Something About Florida
Last week, Michigan Radio, an NPR affiliate, asked to interview me briefly about the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s just-announced tour of Florida in 2010. (I have come up with three possible reasons why they called me: 1. Detroit is the new home of former NSO music director Leonard Slatkin; 2. I am newly authoritative on the subject of orchestral tours, having just returned from China with the NSO; 3. I happened to be the first live critic who responded to a query sent out on the Fourth of July holiday.)
In the course of a five-minute conversation, I hypothesized that, as orchestras search for new audiences, they look for places where those audiences might be found. One is Asia. And if the classical music audience is aging, and Florida is known for a large population of retirees, Florida might conceivably be another. (The Cleveland Orchestra, for one, has established an annual residency there.) This thought originally made it onto the air waves as “Anne Midgette…says Florida has become the great white hope of orchestras.” (Michigan Radio very kindly changed the piece yesterday at my request.)
(read more after the jump)
Here are the facts. Orchestras are not touring in America as much as they used to, just as they aren’t selling CDs as much as they used to. (By couching this observation in the soothingly anodyne terms of factual journalism, I am committing a considerable feat of understatement.) But both tours and CDs, even if they no longer make sound economic sense, are still ways to build your brand and give the impression, both within and outside your immediate market, that you have something going on. I think orchestras have found that without touring and recording, they start to slide off the map. But where is Detroit to go with a limited tour budget (the Florida tour will cost $580,000)? Vero Beach, of course.
Lawrence A. Johnson, former music critic of the Miami Herald, now founder of the South Florida Classical Review and the Chicago Classical Review (sites that are, incidentally, showing a way for the future of arts journalism in a world without newspapers), was able to summarize the situation with more authority, since he has, unlike me, actually covered the music scene in Florida. In a phone call, he outlined three main factors: a solid (though aging) audience in places like the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach; a dearth of top-tier local orchestras; and geographical proximity of population centers, which cuts down on travel costs. "Rather than go from Kravis to Atlanta to Dallas," he said, "which would cost an inordinate amount of money, you can do Florida very cheaply." (The DSO will play six concerts in six nights.)
That's how you get a schedule like that of the Budapest Festival Orchestra's US tour earlier this season: of their six concerts, one was in New York, and four were in Florida. I remain frustrated that they didn't come through Washington, where, after all, Fischer (the principal conductor of the NSO) could be presumed to have an audience. But Florida was surely cheaper.
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