become “the most important orchestra in the city.” When I say fully embraced by the community, I mean it should no longer be considered as the Hispanic Orchestra, but should be embraced as the Community-Wide Orchestra. On previous occasions I have expressed the need for all sectors in our community to be represented on our Board. Once this happens, we will be considered the community-wide orchestra. This is the most important step we have to take to achieve the right support and become the most important Symphonic institution in our city.
F. G.: Certainly a representation on the Board of the diverse social spectrum will help consolidate the image of The Miami Symphony Orchestra as the city orchestra and will attract new sources of financial support. Aside from the community representation on the Board of Directors, have you considered any other aspects that could be useful to consolidate the image of the Symphony as the Orchestra of Miami?
R.D-B.: I think the good reviews the concerts has received after each performance, have created an interest towards the Symphony by the community in general. The musical programs of Maestro Marturet are extraordinary and innovative, while being attractive to diverse audiences; audiences that are noticing the positive development of the Symphony. As a result, the community embraces and supports the Symphony.
F. G.: It is evident that The Miami Symphony Orchestra audience has increased substantially, although, the prices of the tickets are still less expensive when compared to those of other local and guest orchestras. Is there a specific reason in keeping this price margin compared to other institutions? And if so, is this a result of a strategy targeting the profile of the MISO audiences?
R.D-B.: Slowly and gradually we have increased the price of our tickets. We started at a low range and we do not want to create sticker shock. Once the Orchestra is more and more embraced as the orchestra of “All Miami,” we will continue increasing the price of our tickets to reach competitive levels with other major orchestras throughout the United States.
F. G.: As we explained, it is well known that in the United States the orchestras have very little support from the public sector. The main funds come from the private sector, individual donations, box office income, etc. In the case of The Miami Symphony Orchestra, what is the percentage of box office income in your budget?
R.D-B.: Although it fluctuates every year, the box office represents approximately 33% of Symphony income. This percentage is generally common in the industry.
F. G.: Without a doubt, a third of the budget of The Miami Symphony Orchestra is a significant portion. Do you think it’s important that the audience be aware of the value of their ticket?
R.D-B.: I think it is very important that the audience understands the value of each ticket. This awareness is necessary for them to agree and continue paying the box office increases that will be made gradually.
F. G.: The artistic-administrative performance of a Symphony entails a very complex operation. After all these years as Chairman of the Board of The Miami Symphony Orchestra, which would you say has been the most important and satisfactory moment you’ve experienced?
R.D-B.: I cannot single out a specific moment of major satisfaction. I can say that I am very pleased and satisfied each and every time we begin a new season. Each first concert of each new season represents a tremendous satisfaction. In October of this year, we will begin our Nineteenth Season.
F. G.: In a recent interview, Maestro Marturet said that The Miami Symphony Orchestra with its 18 years of history has reached adulthood. It must be very pleasing for you to see the growth of the institution over time, and see how it has become one of the main cultural icons in the city. What is your vision for The Miami Symphony Orchestra in the year 2020?
R.D-B.: This is an excellent question. The Symphony will play a major role in Miami, a city which will have a leadership role in the arts, not only in the United States, but also throughout the world. Miami is always referred to within the context of international trade, as the Hong Kong of the Western Hemisphere. I want to think of Miami as the Venice of the Twenty-first Century where Miami, besides being a trading power house, is also a leader in the arts as Venice was in its time. The Miami Symphony Orchestra will be Miami’s leading orchestra, having reached levels of excellence compared to those of the major orchestras in the world. We will be recording constantly and will be touring all over the world. And, among other things, in the year 2020 Miami will be known worldwide because of its first class orchestra.
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