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Kaiser: orchestras FAIL

Michael Kaiser, in the Huffington Post, has this week addressed the elephant in the living room: some orchestras are not going to make it.
(read more after the jump)

There are striking parallels between orchestras and newspapers in this recession. For a couple of years (even longer, in fact, in the orchestra world) there have been talks of imminent closings. So far, nearly everyone has managed to struggle along, with a few exceptions: the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News in the newspaper world, the Honolulu Symphony, which has just filed for bankruptcy protection, in the orchestral one. (Expand "orchestra" to "classical music institution" and you could throw in the Baltimore Opera and the Connecticut Opera). But a number of institutions are threatened, or on the verge of bankruptcy.

The main problem is that both fields seem to be incapable of coming up with an actual new business model, in part because both fields are so deeply invested in their own traditions that they tend to confuse those traditions with their function. It's possible for a thriving symphony orchestra to try doing things in new ways: look at the New World Symphony, which solves some of the funding issues by being classed as an educational institution (it's a training orchestra for young professionals), and therefore is able to get all kinds of grant money that non-educational institutions aren't eligible for. (It puts that money where its mouth is with a strong investment in training, not only of its own members but with a wide array of outreach and education programs.)

But in general, resistance is strong -- something that was evidenced on this very blog this summer when commenters' vigorous and thoughtful responses to my question about new models for orchestras tended to assume that any such "change" would be largely about the music rather than about the structure of the institution playing it.

The real issue, I think, is that few truly new business models for these institutions involve their employees earning the same kinds of salaries they have been used to, in journalism or in music. I'm not sure there's going to be a long-term model that allows for that. In the meantime, the question this season and next is going to be how far Michael Kaiser is right.

By Anne Midgette  |  November 11, 2009; 10:20 AM ET
Categories:  random musings  
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I read Mr. Kaiser's comments as I have read many, many other similar comments over the years from thoughtful critics and observers. All make the compelling arguement that the current business model doesn't work, that the status quo must change. There are few businesses or industries that have changed less in the past 100 years. For example, you can go to Symphony Hall in Boston and, for the most part, have a concert experience that is identical to one of 100 years ago. Same hall, same orchestra, same repertoire, same concert format. Hard to find that elsewhere.

But, what I continue to find frustrating both in Mr. Kaiser's comments as well as those of the other thoughtful commentators, is the complete absence of realistic alternatives. It's easy to bash the current model, but what's going to replace it? There are lots of interesting one-offs and experiments, but none that have the necessary scale to be deployed more broadly.

So, what should struggling orchestras do?

Posted by: newcriticalcritic | November 11, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

The first order of business needs to be cutting salaries for occasionally guest performers, including soloists, conductors, and, usually, the music director. Josh Bell might be worth it for increased ticket sales, but I doubt it, and it's highly unlikely that less well-known classical soloists are. Think about the math: If an orchestra sell 75% of its 2,000 tickets, that leaves 500 tickets. If a soloist brings in the extra 500 tickets @ $50 per, that's $25,000, considerably less than the average soloists make. Plus, how much of that added value was the soloists' and how much was the conductor? Do you need to overpay both? I do know that if I were managing an orchestra I would get a good accountant or economist to calculate the added value of every possible soloist and conductor before overpaying them.

I also would be less than surprised to see some orchestras gradually evolve into smaller ensembles, perhaps even chamber orchestras that add per-service players for bigger works.

Posted by: groundhogdayguy | November 11, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Last 100 years, lets take a longer view. Prior to the second half of the nineteenth-century, orchestras were entirely funded by wealth patrons. In the case of Mozart and Beethoven, the Baron von Swieten, for Haydn the Esterhazy family, and for Bach it was The Church. I don't think at ANY time in history have ticket sales alone sustained a classical music institution. Where has all the philanthropy gone? Rich baby-boomers are the right demographic to donate, but most of them probably feel closer to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles than Brahms.

I will agree with the refrain from Norman Lebrecht's book. The select few, guest artists and conductors in general, are paid ridiculously. I admire Osmo Vanska for volunteering to cut his pay by some 15% to help the orchestra, but does he really need $600,000 for less than twenty weeks of work?

Posted by: robertgoeke | November 12, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

"Groundhogday" vastly overestimates the fees paid to soloists. There are only a handful of soloists and conductors who get fees like that. The true average is half, or less, than the $25,000 he suggests. The problem is far larger than hiring cheaper soloists. The current model is about providing a standard of living for the musicians -- which is a good thing, but which has consequences. It is not about what the community wants and needs. Few communities want or need the number of concerts most orchestras produce.

Producing concerts is a way of producing revenue to support orchestra compensation, which in turn requires larger staffs to produce the concerts, to raise the money to support everyone's salaries and to sell tickets that have become fantastically expensive.

I agree that it is frustrating that no solutions are being proposed. I spent 30 years working for orchestras and never heard of any. But I do think it may be useful to look at the core purposes that orchestras serve today. And I propose that the goal of performing concerts has been superceded by the also worthy, but separate, goal of providing a living for musicians.

Posted by: kevinhagen | November 12, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

One forgets that is the so-called "golden age" (that of Toscanini, Stokowski, etc.) the seasons were not year-long, the pay of the rank-and-file orchestra musicians lower, and a program was played once or twice every week, not three-four times like today. So the last few decades were more of an anomaly.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | November 12, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Any one who thinks that orchestral musicians are overpaid is dead wrong.
It's extremely demanding work which requires many years of rigorous training, more than are needed to become a doctor.
And why shouldn't these hard-working and dedicated musicians be able to earn a good living ?
It's a pity that so many orchestras in America have to struggle to stay afloat when those in Europe get generous government subsidies.

Posted by: Thehorn2 | November 12, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

"It's extremely demanding work which requires many years of rigorous training, more than are needed to become a doctor.
And why shouldn't these hard-working and dedicated musicians be able to earn a good living ?"

As a professional musician who has undergone "many years of rigorous training" to achieve my current proficiency, I think it's ridiculous to assert that simply having "worked my behind off" for more years than a doctor at my chosen skill set somehow entitles me to a "good living."

I could have taken the last 25 years and spent tens of thousands of dollars in school to become the best basket weaver in the world, but it doesn't mean I'm somehow owed a good living if the world doesn't either care for my baskets or care for the way in which they have to go about purchasing them.

