At its London flagship inside a historic mansion, British luxury brand Alfred Dunhill treats gentlemen clients to bespoke (meaning custom-tailored) clothing and artisan leather goods, a hot shave in the barbershop and a neat Scotch in the lounge. Taste, sophistication, tradition; the brand itself seems tailor-made for a partnership with our Las Vegas Philharmonic.
In late September, Dunhill and the Phil hosted a private party to kick off the 2013-2014 concert season and introduce supporters to their new alliance. From top-shelf drinks to perfect little passed bites, the cocktail hour warmed the crowd for a performance of “The Best of British” composers. Chamber music and opuses by Henry Purcell, Roger Quilter, Richard Faith, Benjamin Britten and Sir Edward Elgar were honored by Phil musicians Voltaire Versoza (countertenor), Shane Jensen (piano), Hanna Suk (viola), Andrew Smith (cello), De Ann Letourneau and Shakeh Ghoukasian (violin). In the deft hands of the string quartet, Elgar’s “Serenade for Strings” swelled and then softened into silence, the final harmony hanging on like a deep sigh. Right before applause broke out, someone cried, “Beautiful!”
The orchestra is loved, but that doesn't always translate to financial support. Communications manager Jennifer Scott said that the Phil's programming depends on sponsors, ranging from Graff Diamonds and Elements Therapeutic Massage to Tropical Smoothie Café, Nevada Energy and Cragin & Pike Insurance. Levels of giving are just as diverse, and she said that every dollar is vital, especially since the Phil moved to the Smith Center.
“It was a really big decision to pursue moving into the Smith Center, because you have to lift your game and sell more seats. … We just had our first season there, and we’re feeling it in the community. We say, ‘We’re your Las Vegas Philharmonic,’ and when you’re in that hall you feel this investment from the audience that’s taking ownership of the people onstage,” Scott said. “Other cities have big sponsors for their series, and that’s what we hope for. It’s growing, that recognition of what an orchestra can do for a community and that fostering a local performing arts group in this great venue can actually have a ripple effect.”
Dunhill, which opened a boutique in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace a year ago, wants to amplify that ripple, albeit in its signature understated way. “We say that the brand whispers as opposed to shouting, so we don’t have big logos and we’re very subtle. It’s more about the intelligence and ability of the person who wears it, versus screaming who they’re wearing, so we really try to be a curator of good taste,” said brand president Eric Jones, who introduced the musicians and expressed Dunhill's desire to foster a long-term partnership. “We’re a thinker’s brand, and it’s important for us to be involved in local community and do things that outreach, whether they’re philanthropic or based in cultural things like music.”
Affectionately calling the private concert their “first date,” Scott said she admired Dunhill’s commitment to the local scene. “They could sponsor Elton John. Or they could sponsor Rod Stewart. The fact that they sought out a local performing arts organization is important,” she said. “You look at that brand and its history, its quality; and those are the synonyms you want with an orchestra.” Of course, Dunhill wants to connect with the Phil’s audience of potential clients, but Scott insisted the company is genuinely interested in building culture and community in a city not known for either. Jones added, “We think that there’s a very educated and cultured consumer that’s not associated with what the perception of Las Vegas is.”
Among those cultured consumers, Scott hopes one might step forward with enough resources to sponsor an entire season. Coming from New York and working with orchestras there, she’s seen what that degree of funding can do. But because the Las Vegas Philharmonic has had to be more independent, its programming has been more adventurous. “It’s not always overture, concerto, symphony. All of our programs in the coming season have something special that connects to the community,” Scott said, mentioning the opening-night feature of Vegas-raised soprano Susanne Vinnik. “When De Ann—who’s playing tonight, our concertmaster—goes onstage, if she looks out at the audience and smiles you feel the ripple go through. They all know who she is; they know the people onstage. That’s special for an orchestra. It’s not just faceless people up there, it’s actually members of the community. … That’s the nice thing about being in a smallish city like this. You get to have that connection.”