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The CSO may launch a west suburban concert series

Updated: June 8, 2012 11:53AM



The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is looking at bringing Mohammed to the mountain.

CSO public affairs vice president Raechel Alexander confirms that discussions are ongoing between orchestra management and DuPage County officials on a plan for the CSO to travel regularly to an area where many of its ticket buyers and donors live and work, as first reported Thursday by Crain’s Chicago Business .

“At this point, we have nothing to report other than that we are having conversations, and that a market and demographic study has been done,” Alexander said.

CSO Association President Deborah F. Rutter and DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin have been involved the most recent talks, Crain’s said.

The head of a DuPage development arm told Crain’s that the county was looking for a season of “some weeks . . . perhaps months per year. We’re talking about establishing a permanent season here in the western suburbs.”

Though Alexander said that discussion of possible time commitment and venues “were preliminary at the most,” the Arranmore Center for the Arts in Oswego is reportedly one of three venues being considered for a run of CSO performances. “From our perspective, the CSO absolutely fits with our mission and our goals,” said Katra Knoernschild, the Arranmore’s managing director. “It’s very early in the process, so right now we are looking at the demographics that just came in. We have to look at the market, what it’s comprised of and what it can hold.”

In an era of economic uncertainty and changing audiences and leisure habits, even fiscally solid music organizations such as the CSO are looking at ways to boost income and attendance. The CSO currently sells about 83 percent of its capacity for its nine-month subscription season — stronger numbers than many of its peers, but a decline from the recent past.

Increasing the CSO’s suburban presence, particularly to the high-growth west, has long been a subject of speculation at Symphony Center. During her tenure, Rutter has boosted over-all emphasis on long-range and strategic planning. The CSO has played single concerts in Naperville each of the past two seasons at North Central College’s new Wentz Concert Hall. The Arranmore, set near Route 30 and Rance Road at border of DuPage, Kendall and Will counties, eventually hopes to add outdoor performance spaces for professional and student theater events and music concerts.

The CSO has spent summers performing on the North Shore at Ravinia in Highland Park for more than 75 years, but not under the management of the CSO Association. The possible annual west suburban series would be coordinated by the downtown management and could even come out of the existing 30-week downtown season, according to the Crain’s report..

One possibility could be to cut back on the CSO’s extensive and remunerative touring schedule. CSO music director Riccardo Muti has emphasized both international and U.S. touring since taking up his post two years ago. Whether he would want to trade in Shanghai and Vienna for Glen Ellyn and Wheaton is unclear.

Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM. Jenette Sturges of Sun-Times Media also contributed to this story.



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