Posted by: wpcommenter | November 12, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

There is no way to sustain the current model without massive government support. Given that none is in the offing, these organizations will have to learn to "make do" with less. A few suggestions:
1. Every orchestra requesting funding from major foundations/government entities ought to be required to submit a staffing assessment: how many on the staff, what they earn, what they do, and, most importantly, why each position is necessary. Several of the largest orchestras have almost as many on staff (if not more) than they have musicians on the stage. The act of having to justify each staff position might encourage institutional self-reflection that could result in realistic staffing.
2. Managements and Boards have to stop bowing down to extortionist tactics practiced by the unions AND by artist managers. A common plaintive wail heard at Collective Bargaining time is "if we don't continue to pay X, and keep our salaries up with Orchestras Y and Z, we won't be able to attract the best musicians and that will threaten the artistic quality of the organization." This is pure bullsh*t. There are more better-prepared, technically and musically accomplished young musicians pouring out of conservatories all around the world now than at any previous time in history. Most of them don't care too much about the salary -- they're dying for jobs. As are all their more-experienced, equally-accomplished colleagues who have been holding down positions in third- and fourth-tier orchestras, and who, though currently employed, and generally seriously under-employed. Quality will not suffer if you hold the line on salaries.

Similarly, do you think that any of our top-20 orchestra maestro/as or the major soloists employed by them would have turned the job down if it "only" offered 10% less than what they're currently making? 15% less? The prestige of the appointment holds considerable economic value. Boards need to be smarter about leveraging the prestige of their organizations when it comes to negotiating with conductors and soloists. There are maybe a handful of musicians in the world (Domingo, Ma, Fleming) who bring more prestige to a stage than can be reflected back upon them by performing with any given organization. Toughen up and hold the line and salaries will come down.

3. Finally: Donors need to smarten up about giving large gifts to build new facilities. Ask the right questions: how are you prepared to sustain the cost of running the facility for the decade after it is built? How are you going to ensure that the project comes in on budget? Exactly how will the projected benefits of the new facility (better acoustics, nicer amenities) outweigh the construction and maintenance costs? Can this organization sustain its core mission if the costs of building and maintaining of the new facility balloon? Too many donors' gifts are solicited and conferred without consideration of the financial aftermath of facility construction.

Posted by: Cleveland123 | November 12, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I don't agree with the premise.

With newspapers failing you are not eliminating reporting, news or reading of print for that matter. Only the format has changed. But with the elimination or an orchestra, you are killing off classical music. All the models that are suggested here have little to do with the tradition of the orchestra which is to assemble the best possible musicians in one city and create an atmosphere for them to grow as artists and perform a stimulating repertoire. As long as people continue to view the orchestra as a business, you're barking up the wrong tree. If you want a business (a profitable venture in other words, nothing wrong with that in principle) then open a Starbucks.

We are just going to have to learn to live with smaller audiences, period. And that means a different reality; less money, less numbers all around.

Posted by: ggibbs1 | November 12, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

"With newspapers failing you are not eliminating reporting, news or reading of print for that matter. Only the format has changed. But with the elimination or an orchestra, you are killing off classical music."

Not so... If it were, how would you explain increases in rates of listening, due in part to increases in classical music downloads, for example? There's a format change occurring.

Posted by: wpcommenter | November 12, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Interesting discussion, and no easy answers. Smaller-sized orchestras may be part of our future. More Haydn and Mozart, the chamber orchestra version of Mahler's Symphony No. 4, etc. The spiritual renewal from listening to live performances of Mahler's Second and Third Symphonies may become a remembrance of things past.

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | November 12, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

As an arts administrator and former arts management professor, I would say that orchestras do need new models as all arts organizations must change with the times. One of the greatest obstacles to an orchestra's success, however, is the AFM. I am also a union member (one of the AAAA but not AFM). Orchestra musicians demand security not held by any other artist in the United States. The closest system might be tenure at a university. As the canon requires certain orchestral combinations, the musicians have the power in the system. They will, however, be its downfall if the union cannot figure out a way to support its members and its industry.

Posted by: brettashley13 | November 12, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

You end your comment with the most significant item in it.

"is that few truly new business models for these institutions involve their employees earning the same kinds of salaries they have been used to"

I have started a new Symphony and it does work reasonably well even in these challenging times and fine music is made and musicians are paid credible fair wages, but we knew from the beginning that we were not going to replicate the old formula of sole employer symphony.

Productivity is the hallmark of the American business ideal and each of these industries rely on more people to produce the product than the market appeal seems willing to support. If one treats these musicians as we do, or reporters as more papers are doing as "tenured free agents" then we are obliged to encourage them to stay working for us with appropriate perks and enticements,but also be open to a fluid interupted access to the musicians and reporters who are then obliged to fill their time with more opportunities. They are free agents piecing their livlyhood together rather than finding a sole source employer.

I think we are likely to continue to have musicians and audiences willing to experience each other. I think communities will continue to need a resource to bind itself together and the media has always been integral to that, but the revenue streams that might have made this independently sustainable have been undermined.

New models must focus on what, how and who.

Posted by: abales1 | November 12, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Normally I'm not one to respond to blogs publicly online, but regarding your mention of the New World Symphony as an innovative model for a Symphony Orchestra, I need to strenuously disagree with you. Please take a moment and consider exactly what NWS is, and what it is not. I'm an alumnus of that organization, and although it gave me some of the best musical experiences of my career, I also know that it is not a professional orchestra - for one simple reason: NWS musicians are not allowed to stay for more than three years. If that were the case in all orchestras, than yes, you would be right that the NWS's business model is one that should be emulated. But clearly this is not the case. Professional orchestral musicians are people with mortgages who send their kids to college. They are people who want to become a permanent part of the communities whom they faithfully serve. Please don't misunderstand me. As an arts organization, the NWS is absolutely without rival, and they richly deserve all of the artistic accolades they receive. BUT, they are not, and never shall be, an actual professional orchestra. It seems to me that the readers of your blog deserve to know that. Please know that I offer this to you with nothing but the utmost respect. You just don't seem to be aware of the facts about the NWS.

Posted by: celloguy1421 | November 12, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad someone else pointed out the complete folly of mentioning New World Symphony as a new "business model." Ms. Midgette has been putting her foot in her mouth more and more often and this latest gaff is not just embarrassing for her but for a fine paper like the Post.

NWS is an educational system and it doesn't thrive becasue it has a wider range of grant opportunities but because they don't pay the musicians! For a reporter to make such claims without doing the most basic of research is simply scandalous.

Perhaps the Post should adopt a similar model and pay their esteemed music critic student wages and see what sort of conclusions she comes up with then.

Posted by: notkidding | November 12, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

In response to Cleveland123's comment that in effect says go ahead and cut musicians' salaries, soloists, etc. that they will still come...Well, the same rationale could be applied to conductors, executive directors, and by extension all corporate CEO's, and those poor souls at Goldman Sachs. But does that solve the problem?

Posted by: nathankahn | November 12, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

A comment of Kevin Hagen's contains the crux of the issue: orchestras are nonprofit organizations, and as such their primary mission is to serve their host community. When we become PRIMARILY focused on providing a living to musicians or, I might add, serving the art form itself, we are headed in a disastrous direction. Either one all too often and easily can devolve into utter self-centeredness and serving our own egos rather than the people who are paying our salaries (e.g. our donors and ticket buyers).

