It's my goal from a business standpoint to employ musicians so they don't leave Orlando," says Mark Fragos. He's the president and CEO of the loftily named company Imaginary Frontier, which is presenting a classical concert this Sunday titled "Portrait of an American Composer." Along with works by Bernstein, Copland and Berlin, the concert will debut Orlando composer Colin O'Malley's "Pilot's Hymn." Former president and ex-Navy pilot George Bush will introduce O'Malley, and it will all take place at the somewhat-unlikely venue of the Hard Rock Live.
Former Disney marketer Fragos is presenting this splashy event because he wants to heighten the community's awareness of these local artists. "We do have culture in Orlando," he declares. "We do have world-class musicians." But further motivating him is a particular idea he has about the relationship between the arts, politics and business: "The Imaginary Frontier," explains the company's press release, "believes if business in Orlando is serious about bringing a full-time symphony into town, others should follow in their efforts in supporting such concerts as ‘The Portrait of an American Composer.'" Fragos elaborates: "I suggest we take people like Colin O'Malley and invest in them," he says. "I am going to put my money where my mouth is to establish an orchestra to support Colin. ... If we can `support` others who have a future, our chances are greater of having a successful orchestra."
He admits, however, "There are very few people who have the cash it takes. I can't. I can support one concert."
Which brings up the issue of arts funding in general, and specifically Orlando's ongoing efforts to re-establish a permanent orchestra. Fragos is clear on who he thinks should bankroll such an orchestra: "Powerful and influential businessmen." He can't stand the idea of building a multimillion-dollar performing-arts center. "You think a local artist is going to get inside that ... facility?" he asks. "It'll be too expensive for me to rent, or any other musician."
Those who are trying to grow a full-time orchestra here continue to face challenges, mostly on the business side. For example, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra remains a part-time outlet for local musicians, many of whom earn most of their money through teaching and who get paid by the Philharmonic on a concert-by-concert basis. The musicians also serve as the orchestra's administrators. "We have between last year and this year nearly doubled subscription rates for our series concerts," says general manager and French horn player Mark Fischer. Single-ticket sales haven't been as strong, but Fischer attributes that to their too-small marketing budget.
The Philharmonic stays active by recording mid-priced CDs of popular music and, through a New York company, has tapped into the odd culture of business self-help by performing at corporate "learning sessions" that use the orchestra as a model for teamwork. The Philharmonic further hopes to build an audience through preconcert lectures, preview radio shows and outreach programs at all grade levels. The goal is to show that classical music is within everyone's reach. "Did you ever walk into a movie theater?" he asks. "It's all orchestral music."
And unlike Fragos, he sees opportunity in a new performing-arts center. Events at Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre leave little room for new bookings. "If this sort of endeavor is treated as a resource for the entire community, then it's a valid endeavor," he says. He even envisions local musicians being employed by touring shows that pass through. And he's heard talk of creating an endowment to help local acts defray the cost of renting a new facility -- though it all depends on how the thing gets funded, of course.
Louis Roney, founder and CEO of the Festival of Orchestras, which brings world-class symphonies to town, applauds Fragos' efforts. But he's skeptical that people will make the trip to Hard Rock at Universal's CityWalk. After his organization, which typically rents the Carr center, presented the Sydney Symphony at the Orange County Convention Center's Performing Arts Theater on International Drive, "Our public practically told us they wouldn't go `that far` again."
Imaginary Frontier is finding its own creative ways to accomplish its goals. The three-year-old company has scored a few film projects, created marketing campaigns for national clients including Disney, and recently designed a limited-edition hardcover book on Japanese art. Composer O'Malley himself has composed for Disney's commercial, feature animation and TV projects, and in the process has been frustrated to see Orlando passed over for a lot of the bread-and-butter work usually available to musicians. On the Disney contracts, for example, "the typical process is to record `the music` on the West Coast." Keeping that work in town would certainly motivate musicians to stay in Central Florida. The Philharmonic's Fischer agrees: "The potential for recording here is real."
Regarding O'Malley, Fragos, a violinist, says, "I heard his music and couldn't believe this guy was living here in Orlando." Fragos is hoping that the pomp of George and Barbara Bush, the commercially accessible Hard Rock venue (which he describes as an "acoustically perfect environment") and ticket prices starting at $15 will catch the attention of both the community and deep-pocketed businessmen. Because for now, too much talent slips through Orlando's fingers. And Fragos knows that, as far as solidly establishing classical music in Orlando, "A lot of much wealthier people than I have tried."