Just over a week ago, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra launched a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign with a goal of $5,000 to catalog, research and digitize video and audio tapes, photographs and printed materials from the orchestra’s 68-year history now residing in its archives.
The question that immediately comes to mind is, why would a large organization like the ASO use Kickstarter, an online platform best known for helping individual artists and small, groundgreaking projects that have difficulty getting funding through more traditional means? The explanation given is that Kickstarter is something the ASO has never tried before, and its archive project, with its modest goal of $5,000, seemed an appropriate way to give it a test drive. The ASO Archives was officially established in May, in anticipation of the orchestra’s 70th-anniversary celebrations in 2014-15.
The fund-raising campaign has far exceeded expectations. Less then one-third of the way through, it has raised more than double the original goal.
“The response to our Kickstarter campaign has been overwhelming and has laid a wonderful foundation for our continued efforts to preserve the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s tremendous legacy,” said Stanley Romanstein, ASO president and chief executive officer, in a statement made through the orchestra’s communications office. “This is only the beginning of an extensive project to grow the ASO’s archives and celebrate the rich history of one of the nation’s finest orchestras, and we are grateful for the support we have received from the Atlanta community and beyond.”
Meeting the initial $5,000 goal makes possible the acquisition of technology that will be necessary to digitize what has been described as more than 300 linear feet of material: some 250 banker boxes containing thousands of old photos and slides, audio and video tapes, recordings, scrapbooks and governance records, all documenting the life of the orchestra since its founding in 1945. The long process will begin with the conversion to digital format of three videos of the late Music Director Robert Shaw conducting the orchestra.
“[There are] 150 scrapbooks, over 800 different audio items, thousands of black and white photos and probably over 15,000 slides,” says Archives Program Manager Bob Scarr. “I’m still going through some of the boxes, but anytime I open up a box and see these photos, it’s really like Christmas every morning. I came across a an old photo of Henry Sopkin, who was [the orchestra’s first] music director, and standing next to him with that famous cigarette in his hand was Igor Stravinsky. And then some Aaron Copeland stuff, and James Levine when he came here. It really kind of grabs at your heart strings when you start seeing what is here.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the orchestra welcomed a brand-new Steinway Model D grand piano. It was selected, from among five candidate instruments at the Steinway factory in New York, by pianist Jeremy Denk and an ASO team consisting of Romanstein, Vice President for Artistic Planning Evans Mirageas, and piano technician Jonathan Edwards.
At a quarter-inch shy of nine feet long and weighing in at 990 pounds, it’s the first new concert grand acquired by the orchestra in 14 years, making it one of four Steinway grands now in residence at Symphony Hall — something that almost begs for a high-profile performance of Stravinsky’s four-piano “Les Noces.” The new instrument will make its concert debut in the coming season.
The timing of the ASO’s purchase and delivery may be highly fortuitous, as Steinway Musical Instruments, maker of Steinway & Sons pianos, announced July 1 that it has agreed to be acquired by private equity firm Kohlberg & Company in a deal reportedly worth $438 million.
Music critic Normal Lebrecht, in his ArtsJournal blog “Slipped Disc,” expressed dismay at the agreement, calling Kohlberg “asset strippers.” In an article quoted by Lebrecht, The Associated Press reports that Kohlberg emphasized that it aims to preserve the Steinway heritage.