Levine Sees Bright Future for OKC Performing Arts

Article excerpt

Joel Levine was offered an opportunity to conduct for the American Ballet Theater back in 1988. It was a chance to advance into the big time as well as an escape from the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra's union problems that year, but Levine turned it down.

Instead he took on an even bigger challenge _ overcoming even more union problems to start the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra after the Oklahoma Symphony folded. Why?

"It was an opportunity that almost never happens," explained Levine.

"It was a tremendous opportunity to start an orchestra from scratch, hire all of the musicians myself and do everything the way I wanted to do it in a city that had one of the nation's 60 best orchestras for 51 years." Now, after two financially and artistically successful seasons, the philharmonic orchestra is a solid debt-free organization expecting to operate in the black for the third straight year. Levine, obviously delighted with his decision, sees a bright future for all performing arts in Oklahoma City.

"Ballet Oklahoma and the Lyric Theater are doing well," Levine pointed "The Canterbury Choral Society has come into its own as an outstanding group. The Stage Center Theater renovation is under way, and there is no `save the orchestra' campaign under way." There are even plans being formed to renovate the Civic Center Music Hall with improved acoustics and better seating for orchestra performances, but that's a long-range project.

For now, the philharmonic has continued its strong ticket sales and average attendance of 3,000 in the season that opened Sept. 14. It will continue Oct. 19 with the second classics series concert featuring violinist Miriam Fried and Nov. 8-9 with the first pops concert featuring Shirley Jones.

"Our budget grew from $1.2 million in 1989-90 to $1.8 million last year, and it's $1.8 million again this year," said Business Manager Alan Valentine. "We finished about $67,000 in the black for 1989-90 and about $11,000 in the black last year." Valentine also took a chance with the new orchestra in 1988, when he came here from the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra and Opera to join Levine in the new venture. …