‘It was obvious to everyone involved that the Greater Trenton Symphony Orchestra (GTSO) was in trouble. The musicians hadn’t been paid from the New Year’s Eve concert the year before. And there were no future plans,” says conductor Daniel Spalding about the formation of the New Jersey Capital Philharmonic Orchestra (NJCPO) and its second presentation, set for Saturday, May 3, at the War Memorial Building in Trenton.
The concert’s show piece is Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” sharing the bill with Saint-Saens’ “Introduction and Capriccioso,” Bizet’s “Carmen Fantasy,” and Rossini’s “L’Italia in Algeri Overture.”
The Ewing-based Spalding — who has taken on the task of keeping a professional symphonic orchestra in New Jersey’s capital city — says, “I found out (about the problems) and decided to call the musicians’ union, which put me in touch with Steve Kyle, who is the union representative for orchestras. So we chatted on the phone about what was going on. I suggested to him that we have a meeting with musicians and talk about starting a new orchestra.”
Spalding, who has extensive experience in conducting nationally and internationally, says that it was in early August, 2013, that about a dozen musicians met at Kyle’s Yardley, Pennsylvania, home. “They vented a lot of frustrations about what was going on with the GTSO. From that meeting on I have spent a lot of time and energy to formulate a plan to found a new orchestra and new organization.”
Within a few months the NJCPO filled the void to create the capital city’s traditional New Year’s Eve concert. It was, as Spalding admits about presenting concert music in Trenton, risky business — especially for an organization with no funds, a fledgling board, no non-profit structure to accept money, and a projected $35,000 expense.
Risks, however, can bring opportunities. “The concert actually cost $46,000,” says Spalding. “We had more than 900 people and ended that project with a surplus — in the black about $10,000. It encouraged us to think there’s potential for more projects.”
One of those projects is the upcoming concert. “We need to keep things moving. So people will be thinking of the orchestra. If you don’t have concerts, nothing will happen.”
Spalding says that his particular program is “great music, colorful, and exciting. I thought it would be way to go to get people back to hearing the orchestra.”
Since “Scheherazade” has a huge array of violin solos he says that it made sense to invite an award-winning violinist and colleague Aisha Dossumova. “I have known her for six years. She is my concert master for the Philadelphia Virtuosi Orchestra. An excellent match. She is a very compelling musician,” says Spalding, who also established and conducts that orchestra.
The concert helps the NJCPO to make statements beyond the music. The event engages 70 musicians (eight more than the New Year’s Eve event), is budgeted for $45,000, and reflects the orchestra’s plan to establish a season that will include concerts in October, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, and May.
But that is in the future. Today’s focus is to create both a concert and a new organization.
“Right now it is pretty much volunteer,” says Spalding, who serves as executive director. “Steve (Kyle) is the orchestra manager. Some of the musicians have volunteered to help out in some ways. It’s good camaraderie. I have never been in front of an orchestra as enthusiastic as this. The majority of musicians has been through some bad years with the GTSO and wants to see the new orchestra succeed.”
Spalding says that there was interest in continuing the former orchestra, but there were unresolved problems, and the group decided to start anew. “If we continued as the GTSO we would have assumed the liabilities. They had lawsuits. Everything is fresh and new, except some of the musicians. But the leadership is all brand new.”
Spalding says that a foundation has been set in place to build the organization. “We have an actual board. That was my first order of business in September, to organize a board of 13. I started one by one who I thought would be interested in serving on the board. I am so pleased with them.”
Members include former Lawrence mayor Gloria Teti, who is serving as president, businessman Joe Teti, Trenton-based architect John Hatch, Trenton councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson, strategic planner Bernard McMullen, Steve Kyle, orchestra oboist Melissa Bohl, professional singer Sarah Dash, Terry West (aide to Brian Hughes), and other civic leaders interested in seeing the orchestra succeed.
While the organizers have filed a federal application to the IRS to become a tax-exempt organization, the orchestra is being assisted by the Trenton Downtown Association, which stepped forward to serve as a fiscal agent.
The organization has also developed a mechanism to sell tickets for its events, since the War Memorial no longer has an active box office staff. “We are selling our tickets through (the Internet site) Ticketfly. They sell the tickets for us. And by telephone. The box office at the War Memorial will be open the day of the concert, and people can buy tickets that day.”
As far as community support, Spalding says, “We had a lot of businesses step up and buy ads in our New Year’s Eve program which was essential to the success of the enterprise.”
Concert expenses include musicians — whose union scale requires between $80 and $85 per rehearsal and $115 to $130 per concert — as well as facility rental, costs related to the stage hand union, and marketing.
“The biggest obstacle is that since we are a new organization we have not been able to apply for grants. We have no grants from foundations. Nothing. We’re exploring that soon. We have to wait to apply with the NJSCA [New Jersey State Council on the Arts],” says Spalding.
Spalding — who never performed with the GTSO — has lived in Ewing for 25 years but has roots in the Midwest.
“I was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1952,” he says. “My father was an electrician and my mother did some secretarial work. I’m the first person in my family to go to college, and no one in my family did music, although we had a piano in the home and my mother played a bit. We had a stereo and I just fell in love with music.”
Although he began taking piano lessons at five, Spalding says another instrument was on his mind, and he began to play the drums when he reached sixth grade. “That’s what I wanted to do, be a drummer. I never wanted to be anything else. I always loved music ever since I saw the drummer on the Mickey Mouse club. (Carl ‘Cubby’ O’Brien) was my hero when I was a baby. And I wanted to be a drummer. I loved everything about music.”
He followed his interest in the band and orchestra at Wichita East High School. He then attended Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Michigan, became involved with the Drum and Bugle Corps, and earned bachelor’s and a master’s degrees at Northwestern.
Spalding then began serving as a conductor, which led him to Romania where he found romance. “I am married to Gabriela Imreh. We met in Rumania when I was guest conducting in 1985. We met backstage. It was love at first sight. We met on a Tuesday. Then I had to leave and the next time I saw her I proposed. Gabriela is a concert pianist and had her own career. We managed to arrange some concerts together. It is all very romantic. We had the secret police follow us. I had to write to get letters from U.S. legislators to marry. It was all very scary.”
After a couple years in Texas, Spalding says, he came to New Jersey. “I was offered the position of orchestra conductor at Trenton State College. I think that was 1988. I did that for five years. I started my own chamber orchestra in Philadelphia and have been concentrating on that orchestra for over 20 years. Right now I am concentrating my time on these orchestras. I had some guest conducting here and there, but right now most of my time is on these projects.”
That includes the work at hand. “I hope that we’re able to carry out our plans to establish a real season next year and in subsequent years expanded. We’re being realistic about what we can do. But I would like to see the orchestra thrive. I believe the ingredients are all here to make it success.”
New Jersey Capital Philharmonic Orchestra, Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton. “Scheherazade” and other world classics. Saturday, May 3, 8 p.m. $12.50 to $65. 877-987-6487 or www.capitalphilharmonic.org.