It is the mission of the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra (BSO), a nonprofessional community-based organization, to provide a venue for talented amateur, semiprofessional, and professional players of all ages and backgrounds in which they study and prepare symphonic music, both for their personal growth and pleasure and to present in concert at the Brooklyn Museum. The BSO is a cultural partner of the Brooklyn Museum, and a major part of the BSO’s mission involves contributing to the mission of the Brooklyn Museum, and as such partnering in the cultural life of Brooklyn with a positive and highly visible presence.
The BSO is committed to giving exposure to contemporary composers (with an emphasis on Brooklyn-based artists when possible) and to presenting professional guest artists of the highest caliber who are either young performers beginning their careers, or seasoned artists with, in many cases, international pedigrees.
The BSO is the main performing arm of the Brooklyn Heights Music Society (BHMS). The BHMS was incorporated in 1973 as a not-for-profit corporation.
In 1972, a group of Brooklyn Heights residents, business people, music lovers, and performers met and formed an organization designed to promote great music, both classical and modern; to inspire a love of culture through music; to give credit to the many men and women who are dedicated to the world of music; and to bring enjoyment to the entire community. With these goals, BHMS began its work. The original bylaws mandated that “the Society be governed by a Board of Directors comprising community members as well as players from the orchestra.” The orchestra became entirely self-governing (i.e., run solely by the players) at the beginning of the 1993–1994 season.
From 1972 through 2000, the Brooklyn Heights Orchestra performed at the historic church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, located on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. When the church closed its doors in late 2000, the orchestra began playing concerts at Brooklyn College’s Walt Whitman Hall and changed its name to the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra. The Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra returned to St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in 2003.
In the summer of 2013, the BSO’s then-president, Jill Jefferson, negotiated a new home for the orchestra at the historic Brooklyn Museum, one of the oldest and most prestigious museums in the United States. The BSO’s 40th anniversary season (2013–2014) was the first season in which the orchestra played at the Brooklyn Museum and the BSO has maintained a home there ever since.
In its entire history, BHMS has only engaged three permanent Music Directors:
Joe Eggers led the orchestra from its inception in 1973 until 1983.
Arturo Delmoni served in the role from 1983 to 1993.
The two seasons from 1993 to 1995 were led by guest conductors as the BHMS searched for a new music director. Nicholas Armstrong has been the Music Director/Artistic Director of the orchestra since 1995.
The BSO presents five concerts each season, with a broad range of repertoire, from the early classical period to contemporary music. Dress rehearsals and concerts take place in the Cantor Auditorium on the third floor of the Brooklyn Museum. From time to time, chamber orchestra and chamber group concerts are organized as adjuncts to the main concert season. The BSO frequently engages guest conductors, typically for one concert per season. The Board approves the guest conductor, who will then, in collaboration with the Artistic Director, propose a program, which is subject to BSO Board approval.
When players come to their first rehearsal as members of the BSO, they are making a commitment of time and energy; specifically, that they will expend as much time as possible to prepare their own parts outside of rehearsal—so that they are ready each week to meet the challenges of the repertoire—and that they will note and abide by all rehearsal and concert dates and times (see Attendance Policy, below). These can be found on the orchestra’s website: www.brooklynsymphonyorchestra.org.
Orchestra members are our representatives in the community and should be active in expanding our audience, contributing names to our mailing list, and in putting the orchestra in contact with potential contributors. Audience surveys have shown that word-of-mouth from orchestra members is the number one way that people hear about our concerts. Social media in all forms also plays a crucial role.
The Artistic Director (AD) is responsible for the musical leadership and artistic growth of the BSO and is instrumental in planning the overall vision and achieving the stated mission of the group. Generally speaking, the AD conducts four of the five concerts each season, and a guest conductor conducts the remaining concert. The AD is responsible for planning the season’s programs; for identifying and, with the Board’s approval, engaging soloists; and for overseeing any activities of the BSO that go beyond the five regular concerts. The AD has sole discretion on performers’ placement within the orchestra, but should work with section principals and the BSO’s personnel coordinator with the goal of achieving the best possible artistic results for each concert.
