By Mike Giuliano
11:37 AM EDT, August 23, 2013
As the Columbia Orchestra looks ahead to its new season, it also welcomes a new executive director. Katherine Keefe replaces Tedd Griepentrog, who served for 13 years in the position.
"We're completely thrilled that she's accepting the position. She has the right experience and ideas," said Columbia Orchestra Music Director Jason Love.
Keefe isn't exactly brand new in the organization, however, because she has served as the orchestra's operations manager for the past two seasons. Previously, Keefe was the managing director of the Handel Choir of Baltimore and director of human resources at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
Reflecting the management structure of most classical music organizations, the executive director handles financial decisions and the music director handles creative decisions. So, Keefe takes care of the books and Love takes care of the musical scores.
Keefe's job requires her to have a head for numbers, and she's pleased that the numbers are looking good for the Columbia Orchestra.
"We've continued to experience growth and sold out two of our classical concerts last season," said Keefe. The community orchestra performs in the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, which has a 700-seat capacity.
Keefe attributed some of last season's audience growth to the orchestra's first-time participation in the Web-based discounted ticket service LivingSocial, which she said attracted younger single-ticket buyers.
Subscriptions also have been increasing in recent seasons, which Keefe attributes in part to the orchestra offering reserved seats for the first time last season. Before then, general admission seating was the rule for all ticket buyers.
Having more people in the seats helps balance the books. Keefe said ticket sales accounted for 27 percent of the orchestra's income last year. The Columbia Orchestra has a $200,000 budget.
The new executive director, who obviously would like to fill even more of those Rouse Theatre seats, realizes that marketing the organization starts in her own backyard.
"We find there are people who don't know that Columbia has an orchestra," remarked Keefe, a Columbia resident. "I want to increase its presence in Howard County and beyond."
The opening concert of the 2013-2014 season will provide "exposure to a wider audience," Keefe noted. Joined by a 100-member chorus named Choralis, the 85-member Columbia Orchestra performs Verdi's Requiem in Columbia on Oct. 12 and then does a repeat performance in northern Virginia on Oct. 13.
"It's such an enormous piece. It is ambitious," Love said.
That second performance is indicative of the orchestra's intention to do repeat performances more often in the future. From Keefe's perspective, there are cost-saving advantages; from Love's perspective, there are performance-based advantages.
"When you spend all the time preparing the music, you appreciate having a second performance," Love said.
Love has clocked his share of performances wielding a baton as music director of the Columbia Orchestra. Indeed, the upcoming season marks his 15th year in the position.
The anniversary will be observed in a Rouse Theatre concert on Dec. 7. The program actually gives Love an opportunity to put down his baton for one of the pieces, the Shostakovich Cello Concerto, which features Love as the cello soloist looking up to guest conductor Brian Stone.
Looking back on his decision to take the job 15 years ago, Love mostly looks ahead.
"I wasn't sure what to expect and I had not worked with a community group before," Love recalled of his arrival at the Columbia Orchestra. "Some say that the shelf life of a conductor is around 10 years, but it's really a matter of whether you have said everything you want to say. I feel we're doing new things and repeating very few pieces from the past. It's been 15 years, but it still feels novel and fresh."
That organizational past goes back to when the orchestra was founded in 1977. Originally known as the Columbia Chamber Orchestra, the group added winds and percussion in 1988. Its continued growth since then has taken it well into the 21st century.
Further ahead in the upcoming season in Rouse Theatre, the Columbia Orchestra performs Copland's "Billy the Kid" and Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with Michael Sheppard as piano soloist, on Feb. 1 and 2; a Young People's Concert on Feb. 22; Symphonic Pops on March 15 and 16; and a concert featuring the winners of the Young Artists Competition on May 31.
For subscription and single ticket information about the Columbia Orchestra, call 410-465-8777 or go to http://www.columbiaorchestra.org.