Concert Association to abandon its Broward Center series

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein performed Dvorak in December in what will be the Concert Association's final Broward season.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein performed last December in what will be the final CAF season at the Broward Center season.

The Concert Association of Florida will drop its Broward Center lineup next season, drawing the curtain on a series that brought the world’s top classical artists and orchestras to Fort Lauderdale for nearly two decades.

 “This really could be the end of classical music in Broward County,” said Sue Gunzburger,   Broward County commissioner and a leading advocate for the arts. “We lost the Florida Philharmonic and now we lose this.”

 “It’s a substantial loss for classical music,” added Mary Becht, director of Broward County’s Cultural Division. “Their situation has been fragile for a long time. The demise of the Florida Philharmonic was the saddest day of my life and this just makes things worse.”

 Robert Hudson, chairman of the Concert Association board, said he wasn’t aware any definitive decision had been made but Broward Center officials and arts groups received letters from Concert Association CEO Al Milano last week announcing their plans.

 Concert Association founder and long-time president Judy Drucker started her Fort Lauderdale series with the opening of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in 1991. Over the years, the series has featured classical artists such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Renee Fleming, and Maxim Vengerov, all the major American orchestras (Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras) and most of the top international orchestras as well.

 Just a few years ago, the Broward Center schedule was the jewel of the two-county Concert Association lineup, consistently outselling events in Miami-Dade. That began to change in 2006-2007 when ticket prices were substantially raised. Subscriber flight accelerated in recent seasons with the controversy over Drucker’s departure and subscribers’ lack of enthusiasm about what many considered less starry events compared to those being offered  at the new Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center in Miami.

 It was clear that the Concert Association’s Broward series was in deep trouble at this season’s opening event in November with a less-than-half-full house for Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra.

 News of the end of the Broward series was greeted with dismay but not surprise by subscribers, who felt the quality had gone downhill after Drucker left in the summer of 2007.

 “It’s very disappointing,” said Robert Kaufman, who has been a subscriber with his wife, Mercedes for over fifteen years. “We had a long spell when Judy was running things when it was quite successful. But the last couple of years have been worse than disappointing since the change in regime.”

  David Rosenbaum once regularly attended Concert Association events at the Broward Center. “The programming has been bad for the last few years, which is why I stopped going,” he said.  Rosenbaum also questioned the prices being charged, particularly those for the Concert Association’s new local freelance ensemble, the Florida Symphony. “I was willing to support the new orchestra but not at a hundred bucks a ticket.”

 The Concert Association events for this season are still scheduled to take place, with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in Miami tomorrow night, and the Czech Symphony Sunday in Fort Lauderdale. The latter concert is being presented not at the Broward Center but at the smaller, out-of-the-way Parker Playhouse.

 Subscriber Kaufman seemed to speak for many when he said that mismanagement and a lack of commitment to classical music by current Concert Association officials was as much to blame as the harsh economy.  He also believes that Broward Center leadership was complicit in the collapse of the classical series due to the center’s lack of commitment in providing available dates for the Concert Association.

 “They made it quite clear that they weren’t going to go out of their way to encourage and foster classical music,” said Kaufman.  “They made a bad situation worse.”

 Gunzburger said that while hard economic times undoubtedly played its part in the decline of Broward audiences in recent seasons, much of the blame was self-inflicted due to steep ticket price increases and fewer top orchestras being presented in Fort Lauderdale. 

 “They lost the Broward audience,” said Gunzburger of the Concert Association. “The premiere events were all at the Arsht Center.”

 She said that she hoped that Kelley Shanley, the recently appointed new president of the Broward Center, would consider starting a new classical series to fill the void, something previous Broward Center leaders had shown little interest in pursuing, preferring more profitable Broadway musicals.  

  “You have to have a balance of events,” she said. “I’m very concerned that we have no classical music in Broward. People should have a wide variety of choices of events to attend.”

 Kaufman, a retired senior in Boca Raton, said people like him who reside in southern Palm Beach County are more likely to attend Kravis Center events now in West Palm Beach rather than drive the longer distance to Miami. “We’ll just cherry-pick individual concerts.”

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10 Responses to “Concert Association to abandon its Broward Center series”

  1. Posted Jan 21, 2009 at 12:53 pm by Ricky

    This is very unfortunate, if not wholly unexpected, news. The death knell had been sounding for quite some time. I’m not here to lay blame on anyone but the third paragraph from the bottom seems to shed some light and that is if, in fact, Broward Center officials have been in the past disinclined to start its own concert series to “fill the void” left by the CAF, but have rather opted to pursue more profitable Broadway shows at the expense of classical music, then this should hardly come as a surprise to anyone.

  2. Posted Jan 21, 2009 at 11:44 pm by Ivan Mxyzsptlk

    Maybe Commissioner Gunzburger should consult the Broward Center calendar before spreading completely false information about classical music in Broward County.

