Gloria Teti can’t quite believe that the curtain will soon rise on the Capital Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey’s fifth season. As founding president and chair of the CPNJ’s board of trustees, she admits it has been a struggle to support and promote a symphony orchestra in Trenton. Still, she is excited to be part of the cultural enrichment of the city
“There’s a lot of love for the orchestra, so we have to do this, push forward and make it happen,” Teti says.
She is especially pleased that this year, for the first time, the group will be launching its season with a budget surplus, “an answer to my prayers,” Teti says, noting that the 2016-’17 budget was between $213,000 and $215,000.
“We stayed within that budget, and have carried over about $10,000 into this year’s budget. I kept saying, ‘I think we’re going to do it,’ and we did it,” she says.
“For this year we’re pushing the budget to between $220,000 and $228,000, and maybe in the next couple of years we’ll be solvent enough to hire a full-time executive director,” Teti adds, noting that the board/administration of the CPNJ is an all-volunteer operation.
Putting business concerns aside, however, Teti is optimistic about the musical programming for the CPNJ’s 2017-’18 season, including the group’s first concert, Saturday, October 21, at the Patriots Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton.
The season opener will feature Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture, Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 2 “Mysterious Mountain,” and Symphony No. 3 “Organ Symphony,” by Saint-Saens. Music director Daniel Spalding will conduct.
The Saint-Saens symphony will feature organist Joseph Jackson on the War Memorial’s famous Moller Theater Pipe Organ — one of the grandest instruments of its generation, which formerly provided lush sound at the old Lincoln Theater in Trenton, just a few blocks from its current location.
Later in the CPNJ season, on Sunday, December 31, audiences can enjoy New Year’s Eve with a concert and festivities at the War Memorial.
Then, on Saturday, March 10, 2018, the orchestra will travel back in time to the Roaring Twenties, with a program titled “The Jazz Age,” featuring cabaret-style songs from Kurt Weill’s “The Three Penny Opera,” as well as works by Stravinsky, Milhaud, and Trenton’s own George Antheil.
To round out the season the CPNJ will dedicate its Saturday, April 21, concert to the works of Sergei Rachmaninoff, including the daunting Piano Concerto No. 2. Pianist Clipper Erickson will be the guest soloist on the “Rach 2” as it is sometime called.
(Perhaps the spirit of Rachmaninoff will visit the venue that night, as the legendary pianist and composer gave one of the most memorable recitals of his career at the Trenton War Memorial, October 30, 1940 — a rare appearance in the Garden State.)
Obviously Spalding has created an exciting season for the CPNJ, and the musicians are raring to go — now if the group could only fill the enormous theater, with its capacity of more than 1,800 seats.
Teti sighs a little when speaking about her “beautiful barn,” as she calls the venue. “The War Memorial is a beautiful facility, in fact, when the Philly Pops come here, they tell us that they’d rather play in the War Memorial than the Kimmel Center because the acoustics here are perfect,” Teti says.
Teti says the organization can easily get 700 people in the “house.” But in a theater that holds so many, “when you’re on stage and you see a ‘Swiss cheese audience,’ with holes here and holes there, it’s sad,” she says.
“At Richardson Auditorium 700 or 800 people is a full house, and the same with McCarter — they’re not trying to put 2,000 people in a house,” Teti adds. “So it requires twice as much effort to fill. It never used to be that way, in fact the War Memorial used to be the place to be seen. We need to recreate that enthusiasm and fill the house again. The War Memorial should be a living, breathing operation and a resource for income.”
Presenting classical music in Trenton has been an uphill battle, especially after the recession in the last decade. The orchestra had previously been called the Greater Trenton Symphony Orchestra (GTSO), and the group was obviously in financial trouble in the spring of 2013. For example, the musicians still hadn’t been paid for the New Year’s Eve concert.
That summer Spalding, who was also the GTSO’s music director, brainstormed with members and leaders of the musicians’ union, listening to a variety of frustrations and welcoming suggestions to go forward. Investing a considerable amount of his personal time and energy, Spalding formulated a plan to found a new orchestra and organization. (For the full story on the re-launching of the orchestra, see the April 30, 2014, issue of U.S. 1, “Concert is Second Movement for New Capital City Philharmonic.”)
