Wind in their sails, patrons of Cincinnati orchestra and chorus follow the music to New York City

'They come because they give a damn'

NEW YORK CITY—Lawyers, physicians, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, arts patrons, world travelers.

Those who trekked to New York City this week to support the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and May Festival Chorus can now add one more title to their biographies: Groupies.

Two nights after filling Music Hall for the launch of the annual May Festival, hundreds of Cincinnatians flew to New York City to hear the same program again Friday, May 9, at Carnegie Hall . In between, on Thursday, they paid $200 each for the privilege of celebrating together at the storied New York Yacht Club .

The party was part of “Cincy in NYC ” week, a coordinated set of performances and events featuring a handful of Cincinnati’s leading arts institutions, along with business leaders looking to capitalize and build on them.

“None of these people had to come to New York just after hearing the same concert last night,” said Jack Rouse, who sits on the boards of the orchestra and Playhouse in the Park. “They come because they give a damn.”

Nonna Willis, who serves on the boards of three major Cincinnati arts organizations, came largely to support the Cincinnati Ballet’s run this week at the Joyce Theater. She sees this week as an opportunity to attract more high-caliber artists and businesses of varied sizes to a city that might not otherwise have on their radars.

“We have such a tremendous cultural community and nobody knows about it,” she said. “It’s definitely a celebration, but it’s also a real opportunity to sell our city. It’s a win-win for us.”

Like many of Manhattan’s manmade features, the New York City Yacht Club is unlike any institution one could find in Cincinnati. Coats and ties are mandatory. The walls are lined floor to vaulted ceiling with hundreds of wooden and fiberglass models of yachts of past members, dating to the mid-1800s. Photography of the models is forbidden.

RELATED: See inside the NYC Yacht Club.
MORE: Follow Matt Peiken, WCPO arts and entertainment reporter, who is in NYC all week.

Thursday’s affair largely drew Cincinnati’s most secure retirees, so 27-year-old Mallory Downing stood out all the more. The Milford, Ohio, native and Ursuline Academy graduate, now studying at Columbia University, was there because her mother chaired the May Festival board. But as she soaked up one of the motives behind “Cincy in NY” week—to sell the city to younger professionals—she began seeing the evening as more than simply a party.

“There seems to be a renaissance happening with Cincinnati now that wasn’t really happening when I lived there,” she said. “More and more of my friends are getting married and trying to put their roots down, and it used to be where you’d hear people talk about maybe moving to Chicago, and now they’re talking about Cincinnati.”

That’s heartening to Jim Sluzewski, senior vice president of corporate communications with Macy’s, which sponsored Thursday’s soiree. Cities such as Cincinnati need to do more today than they did a generation ago, Sluzewski said, to win over and retain young people. He cited Give Back Cincinnati , which coordinates young professionals to volunteer time to a singular cause, as evidence that young people are willing to invest in a city that feeds their interests. 

“Sports, parks, the arts—it’s all a package, and you need all of it, the quality of life things, to attract a Millennial workforce,” he said. “But the thing is, these Millennials are doing more to give back to their cities than the Boomers did. To the extent Cincinnati can keep progressing with the things that get young people excited to be there, we’ll be in great shape as a city.”

More than 800 Cincinnatians have tickets to Friday’s concert, which is part of Carnegie Hall’s Spring for Music Festival. Like any devoted groupies, they'll sport official swag—in this instance, kelly green handkerchiefs stamped for Cincinnati—to wave as the orchestra and chorus take the stage.

"Cincy in NYC" week winds down when the Cincinnati Ballet wraps up its run at the Joyce with a May 11 matinee, and the week formally closes May 12 with a performance by The Ariel Quartet, which is a resident artist this year at the College Conservatory of Music.

“Cincinnati is hot right now. We’re on the move,” said Dianne Rosenberg, an officer on the symphony board and past president of the association that supports the conservatory.

“Nothing happens overnight, right? But there are conversations starting and relationships building,” she said. “It’s about the city’s growth, and growth means opportunity, and that opportunity means improving the lives of people all over our city.”  

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