Timing Is Everything
By Jody Reese
Manchester is in danger of losing a major thread in the city’s cultural fabric, just at the point when the city may finally be ready to truly support it with a performing arts center.
The New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra has been a part of Manchester’s cultural scene since the mid-1970s. It was founded as part of the original renovation and reopening of the Palace Theatre in 1974.
Each year, the orchestra would give a regular series of performances in downtown Manchester — usually five or six pairs of concerts at the Palace Theater. Year in and year out, it brought people to the city.
This year, in a major change of direction, the orchestra cut back its presence in Manchester to just three performances, with none of those at the Palace. At the same time, it added concerts in Portsmouth and Concord.
The NHSO has good financial reasons for reaching out to other areas. Unfortunately, by decamping so drastically from Manchester, it may miss its opportunity to be a major partner in the next big-city project that Mayor Bob Baines says is on the horizon: a modern downtown performing arts center.
Once the city’s baseball stadium and school renovation projects are complete, a performing arts center is likely to get major attention. And the NHSO should recognize that such a facility offers the best chance for a potential permanent home base for this important statewide cultural institution.
Just like a baseball team needs a stadium, an orchestra needs a permanent home. It can’t exist just as a touring ensemble. That home should be Manchester, but it won’t be if city and orchestra officials, as well as the city’s business community, fail to act now.
The symphony would be a natural “anchor tenant” for any proposed performing-arts center. But nothing will come of this potential if parties within and outside the orchestra let the opportunity drift away.
If Manchester lets its relationship with the symphony decay much further, we’ll lose a key ingredient of the city’s ongoing revival. An active arts scene, symphony and all, is a crucial quality-of-life factor in attracting the kind of creative talent that will fuel the city’s economic future.
The prospect of a performing arts center should be a major source of encouragement on both sides and to everyone who cares about the community’s arts scene and the city’s economic future.
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