I have worked for major symphonies and for smaller, provincial orchestras, and whether people like it or not, the model of full-time, salaried orchestras is clearly not working in many communities. If it isn't working in yours, wringing your hands won't help. Coming up with a new model is the only alternative to going under.

As for the implication of bloated administrative staffs, my experience is that most administrative staffers -- like most musicians -- are passionately dedicated, work their tails off, and are grossly underpaid for what they do. The solution isn't to take a hatchet to one group or the other, but to come up with a funding model that is sustainable within your own community and responsive to community needs and resources. If we don't do that, we won't survive.

There are obvious similarities between the newspaper and orchestra conundrum, but I'll refrain from commenting on the former because I don't know enough about it. One obvious difference, however, is not a small one: newspapers are a for-profit business, orchestras are not.

Posted by: abuelow | November 12, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Kahn is correct in suggesting that salaries could be cut in any area of the orchestra business and there would still be people willing to work. However, I would submit that the pool of highly qualified marketers, development people and managers is far smaller than the pool of highly qualified musicians. Furthermore, there is no competition from any other sector for musicians, whereas the private sector pays big bucks for marketing people and managers and universities, hospitals etc. pay huge salaries for the best fundraising talent.

Supply and demand.

Posted by: kevinhagen | November 12, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

I couldn’t agree more with kevinhagen that the pool of, for example highly qualified managers is small in this business. But contrary to his assertion I am unaware that Microsoft is combing symphony orchestras for prospective talent. But yes, there are other sectors competing for qualified musicians, including other performing groups in this country and abroad, collegiate faculty positions, other segments of the music industry, including…you got it, symphony orchestra management positions. And there are other fields who look for people with skills in creativity, discipline and teamwork, which is what musicians are all about.

As to my original point, suppose you did cap management salaries at 50K, diminish musician salaries to sub-food stamp level, or diminish the amount of concerts/rehearsals to that of a drive-by orchestra, has it fixed the problem? No. As Michael Kaiser clearly points out in his book, maintaining and building the artistic product is what enhances the ability to sell tickets and raise funds.

Supply and demand.

Posted by: nathankahn | November 13, 2009 12:07 AM | Report abuse

As someone who works in the industry, it's laughable to say that the musicians aren't paid enough. Google their base salaries. In my experience, they are paid salaries much higher than the average American (and the staff who support them) and many of them (thanks to their months of vacation) collect these salaries from multiple orchestras. The organization ends up paying subs to sit in and replace its salaried musicians while they do their other gigs.

Not saying they don't deserve the pay-they work hard at what they do-but they are far from underpaid.

Posted by: Rotafortuna | November 13, 2009 1:09 AM | Report abuse

As a number of commenters have already pithily pointed out, we would all love orchestral musicians to make great salaries, but it's open to question whether they will continue to be able to do so. The point of a new business model is to come up with workable compromises that will help the field move forward if it proves impossible to sustain at its current level.

Hence my mention of the New World Symphony. Of course we don’t want orchestras to stop paying their musicians (though I was under the impression that the NWS players at least get a stipend and housing -- correct me if I’m wrong, celloguy1421). But: are there any elements of the New World Symphony that a professional orchestra could incorporate into some kind of new business model? For instance (to offer some suggestions to newcriticalcritic): could a professional orchestra find a way partly to redefine itself as an educational institution, with professional musicians -- perhaps by expanding its teaching role in its community? What might that look like?

Or: could a professional orchestra develop some kind of Marlboro-like model in which professionals are joined by young musicians on two-year internships? Say a professional orchestra were to follow the model of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, a New-York based ensemble of freelancers with a hierarchical organization: a core group of “A” players performs in every concert; the “B” players are added when a bigger ensemble is needed, and so on up to a full-sized symphony orchestra. Now, say one tier of that hierarchy is made up of young artists in some kind of internship capacity. Could it work? (I can hear the union screaming, “No!”)

I’m not a professional administrator, so these are just pipe dreams. But my point is that orchestras need to look beyond the status quo. And I think it’s a problem in our field that new ideas are sometimes met with panicky rejection, as in: "Because the New World Symphony doesn’t pay its players, no element of its activities can be incorporated into any future model for a professional orchestra; and to even suggest such a thing is an embarrassment."

Another important point: even if some orchestras close, classical music is not going to die. I think, ggibbs, you’re romanticizing; I don’t think all orchestras by any means “create an atmosphere for their musicians to grow as artists.” And I don’t equate the survival of orchestras with the survival of classical music. Look at all the CDs that are coming out (whether or not they make money); the new groups, the exciting young performers. Indeed, I wish orchestras were as exciting as the field of classical music is; and the fact that they aren’t is part of the problem. I agree in principle with everyone who says that the music, not the business, should be the primary focus. And I fear that the week-to-week reality of some orchestras is that the music too often sounds and feels like a business rather than like the exciting vital art form most of us here fell in love with.

Posted by: MidgetteA | November 13, 2009 3:19 AM | Report abuse

Some orchestras have very high salaries, but most don’t. The New Mexico Symphony is a good quality regional orchestra. Most of the first chair players come from schools like Juilliard, Curtis, Eastman, New England, and Indiana U. It pays first chair players 15k per year. Section players make from 5-7k per year. So far, this year’s season has been cancelled because the musicians refused to accept a 23% pay cut. The public funding systems used in all other major countries except the USA are far better. High salaries in top orchestras are kept in check and musicians in regional orchestras can expect pay almost as high a bus driver or garbage collector. This all becomes grotesque when one thinks about Goldman Sachs giving its executives 27 billion in bonuses – after receiving billions in public assistance. This “screw-the-musician” mentality is so uniquely American.

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 7:15 AM | Report abuse

Here are some examples of orchestral pay as listed by ICSOM in 2008. From a financial perspective, our most gifted classical musicians often have less status than a janitor or garbage collector -- at least in the USA. These numbers illustrate the shortfalls of America's unmitigated market system, as if we have needed anymore examples of late. The market is good for some things, but not for others -- an understanding that is difficult for wealthy, conservative patrons and their administrators to understand.

