A Profile of David Handel and his Achievements
NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA OF BOLIVIA
The National Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1945 by European immigrants escaping Nazi persecution.
Until 1997, the Orchestra performed few concerts per year and for an extremely reduced and "elitist" audience in a concert space with a capacity of approximately 250 people. Though orchestra musicians are public employees, the ensemble typically performed on average 10 to 15 concerts per season of a limited repertoire, a repertoire in part reduced by the limitations and a lack of professionally trained orchestral musicians (42 musicians in 1997).
Up until 1997, the Orchestra operated without any sort of administrative team, but was assisted via a group of few (10) volunteers, a women's Symphony support organization called Pro Musicum. This volunteer group assisted in purchasing equipment (music stands, chairs, etc.), musical scores and the like for the Orchestra. Excepting musicians' salaries, there is no budget provided by the Bolivian government for operational expenses.
REORGANIZING THE NATIONAL SYMPHONY
David Handel was appointed Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Bolivia in 1998. He was appointed with the government sanctioned objective of professionalizing the Symphony and bringing it into conformance with internationally accepted norms with respect to institutional structure, artistic standards, outreach, public demand, etc.
In 1998, David Handel presented to the Bolivian government and Symphony volunteers a series of proposals which have since been implemented and which have radically transformed the country's only Symphony orchestra into a regionally (southern cone) respected ensemble.
Today the National Symphony reaches all sectors of the Bolivian population in all parts of the country, performing some fifty concerts per season in La Paz, in the interior of the country and in neighboring countries through concert tours and television broadcast performances.
The Orchestra's dramatic increase in activity has been paralleled by an increase in the diversity of its repertoire, beyond the classical mainstream, now including opera, ballet, popular classics, contemporary, traditional popular Bolivian music in original orchestral arrangements, the Bolivian Contemporary Music Festival and more.
During the 1980's and throughout most of the 90's the Orchestra had abandoned the larger performance facilities in La Paz, reflecting the limited interest in the activities of the Symphony as expressed by the Bolivian public and as a result of clearly exclusive or elitist attitudes maintained by those affiliated with the Symphony.
In 1998, David Handel set out on an aggressive campaign to break through existing social and cultural barriers and returned the Orchestra to the City's principal venue, the Teatro Municipal de La Paz, an Italianate opera house built in 1845 (800 seats) for all of its subscription series presentations (a 35-concert subscription series in La Paz).
Among David Handel's key initiatives are the implementation of subscription or season ticket sales, the repetition of concert programs in various venues throughout the country, the modernization of the institution's public image directed toward a younger and more diverse public via constant interaction with the various news media and carefully designed and strategized print materials, the construction and implementation of the Orchestra's first Web Page (http://www.sinfinocabolivia.org), outreach concerts in some of the most disenfranchised as well as in the most affluent communities of Bolivian society.
Among the more profound and far reaching of the institutional changes implemented during David Handel's tenure with the National Symphony is the decentralization of the Symphony from the stifling government apparatus, the legal establishment of the National Symphony Orchestra Foundation, a not for profit volunteer organization modeled on US symphony societies, an organization which now counts a Board of Directors of 43 and an Executive Board of 13, responsible for raising additional resources, beyond the government subsidy. This support now represents approximately 2/3 of the Orchestra's operating budget.
A star project amongst David Handel's many initiatives is The Symphony Centre and Spanish Cultural Centre, one which will provide the National Symphony with its first ever permanent home. Completion of this is scheduled for late 2003.
Indeed, the NSO Bolivia has become a model for institutional restructuring in the arena of culture and the arts in Latin America (see IDBAmerica article, "Tchaikovsky on the Altiplano," Magazine of the Inter-America Development Bank).
RESULTS OF EFFECTIVE INITIATIVES 1998 - 2001
Perhaps the two most notable features of the National Symphony's dramatic development over the course of the last several years is best represented by the exponential increase in the number of Bolivians attending National Symphony concerts today as compared with 1997 and the dramatic improvement with respect to the artistic and professional standards of the ensemble. These are results which have been widely reported in the press throughout Latin America and to some degree in the United States and Europe as well (IDBAmerica, the Magazine of the Inter-American Development Bank, Sonus Magazine, CNN, ECO Mexico, etc.)
The National Symphony now performs on average fifty concerts per year in La Paz and throughout the country as compared with an average of 12 concerts per season in 1997. In 2001, the most impressive season on record, attendance at National Symphony concerts has surpassed 95% of the seating capacity of the various Symphony performance venues, most concerts selling out. Subscription season ticket sales since their introduction in 1999 have increased in kind.
Greater interest and demand with respect to Symphony activities, higher artistic and professional standards, institutional restructuring, a dynamic image and the public perception that the Symphony is one of the most representative and relevant cultural voices has resulted in more than fourfold growth with respect to the Orchestra's annual operating budget, has allowed for an on average 40% increase with respect to musicians' salaries and has afforded the contracting of new professional orchestral musicians (mostly from former Soviet republics). The Orchestra now counts a core of 62 musicians and will arrive at 65 by the end of the 2001 concert season.
The National Symphony Orchestra's now diverse activities are for the first time in the institution's history coordinated and managed by an administrative team of seven and a very active legally established volunteer organization, the National Symphony Orchestra Foundation and its governing Board of Directors.
1997: 250 per concert program (1 - 3 repetitions per program)
2001: 765 per concert program (2 - 7 repetitions per program)PRODUCTION
1997: 12 concerts
2001: 50 concerts
VOLUNTEER ACTIVITY AND ORGANIZATION
1997: 10 volunteers (informal women's volunteer committee)
2001: 50 (National Symphony Foundation, composed largely of corporate executives and community leaders)
1997: operating budget USD 100,000 real
USD 350 400,000 adjusted to cost of living differential, USA-Bolivia
2001: operating budget USD 500,000 real
USD 1,500 2,000,000 adjusted to cost of living differential, USA-Bolivia
NUMBER OF MUSICIANS
2001: 62 (65)