The New World Symphony, a national training orchestra recently formed by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, is seeking a summer home at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
"We are in negotiations, but there has been no decision yet," New World general manager Martin Merkley acknowledged Monday from the orchestra's headquarters in Orlando, Fla.
"We expect to know in a couple of weeks. We are planning an annual summer program somewhere. At this point all other places (in the country) have been eliminated, and we are talking only with the Center."
The orchestra made its concert debut Thursday in Miami. Tilson Thomas, who was recently named principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, founded the New World Symphony in 1987 to provide a training ground for recent graduates of the nation's leading music conservatories.
Merkley was cautiously optimistic but preferred not to characterize the discussions. If they are successful, the orchestra would spend nearly four weeks at Segerstrom Hall--from mid-June to mid-July--under joint sponsorship of the Orange County Philharmonic Society, the Center and UC Irvine.
According to a knowledgeable source, the Philharmonic Society would underwrite the residence program, which Merkley said is expected to cost $200,000 to $300,000; the Center would provide the rehearsal and performing space for a repertory season, and UC Irvine would provide campus housing for the orchestra's 90 or so musicians.
Along with Tilson Thomas, who has toured the UCI campus, key players in the discussions so far have been New World Executive Director Jeffrey Babcock, Philharmonic Society Executive Director Erich Vollmer, UC Irvine Chancellor Jack W. Peltason and Performing Arts Center President Thomas R. Kendrick.
"It's a wonderful idea," Babcock said from New York on Monday. "We hope something may work out. We will know more definitively next week."
Vollmer, who had met last week with Babcock in Miami, was en route Monday from New York and could not be reached for comment. Tilson Thomas was in rehearsal in Miami and was unavailable.
Kendrick, through a spokesman, gave "no comment." The spokesman acknowledged that "a project is under discussion" but insisted it is "premature to talk publicly about it."
Peltason could not be reached. Kathy Jones, associate vice chancellor at UCI, said: "We're willing to do whatever (it takes) because we know it would be great for the county."
The New World Symphony was formed last year from 1,000 candidates who were auditioned at major music festivals in 17 cities, Merkley said. The musicians, ages 21-30, are paid $300 a week, plus room and board. If the orchestra takes up a summer residence at the Center, Merkley said, Thomas would participate for two of the four weeks. The orchestra is based in Miami, where its parent organization is the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.
Tilson Thomas, 43, was principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1981-85 and led the New York Philharmonic "Young People's Concerts" for six years.
Having the New World Symphony in residence, even if only for the summer, "would be a major cultural step for the Center," said Joel Kabakov who heads the teaching program of the Buena Park-based Yamaha International Corp.
Kabakov, who has attended some of the planning meetings, added: "The ripple effect would extend far beyond the Center and would have a major impact on musical education in the county."