The group renamed and incorporated itself as the “New Jersey Capital Philharmonic Orchestra,” but since then has changed names again to the Capital Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey, to associate itself closer to the “capital” city of Trenton and to differentiate itself from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
While midwifing the rebirth of the orchestra, Spalding hand-selected Teti to lead the new board of trustees. He knew that Teti had a deep love for and understanding of classical music, as she had studied intensely since childhood and then spent the late 1960s and early ’70s as a professional operatic vocalist with the New York City Opera.
Teti was involved with the area’s business community as longtime co-owner (with her husband Joe Teti) of Triangle Art Center in Lawrenceville. She also has knowledge of the local political scene: Teti was mayor of Lawrence Township from 1992 to 1994, and on the township’s council through 1996.
Put all this together and it was a no-brainer for Spalding to reach out to Teti and offer her a leadership role in the new orchestra, which is now a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
“Dan came to see me and asked if I would be interested,” Teti says. “It was an exciting idea, to be part of the arts community in Trenton, and I was happy to help and support — and before I knew it, I was president. But I certainly understood what was involved, and that it would be a struggle.”
She reflects that the average cost to put the orchestra on stage ranges from $60,000 to $70,000: the rental of the War Memorial alone is about $5,000; union stagehands might cost $3,000, Teti notes. And that’s just the beginning.
Of course the musicians and conductor have to be paid for the concert as well as the rehearsals. Special guest musicians and vocalists need to be paid as well.
“Depending on how famous the soloist is, that could be anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000,” Teti says.
Then there’s the music that has to be rented, with a full score for the conductor and individual parts for each musician. There’s even something called a “cartage” fee, extra pay for musicians who have to lug certain very large instruments they play, such as the harp and the bass viol.
“When you start taking every little section of what it costs to mount a performance, it’s an expensive endeavor,” Teti says. “These are just some of the investments that people who come to the concerts take for granted. Those of us in the administration need to consider all this when we plan or program a season.”
Teti says that ticket sales cover about 40 percent of these costs, and corporate support helps greatly but only so much.
In addition, “We try to find the grants that are out there, from the Dodge Foundation for example, but unfortunately, every orchestra, choral group, etc., is going after the same grants,” she says. “We’re all trying to dip into the same pot.”
Federal and state support of the CPNJ is negligible, and Teti is guarded when asked if certain recently elected federal administrations — known for being unsupportive of the arts — have added to CPNJ’s financial struggles.
She does note that changes in federal or state administrations can hamper financial stability for the arts in general, and specifically for a cultural organization such as the CPNJ.
“All you have to do is look at the schools, and arts are the first things to go with budget cuts,” Teti says. “Arts are one of the things that people don’t see as the most important. But if you take art and culture away, you take away a big component of things that make us happy. These are the things that give us inner peace and joy.”
“We do get nice support from our audience, with some folks writing really generous checks — $1,000, $2,500, even $5,000,” Teti says. “We also get many, many donations of $25, or $50 or $100, and we appreciate it all.”
Another one of the challenges to filling a large concert hall lies with changing demographics. There is a generation gap between older adults who have disposable income for such pleasures as music and travel, and younger adults who are dedicating their income to raising families.
Plus more and more families have splendid home theaters, where they can watch an opera or classical music concert from the comfort of their couches.
Teti agrees that people tend to cocoon, but more so, she thinks families stay away from classical music events because they are concentrating on extra schooling for their children, focusing on academic achievement rather than a broader cultural education.
“When we want our kids to be the best of the best of the best, it’s the A-plus-plus-plus mentality, and that’s OK — but let them be A-plus-plus-plus in art and music,” Teti says. “Expand their breadth and knowledge of another cultural activity, enrich them in the arts, instead of having them tied so tight academically.”