Alabama Symphony $29,364 40
Buffalo Philharmonic $37,245 39
Charlotte Symphony $31,200 40
Colorado Symphony $39,689 43
Florida Orchestra $28,008 36
Florida Philharmonic $37,000 39
Honolulu Symphony $28,380 33
Jacksonville Symphony $31,672 37
Kansas City Symphony $35,849 42
Kennedy Center Orch $47,359 27
Louisville Orchestra $33,559 42
Nashville Symphony $32,280 40
New Jersey Symphony $41,760 36
New York City Ballet $48,900 30
New York City Opera $45,816 29
North Carolina Symphony $43,000 43
Oregon Symphony $42,784 43
Rochester Philharmonic $37,925 41
San Antonio Symphony $28,050 33
San Diego Symphony $27,000 220 services
San Francisco Ballet $35,759 207 services
Syracuse Symphony $26,420 38
Virginia Symphony $23,026 41

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Wasteland I think those figures are misleading... I'm not 100% sure but I don't think any of those orchestras are full time orchestras so it is expected that the members supplement their income with other work. Virgina Symphony definitely isn't, and the Kennedy Center orchestra is only assembled 'on demand'- it doesn't maintain a schedule independent of requirements to accompany visiting ballet etc... (and if it does, they need to fire their marketing person cos I've never heard of it).

Posted by: ianw2 | November 13, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

That’s exactly the problem. Some of these orchestras aren’t fulltime jobs. In spite of the great need we have for intelligent art, most classical musicians remain under employed. And most are not able to find an adequate amount of work to fill in their schedules and make a decent living. Musicians are brought to places like Albuquerque, Little Rock, or Tulsa with few alternatives for employment other than their part time, low paid orchestra. This also affects the orchestra’s ability to reach people. New Mexico has 1.7 million people outside of Albuquerque. Most have never heard a live orchestra. The New Mexico Symphony can’t tour around the state, since most of the musicians can’t get free from the menial day jobs they need in order to survive. The USA spends more on military bands (170 million) than the entire NEA (140 million.) And that NEA sum is for all the arts, not just classical music. Ms. Midgette is an intelligent and articulate woman. Some people from the orchestral community (like members of the National Symphony and ICSOM) need to invite her to dinner and explain a few things to her. She could help them get their message across.

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Wasteland might have offered a fuller perspective of the situation in New Mexico by saying that the proposed 23% cut there is a rescission of a 25% raise three years ago.

Posted by: kevinhagen | November 13, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Haggen is only presenting a portion of the picture with his 23%/25% statement. Prior to the 25% increase he pointed out, the players had a 5% increase in pay over a 12 year time period. So over the entire 15 year period, the players had a 2% increase. He also fails to mention that he used to be the executive director at that orchestra. I wonder if his salary increases over his entire employment with the NMSO was limited to the same percentage?

Wasteland has perhaps the best suggestion that someone needs to sit Ms. Midgette down and have a chat with her. In her comment above, she seems to suggest - unless I'm not interpreting her comments correctly, that orchestras don't conduct educational activity. Has she ever explored an orchestra outside of NYC and Washington DC before? Baltimore, Vermont, and many, many more orchestras operate a wide variety of educational programs including youth orchestras, private schools, and a host of in-school activity.

Ms. Midgette should also learn more about the OSL model before mentioning anything in the future as well. It is obvious that although she has some legs as a music critic, she has much to learn about being a business reporter and her anti-labor opinions seeping into her writing are not becoming the position of an impartial reporter.

The only other item worth adding here is that in addition to the figures provided by wasteland for musician salary, those groups only comprise a minority of professional orchestras across the country. The remaining orchestras earn, far, far less. Here's a sample (there are no less than twice as many more to add to this list):

Akron Symphony $2,657
Austin Symphony $11,865
California Symphony $3,472
Canton Symphony $6,300
Charleston Symphony $20,903
Chattanooga Symphony $8,254
Colorado Springs Philharmonic $6,823
Dayton Philharmonic $12,000
Delaware Symphony $7,437
Elgin Symphony $7,440
Erie Philharmonic $4,165
Fort Wayne Philharmonic $23,659
Grand Rapids Symphony $35,209
Harrisburg Symphony $5,563
Hartford Symphony $21,840
Kalamazoo Symphony $5,600
Knoxville Symphony $23,477
Las Vegas Philharmonic $5,305
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra $9,138
Memphis Symphony $23,951
Mississippi Symphony $6,600
New Mexico Symphony $19,944
Omaha Symphony $29,177
Rhode Island Philharmonic $6,753
Richmond Symphony $29,415
Santa Rosa Symphony $6,888
Shreveport Symphony $12,693
South Bend Symphony $4,672
Spokane Symphony $10,577
Toledo Symphony $24,898
West Virginia Symphony $9,650
Wichita Symphony $6,500

So let's assume that some of these musicians can play in more than one group, they can make what, $12k instead of $6k? And no Rotafortuna, these players aren't paid if they leave to play some other job - they only get paid if they play a concert.

Pardon my panicky response Ms. Midgette but there's no sense in considering suggestions derived from such a degree of ignorance. It is good for people to keep an open mind but not so much that their brain falls out. I think you have the potential for becoming a better reporter but you need to do more research before you write. Perhaps people would stop dismissing you out of hand on business related matters once you adopt the new standards.

Posted by: notkidding | November 13, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I’m not sure that taking back a raise from three years ago adds much to the picture when the tutti players are only making 5-7k a year to begin with. And it doesn’t do much to help the million or so people in New Mexico who will probably never have a decent chance to hear a live orchestra. What is the picture we are supposed to paint? That classical musicians should be treated like menial labor and that all those people in NM don't deserve to hear a live orchestra concert? Here's another stat the paints a true picture of the absurdity in the USA: Germany has 23 times more fulltime, year-round orchestras per capita than the USA. (I can’t provide documentation without revealing my identity, which I don’t want to do, given the nature of these blog-type discussions.) The difference is public funding. Germany also has 80 fulltime, year-round opera houses. The USA has zero. Even the Met only has a 7 month season. You can paint all day, but it isn't going to improve the scenario.

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

In all of those situations listed by wasteland, there is other income available to these musicians - at very least in the form of private teaching (at least $20+ hr.), individual gigs (usually requiring little/no rehearsal at $100+ for 2 hrs of work), and other smaller performing organizations paying per service rates in the same markets. Is it absolutely consistent, not always, but it is wrong to suggest that these salary figures are ALL they make in a year. To top it off, I personally know very few colleagues holding symphony positions who don't also develop employment as a teacher at a local college/university, where you can quickly begin earning additional income, and in some cases, have opportunities for health insurance and retirement saving. My partner and I were musicians in one of the smallest markets available, with an orchestra performing 4 concerts a season (making less than $10K each through the orchestra), and within a couple of years had put together over $50K in household income through all sorts of methods mentioned above.

Speaking from personal experience, as the members of the "big orchestra in town," being a member lines you up to be a primary call for this other income. Considering the largest, most time-consuming orchestra jobs are the places where you will find musicians holding very established positions with the biggest and best music conservatories/schools and regularly performing around the country in recitals/masterclasses, it's difficult to make the case that the schedules of these smaller orchestras listed don't yield enough time to seek and maintain similar opportunities in these smaller markets.

