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Orchestra Seeks Broader Audience : Inglewood Philharmonic Asks: Is Anyone Listening?

November 08, 1987|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

The Inglewood Philharmonic is an orchestra in search of an audience.

"I like to say we're trying to bring culture to a sports-oriented community," said music director Leroy E. Hurte.

In a city where the Forum, Lakers, Kings and Hollywood Park are bigger names than Beethoven and Brahms, the Philharmonic usually plays to a few hundred people.

"We should be able to draw 2,000 people to a concert, but we're getting 500," said Hurte, who plans four or five concerts this season.

Unlike most orchestras, the Inglewood Philharmonic's main problem is not money. It has several corporate sponsors and the city supports the orchestra to the tune of $5,000 a year.

"The leadership of the city is always proud we have a philharmonic for a city of our size," said Norman Cravens, deputy city manager.

The Philharmonic, which sometimes plays for city functions, also is aided by the city with its advertising and publicity, although it is not an official city organization. Mayor Edward Vincent is honorary chairman of the orchestra's advisory board.

To win audiences in Inglewood and neighboring communities, Hurte takes his orchestra to students every spring with a concert at Morningside or Inglewood high school.

"They're exposed to Michael Jackson and they should be exposed to the other side of music," he said.

He also programs works by black composers, in the belief that if residents of the predominantly minority community are going to be drawn to symphonic music, they have to realize that it--like blues, jazz and pop--is their music, too.

"We are educating people to the fact that it is a cultural thing, an enriching thing," he said.

Favored Composer

One of Hurte's favorite black composers is the late William Grant Still, whom he knew.

"His music compares favorably with any other composer," said Hurte. He said that Still's best-known work is "Afro-American Symphony," which was written in 1930 and has blues themes.

The Inglewood Philharmonic also has performed a cello concerto by James McCullough, a contemporary black composer whose music, Hurte said, is modern and challenging.

"I want to educate the audience to all types of music," said Hurte, acknowledging that even some members of his board--accustomed to the more traditional works that dominate the orchestra's program--did not much like the McCullough piece.

This year's season, which Hurte said has a budget of $35,000 to $45,000, began with a black-tie 40th anniversary gala Sept. 27 at the Airport Park Hotel. The evening included a supper and was designed to romance potential donors, Hurte said. It already has produced some results, he said, with Rockwell International Corp. donating $500.

Date at Pavilion

The remainder of the season has some firm dates and a couple of tentative engagements, including one at the Los Angeles Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the orchestra played in 1985.

The annual Afro-American Heritage concert will be held Feb. 21 at the Inglewood High School auditorium--its home base--and the orchestra will present Handel's "Messiah" on Easter Sunday at the First Church of God in Inglewood.

A concert is planned for May 28, co-sponsored by the Tamarind Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church in Compton, where Hurte is choir director. It will be held at the church, or at the Music Center if a particular star--Hurte will not say who--is signed. There will be an additional concert this season if a major sponsor--again, Hurte will not say who--underwrites it.

Several people credit Hurte with keeping the Inglewood Philharmonic going. "He really tries," said Councilwoman Ann Wilk, who recently ended eight years on the board. "I give him an A for effort."

"He is good at speaking to people, getting support," said Patrick Morgan, the orchestra's co-concertmaster, the person who helps the conductor and tunes the orchestra before a concert.

Personal Fund Raising

Even though association board members are chosen for, among other things, their fund-raising skills, Hurte said he personally raises "about $15,000 or $20,000" through contacts with community organizations, such as the Rotary Club, and corporations.

"I call and I send letters," Hurte said.

The present 65-member Inglewood Philharmonic, a predominantly minority amalgam made up partly of union professionals and partly of experienced amateurs, is the orchestra's second incarnation.

The original orchestra was founded in 1948 by Ernest Gebert, a European conductor. Despite the pessimism of civic leaders, Gebert launched a 10-concert season and the orchestra flourished for two decades, drawing such guest soloists as soprano Marni Nixon and piccoloist Louise di Tullio and guest conductors including Mehli Mehta, John Green, Henri Temianka and Andre Previn, now music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

Some in Inglewood remember the old orchestra, including Wilk, a resident since 1950. She said it was a solid part of the community: "A lot of the top Inglewood people were involved on the board."

Struggling Group

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