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The New Man at the National Endowment

February 07, 1988|JOHN HENKEN

A new music program director has come to the National Endowment for the Arts on winds of change. On the job in Washington since October, William Vickery Jr. was previously an official of the Aspen Music Festival and School for 11 years. The Juilliard-trained musician and administrator was chosen for the position by NEA chairman Frank Hodsoll.

Last week, an ambitious new Meet the Composer/Reader's Digest Commissioning Program--which is funded in part by the national endowment and will replace the endowment's own commissioning program--was announced. Though hailed by Hodsoll as "an outstanding example of how a public-private partnership can have widespread benefit for the arts nationwide," it does not presage the privatization of the government's music program, according to Vickery.

At the same time, he believes that music programs and institutions should not rely on federal funding. "I don't believe government support should be what keeps an organization going," Vickery said after an address to the recent Chamber Music America conference.

On the average, the endowment provides slightly less than 2% of the budget for the music programs it funds. Vickery sees no major increases or decreases ahead, as the endowment and the music program have been in a period of flat funding levels. The music program budget has been steady at about $15.5 million in allocations. The endowment's 1988 budget allocation, approved in December, is for $167.7 million, up slightly from the previous year.

What the NEA does provide, Vickery says, "is much more an identification of excellence" than just money. This is based on the endowment's highly respected, in-depth evaluations of grant proposals. In comments from the floor at the Chamber Music America session, Michael Jaffee--founder and director of the Waverly Consort--stressed the importance of the endowment's leadership role in providing a "stamp of approval" for music organizations seeking support from other sources.

One thing that may affect who gets how much from the endowment is a proposal to switch grant awards from specific projects to general operating support, based on a budgetary formula applied to the requesting organization. "We're in the middle of a large, open policy debate about this," Vickery reports, with studies in the works to determine what the impact of such a change might be.

Vickery is concerned about the recent spate of orchestral closings, and says the financial health of an applicant is one criterion used in evaluating grant proposals. The artistic value of an organization, which is the prime consideration in awarding grants, is also too often affected by monetary difficulties.

"Even more scary (than budget deficits) is what might be called an artistic deficit," Vickery says of financially troubled groups. There is a tendency to rely on pops programs and similar ventures to restore a sound economic base, and Vickery worries that in some instances, "the short-term fix becomes the long-term mission."

Of his own role in this, Vickery is self-effacing. "I see myself as a vehicle for serving the needs of the musical field we support."

COMPETITIONS, CLASSES AND AUDITIONS: The Music Center Education Division is coordinating the Corwin Philharmonic Seminars. The tuition-free program--intermediate-level instrumental clinics and master classes for advanced students--will be taught by cellist Ronald Leonard, clarinetist Lorin Levee and trumpeter Donald Green, all principals or associate principals with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The application deadline is Feb. 19. Information: (213) 972-7285.

The Zachary Society is sponsoring the 16th Opera Awards National Auditions, which begin April 7 in Los Angeles. The competition awards singers between age 21 and 33 with cash and air fare for European auditions. Applications: Zachary Society Los Angeles Auditions, 2250 Loaming Way, Beverly Hills 90210. Deadline is March 21.

Six high-school musicians from the Los Angeles area will compete in the Seventeen Magazine and General Motors Concerto Competition finals this week at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Wendy Chen, Grace Huang, Reiko Uchida, Max Levinson and Helen Tjioe are entrants in the piano division, Steven Copes is a finalist in the violin category. The 7-year-old competition, which offers winners $5,000 scholarships, has produced some notable musicians, such as violinist Joshua Bell, who was the grand-prize winner in 1982.

Auditions for music scholarships at Cal State Northridge for fall, 1988, will be Feb. 19 and 20. Information: (818) 885-3181.

UCLA Extension analyzes the "Launching of a Pop Recording Star" Feb. 27 in a one-day program, "Julia Migenes, From Opera to Top 40." Migenes, who appeared in the title role in the 1984 film of "Carmen" with Placido Domingo, will speak, as will recording industry arrangers, engineers and managers. Information: (213) 825-9064.

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