Posted by: wpcommenter | November 13, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I’m sorry, but the picture you provide is not accurate. To give just one example, a symphony orchestra usually has from 16 to 20 violins. It is simply not true that the regional cities listed above can provide enough teaching and free-lance work for so many violinists to make a decent living. Probably not even a third of them, especially since the arts are also neglected in the schools which limits the amount of teaching available. And look at your own situation. You and your wife put together 50k in income. That’s only 25k apiece. As individuals, your still not up to a janitor’s wages. One of the wierdest things about America is how even the musicians themselves often try to rationalize their abuse and neglect. I think it comes from decades of radical free-market propaganda. We are now paying the price for these delusions in so many different ways.

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

wasteland- I would LOVE to be part of the German funding system, but it's never going to happen in the US so it's a waste of an argument (look at the resistance to government supported healthcare). The situation with arts funding in the US and Germany is apples and oranges.

I think several commentators have hit the nail on the head in regards to salary and supply v demand. There are more orchestral musicians (how many flautists are pumped out per year for how many openings?) than jobs, yet the salaries don't reflect this. As a holder of a music degree, I would love to be getting a six figure salary, but the coldhearted part of me realises that this is not sustainable.

Posted by: ianw2 | November 13, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and the economist Baumol pretty much summaries why orchestras are always doomed in their existing model- in that the number of positions to play something hasn't changed, but the cost of hiring those musicians is in continual increase.

Posted by: ianw2 | November 13, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

From a 'user' prospective: I've attended NSO concerts over the years and the results are very dependent on the conductor du jour. Many times the concerts are dreary. Unimaginative programming and listless, less than technically clean performance.
Since NSO salaries are quite high, my point would be that money can't buy you love...or a good music performance.

Posted by: kashe | November 13, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

IANW2, I disagree with your pessimism. People once also said we would never have a public health system, but it is happening. Eventually the obdurate parochialism will be left behind and US public arts funding will begin to reach toward the standards ALL other first world countries have. And your right, the current system will never be able to adequately support orchestras (as we see all the time,) which is just another argument for why we need public funding. Eventually Americans will accept that the free market is not an all-encompassing paradigm. As the Europeans have so well demonstrated, the market is a good over-all system, but it must be intelligently mitigated.

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Anne Midgette wrote: "... could a professional orchestra find a way partly to redefine itself as an educational institution, with professional musicians -- perhaps by expanding its teaching role in its community? What might that look like?" Suggesting here and in the original post that orchestras are “non-educational institutions” will likely send chills up the spines of orchestra EDs & boards who are responsible for fundraising activities.

There is an aspect of the U.S. tax code that is little discussed by the general public but quite important to the arts administrator. (I’m not an attorney but have served on a number of boards, so if I’m mistaken in the following, someone PLEASE correct me.) According to IRS interpretation, "Exempt purposes" under 501(c)(3)"are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals."

It is my understanding that the only conceivable way an orchestra -- AS an orchestra -- can claim 501(c)(3) status is to fulfill the "educational" purpose. There is no other category that fits. (There are more requirements than just this, but "education" for the arts is one of the sine qua non hoops.) Fortunately, the IRS long ago agreed that a concert is an "educational" event. But performing arts organizations do not generally rely on that solely, and most that I know of are constantly trying to expand their educational services beyond general admission concerts and have been for many years. This is because of a generally unspoken dual mandate: it’s the right thing to do AND it reaffirms the institution's educational purpose under the law. Look at just about any orchestra’s “mission statement” and you will find the word “education.” Look at their web sites and you will see educational services beyond their concert schedules. (Whether these are all effective programs or not is a fair question – but it’s an entirely different question.)

The bottom line is that most orchestras are already engaged in looking for new and innovative ways to use their organizations to educate -- and have been for years. If there are new ideas to be gained from looking at other organizations' similar programs and expanding educational functions in new and exciting ways as you suggest, I'm sure no one would turn a deaf ear. But the idea of building in educational functions beyond simply playing a concert or offering a pre-concert lecture is not new -- it's almost mandatory. Orchestras are not “non-educational institutions” – at least not according to the IRS.

Posted by: Steve37 | November 13, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

There is an additional set of reasons why orchestras and newspapers are in trouble. I'm surprised that these other reasons don't get mentioned much along with the usual ones.

In our country, people in many kinds of work are having trouble making a decent living even though they work very hard. Although every business is a little different, one common thread is woven from the rules and assumptions that govern all economic activity. Our economy is not friendly to labor-intensive activities, because it desires always to lower costs and increase profits. One reason, I'm told, that newspapers are in trouble is that shareholders have insisted on ever-higher profits from an industry that was already surprisingly profitable. This drive for higher profits is only one of the forces involved, but it is devastating.

It's the same in many other lines of work. Farmers have a hard time making a living from their labor, too, even though food is something we cannot do without. One reason that we have so much non-nutritious food and so much damage to our farmland is that our economy insists that the food industry constantly increase its profitability. (Writer Michael Pollan has suggested that in order to have decent food to eat that is grown sustainably, Americans must become willing to spend more on food.)

Orchestras are under pressure from friends and foes alike to decrease their costs, but ultimately the pressure is impersonal—it comes from our larger economy. Orchestras' costs are mostly labor costs, so people get mad at the workers for costing too much. In my opinion, the problem is not the workers, but the economy. If our national economic rules remain the same, the pressure to lower labor costs will continue relentlessly, until sooner or later it will no longer be possible to make a living as an orchestral musician. Several once-thriving US industries no longer exist in our country for this very reason. The same evaporation of jobs is happening in other branches of music, too: much of the work of recording soundtracks has been outsourced to lower-wage countries, and composers of commercial music are now sometimes expected to do their work without pay.

The economic troubles of orchestras are the result not just of greed and bad management, not just of bad programming or bad community relations, but also of economic rules that, unless we change them, will make it harder and harder to make a living from human labor. (I can't help noticing that the stock market seems unperturbed by the number of people without jobs; this is just one clue that our economic system emphasizes other issues than whether people can make a living.)

None of this is a problem unless you want to be able to hear good live performances by professional musicians. Classical music will not die, because people want to play it and want to hear it. Plenty of musicians already do something else for a living and play music on the side. But if audiences want to hear professional-quality live performances, they and the performers will have to think together about how the performers will earn a sufficient livelihood to keep their playing at a high level.

In my opinion, some aspects of our economic system are insane. Making orchestras sustainable economically will require straining to work with that insanity or else working to change the rules.

Posted by: johnsteinmetz | November 13, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

So, according to wasteland, this is less about the need to have a functioning healthy business model (outside of a major component being gov't funding as a lifejacket) and more about the need for the gov't to prop up orchestras to exist essentially in their current form. (All that gov't funding doesn't seem to exactly bolster my faith that it would lead to innovation, considering "impending doom" hasn't exactly moved the needle.)