At some point each spring, the AD proposes to the Board programs for four of the following season’s concerts. Each piece is explained, and the rationale for each program is discussed. Factors such as the appeal to orchestra members, the appeal to the BSO’s audiences, level of difficulty, the cost of extra players, name-recognition of soloists, and general budgetary requirements are discussed. It has become policy to not repeat any piece that the BSO has played within the previous five years.
The concertmaster leads the first violin section and provides musical leadership on bowings and musicianship to all string players. S/he also collaborates with the AD on musical interpretation and issues prior to each concert and contributes artistically in numerous other ways. The concertmaster leads the tuning of the orchestra at the beginning of, and during, rehearsals and concerts.
The role of the personnel coordinator is crucial in ensuring that the orchestra is fully staffed for each performance. Working with the conductor in advance of each concert, the personnel coordinator confers with section principals about how many players are required and assists with securing players in those cases where section principals are unable to fully staff their sections.
Beginning on the Saturday evening before each concert, and continuing through the warm-up, the personnel coordinator is the contact person if players are going to be late, are stuck out of town, or are ill, and need a last-minute substitute. All players will be given, and must have, the personnel coordinator’s contact information for such emergencies.
The librarian, working with the AD, locates the required musical materials for each concert, and either rents them from the requisite music publisher or reserves them from one of the city’s music libraries.
Each section of the orchestra has a section principal. Typically, principals are the strongest players in each section and must be capable of doing justice to any solos assigned to them. In addition, they provide technical and artistic guidance to their section players, and in the case of the winds and brass, are encouraged to communicate between sections (flute with clarinet principals, for example) on issues of phrasing, breathing, balance as they hear it, and bringing possible issues about these elements to the conductor’s attention. Taking initiative is taking ownership, which is a goal of community building.
It is also the responsibility of wind and brass section principals to make sure that all chairs in their section are fully occupied at every rehearsal. Players who have contacted the BSO may be invited to sit in and cover a rehearsal to give the group a chance to identify strong players who may be contacted as needed, for a larger orchestra setting, for instance. Sectional principals should exhaust their own resources before approaching the personnel coordinator for assistance, but the personnel coordinator is happy to assist in that case. It is understood that last-minute emergencies happen, and that life gets in the way, but section principals should make every good-faith effort to be sure that their section is always complete.
Section principals should take attendance at each rehearsal. In addition, section principals must send to the personnel coordinator a list of players in their section who will be playing in the concert, along with their instruments (e.g., Irving Berlin—bass clarinet), three weeks prior to each concert, for inclusion in the program. Every effort should be made to include everyone playing, to exclude players who are not expected to play, and to verify that every player’s name is spelled correctly.
Players are responsible for their own sets of music, which they will sign out at the first rehearsal and which they will return at the end of each concert. Players will be required to pay for lost parts. This can be a major expense. String parts, for example, can run anywhere from $10 to more than $50 per part to replace.
Whenever possible, bowings for standard works should be ready for distribution to section principals before the first rehearsal. In any case, bowings should be circulated to players no later than the third rehearsal.
Rehearsals are held on Monday evenings, on the fifth floor of the Mark Morris Dance Group studios (MMDG), located at 3 Lafayette Avenue, across the street from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Rehearsals run from 7:30 until 9:40 pm. The BSO has access to the rehearsal space from 7:00 pm and arriving early to warm up and help set up chairs and music stands is recommended. MMDG closes promptly at 10:00 pm, so we are obliged to vacate as soon as possible once rehearsal ends.
