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EOS, Adios

Hidden amidst the press release trash thrown out during the holiday season (exactly because no one was paying attention) lay the spicy stunner that the EOS Orchestra, chamber orchestra to The Stars, folded. Wow. I tell you, I did not see that coming. And I guess no one else did either, because the community seems to have been stunned into silence. Sure, there were a few rote regurgitations of the press release (posted in The Times on 12/23…you can’t get much more hidden than that), and it looks like the conservative New York Sun ran a short piece, but I’ve seen little else.

Despite the crickets chirping soulfully in response to my cry of “Huh?”, the news is huge. Here lies dead before us the glitziest New/20th Century music ensemble ever to hit this town (sorry Ethel, you’re hip and fabulous, but not glitzy). Ignoring the sad fact that now there’s one less place to get one’s music played, I’m simply going to miss those concerts. EOS concerts were affairs. They were see-and-be-seen DOs, Schmooze-a-thons of the highest order. An EOS concert was a chance to rub elbows with the glitterati of the West Side: Fashion Designers. Choreographers. And, of course, every composer in town (a much less glamorous crowd, but I take it wherever I can get it). EOS evenings were worthy of unusual forethought and planning (“What will I wear? Can’t eat now, the food will be too good later… Must remember to ask after ____’s opera when I see him there…”). Lord, no one ever went for the music, that’s for sure. Jonathan Sheffer‘s programming was always laudable and creative, but he never got his core group (the usual suspects of freelancers, basically the same crowd that plays in the Brooklyn Phil, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, etc.) to hone their sound into anything beyond that of a pickup group, and so the performances, as exciting or interesting as the programming often was, were never quite as good as everyone wanted them to be. Under stronger artistic direction that kind of problem is likely surmountable, but that never seemed Sheffer’s priority, as his hands were always full with some artistic can of worms of his creation: (“I want to do Copland’s complete score from The Heiress!” “Uh, OK, well, the score is lost.” “Well we’ll put it together from the parts, from the piano score! Find the parts in Copland’s attic! Let loose with a team of copyists!”). Like I said, his energies were elsewhere, and thank goodness they were, because who else would be willing to root through Paul Bowles’ trunk full of never/rarely-played manuscripts and record them? Who even knew that Paul Bowles wrote music? So we brushed aside the quality of the performances, and we always returned … because we had a comp (who didn’t?), and who could resist the spread at Josephina’s afterwards?

So what did happen? Even if no one ever paid for their $60 tickets, the organization smelled of money. Not that old money scent you get at a NYPhil concert—this was Fashion money … Hollywood money. Probably also Sheffer’s personal money. So no element was ever done on the cheap, and even though that kind of business model yields quality results with obvious appeal (I’m sure it’s directly related to why concerts were often well-attended), it might have had something to do with the ultimate financial issues. In other words: perhaps the topless/body-glittered all-male waitstaff at last summer’s benefit in the Hamptons might have been a bit too much…

But it’s a moot criticism at this point, and that kind of spending might never have been the issue. Whatever it was, EOS is gone, and despite glib commentary like the above, we should mourn. For 10 years, Sheffer gave us 10-minute operas, mini re-orchestrations of The Ring, staged Berio Sequenzas, and Spike Jones arrangements. He created a market for this kind of eclecticism where there was none before, and now New Yorkers have a taste for the stuff. So who’s going to sell it now?

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