“People spend so much money on this extra learning, there’s nothing left for something like a classical music concert,” she adds. “Parents want their kids to excel so they can get into Ivy League colleges, and unfortunately, taking them to a concert or to the theater doesn’t matter — you can’t put it on a resume.”
With this in mind, Teti says CPNJ is trying to encourage more families to come to concerts, with a deep discount on tickets for children and young adults under age 21 (preferably with student ID).
“This year and last year we launched a program where any seat in the house for a student is only$10 — even $55 or $65 seats,” she says. “So if you have two or three kids and you want to bring them, you want to encourage their interest in symphonic music, it’s not cost-prohibitive.”
Teti, nee Scarano, was born and raised in Trenton, where her father was a heating and air-conditioning contractor and her mother a homemaker. She says her mom’s family was interested in music, though not professionally, but everyone sang.
Teti has been in love with music since childhood, and was a multi-talented young lady singing and playing piano at Villa Victoria Academy in Ewing from kindergarten through high school graduation in 1964.
“At the time Villa Victoria was known as a school for music excellence, and they had extraordinary musical performances at the War Memorial — the curtain would open and there would be six grand pianos on stage,” Teti says.
“At school I was the accompanist for all the choral pieces, and then in ninth grade, I realized that I could sing, so I started studying voice, and became one the vocal soloists at school,” she continues.
Teti studied music at Marymount College — with her eye on operatic vocal performance — graduating with a bachelor of music degree, cum laude, in 1968.
Teti reflects that her time at Marymount was akin to studying at the Juilliard School in New York.
“We had to learn orchestration, conducting, counterpoint, as well as all the instruments — it was a very intense course of study,” she says. “And then you had to take all the liberal arts courses. I graduated with 152 credits.”
Her husband Joe is also a singer — a tenor — and the two met while singing in a Presbyterian choir.
“Although we’re both Catholic, we met through a Presbyterian ministry — who will pay to have a really good choir,” Teti says. “Joe and I met singing at high Sunday services.”
Her professional musical life began in 1968 when Teti landed a job as a soloist at Radio City Music Hall. Things really took off in 1969, when she was hired by the New York City Opera Company, sharing the stage at Lincoln Center with the likes of Beverly Sills and James Morris.
“It was a crazy, fun life,” she says, explaining that, as a lyric soprano, she would sing lighter soprano roles, such as Mimi in Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Marguerite in Gounod’s “Faust,” and various roles in Mozart’s operas.
She is casual about bumping into someone like Placido Domingo during a normal workday. “I saw (the stars) all the time, and some were even good friends,” Teti says. “They were great people, although we’ve lost some of the most wonderful ones, like Sills. Blessedly, we still have their art to listen to.”
Teti retired from the opera world in the 1970s to raise a family, though her husband Joe encouraged her to continue her career.
“I decided to put opera aside and commit to marriage and family, and it was the right call,” she says.
The couple, who now resides in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, have three grown children — two sons and a daughter — all of whom are very much interested in music.
Teti’s role as a councilwoman and mayor of Lawrence Township has turned out to be quite helpful in running CPNJ’s board. “I’m a people person,” she says.
“I love to talk to people and I’m pretty forthright,” Teti says. “I talk to the orchestra when they rehearse, I get to know them, let them know what they’re doing to make this project succeed. There’s a certain honesty in face-to-face sharing.”
“As far as the board, I work with them like I used to with the council, working by consensus, letting everybody put their ideas on the table,” she says. “We try to understand all the issues that face us and come to an amiable agreement.”
Naturally, Teti’s musical experience helps her role with CPNJ, and in fact, she says her background in music drives her love for the orchestra and her desire to see the group succeed.
“The people who donate often include notes and letters to us saying, ‘Trenton needs this, please don’t stop, we want this to continue,’” she says. “Like them, I can recognize the culturally enriching side of the orchestra, and what needs to be done (to keep it strong). For those who don’t understand, I can help them understand better.”
Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey, Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton. Saturday, October 21, 7:30 p.m., $30 to $75 via 215-893-1999 or www.ticketphiladelphia.org. www.capitalphilharmonic.org.