David Lundberg’s Wisdom, Urging Passion

David Lundberg was educated as a musician at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. In business in Dallas, he founded the Charter Group, a property and casualty insurance conglomerate whose customer friendly and principle-rather-than-policy driven practices were significant in changing the face of the industry for the better.

Mr. Lundberg’s deep love for people and his passion for music punctuated another long career, volunteering in the support functions of music – as board member with the Dallas Symphony and Dallas Opera, as board chair for Lyric Opera of Dallas, Arkansas Opera Theater, Hot Springs Music Festival, and others too many to list. He has seen orchestras and other arts organizations dip near death, then rise to world renown. In his recent move to Columbus, David has brought a wealth of experience, perspective, and wisdom to share, as you will read in this letter.

Dear Fellow Community Members,

It was my privilege as a student at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago in the 50’s to watch Fritz Reiner bring discipline and inspiration to an orchestra that had become complacent and lethargic. At that same time Chicago had an arts critic who was convinced that nothing excellent could possibly happen outside of New York, Boston, or Philadelphia and her reviews of the Chicago Symphony (CSO) reflected this belief.

During that period, the CSO also had an extended tour of Europe. The reviews came flooding back to the States and the reviewers were ecstatic. Chicago was filled with pride and excitement for their orchestra. That pride continues to this day as the CSO remains in the Top Five in the Country, with many in the know feeling that the CSO ranks Number One.

In Dallas, as a singer in the Dallas Symphony (DSO) Chorus for 25 years and as a member of the DSO Board for several terms, I saw a very similar phenomenon happen. The DSO emerged from bankruptcy in 1974, at full strength, thanks to some farsighted people including Stanley Marcus (Neiman Marcus). During the 70’ s, the DSO had a series of short-term and guest conductors, who allowed the Orchestra to become uninspired and sloppy. Enter Maestro Eduardo Mata, a masterful technician like Reiner, who awakened the musicians’ desire to perform at a higher level. Same script - sour critic, European tour, great reviews, and wonderful community response. The whole situation in Dallas remains positive to this day – pride in and of the musicians, fiscal stability, great arts community, good endowment, a great new $130 Million venue and no debt.

In the ensuing years, many Fortune 500 companies relocated their headquarters to the Dallas area. Ones that quickly come to mind are American Airlines, JC Penney, Exxon Mobil, Kimberly Clark, Co—America Bank, Fluor, and Ericsson Telecommunications (North America). Is there a connection here? You bet there is. When major companies decide to relocate, they establish a profile of the qualities that they are seeking at the new location. Common to these profiles is the absolute requirement of a superb, vigorous cultural community (led most naturally by the symphony and opera). While this is not the only criterion, the importance of a vital classical art landscape is undeniable.

My wife Katherine and I moved to Columbus two years ago and, Eureka! what did we find but Junichi Hirokami and the Columbus Symphony, and a strong feeling of déjà vu from Dallas and Chicago. Hirokami, whom I had seen guest conduct several times in Dallas, has the same technical skills as Reiner and Mata. And the bonus is that he is highly respected and liked by the musicians. Junichi brings such infectious joy and love of the music to the podium that audiences and musicians alike are exhilarated and enchanted.

Sadly, we began to hear from some in the community that, “the CSO and the Opera don’t pull their own weight financially.” Most are unaware that American symphonies and operas earn considerably less than half of their budgets from ticket sales. The critical mass of support must come from farsighted and benevolent corporations, foundations and individuals who have a keen understanding of the tax benefits, the good will, and public relations benefits they derive from their generosity. Also, we hear questions such as, “Can Columbus support a major symphony orchestra?” Columbus - 15th largest city – state capital – home to the largest university – home to six Fortune 500 companies and fifteen Fortune 1,000 companies? The question is absurd on the face of it. If we fail to save the symphony, Columbus will be the largest city in America without one.

Traditionally, it has been the large corporations that the Symphony has turned to for regular, long-term support. Unfortunately, that is how a small group of corporate funders and board members have come to assume the power to speak for the entire community regarding the future of this rare community treasure. And amazingly, power that seems entirely disproportionate to their monetary contributions.

If given the support, Hirokami will bring fame to Columbus and challenge the Cleveland Orchestra as the best symphony in the state. This vision certainly does not appear to be shared by the Board and the current corporate funders. They are looking to the bare minimum level of funding rather than the challenging, exciting “quest for the best.” Will the community settle for mediocrity or will they step forward and fight for the very best.

Our symphony was on the cusp of a giant step forward in quality and professional respect, which would have brought incalculable rewards to Columbus, many in ways totally unrelated to the arts. Are we to let this treasure, which would take decades to rebuild, slip away because of several years of what appears to be gross mismanagement by the CSO Board and staff? (The musicians are not the problem; their wages — total artistic costs — have been at or below budget the last three years.)

In the bigger picture, if Columbus is to grow and keep pace with other major cities by attracting new business and industry, supporting the symphony right now is absolutely mandatory. This is purely a matter of civic and corporate will. Let’s just determine to do it! And generously, in ways that will ensure its long term excellence and survival.

An enormous outpouring of support is needed from community members and arts lovers from all walks of life. The emergency is real, and the consequences are enormous. Failure is not an option! I invite you to weigh in with your thoughts on this matter at www.symphonycolumbus.com.

David Lundberg

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1 comment for “David Lundberg’s Wisdom, Urging Passion

  1. Bob & Pat Nichols
    July 16, 2008 at

    WOW, really good material. This should be required reading for everyone over the age of 16 in Franklin County! Thanks David for posting it.

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