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VOL. 130 | NO. 127 | Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Memphis Symphony Eyes Move to Midtown

By Andy Meek

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Memphis Symphony Orchestra president and CEO Roland Valliere is not shy when it comes to talking about the future of the organization.

After all, it wasn't that long ago that the symphony made the painful acknowledgement that its finances were in dire straits, that it needed support from patrons and the public more than ever and that its future was far from guaranteed.

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra is coming off of a strong 2014-15 season and looking ahead to 2015-16. Symphony officials and Loeb Properties have "brainstormed programming and space opportunities" in Overton Square, according to Bob Loeb.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The result of turnaround efforts and of support from the public was a strong 2014-15 season, one that included two sold out Masterworks performances and a $1 million gift from the Helen and Jabie Hardin Charitable Trust.

But could a potential move to Overton Square be on the horizon? Symphony officials have spoken with Loeb Properties about the possibility.

Bob Loeb said the two sides have “brainstormed programming and space opportunities.”

Valliere was noncommittal – but didn't rule it out – when asked whether he could see his organization following in the footsteps of Ballet Memphis, which announced in recent days its planned relocation to the square.

“All options are on the table,” Valliere told The Daily News Tuesday, June 30. “We’ll have to see what the future has in store for us, whether that's Midtown or somewhere else.”

Looking ahead, the symphony now is in the position of having to tell potential buyers to move quickly because ticket sales for the 2015-16 season are going fast. The organization, currently headquartered at 585 S. Mendenhall Road in East Memphis, already has met 90 percent of its ticket sales goal heading in to the new season.

What that means, among other things, is Valliere and the rest of the organization find themselves in the position of sorting through possibilities – as opposed to having their backs against the wall – as they work to solidify the symphony’s future.

The schedule for Pops, the Symphony’s third signature subscription series, will be released soon. It will have an emphasis on local influence, the symphony says, and subscriptions are expected to sell quickly.

Featured guests for the season will include Grammy-nominated pianist Terrence Wilson and 18-year-old Memphis native Randall Goosby, who made his orchestral debut at age 9 with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. Also on deck is Sujari Britt, a 13-year-old cellist who’s been playing since age 2.

While Valliere doesn't yet have a “prescription” for the symphony, he believes the future lies partly in increased community engagement. Figuring out what that looks like and what form it takes required something of a “needs assessment,” he adds.

Milestones the symphony celebrated last season included performing “Glory” at the National Civil Rights Museum along with the Central High Concert Choir after the movie “Selma” was released. The performance commemorated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s visit to Selma, Ala.

Planning also began for a free community concert to be held in the fall that will honor late MSO executive director Martha Ellen Maxwell. It will include a performance of Duke Ellington’s “Harlem.” The season also included some emotional moments, such as the farewell of the Memphis in May Sunset Symphony.

Looking ahead, the 2015-16 season will be the last for MSO conductor and music director Mei-Ann Chen, who announced a few months ago that she’s leaving in tandem with the expiration of her contract.

PROPERTY SALES 0 291 21,272
MORTGAGES 0 160 16,194
BUILDING PERMITS 258 692 41,920
BANKRUPTCIES 1 117 6,579