The Boston Classical Orchestra, whose concerts in Faneuil Hall have made it a vibrant fixture of the city’s performing arts scene for more than three decades, will be filing for bankruptcy and plans to cease operations.
Ronald A. Arky, president of BCO’s board of trustees, confirmed the orchestra’s plans in a phone interview with the Globe on Wednesday afternoon. He added that the orchestra faced declining subscriptions, a deficit of more than $100,000, and a limited infrastructure for developing new audiences.
“For someone who’s been attending these concerts since 1980,” Arky said, “this is very, very painful.”
The board president contacted the BCO musicians on Feb. 1 to thank them for their service, and to inform them that the group’s March and April programs would be canceled.
In an unexpected turn, however, it appears that the programs will be performed after all, albeit under a different ensemble name. Longtime BCO music director Steven Lipsitt is founding a new orchestra to be called the Bach, Beethoven and Brahms Society. With the participation of the BCO players, Lipsitt said, the Society plans to take over the March and April programs that BCO had planned. It will honor previously issued tickets, and will offer a new five-concert season of its own next year.
“The players and I are enormously grateful to our public in Faneuil Hall to the point that we are incorporating a new professional orchestra to try to fulfill a similar mission, a similar role, as well as do some things that we’ve been constrained to do from a narrowness of a piece of the BCO mission,” Lipsitt said. “Our audiences are among the most enthusiastic in town, and we feel it’s important that the ensemble continue to offer a series of live concerts in that historic space.”
Speaking with the Globe on Wednesday, Lipsitt characterized BCO’s last several months as “a cascade of unfortunate interactions and events.” He also expressed sadness for the end of a beloved ensemble he has overseen as music director since 1999.
“It really felt like family almost immediately,” he recalled, “and only more so over the years as we developed a really deep rapport. The first rehearsal at BCO feels like a second rehearsal, because the way we understand each other is such that we get right to the substance of the music-making.”
Boston Classical Orchestra was founded in 1980 by violinist Robert Brink, with F. John Adams as its first conductor. The group quickly became identified with BSO violinist and Boston Pops conductor Harry Ellis Dickson, who led it as music director from 1983 to 1999. The group attracted top-tier Boston-area freelancers to its ranks, and carved its niche with exacting yet unstuffy performances of core symphonic repertoire — often by Mozart, Haydn, or Beethoven — played on modern instruments in an intimate space.
During his tenure Lipsitt extended Dickson’s personable approach, often speaking with the audience from the podium, and he carried forward the group’s mission while working to expand BCO’s programming template in creative ways. (One program, for instance, paired rarely encountered works by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn.) The orchestra also frequently tapped soloists from the local community, a practice that delighted hometown crowds and often drew fellow professional musicians to hear one of their own. BSO principals Toby Oft (trombone) and Thomas Rolfs (trumpet) are still scheduled to perform with the group, in its new incarnation, on March 6.
Small ensembles like BCO face an uphill battle in Boston’s crowded musical ecosystem, especially as institutional funding falls far beneath the levels present in other cities. Still, as Boston loses one ensemble, it will be gaining another.
According to BCO timpanist Dennis Sullivan, virtually all of the orchestra’s current roster will be joining Lipsitt’s new venture. “For me and my colleagues in the orchestra, this has been a very special ensemble to be part of,” Sullivan said, adding that a core of the players had been there since the group’s founding in 1980. “There were many wonderful musical experiences and a beautiful venue. It was a happy place for people to come. And we hope the new organization will give opportunities for local audiences to keep enjoying all that [these musicians] have to offer.”