This downplays the need for an audience that attends and supports the organization, in order to ensure that the musicians aren't subject to the value/relevancy the public (market) places on their art. This way, musicians are able to earn wages, specifically from the orchestral organization, deemed "appropriate" (so far defined as 1. correlated to doctors' pay by virtue of the similarity in training, or 2. at least more than a "janitor") due to some entitlement factor that has not yet been exactly explained.

(There's some fun stuff in there about the "radical free market propaganda," ... maybe some other day.)

Posted by: wpcommenter | November 13, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

The term “entitlement” has become a code word in the neo-con community for discrediting a wide range of very valuable socially oriented government programs ranging from social security, to health care, to public arts funding. Healthy societies understand that highly qualified artists are deserving of normal standards of living, even if the intangibles of art are essentially impossible quantify. In fact, calls to justify support for the arts with near impossible arguments quantifying their value are often a specious ruse used by rightwingers opposed to public funding. One approach to such sly nonsense is to point out the role the arts have historically played in all great cultures. One can also demonstrate that none of those cultures were able to successfully define the intangibles that created their cultural greatness, and that none of them centered on the marketplace to support the arts.

It is also false to assume that public funding makes it unnecessary for arts institutions to to draw a public and be socially relevant. Public arts funding actually makes it easier for institutions to draw publics because ticket prices are affordable, and they don’t have to spend large amounts of time and money fund raising over and over every year. The American system is extremely inefficient. Time and again, we see that when orchestra tickets are affordable people want to attend in large numbers. The Baltimore Symphony’s ticket program is an excellent illustration, as are the Met performances in Central Park which draw crowds of tens of thousands. As Europe illustrates, public funding is much better at creating affordable tickets than a private donor system.

So much of this nonsense is perpetrated exactly by arts administrators who often reflect the conservative political, social and economic views of the rich patrons who hire them. Instead of helping America move toward public funding like all other major countries have, these administrators neglect it, and sometimes even openly oppose progress. One solution might be the models used by the London Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic. Both orchestras are owned and operated by the musicians themselves. Their administrators work for the musicians, not a group of wealthy donors whose views are all too often sadly retro. The interests of the musicians, administrators, and public are much more easily aligned. It’s not a perfect setup, but where possible, might be better that the usual arrangement in the States.

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

So people who don't think the gov't should step in and annually bailout a business model that isn't sustaining itself must me "Neo-cons," "right-wingers," and probably zombie arts administrators who are mindlessly serving the wants of rich fat-cat donors?

Good luck with that...

Posted by: wpcommenter | November 13, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

The term “bail out” reveals your agenda. Public schools, public libraries, public universities, and public arts institutions aren’t “bailed out.” They are funded. Another advantage of public funding (again as seen in Europe,) is that it is much more consistent. It avoids the radical ups and downs that have shutdown so many American orchestras. Public funding thus allows for long-term planning which is very advantageous.

I wonder if part of this continual misguided talk about “business models” comes from the MBA mentality that so many arts administrators and the programs that train them have. We need administrators and training programs that understand that business administration and arts administration are very different, and that the overlap is limited and often misleading.

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

"One solution might be the models used by the London Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic. Both orchestras are owned and operated by the musicians themselves."

While I agree with most of wasteland's arguments, I must chime in with the fact that ALL VPO musicians are employees of the Vienna State Opera, earning a full-time living from that organization. Members of the LSO must scrounge around for outside work including film, chamber concerts, teaching, etc. While this is possible in London, it's hardly possible in most other cities. With all that, including touring, they do not make a great living.

Posted by: nymike | November 13, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Okay, a couple of points in response.

First, might "nathankahn" who objected so strenuously to my previous post be the same Nathan Kahn that is the primary negotiator for symphony orchestras on behalf of the American Federation of Musicians (Musician's Union)? A little truth in advertising, please. (For the record, I'm a performer, teacher and administrator, and a member of the AFM).

If it is the same person, I'd expect the same old saws of objection. The AFM is one of the reasons we're in this mess. A recent missive to orchestra players from one of the union-sanctioned player's conferences encouraged all players to "hold the line" and not agree to any wage concessions -- even as the orchestral organizations' abilities to meet payroll were eviscerated by the market crash, reduced payouts from foundations, retracted corporation support, and declines in individual giving. Good plan, AFM. Let's see how far that gets us. (Thankfully, not all of the musicians are drinking the AFM's kool-aid, and have agreed to salary cuts this season, in several welcome cases of enlightened self-interest).

In response to Mr. Kahn, I did suggest that staff and conductor (and soloist) salaries also be cut. He missed that part. Oops.

Several folks have pointed out that many orchestras pay poorly. It is true. Most of the musicians in those orchestras have what are commonly termed "portfolio careers", in which they cobble together a living from a variety of music-related work. If they are unprepared to do so, the fault is in themselves and in their training. The "new" reality of multi-track careers is hardly new -- it has simply been ignored by music students (and most educational institutions) because it is challenging and requires a whole set of skills that aren't part of the standard curricula. Given the number of B.Mus., M.Mus, and DMA/PhDs dumped on the market every year, it would seem incumbent on all of the training institutions to bring this issue to the forefront and treat it as a major curricular area, not an embarrassing add-on. Imagine what would happen to the AFM if the new members were actually educated on the realities of non-profit economics and careers? Perhaps a little more flexibility and realism?

The point is: this system is terribly, terribly broken and will collapse without what will surely be painful and divisive corrective action. Where are the voices of reason that would bring us together to solve these problems as though we were all in the same boat? I challenge the AFM, Boards, Managers, Maestros, and the public to take the problem beyond the hand-wringing stage and work out solutions one community at a time.

Posted by: Cleveland123 | November 13, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

"Another advantage of public funding (again as seen in Europe,) is that it is much more consistent. It avoids the radical ups and downs that have shutdown so many American orchestras."

I think a cursory examination of any state or local budgeting process over the past year would reveal that public funding can be just as unstable as private funding, particularly for something that is not seen as a core governmental function by most of the population.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | November 13, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, not sure what the words exactly are that will touch off this political "left-wing vs. right-wing" reaction. But apparently there's not a lot you can say that doesn't get you pegged as some person on the "other side" with some huge sinister "agenda."

Posted by: wpcommenter | November 13, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Cleveland123, the reason musicians, administrators and unions have not found a solution for our broken system of private funding is that there isn’t anything that will make our system work. Orchestras are not businesses. They just don’t work that way. And private funding will always be erratic and inadequate, especially outside the large financial centers. You might as well try to teach your dog to fly. And I think most musicians fully understand that they will likely have to do many different types of gigs, including teaching. In fact, most already start doing this while still in college.

