Uncertain Future

Russian River Chamber Music faces hard times


From the Bad Economy Files: Russian River Chamber Music, which for 18 years has done an excellent job of presenting mostly free classical music concerts, is being forced to consider either canceling its upcoming 2010&–2011 season or “significantly curtailing” its activities. “I’ve got these artist contracts on my desk right now,” RRCM artistic director Gary McLaughlin says, “but I’m unsure if I can sign them.”

Surely, every classical-music organization knows what McLaughlin is talking about. And yet Russian River Chamber Music is a special case—almost all its concerts have been absolutely free to the public. Last year, the group experimented with charging admission, but found that ticket sales were “definitely in the ballpark” of the previous season’s donations. That’s a good sign there’s plenty of voluntary support in Sonoma County, and in fact, McLaughlin says the five-member board would love to make concerts free again.

But some key backers have curtailed their financial support, and the future is uncertain. “Everyone’s making very painful cuts, and for the next year or two, I don’t think things are going to change a lot,” McLaughlin says. “How do you weather this and stay in the game? Or do you just close your doors and call it quits? I’m not ready to do that. I didn’t put 18 years of my life into it just to see it do that.”

Scheduled programs for the upcoming RRCM season include a song cycle by three Bay Area composers based on the poetry of Gary Snyder and the Cypress String Quartet’s performance of an author-approved composition based on Anne Patchett’s bestseller Bel Canto. As ever, string quartets would visit area schools for free educational programs for kids—last year, the visiting groups from Shanghai, Paris and Tel Aviv all played to packed schoolrooms.

How can you help make it work? Right now, Russian River Chamber Music could use any support, be it financial assistance or in the form of energetic souls who can offer fresh ideas and help “save the ship,” as McLaughlin says. You can email him at [email protected] or call 707.524.8700.

Believe me, it’s a ship worth saving.