Change We Can Believe In
Yesterday’s post sparked an interesting discussion; thanks to all for the great answers.
I’m interested that a lot of the responses proceeded on the assumption that “change” is a synonym for “dumbing yourself down for a younger audience.” This lies very close to the assumption, voiced by at least one commenter, that the audience is stupid.
But blaming the audience is too easy. It leads to the underlying view that none of the current crisis, the steep downward decline in ticket sales (the NEA just released some scary figures about this) is our fault. We (as orchestras, or classical music lovers) should just go on blithely doing what we do, and it’s the Philistines’ loss if they don’t cotton on to it. That’s all well and good, except that continuing to play pretty music if nobody is buying tickets is only economically feasible for just so long. (See “newspapers, current state of” for a comparison.)
Anyway, you can’t control the audience, though God knows orchestras are trying these days. All you can control is what you do. “Play good performances” is a start, sure, though it reminds me of an editor in a past job of mine who used to summon department meetings and tell everyone to write better, leaving the writers feeling a little bruised: does that mean we’re not writing well? how exactly do you want us to go about writing better?
But I had the impression that what Ivan Fischer was talking about in the post that sparked this discussion was a more fundamental change in how orchestras are conceived and run: a change that doesn’t have anything to do with dumbing down or reaching out to younger audiences, but that does have to do with creating a more viable ensemble, artistically and financially, in today’s world. I asked him about the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York, which he thought was a very interesting model: basically, it’s made up of freelancers organized in a hierarchical structure, so that there’s a core group that plays nearly everything and additional tiers that come on for performances that call for a larger ensemble. It also is one of the best orchestras in New York (I wrote about it some time ago).
Another interesting place to look is the New World Symphony, which is basically an orchestra laboratory since it’s an educational rather than a professional institution. They’ve had some ideas about varying the length and presentation of concerts – 20-minute concerts, some projected live outside the building – that I think are interesting.
June 19, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: from readers , random musings
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