You are right, nymike. The VPO is a misleading model because the large majority of their income comes from the State Opera. The government also provides an annual subsidy to the VPO of around 5 million dollars (depending on the exchange rate.) The LSO also receives generous subsidies. On the other hand, I think people like the musicians in the New Mexico Symphony might be able to run their orchestra better than their administrators – at least within the context of our impossible system. When musicians have their fate directly in their own hands, they are motivated to be very innovative and connect with their community and government.

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Lindemann, you are right, the paper thin public funding we have in the States is indeed erratic. That is because the government has not invested in building a cultural infrastructure to maintain. Public arts funding can be jerked away with little consequence because it hardly exists in the first place. Imagine if state universities were treated the same way. Public funding will require a gradual change in our political and social culture that will take time, but I think it is possible, and that it is the only real solution we have. All other major countries have discovered this, and someday America will too. Our newly evolving public health care system fairly analogous. We were the only major country without one, but we saw the light. Someday the arts will follow.

Posted by: wasteland | November 13, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

"The public funding systems used in all other major countries except the USA are far better."

@wasteland, While they may function better and are an alternative, that model faces a significant obstacle in the American psyche. As has been pointed out by robertgoeke, orchestras were historically supported by wealthy patrons both in Europe and in the US. The difference is that for much of that history in Europe, going back long before the US existed, the wealthy patrons were not just rich people; they were the kings and queens and nobles who ruled the land. They were the government! So the orchestras have been traditionally government-funded or publicly funded, as they are today. The role of the orchestra has certainly changed as royalty-nobility waned and the people (in the west) or the state (in the east) became more prominent, but the support has always been there from the government. This is just not true in the US, and it is not so simple to change that history. I would also submit the health care debate as evidence because today's debate is really part of "debates" that go back over 40 years to Medicare. This length of time cannot be ignored. And while the government in the US is slowly taking over various functions that were once exclusively in the private sector, that transition is ultimately a process that will take too long for existing classical music institutions to hold out hope for.

Posted by: prokaryote | November 13, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

"I think people like the musicians in the New Mexico Symphony might be able to run their orchestra better than their administrators – at least within the context of our impossible system. When musicians have their fate directly in their own hands, they are motivated to be very innovative and connect with their community and government."

Perhaps wasteland is right. Though the experiences with musician cooperative orchestras in Orlando and New Orleans are not all that promising. But perhaps musicians can create something new. I think that with the economy the way it is there are going to be a lot of opportunities to do that in the wake of collapsing orchestras in the traditional mode.

If this happens, I wish all musicians involved the very best of luck. I do think that they are going to find it very much more work and hugely more complicated than they may think.

Posted by: kevinhagen | November 13, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

I think someone needs to address the "supply and demand" argument that was made early in reference to musician salaries. There are thousands of musicians that graduate from conservatories and universities each year, and only a handful of orchestral positions that open each year. Orchestral auditions in ICSOM orchestras frequently have between 80 to 300 people show up for ONE position(ICSOM orchestras have an average salary of $50,000, with some orchestras making much less or much more). It is also not uncommon for orchestras to hear this many people and still not hire a single person at the audition. This is one of the many reasons that classical music performance is one of the most competitive professions a person can enter. The truth is that to play professionally in an orchestra, musicians are expected to perform at the same competitive level as an athlete in the NFL, NBA, etc. (meaning that only the top 0.01% of the field receive stable positions). The highest levels of achievement in technique, tone quality, rhythm, intonation, articulation, artistry etc. are all discriminately evaluated in every orchestral audition. Because of this established level set in American orchestras, FEW of the thousands of graduates will ever reach or come near that level. The ones that do achieve this level win those orchestral positions. If you worked in arts management, and 80 people showed up to interview for a position you were interested in, you might understand why musicians demand commensurate salaries with their talent and the budget of their orchestra. I am a member of an ICSOM orchestra, and I won my 13th audition to get my position. The audition involved four different rounds, 90 audition candidates, and a repertoire list of 20 different pieces. This is not uncommon.

One of the motivations for orchestral organizations to compensate their musicians adequately is so they won't leave for other orchestras. This preserves the artistic quality of the organization, and ultimately it's fiscal health. The best paid orchestra's get the best musicians, and have the best product to sell.

ALSO, I think it is sad that the musicians are always perceived as the financial gluttons of arts organizations. Start researching what members of management make in arts organizations, there are some HUGE numbers there, but people always seem to forget that. Presidents/CEO's of orchestral organizations frequently make more than $100,000, even in low level orchestras. Every member of an arts organization is going to fight for their salaries, it's interesting that the musicians are the only ones demonized for it.

Posted by: uscyr84 | November 14, 2009 12:03 AM | Report abuse

uscyr84, as someone in arts mgmt, the reason the musicians' salaries are fixated on is because labour is by far the largest expense of any arts organisation, and, in an orchestra, the musicians are the largest and most inflexible labour group (inflexible in that whilst you can usually drop a development assistant, you can't just cut the trombones from the platform).

Its very easy to point the finger at six figure manager salaries but your same argument applies- you want the best people. If the market rate for the top tier of arts managers is in six figures, any organisation which wants one of these folks is going to have to match it.

Coincidentally, my organisation has just finished interviews for a very junior position which attracted 70 applicants. Its nowhere near the same level, but arts management is starting to have the same supply v demand effect due to its increasing popularity as an alternative to a straight BMus.

Posted by: ianw2 | November 14, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Please don't misunderstand me, it was not my intention to "point my finger" at members of management. Orchestras cannot function at all without the significant contributions of management and staff. I simply wanted to highlight that management will always try to get the highest salaries they possibly can, as will the musicians. In this way, they are the same, and in alignment with every other American professional. My point simply was that the musicians are often attacked for this behavior under the pretense that playing an instrument for a living does not qualify them for competitive compensation. I wanted to illustrate the fearfully competitive nature of orchestral performance and why musicians are entitled to their salaries.

You'll notice that during the recession, a large number of ICSOM orchestras took paycuts from management, staff, conductors, and musicians. Orchestral organizations are a team, and every member should be able to participate in the financial stakes of the organization, for better or worse. If an organization is in a fiscal crisis, than everyone should proportionately share the burden. If the orchestra is thriving, than everyone should proportionately share in the wealth.

Posted by: uscyr84 | November 14, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

So many valid points. Being a performer worldwide, I see various differences across ther board. Some musician-run, prograsm committee run, administratively run. I must say, that, when education enters the picture, people listen more attentively. I should also add, that during the 1980s and 1990s, as I was developing my own career, the big thing was getting big name artists, high fees, and hoping to make it back in ticket sales. Many of us knew then that this could not go on. Celebrity status has waned, and fortunately, more people are attending concerts to hear the music they want to hear--rather than having to go because a star artist will be on stage. That is encouraging in many ways, which will allow the orchestras to engage artists who are of all career levels, balance their guest artist budgets appropriately, and maintain a healthy and flowing season. This will, in time, educate audiences to attend concerts for the repertoire--period. They should expect fine playing no matter who is on stage. I also believe that educational outreach is important, and funding would be more accessible if those funding it know their monies are going toward the future of their orchestra. Another creation started a decade ago, in which I created large-scale consortiums of orchestras--thus creating new works for the mainstream repertoire all the while keeping share fees down. This results in community buzz, helps the composer, and joins orchestras in a common comradery. (I just started the first global one of this type with Ellen Taaffe Zwilich). When all of these things are felt worldwide, only then will the global orchestral community work together for the common good, maintaining the music of old, present and future. Simply trying to fill a concert hall because of star 'A' just doesn't cut it anymore.