There are a number of rules associated with our use of MMDG:
- Rosin must be applied to bows outside the rehearsal space doors, over the carpet (the floor is a special floor for dancers; rosin that gets on the floor can cause injury to dancers who dance barefoot)
- Players must remove shoes before entering the rehearsal space; shoes are not permitted to be worn on the rehearsal space floor
- Cello and bass endpins must not come in contact with the floor; all cello and bass players must use an endpin stop
- Brass players must bring newspapers and/or towels onto which spit valves will be emptied; under no circumstances should spit valves be emptied directly onto the floor; brass players must clean their area before departing a rehearsal
- No food or drinks are allowed in the rehearsal space except bottled water; food and drink may be consumed in the seating area just beyond the lobby on the first floor
- Players may use lockers available in the dressing rooms located on the first and fourth floors only; you must provide your own locks and remove them upon departure; locks will be removed if left overnight
- MMDG is a smoke-free building; smoking is only permitted on the outdoor terraces or on the street level at least 25 feet from the entrance to the building
- Players are permitted to use the telephone in the rehearsal space (local calls only); dial 9 to get an outside line
- Folding chairs will be in racks outside the rehearsal space; players must return their chair to a rack at the end of each rehearsal
- Music stands are made available, in storage bins inside the rehearsal space; players must fold their stand and return it to a bin at the end of each rehearsal
- Please bring any rehearsal space complaints directly to the BSO President; players should not communicate complaints directly to members of MMDG staff
Players who do not wish to play in a concert may attend and participate in regular rehearsals (but not the dress rehearsal). Such players are asked to consult with their section principals and the AD.
For the concerts of the BSO at the Brooklyn Museum, dress rehearsals are held at the museum and run from 7:30 until 9:45 pm on the Wednesday prior to each concert. Players should use the staff entrance at the back of the museum and take the elevator to the third floor.
Rehearsals should be productive for the entire community, so anything that distracts a player from concentrating on the task at hand should be avoided. This includes excessive talking, making or receiving phone calls, using cell phones for photography, and posting pictures and videos online during rehearsal.
Time will be allotted to players during the last Monday rehearsal, and the dress rehearsal, to take video or still takes of rehearsals to post on social media. Unless expressly permitted by the Artistic Director, social media posting should wait until the rehearsal has ended.
Rehearsal logistics are a group effort; players are asked to assist in setting up and returning folding chairs to storage racks and folding stands to storage bins.
String players who miss more than two rehearsals may be asked to sit out the concert. Additionally, players are expected to attend the dress rehearsal in order to play the concert; exceptions to this policy should be sought in advance in consultation with section principals and the AD.
If players need to miss a rehearsal, they should contact their section principals at least two days in advance of an absence if possible. If the music is in the players’ possession, they should scan and email the music to the section principal so the substitute will have music to read. In any event, as stated above, players should not miss more than two rehearsals in any concert cycle.
Unless otherwise specified, concert dress is all black.
On concert days, the call for everyone involved is 11:45 am, with a warm-up running from noon until 1:15 pm. All players are expected to attend the warm-up, whether they are involved in the entire program or not.
Concerts are scheduled to begin at 2:00 pm, and players get a break from 1:15 until 1:50, when they should begin to congregate on stage. Experience has shown that there is a significant time lapse between a patron picking up a ticket on the first floor and arriving at the Cantor Auditorium, so it has become the habit to begin the concert somewhat later than 2:00 pm. This should not relieve any orchestra member of the obligation to arrive at the appointed call time (1:50 pm). The personnel coordinator should be able to notify the conductor at 2:00 pm that all players are ready on stage.
Once called to go onstage, players should be sure to have all music ready and placed on their stands.
Besides chairs and music stands, the only things that should be on the floor of the stage during a concert are instrument stands for wind and brass players who are doubling. Instrument cases and personal items such as purses or wallets should be left backstage. Although the backstage area is not accessible to the general public, it is advisable not to bring valuables. Neither the Brooklyn Museum nor the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra can accept responsibility for lost or stolen items.
