As I write this, Camerata Musica is halfway through its 46th season of presenting classical chamber music concerts at the Battelle Auditorium in Richland.
Programs by The Brasil Guitar Duo, Onyx Chamber Players, Byron Schenkman & Friends and pianist Jeffrey Savage have been well received; we trust the same is true for our other spring concerts. Applications for potential performers in May’s Young Artists of Distinction program, which recognizes outstanding local students, will soon be sent out. Wrapping up our season with a tribute to tomorrow’s performers always feels like a good way to end.
Each year, our selection committee is given a budget and asked to do the impossible — surpass the previous season with a mix of new and familiar faces and pieces. As the only local group that regularly presents classical chamber music, our goal is to attract the finest musicians we can afford while ensuring that we have instrumental and period variety. The committee considers various combinations of instruments, whether a program will appeal to our audience, and what — or whom — wouldn’t be heard in the Tri-Cities if we didn’t present it.
A lot of YouTube videos get watched, CDs are listened to and reviews are read. Eventually, the group will come to consensus on a slate of artists. At this point, we are working to finalize agreements with pianist Steven Beus, a Tri-City favorite, for a September concert; Hamilton Cheifetz and Janet Guggenheim, a cello/piano duo for October; and an oboe quartet, a piano trio and wind quintet for early 2016. Discussions for the November concert are ongoing.
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Unlike other groups, Camerata does not sell tickets to its performances, but is supported entirely by donations and some grants. We ask those who attend the concerts to help pay for them through their donations.
Our current business model — giving priority seating until 7:45 p.m. to the patrons whose donations sustain us, and then admitting nonpatrons for free on a first-come, first-served basis — has served us well for almost 46 years. Fortunately, supporters have been generous enough that we have been able to pay our bills every year, but we recognize that sustaining the level of quality that our audiences have become used to is expensive, and maintaining the necessary level of support is a continuing challenge.
Our all-volunteer board handles all the administrative tasks of running the organization and hosts most of the musicians during their stays here, thereby keeping costs to a minimum. Nonetheless, concerts that appear to be “free” to the audience still incur significant costs for musicians’ fees, programs and publicity.
Camerata is fortunate to have a home at the Battelle auditorium, not only because Battelle makes it available at no charge, but also because it is so well suited to chamber music. A larger facility would allow more people to attend, but at the cost of losing the intimate connection between artist and audience that characterizes Camerata concerts. Musicians say they enjoy playing in that space, and our patrons like attending concerts there.
The auditorium is ideal in every way but one — we have sometimes been unable to accommodate everyone who would like to attend. We need to continue to assess the best way to deal with this issue, but in the meantime, we will strive to do our best to make the Camerata Musica concert experience as enjoyable as possible.