Posted by: JBiegel | November 14, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Dear JBiegel: Please do your career and the world of classical music a favor and stop posting comments that are nothing more than thinly veiled efforts at self promotion. You've become a joke, and if you don't stop the next step is turning your name into a unflattering verb. A good place to start posting something without mentioning yourself or one of your projects. Thank you.

Posted by: notkidding | November 14, 2009 10:51 PM | Report abuse

I'd think the fact that JBiegel has undertaken projects that are in line with his views only underscores his committment to said views. Indeed, if he did not have examples of projects he had undertaken that were consistent with said views, one might questions his dedication to them.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | November 15, 2009 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Biegel is one of the few soloists around who is flexible and forward thinking. He recently performed with our orchestra and blew everyone's socks off. He deserves your respect, "notkidding." More musicians should take the entrepreneurial approach that he does to enhance his chosen field-- rather than relying upon unions and big donors to do all the heavy lifting. I applaud his efforts and admire his attempts to promote his art.

As a trustee for a struggling regional orchestra, I can only say that we have poor management, a hopelessly old, out-of-touch board, underpaid musicians, and a lot of local competition for entertainment dollars. The sad fact is that our old audience is dying off fast and is not being replaced by younger patrons. Younger audiences do not relate to the 100 year old experience for the most part. And while our older audiences love 18th and 19th century music, the vast majority of them do not tolerate contemporary music at all.

There are too many orchestras around, and dwindling demand. There is only so much you can cut before you completely demoralize the musicians and staff. Some orchestras will have to go, and some will have to merge. This consolidation is no different than for any other industry. The only other way is to figure out some type of repertoire that will appeal to the masses. Most of what has been suggested is an anathema to the classically trained musician.

Our government provides arts funding, but apparently not to the levels enjoyed by European orchestras. But if you attend performances in Europe, you will see packed houses and high ticket prices. The audiences have young, middle aged and older patrons side by side. In short, the culture is different and there is more demand for the product.

Our children grow up with poor to no music education. They live increasingly in single parent households or households where both parents work. They spend many hours watching TV or surfing the net where the culture is at odds with the appreciation of music dating back to the past three centuries. Thus, the long term prospects for the symphony orchestra are even more dismal going out over the next 50 years.

There seem to be more young people interested in playing the music than there are interested in listening. This explains why so many professional musicians have teaching as a major component of their income. One wonders how long this cycle of training young, unemployable musicians to subsidize the economic needs of older ones will last. Sooner or later the serious study of an orchestral instrument may become an quaint, outdated pursuit, like learning how to use a loom or shoot photographs with film. Maybe then the joy of live symphonic music will be rediscovered by the masses and make a comeback.

Posted by: boardmember1 | November 15, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

"And while our older audiences love 18th and 19th century music, the vast majority of them do not tolerate contemporary music at all."

Boardmember, thank you for your important input. However, while I sympathize with your orchestra's dilemma and your own fairly pessimistic outlook, I wonder if the statement of yours that I have quoted above is in fact true. Most American orchestras program just as much twentieth century music (admittedly predominately from the first half) as 18th or 19th century music -- sometimes 18th and 19th c. music combined.

For example, just this week the San Francisco Symphony performed an extremely well attended and well critically received program of Ravel and Sibelius (and an opening French work by Dutilleux from 50 years ago). In other cases, the first half twentieth century programming is balanced with a 19th c. masterpiece on the second half (as in the nationally televised opening concert of the season by the New York Philharmonic, earlier this autumn).

When one looks at the composers that Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have featured in their "Keeping Score" educational programming over the past five years, one sees a careful balancing of 19th and 20th century music -- Beethoven, Berlioz, Chaikovsky, Mahler, Ives, Stravinsky, Copland, and Shostakovich.

I can't imagine that this national broadcasting of public television documentaries on Ives, Stravinsky, Copland, and Shostakovich isn't helping to lay the groundwork for newer cohorts of American orchestra attendees -- in both the major U.S. cities and the medium and smaller U.S. cities. The provision of a amble supply of middle and lower-range (direct or cross-subsidized), as well as high, ticket prices would of course help the situation, in my opinion.

Posted by: snaketime | November 15, 2009 10:34 PM | Report abuse

"Dear JBiegel: Please do your career and the world of classical music a favor and stop posting comments that are nothing more than thinly veiled efforts at self promotion. You've become a joke, and if you don't stop the next step is turning your name into a unflattering verb. A good place to start posting something without mentioning yourself or one of your projects. Thank you."

@notkidding, Well, not sure it was thinly veiled. He selfpromoted in the CD Industry or Bust thread and in this thread. But anywhere else? I don't see self-promotion as that big a deal if it is just these two. What is funny since he claims to have read "so many valid points" is that he doesn't seem to acknowledge what the thread is about?!

He does suggest one method which has been used to create new orchestral works. But while that may be a model for the creation of new works, it doesn't address the economic models of orchestras (or classical music institutions) on the verge of bankruptcy. I think it is safe to say that these orchestras are not in trouble because they failed to sign up with his Global Commissioning Project. (And where exactly is the "global" in that project: as far as I know it's Louisiana, San Diego, Louisville, South Arkansas and Key West? And it's an American composer, Zwilich, with an American soloist, Beigel?)

Posted by: prokaryote | November 16, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure many self-identified purists will be upset with me mentioning this, but the model that Andre Rieu follows appears to be working pretty well for him and his MILLIONS of followers. It's just the same music as everyone else (pops as well as classical), and with fewer costumes and stage sets, it could be done cheaper and still allow for world premieres, broadcasts, etc.

I've always subscribed to the notion that if it's worth paying for, people will pay. Andre Rieu and his orchestra have proved that point for over 20 years regardless of whatever anyone says. It's a pity our pride prevents us from recognizing that such a commercial model works. And works very well!

So, balance the number of orchestras and concerts (why do Europeans play each performance once with one or two rehearsals, but US orchestras play each performance 3 times with 3 or 4 rehearsals?), bring salaries in line with the rest of society, consider the commercial route Andre Rieu took, and perhaps orchestras can maintain a communal future!

Posted by: spbmrmusic | November 16, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

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