February 26, 2010

Director's 5-year extension means orchestra will play on

BOB KEYES

— By

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer: 20070530 Wednesday, May 30, 2007....Robert Moody, new Music Director designate for the Portland Symphony.

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Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer The Portland Symphony Orchestra opened its 85th season with a concert at Merrill Auditorium on Tuesday night. Music Director Robert Moody, designed a program built around the theme of heroism.

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Robert Moody, the charismatic music director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

The orchestra announced Friday that Moody's initial three-year contract has been extended five years, keeping him in Portland through the 2015-16 season.

The extension is significant, because Moody is a rising star in the classical world and his services are in demand across the country.

Just last weekend, he served as guest conductor with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, which is seeking a new music director and named Moody as one of four finalists for the job.

By signing him to the extension, the Portland Symphony Orchestra protects itself from the possibility of his leaving when the current three-year agreement expires at the end of the 2010-11 season.

The long-term commitment also enables the orchestra to move forward with its efforts to balance artistic excellence with financial stability, said Ari Solotoff, PSO executive director.

''Now we can think beyond one or two years at a time. We can think in multi-years at a time,'' Solotoff said. ''We refer to things as knowns and unknowns. This is the most important known we can have for artistic planning, for the vision of the orchestra and for our work in the community.''

Moody said Friday that he agreed to the extension because ''I feel like we are beginning to reach our stride in terms of what we mean by a concept of sound and what our unique personality will be, and what our sound will be like with me at the helm and with this particular group of players.

''It revolves around how we believe we will take on any musical performance -- with foundation, rhythm intonations and phrasing. I am proud of what we are doing, and I feel like we have only just begun.''

Moody said he always intended to stay in Portland longer than three seasons, but it was important to him and to the orchestra to ensure their relationship was mutually beneficial before making a long-term commitment.

''From day one, the idea was that if the chemistry continued to be right and we continued to like each other -- which we do very much -- then my vision was to stay for multiple years,'' he said.

Gordon Gayer, president of the orchestra's board, announced the extension at a board meeting Thursday night.

Moody is in his second year with the symphony. The extension includes a two-year option that was part of the original contract, as well as three additional years.

Neither Moody nor the orchestra disclosed financial terms.

Presuming he fulfills the term of the new agreement, Moody will be in Portland at least eight years.

His predecessor, Toshiyuki Shimada, served 20 years.

This past July, the Boston Musicians Association, which represents the players in the 82-member Portland Symphony Orchestra, announced a four-year labor accord retroactive to 2008 and extending through the 2011-12 performance season.

With the players and the music director locked up, Solotoff said he feels more able to move forward with plans to stabilize the orchestra's financial foundation.

The orchestra has reduced staff and its concert schedule to try to work within a balanced budget.

The PSO is operating with a $2.4 million budget in the current season, down from $2.8 million in 2008-09 and from $3.3 million in 2007-08.

To restore concerts and programming lost to cost-saving measures, the orchestra must increase its revenues, Solotoff said. Moody's presence is an important part of that strategy, he said, because he is the face of the orchestra and represents it well in the community.

By agreeing to stay in Portland, Moody said he can begin to think about longer-term goals, including creating a family concert series, bringing back summer concerts and expanding existing classical series.

''Those are dreams at this point. But those are our goals, as long as we make sure we do it while maintaining fiscal integrity,'' he said.

In addition to his job in Portland, Moody retains his positions as music director of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Symphony, which he has led since 2005, and as artistic director of Arizona Musicfest, which he has led since 2007.

Moody rents a home in the Back Cove area of Portland. He also maintains a home in North Carolina, and travels extensively to perform with other orchestras.

Moody said the courtship by Memphis is part of the business. He remains a candidate for that position.

''In the five years that I have been music director at Winston-Salem, I have had three other offers. I accepted one of them. I did not accept the other two. The one I accepted was Portland,'' he said.

An active outdoorsman with a love for hiking, skiing and running, Moody said he was glad for the opportunity to make a commitment to stay.

''Portland for me has sort of all the aspects that I look for in a large, thriving, diverse metropolitan area, and yet it has the comfort and warmth of a small town,'' he said.

''I've got a house now just off the Back Cove, and even in this cold weather I have appropriate running gear, and I just love running along the Back Cove and looking out over the water and to the skyline beyond.

''I am thrilled to be here, and let's just add that Portland has more great restaurants than any place I have been in my life. Portland is just a winning town on all levels.''

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

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