October 2021
AZ Phil Innovates for New Season

The pandemic forced most arts groups to cancel their 2020 seasons and limp along until this year. Prescott’s Arizona Philharmonic (AZPhil), however, salvaged its 2020-2021 season with a completely new approach.

Maestro Peter Bay

“We pretty much broke even,” says Executive Director Henry Flurry. “With venues closed or socially distanced, and income from grants and donations significantly reduced, we shifted to smaller concerts that kept music live and musicians on stage.”

Collaborating with other local groups played a crucial role in AZPhil’s success.

“We performed at the Highlands Center’s fabulous outdoor amphitheater, at Yavapai College Performing Arts Center (YCPAC),and at the Ruth Street Theater. Almost all our concerts sold out to their allowed seating capacities.” He also thanks the Prescott Area Arts and Humanities Council for allowing local organizations to use last year's marketing grants for general operating expenses.

There is lasting impact from the pandemic. Last year’s anticipated budget was cut by 60% and plans for growth were paused, but the experiments in programming and production paid off.

“We offered our musicians opportunities to create their own small ensembles and programs,” Flurry said. “They loved that, so we will keep showcasing our musicians this way. We also discovered and will continue to explore a whole genre of underperformed musical gems for ensembles of between 12 and 24 musicians.”

Covid also pushed AZPhil to break new ground in how audiences interact with the orchestra. To facilitate social-distancing, the company did not print programs. If the ensemble was small, musicians spoke directly to the audience about the works. For the YCPAC concert, full program notes and a pre-concert interview were posted online. Abbreviated program notes were projected on a large screen in the hour prior to the concert. During the performance, super titles announced the works, movements, and translations. Flurry thinks this will be a permanent change. “Our surveys show that most audience members don't read program notes at the concert. Yet they loved the online and projected materials.”

On October 31 AZPhil opens a new seven-concert season at YCPAC. Maestro Peter Bay returns twice, and Dr. Joshua Harper and his Quartz Ensemble will perform the Brahms Requiem. The season is rounded out with three quintet concerts plus a Christmas show featuring three sopranos. With national surveys showing that 99% of orchestra audience members are vaccinated, Flurry said he feels optimistic.

“Come listen with your heart,” Flurry said. “Our performances are fresh and transformative.” VisitAZPhil.org for season and individual show tickets.

Toni Denis is a frequent contributor to 5enses.

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