Symphony now known as Rock River Philharmonic

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The Beloit Janesville Symphony performs during the Beloit International Film Festival Silent Film Showcase at the Eclipse Center in Beloit this past February. The symphony now will be known as the Rock River Philharmonic.

If there’s one thing certain about the world of music, it’s that it’s always evolving.

And so are audiences.

With that in mind, perhaps it comes as little surprise that the Beloit Janesville Symphony has some significant announcements to make.

First of all, the name, which has been in place for 43 years, is being changed to the Rock River Philharmonic, said Michael Krueger, BJS Executive Director.

And there’s more.

Music venues are not only expanding, musical performances themselves will include a variety of music styles in the next season.

When Krueger was hired in March of 2013, it was to analyze the current situation with the organization and offer recommendations for change or improvements, he said. That was precipitated by both falling concert ticket sales and contributions over the last several years.

Simply put, an aging audience isn’t being replaced by a younger crowd, Krueger said. And support of the community is imperative for the future of the group.

Krueger did his research, sought further professional guidance and did a 45-day assessment of the orchestra. He also made four recommendations to the board that are now being implemented. They include:

• Solidifying the musician base by having the same core musicians do the performing.

There are about 65 in the group. Each receives a small stipend and mileage allowances. They hail from Beloit, Janesville, Madison and other communities in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Many have worked as professionals in the music field.

• Developing the staff and board of directors. Britney McKay was hired full time to do marketing, accounting and outreach tasks. Five new board members were added and more are expected to be added or replace members going off the board this year. More board members will be high-level decision makers as demonstrated in their own careers, Krueger said.

• Diversification of revenue sources. Besides ticket sales, foundation contributions and personal appeals, Krueger said his goal is to write one grant request per month.

• The rebrand. This involves breaking down geographic barriers, by changing the name and performing in more venues, including in Rockton and Edgerton, for example. They will play at the Janesville Performing Arts Center, Eaton Chapel at Beloit College, the Eclipse Center in Beloit and perhaps area high schools. Like its new namesake, the Rock River Philharmonic is a fluid entity that does not own real estate and therefore is able to play in many venues, Krueger said.

The rebrand also involves adding more variety of musical styles.

Classical music will remain part of the season series. There also will be a series of family/pop performances which will be less formal in nature. And, there will be an exploration series which will be considered productions, not concerts, Krueger said.

Steam punk is one style that will fit into this category in an effort to reach out to a more adventurous crowd, he said.

Also, the new concert season will begin in January 2015 with more concerts scheduled than in the past.

“We will be performing something every month of the year,” Krueger said.

Dr. Rob Tomaro, conductor of the symphony/music director, said he is excited about the changes.

“I’ve been working for my entire tenure here to expand the scope artistically, culturally and geographically in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois,” Tomaro said of the symphony.

The idea is to engage a wider audience base and still be entertaining and cutting edge, he said.

Tomaro also said he wanted to assure the audience “they will still be getting the same wonderful musical performance.”

Paula Colling, who serves on the board of directors, said the decision to rename the symphony was approved unanimously by the board. The other recommendations that came forward also were discussed with Tomaro, the musicians and a few key supporters of the symphony, Colling said.

While classical music will always be the underpinning of the group, the community also wants a broader range of music styles, she said.

Also, “The musicians want to spread their wings and philharmonic says more than symphony — it’s not as narrow,” she said.

And it also implies a more regional approach to include all of the Rock River Valley.

The budget to accomplish the changes is expected to increase from roughly $200,000 annually to about $275,000, Krueger said.

Colling also will be part of the fundraising team for the Rock River Philharmonic.

The symphony began in 1953 as the Beloit Civic Symphony. It became the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra in 1971.

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