Toledo Symphony Brings Diehard Fans, Soviet-Themed Program to Spring for Music

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Video: The Toledo Symphony Arrives in New York City

Toledo, Ohio is not the first place one would think to look for rabid fandom. Despite boasting a Triple-A minor league baseball team (the Mud Hens) and a respective hockey farm team (the Walleyes), it's not known as a sports mecca. But the city has something else: the 67-year-old Toledo Symphony. When that ensemble rides into New York for its debut at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, accompanying it will be an estimated 1,400 fans.

The Toledo Symphony is one of seven ensembles chosen from an initial field of 65 who will appear at Spring for Music, the festival of North American orchestras. The trip has taken more than two years of preparation, as well as dogged fund-raising to cover $250,000 in trip expenses. In January, when the Toledo City Council rejected a proposal to give the orchestra $10,000 towards the costs, the organization began reaching out to an array of local organizations to buy tickets.

Local universities with New York area alumni have bought some 250 tickets; the orchestra also cut a deal with AAA to secure three charter buses to drive Toledo residents to New York. Some will be riding with the orchestra on its chartered plane and intend to gather with fellow fans at an event at the Russian Tea Room afterward (each Spring for Music orchestra can pre-purchase up to 1,000 tickets for $25 but a special allotment was granted to Toledo).

Besides demonstrating the power of a dedicated fan base, the Toledo trip is remarkable because of its program. The night begins with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6, one of the composer’s lesser-known works, and a brooding, moody one at that. After intermission comes the New York premiere of Every Good Boy Deserves Favor. Playwright Tom Stoppard and composer André Previn initially conceived the piece in 1977 as an orchestral work with narration. As Stoppard began writing the musical-theatrical work about surviving in a totalitarian state, the orchestra evolved into one of the lead characters. As Previn told WQXR, Stoppard makes you question "what is the reality and what is the imagination." 

Stefan Sanderling, the German-born principal conductor of the Toledo Symphony, explained that the program demonstrates the relevance of classical music to broader concerns:

The subject matter is close to Previn and Stoppard. Both fled Europe as young boys with their Jewish families; Stoppard left his native Czechoslovakia for Singapore on the day the Nazis invaded. In that same year, 1939, Previn's family left Berlin for America. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – which like Shostakovich’s symphony – expresses the conflict between free expression and political repression.

Previn is scheduled to be in the audience along with hundreds from the Toledo area. Hear a portion of Fred Child's interview with composer Previn. Child began by asking him about how he arrived in this U.S.