Delta Symphony Orchestra hopes to boost revenue, have its own building

by George Jared ([email protected]) 542 views 

Delta Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Barbara Jiménez grew up in Jonesboro, but spent much of her professional musical career living and playing at venues all over the world.

Jiménez has performed throughout the United States, Canada, and South America, from the Schermerhorn Symphony Center to the New Orleans House of Blues, including a performance for the world-renowned tenor, Luciano Pavarotti.

Her mother was diagnosed in 2012 with breast cancer, and it forced Jiménez to return to her hometown. Her mother survived, and in early 2016 she was asked to lead the DSO. She agreed, and someday hopes to have a performance theater in the downtown area she told members of the Jonesboro Kiwanis Club on Wednesday (May 30).

“To have our own building, our own theater, that would be great for the city,” she said.

The DSO was founded in 1975, and each year it sponsors a series of concerts. It’s a non-profit organization, and it costs about $160,000 per year to operate, Jimenez told Talk Business & Politics. To hire musicians for one concert can cost up to $15,000, she said. DSO rarely finishes the year in the black, and it’s something Jimenez said she’s determined to change.

The organization uses the Fowler Center for performances. About 500 patrons come on average to each concert, and the venue can seat up to 650, she said. Concerts can require as many as 80 musicians, she said. They have a pool of musicians from states including Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi. What makes DSO a symphony is that it has stringed instruments.

Each year the organization hosts a young artists competition, as part of a national competition. Musicians compete in categories such as wood, wind, brass, piano, and vocals. Cash prizes are awarded and some have gone onto perform at larger and more prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, she said.

Dr. Neale King Bartee has served as music director and conductor of the DSO since 1975 and has worked with several internationally known guest artists such as Georgy Sandor, Ralph Votapek, and Eugene Fodor, according to DSO. He has conducted several Nutcracker Ballet performances and 18 American musicals with the Jonesboro Foundation of Arts. In addition to performing standard repertoire with the ASU orchestra, Bartee has conducted ten fully staged opera performances at the Fowler Center.

In 2004, he conducted performances of American music in Sibiu and Rimnicu Valcea, Romania. He has guest conducted at venues in Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Arizona, and New Mexico. Jimenez said his numerous connections help to secure the artists that perform.

A lot of people assume DSO is part of Arkansas State University, but it’s not, she said. DSO has adjunct status with ASU, and the two organizations collaborate on grants and other projects, she said.

A building would allow them to teach classes and broaden their offerings to the community, she said. But, the budget has to be brought into balance, before a project like that can be considered, she said.

Each year concerts are held in February, May and October. This year DSO also plans a Christmas concert. DSO will host its gala, its largest annual fundraiser in August. Season tickets are $55 per person, and when you buy the ticket you get to sit in the same seat for each performance, she said.

Toughest challenge as executive director besides fundraising?

“Egos. Musicians have egos,” she said. “To do this job, I have to have a bigger ego than all of them. … I met that requirement,” she said to applause and laughter.