Things looked grim in September for the Orange County Chamber Orchestra. Founding music director Micah Levy announced that he was canceling half the 1991-92 season at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, citing poor ticket sales and cutbacks in donations.
He even talked about the possibility of the 9-year-old orchestra folding.
Then public response began.
"We've definitely had people rallying to us," Levy says. "People have been offering some kind of help here and there. Some financially--a number of people sent in checks, some from people whom we haven't heard from in a long time. . . . Others just called and offered moral support. Also we've had musicians who, when they found out about this, said they'd like to do something."
Among the latter are Diana Halprin, concertmaster of Levy's chamber orchestra, percussionist Deborah Schwartz, harpsichordist Jennifer Paul, pianist Renee Golabek, and Los Angeles Philharmonic principal horn player Jerry Folson. All have volunteered to do a fund-raising concert for the orchestra, Levy says, "probably at the end of the season."
Meanwhile, the chamber orchestra's three-concert season begins on Monday. The program, at the Irvine theater, will include Handel's "Royal Fireworks Music," Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony and the premiere of Robert Cummings' Concerto for Flute, with soloist Julius Baker.
Cummings, who lives in Garden Grove, has been the organist and music director of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange for more than 25 years.
Additionally, the chamber orchestra has just received small grants from the Xerox Foundation ($3,000) and the BankAmerica Foundation ($4,500).
"It's been a shot in the arm," Levy says. "Xerox has been giving us donations for quite a number of years. . . . The grant from BankAmerica is a first for us."
The money from Xerox will be used to sponsor a soloist; the BankAmerica grant will be used to provide concert seats to local high school students, plus lectures at the schools by Levy before each concert.
Levy's reaction?: "I'm feeling a lot more optimistic. But it still could go either way. I'm fairly optimistic . . . somewhat optimistic . . . cautiously optimistic."
As for a next season, "we've requested dates" from the Irvine Barclay, he says. "That is as far as it goes. . . . We requested Thursday nights, instead of Mondays. We feel it would be a better night for us."
He also plans to reduce the size of the orchestra to something "smaller and more affordable for a while," something along the order of a dozen or so strings rather than the usual 20, plus a harpsichord and soloist.
"That certainly would restrict us in terms of the period I chose the music from," he says. "But I will simply try to be as creative as possible within that period.
In the Monday program, the orchestra will play "two well-known masterpieces of two different periods"--the Handel "Fireworks Music" and the Haydn Symphony--"then a work that is completely unknown. That's the Cummings."
Levy and the orchestra had played Cummings' Concerto for Oboe and Strings in February, 1990.
"When I got the score of this one, too, I immediately wanted to do it," Levy says. "The piece is extremely beautiful. It's traditional, in a way, although he certainly does some wild things--starts in B-flat and ends in F. But in essence, it's a traditional, tonal kind of piece. There's nothing in it that's really, really radical. He's not trying to be radical, just lyrical. Just trying to express himself.
"To be very honest, I play a lot of 20th-Century music. Some of it probably drives our audience crazy. But I respond to it, and if I do, I think some people will respond as well. I know it's difficult. . . .
"But there is much contemporary music that, I think, people write who are not concerned whether (other) people can respond to it in an emotional sense. It's more like a compositional game for them, and whatever happens, happens. Cummings is not that way at all. He writes directly from the heart."
What: Micah Levy leads the Orange County Chamber Orchestra in works by Handel, Haydn and Robert Cummings.
When: Monday, Jan. 13, at 8 p.m.
Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine.
Whereabouts: On the UC Irvine campus, on Campus Road near University Drive, across from the Marketplace mall.
Wherewithal: $12 to $29.
Where to Call: (714) 854-4646.