Summer Reading Rehearsals
For four or five Mondays each summer (usually starting two weeks after the last concert of the BSO’s regular season), the orchestra typically holds sight reading rehearsals to read through pieces, often symphonic standards. These sessions are casual, with no obligation to prepare the music ahead of time.
The summer reading rehearsals are open to all string players; auditions are not required for string players, who may just show up and play. Consequently, the summer reading rehearsals are a great way for new players to become acquainted with the BSO.
The summer reading rehearsals are often led by guest conductors; as such, the summer rehearsals are a good way to help identify potential guest conductors for the BSO’s regular season. Consequently, it is very helpful for members to plan to attend summer reading rehearsals.
Beginning in the fall of 2018, string players interested in joining the BSO will be asked to submit a two-minute video of a prepared piece. Those players who exhibit great potential for membership in the BSO will be invited to audition for the Artistic Director and string section principals. Details of the process will be made available on the website.
The orchestra has a core of wind and brass players according to traditional classical period orchestral scoring (i.e., pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, trumpets, and four French horns). When musical pieces call for a larger group, extra players are contacted and arranged for by the personnel coordinator according to the needs of the score.
Season Expenses and Revenues
As with every other aspect of life, there are considerable financial obligations that the BSO faces in order to achieve its goals. The annual expenses of the season total approximately $60,000. For this reason, membership in the BSO comes with a price. In general, and in rough order of the size of relative expenses, the BSO has to pay:
- personnel expenses, including the AD fee, soloist fees, and harp and percussion fees
- MMDG and Brooklyn Museum rental space
- music rental
- recording engineer
- accounting fees
- website maintenance
- concert programs
- insurance and licenses
The BSO seeks funding from a variety of sources, including government grants, individual donations, corporate donations, ticket sales, and importantly, membership dues.
Membership dues are a critical element of the BSO’s ability to maintain its regular season and to plan effectively for the future.
Players may set up payment online of their dues on a recurring basis by providing a credit card, which will be automatically charged $15 per month, cancelable at any time. Alternatively, players may pay for the entire year in one payment of $150; the payment must be made no later than the third rehearsal of the new season (payment may be made on the BSO website or by check made payable to the Brooklyn Heights Music Society).
All string players and regular wind players (e.g., core wind players) are expected to pay dues.
While playing music together is our main purpose, the success of the all-volunteer BSO is ultimately dependent on the supplemental contributions of our members. Therefore, in addition to playing and paying dues, players are asked to contribute their time and talents outside of rehearsals. Throughout the season, Board members will ask people to help with various tasks, and everyone is encouraged to contribute time to these activities. Areas where players might offer their assistance include:
- legal counsel
- graphic design
- transportation and logistics
- software development and technology
- marketing/public relations
- blogging and social media
- box office assistance
- ushering for concerts
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to a Board member to tell him or her how you can help! Do you know someone outside the orchestra who’s interested in volunteering for the BSO? During each concert, we need volunteers to serve at the box office tables and the merchandise table, and to collect tickets and hand out programs to concert-goers. Those who volunteer will get free admission to the concert once their duties are fulfilled.
Having Your Say
This is your orchestra, and you can have a voice in how we operate.
All players are encouraged to attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM), held each summer. The Board of Directors presents information to the membership at the AGM concerning the financial condition of the BSO, a general update of the past year, and any future initiatives. The AGM is an ideal time for players to speak directly to the Board, and to each other, about how the Board is doing, to ask questions, and to provide important input about the direction of the orchestra.
The Board has the fiscal and administrative responsibility for the BSO’s affairs on an ongoing basis and must ensure that any decisions made by the orchestra’s personnel are in the best interest of the orchestra. It is a big responsibility, and the BSO is very fortunate to have a vibrant and dedicated group of people willing to assume these responsibilities.
Any player interested in joining the Board should talk to a current Board member and plan to attend three consecutive Board meetings, after which players may be elected to the Board and become eligible to vote starting at the fourth meeting they attend. There are a number of standing committees, and participation is open to anyone, without needing to be a Board member. Please ask.