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Casals Festival to downsize again next year

From left: Geralis Colón and Ana Marta Soto.

From left: Geralis Colón and Ana Marta Soto.

The Casals Festival, the yearly musical fest founded by cellist Pablo Casals, closed its 58th season on Mar. 15 with a sold-out performance by André Watts. The 2015 season is already in the works but one thing is certain:  expect more downsizing.

Due to budgetary constraints, next year’s edition of the Casals Festival will probably feature fewer concerts, according to officials of the public corporation that operates the event.

They also will seek more corporate donations and sponsorships to boost inadequate revenue from ticket sales and will endeavor to get the Tourism Co. to promote the festival outside of Puerto Rico, something that has not been done in recent years despite the fact that the festival, once held closer to summer, was switched to February and March to attract winter tourists and locals who schedule summer vacations.

“We have made a lot of adjustments so we can carry out the same program with less money,” said Geralis Colón, interim executive director of the Musical Arts Corp. (CAM, by its Spanish acronym). She was joined by Ana Marta Soto, assistant manager of the Musical and Performing Arts Corp. (CAEM). The Casals Festival is run by CAEM which, in turn, is part of the CAM umbrella.

Major adjustments include signing up small musical groups and chamber orchestras and employing the services of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra instead of hiring international orchestras which is costly due to having to pay honoraries, lodging and meals for such a large group of people.

As a result, “we can continue bringing in high quality stars,” said Colón, who recently took over the post.

Officials did not provide a budget figure for next year’s Casals Festival but said that it is unlikely to reach the $415,000 assigned for 2014. In light of the tighter finances, they are considering several options to control expenses.

Among these: hold fewer concerts and fit them within a shorter timeframe. This year, 10 concerts were held over a period of two and a half weeks, compared with 12 concerts over three and a half weeks in 2012. Plans for 2015 call for eight concerts over two and a half weeks.

“It’s still uncertain as it is a proposal that needs to be presented and approved by our board of directors,” Soto said.

Boosting contributions from private corporations to help make up for lower ticket revenues is another priority.

The cost of producing this year’s Casals Festival was $615,000. Based on preliminary figures, this year’s ticket sales generated approximately $150,000 compared with the previous year’s $160,000. With an additional $117,500 in donations and sponsorships and the $415,000 budget, officials were able to cover all this year’s production costs and even have a surplus of $67,500, which Soto credited on planning based on conservative projections.

Discount tickets set back revenues
Revenues from ticket sales could actually be higher were it not for a 1985 law that entitles seniors who are over 60 to generous discounts when buying tickets for any type of entertainment held in a public facility, the officials said. Seniors between 60 and 75 get 50 percent off the ticket price while those over 75 get a free ticket.

At least 38 percent of this year’s attendees took advantage of the law, according to Soto.

Overall, attendance was below last year (7,611 people versus 8,370 in 2013) but, as she reminded, there were two fewer concerts this time around.

Attempts to change Law 108 have met with failure so far. The officials recognized there is little chance of eliminating the statute but it should, at least, be modified. For example, a limit should be placed on the number of discount tickets available and the age at which the benefits kick in could be raised to 65 years, which is closer to today’s retirement age, they said.

Also, only Puerto Rico residents should get the benefit, not visitors.

Officials did not provide a budget figure for next year's Casals Festival but said that it is unlikely to reach the $415,000 assigned for 2014.

Officials did not provide a budget figure for next year’s Casals Festival but said that it is unlikely to reach the $415,000 assigned for 2014.

Budget limitations have restricted the ability of the festival to promote itself off the island, something that both Soto and Colón hope to rectify this year. They said they are reaching out to the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. to include the festival in its promotional initiatives.

They suggested that perhaps that agency could approach travel agents about developing packages for music aficionados, similar to those created for opera buffs worldwide.

Justino Díaz, a former musical and artistic director of the Casals Festival, expressed dismay over the festival’s steadily shrinking budget.

“Politics does not have much sympathy with the arts,” he said in a phone conversation. The famous and now retired bass baritone said the festival is tied to one of the musical giants of the 20th century and deserves to be maintained.

“Everything that is worthwhile, culture, should be preserved,” he said.

Soto, who is already working together with Artistic Director Maximiano Valdés on next year’s program, said the Casals Festival still has a future.

“It’s a beloved festival,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s a national treasure, that might be overstating it, but people esteem it. It is part of our culture.”


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