Classical conundrum: Music fans in Watertown left with Sunday split decision

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WATERTOWN — Fans of classical music in the Watertown area were left with a conundrum on Sunday due to a rare scheduling mishap.

The Orchestra of Northern New York presented its “Dreams of Spring” concert at 3 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, a day after the orchestra presented the concert in Potsdam. Also at 3 p.m. Sunday, the Trinity Concert Series at Trinity Episcopal Church hosted Seraph Brass for a pipe organ and brass concert as part of the belated 50th-anniversary of the church’s Hill, Norman and Beard pipe organ.

Classical patrons were split between the two venues. The Trinity series and ONNY have worked diligently to avoid such conflicts. But on Sunday, that cooperation fell through the cracks.

A major funding organization of both series has now put a contingency policy in place to prevent a similar situation.

Through emailed questions to Kathy Del Guidice, executive director of the ONNY, and to Kyle P. Ramey, organist and choirmaster at Trinity Episcopal Church and founder of Trinity Concert Series, it was explained how Sunday’s conflict occurred.

Ms. Del Guidice said she checked her email on Monday, the day after the concerts.

“I dropped the ball by not responding to a request last August from Kyle asking for our dates,” she wrote, and offered an apology, adding, “sometimes regrettably a second reminder is necessary.”

She said she received several complaints at Sunday’s Watertown ONNY concert about the events that were coincidentally scheduled for the same day and time.

“I suspect we both experienced smaller audiences as a result,” Ms. Del Guidice wrote. “Of course, when this occurs, everyone loses. It’s most unfortunate.”

In earlier, pre-COVID days, Ms. Del Guidice said ONNY dates were sent to Mr. Ramey.

Mr. Ramey wrote that the Trinity Series takes pride in the fact that in its 112 performances, there have been only two times when a performance conflicted with the ONNY.

“The first of which I was able to change before the concert occurred in 2015,” he said.

Following that 2015 conflict, Mr. Ramey explained that representatives from TCS and ONNY met at the Northern New York Community Foundation to discuss how to avoid such conflicts.

The foundation is a major sponsor of both organizations.

“Knowing that ONNY’s performance dates are not flexible (due to the very tight schedule at SUNY Potsdam), it was decided that ONNY would send performance dates to TCS when they became available each year so that we would not also book artists on those dates,” Mr. Ramey wrote.

The tight schedule of the ONNY is due to its locked-in dates based on the Crane School of Music calendar.

Ms. Del Guidice said that it’s not easy to find three consecutive dates when ONNY can rehearse (Thursday and Friday evenings from 7-10, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.in Hosmer Hall) and perform (Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m.). A Watertown concert regularly follows the day after.

“This takes Hosmer Hall offline for all Crane events, and it is a popular and heavily used space,” Ms. Del Guidice said. “When the schedule is determined at a meeting with all parties — Crane, the Community Performance Series, and ONNY — we always are accommodated last. It is after all, a college facility and their programs come first.”

Mr. Ramey wrote that he didn’t receive dates from ONNY’s 2021-2022 season from it in the spring of 2021 and that he reached out via email for info to Ms. Del Guidice, ONNY founder and director Kenneth B. Andrews, the office of First Presbyterian Church and spoke to a member of ONNY’s advisory committee “all to no avail.”

“With no information regarding an ONNY season, and supposing that their 2021-2022 season was yet another unfortunate casualty of the ongoing pandemic, I sent our season brochure to print,” Mr. Ramey wrote.

Mr. Ramey said he was “extremely concerned” when he learned in November of the conflicting April 3 date. “Most especially because there are individuals who subscribe to both series. I did not contact ONNY about the conflict as we could not change the date of our performance because of the signed agreement between TCS and the musicians’ management company,” he wrote.

He added, “Now that TCS presents 13 regular season concerts and nine summer season concerts each year, there is unfortunately bound to be a time when a conflict occurs with another organization. We especially avoid conflicting with ONNY as both groups are so generously funded, in part, by the Northern New York Community Foundation. It is a detriment to local classical music fans and decreases the audience size of both concerts.”

“The classical music lovers in the greater Watertown area and both organizations all lose when conflicts occur,” Ms. Del Guidice wrote.

Looking ahead, she noted, “We have experienced a conflict with the Clayton Opera House concert and the Crane welcome weekend concert. In 2023, they will not be held on the last Saturday in August, but on Labor Day weekend.”

Contingent grants

Rande S. Richardson, Executive Director of the Northern New York Community Foundation, Inc., said that the north country is “incredibly fortunate to have the two outstanding concert series in our region.”

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