New Orleans Orchestra Finally Returning Home After Katrina | WABE 90.1 FM

New Orleans Orchestra Finally Returning Home After Katrina

Aug 28, 2015


Louisiana Philharmonic musicians Patti Adams and Jim Atwood at the restored Orpheum Theater, where they haven't played since Hurricane Katrina.
Credit Noel Morris / WABE

After being deluged by Hurricane Katrina floodwaters, the Orpheum Theater in downtown New Orleans has sat dormant for the past 10 years, closed to the public.

Three ownership changes have taken place in that time, and an estimated $15 million has been spent on restoration.

Next month, the 97-year-old Beaux Arts structure will at last reopen when the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra begins its 2015-16 season, fittingly enough, by performing Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection symphony.

The LPO, the Orpheum’s primary tenant for 25 years, will be conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto, who stepped in as concertmaster during the dark aftermath of Katrina.

As “City Lights” executive producer Noel Morris found out on a recent visit to the Orpheum, getting the building ready, and the orchestra back together and functioning, was a greater ordeal than anyone ever imagined.

She spoke with Jim Atwood, a timpani player and the orchestra’s head of finance, and piccoloist Patti Adams, who serves as the head of marketing.

A painter applies some finishing touches inside the Orpheum Theater, which was built in 1918.
Credit Noel Morris / WABE

Atwood and Adams, a married couple, discussed how the LPO reorganized, not just as a group of professional musicians, but also as impromptu entrepreneurs pressed into some unexpected roles.  

“Musicians play, that’s what we do,” she said. “The rest of it was an education of a lifetime.”

Orchestra members took on voluntary roles fundraising, doing community outreach and education and producing promotional materials.

“It was an extremely collaborative process,” Adams said. “It was the most terrifying and gratifying thing we’ve ever done.”

Atwood often met by day with potential donors, sponsors and funders, spreadsheets in hand. In the evenings, he drove to the homes of subscribers and personally placed concert tickets in their hands.

“It was a great way to reconnect,” Atwood said.

The LPO was formed following the demise of the New Orleans Orchestra, so for some veterans of both organizations, starting over again is nothing new.

“We had already done this before. We had already lost it before and got it back, and there was no doubt we would do it again,” Adams said.

“The question was a matter of figuring out the ‘how’ this time.”