    Symphony of the Americas has played to full houses – admittedly, in the smaller Amaturo Theater. Wallenstein Symphony had their first show there last year, and sold out.

    And do we not count Opera as classical music? Florida Grand Opera still plays there, as does the smaller Gold Coast Opera.

    Yes, the loss of the Concert Association is a blow. But it need not be a death-knell. The commissioner should be rallying support to expand the programming of these smaller groups instead playing Chicken Little.

  3. Posted Jan 22, 2009 at 12:02 am by CLJ

    No classical music? What the heck is the Symphony of the Americas playing at the Broward Center every month? Or the Florida Grand Opera? Or the Miami Piano Festival’s Patrons of Exceptional Artists Series?

    The Miami Piano Festival PEAS offerings are exceptional. It’s a pity that only a handful of classical music enthusiasts make the effort to see them.

    Oh, and don’t forget Opera. FGO plays there regularly.

    If these events sell out, you have a better chance of getting the Broward Center to partner with a classical music presenter. There’s a reason that the Broward Center is one of the top revenue generating arts centers internationally; they book what sells.

  4. Posted Jan 22, 2009 at 6:29 am by Dave R.

    They book what sells? Are you telling me the Concert Association wasn’t just about filling the Broward Center when Judy Drucker was in charge? I remember some very big houses there for most concerts.

    It seems to me that Al Milano is the villain here. How incompetent can a person be? He basically took over and, in less than two years, has destroyed the Concert Association. Their programming is ridiculous. They’re leaving Broward. How much more damage can a person do.

    And how unfortunate are we to have both Milano and Robert Heuer, two people with absolutely no creative vision.

  5. Posted Jan 23, 2009 at 9:09 am by CLJ

    They book what sells? Are you telling me the Concert Association wasn’t just about filling the Broward Center when Judy Drucker was in charge?

    No, Judy filled the hall. Did she make a profit doing it? I don’t know. I do know that filling the hall doesn’t matter if your costs exceed your revenue.

    But few people are filling any theatre these days. If people attended the existing classical music events, you stand a greater chance of seeing more of that programming being sponsored. Producers – and sponsors – can only gauge demand by recent sales trends.

  6. Posted Jan 23, 2009 at 1:46 pm by ron

    How unfortunate are we to have Milano with absolutely no creative vision. He is a poser. It seems to me that Al Milano is the villain here. How incompetent can a person be? He basically took over and, in less than two years, has destroyed the Concert Association. Their programming is ridiculous. He is repugnant to deal with his malice towards others. Everything is always someone else’s fault. Napoleon Complex. They’re leaving Broward. How much more damage can a person do. Watch, Dade will be next. Did he not get fired from the Performing Arts Center for a dismal performance? Hopefully, Sayonara Milano.!

  7. Posted Jan 26, 2009 at 9:26 am by Martine Marie

    All of us at the Boca Raton Symphonia are saddened by this news. We too, like all arts organizations, are struggling at this time to offer exceptional quality programs and soloists. The vitality of classical music is an important part of our community values and what we can offer our children and families.And we forge on, confident that the audience is there and that we can make a contribution.

  8. Posted Jan 26, 2009 at 11:57 pm by Barry Mintzer

    After 16 years as a loyal subscriber to the CAF series at the Broward Center, I am deeply saddened at this news. The sad state of live classical music in South Florida after the demise of the Florida Philharmonic has only worsened with this terrible ending to a series that was glorious for most of the years when Judy Drucker was at the artistic helm.

    I am a season ticket holder with the Florida Grand Opera, and the wonderful Boca Raton Symphonia. However the CAF was a very special series, presenting orchestras and soloists from all over the world. South Florida from Broward to south Palm Beach county has been poorly served.

  9. Posted Jan 29, 2009 at 2:19 pm by Renee Rotta

    Judy Drucker was SO unfairly treated! She devoted her life to bringing classical music to South Florida, and had extensive knowlege of programming. In my opinion, public funds should be utilized to preserve and encourage the arts!

  10. Posted Jan 30, 2009 at 9:48 am by Jung

    Too much. Too big. Why on earth they couldn’t do “smaller” things I do not know. Always a magnificent orchestra from the other end of the world (albeit wonderful of course) costing us $200 for two people (plus parking). This, for us retired people, is not easy. More local talent, smaller orchestras, chamber orchestras in smaller venues… the Amaturo, etc., would have been affordable. To offer us some events at $500 per ticket was ludicrous. The majority of the residents of Broward are not millionaires. But they may love true music. Now we are left with a cultural wasteland. Nothing but ugliness and commercialism: I can be at seven Publix and ten Home Depots within ten minutes of my home, but it’s the Internet now for culture and true music… from abroad.

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