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Change we can't believe in

The League of American Orchestras yesterday thought it worthy of note that the assembled participants at the League's annual conference (currently taking place in Atlanta) widely agreed that change was necessary in the orchestra world. "Several industry observers at the event," the press release observed, "noted that this marked a significant shift from the sentiment at conferences four and five years ago."

Next press release: Americans think it would be a good idea if the oil leak in the Gulf stopped.

Note that in neither case is anyone offering consensus on an idea of what to do in order to bring about the desired result.

Anyone have any ideas? What kind of change do you think would help American orchestras?

You can watch the video of the opening remarks at the blog the league has set up for the conference, Orchestra R/Evolution.

By Anne Midgette  |  June 18, 2010; 9:15 AM ET
Categories:  national , news  
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With technology now at the speed and availability far exceeding that of the late 1990s, I have repeatedly shared my idea since 1997 that, when possible, orchestras will start providing online subscriptions for nominal purchase fees to increase their worldwide visibility and add revenue to meet their current demands economically and artistically. True, the 'live' in-house experience can never be duplicated, but how nice it would be to virtually attend a performance from anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world. This would, of course, require internet access and decent camera work to make it happen within the concert hall. As I see it, this will be the norm within 25 years. people will continue to attend performances when marketed and programmed in keeping with the current public demand, and the added eAudience (like that word?) will enhance everything else.

Posted by: JBiegel | June 18, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

One more point which I believe would help get orchestras in the USA to think and function out of the 'box' on a global level, is to look at the new model I have created for commissioning new music in the 21st century. Due to the success of multi-orchestra commissioning projects I have organized in the first decade of this century, the global route is the next phase of development. In earlier attempts, we had one German orchestra in the Liebermann 3rd Concerto project, and for the Bolcom project in 10-11-12, we have one Canadian orchestra in the project. The Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Global Commissioning Project has already several orchestras involved, with news soon to be announced for European and Icelandic partners. This will not only globalize the effort, but stir interest worldwide for orchestras to understand that they can join together, at lower share fees per member, to bring new music into the world, in their cities, and into the 21st century.

Posted by: JBiegel | June 18, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Orchestra unions and players need to get with the times. You should be welcoming and encouraging as much production and promotion of your art as you can get - especially in new mediums such as online (YouTube, etc). True, it may not be the best way to experience your art, but it is a great way to introduce it to new audiences and increase their familiarity with what you do. More important, it is the only way you are going to be able to reach many of them. Instead of handcuffing struggling non-profit companies and others with demands for payment they can't afford, you should consider it an investment in YOUR future. The more you're out there the more it's going to help your future. You may not like the societal change, but the change has come and gone. It's time to catch up.

Posted by: norikia | June 18, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

In the video, Ben Cameron mentions that both the UK’s National Theatre and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have undertaken a dramatic reduction of ticket prices in order to encourage attendance. Ticket sales make up a relatively small proportion of a symphony's budget. I wonder if these discounts really are leading to better attendance, and if this larger and more diverse audience would encourage the private contributions that are ultimately more important for the orchestras survival. It seems to me that these private and corporate donors would be far more inclined to contribute when there is a full house. Also, the first-time concertgoer who attends a program only because the tickets are reasonably priced, may become tomorrow’s season ticket holder.

Posted by: Jason41 | June 18, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Ludovic Morlot, Rossen Milanov, James Gaffigan, Jakub Hrusa , Kristjan Järvi, and Juraj Valcuha all made guest appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra over the past season. In five years time, one of them will – in all likelihood -- be earning $1 million a year as music director of an American symphony orchestra.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how these young (all male, and five European and one European-American) guest conductors contributed to connecting the National Symphony Orchestra to new classical music audiences, especially new, younger and more multi-cultural audiences in these conductors’ same age-peer groups? Did any of the above meet with new and younger classical music fans during their brief residencies with the National Symphony Orchestra the same way that Gidon Kremer and Yuri Temirkanov met with classical music fans after concerts over the past couple of years?

Posted by: snaketime1 | June 18, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Get out of the cloistered confines of the Kennedy Center. Sorry, it has the feel of a mausoleum to me. We just opened a new hall in Manassas. And there is reputedly a good one in College Park. The acoustics at KC Concert hall are not that great, so you would not lose much in that area. Integrate yourself in the wider culture and community. Cyberspace stuff is OK, but music played in real time by live people for live people in the ne plus ultra of music making.

And please drop the Edwardian concert attire. Wear something hip, that younger folks could relate to. Modest, cool and not to 'out there'.

Posted by: kashe | June 18, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

O.K. ideas.
The first thing orchastras ought to do is to stop programming new music dismissively first in order to get it over with and leaving the audience with Beethoven Mozart etc. ringing in their heads.
Forcing newness on those who don't want it wont work.
END each concert with an encore of something new, allowing the dilettantes and poseurs their freedom to scram.
The people who came for the pre-concert lecture will stay, they will listen, they will help promote.
As long as I am on a rant; conductors could devote more time to getting new music right and less to music that everyone already knows by heart.

Posted by: lanesavant | June 18, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

I think if more people in the general public knew how many of their idols (i.e. celebrities) liked classical music, they would look at the genre differently. I saw this video recently of Jason Bateman talking about his obsession with classical music ( and I think if more fans of his knew this piece of information they would start to think classical music is cool and start listening to it too.

Posted by: hansonjere | June 18, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Since some friends are asking about the term eAudience at my Facebook page, it is simply a basic concept of creating a base of online audiences per orchestra, which can easily be a component of each orchestra's web site--with a log-in, member username, etc, opportunity to blog, share ideas etc worldwide. Orchestras can create a wide net of subscribers by creating new friendships--almost like a personal 'Twitter' or 'Facebook' within their own web site. Each orchestra can have a tab titled eAudience, specifically for online subscribers to their concerts. Of course, such concerts would have to become available for a worldwide eAudience. Can you imagine a virtual audience adding their interest to what the orchestra is programming, etc? There can also be online master classes from guest artists in the online concert hall, and perhaps Skype sessions with the eAudience community during guest artist visits. This can indeed open a brand new world to orchestras, which are currently limited to the 20th century ideal of selling tickets to on-site attendees.

Posted by: JBiegel | June 18, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I'll admit, when I read this post, I laughed. Then I thought, in what way does this post differ from what the LOA has been doing all month on their blog? Answer: Nothing.
Do orchestras need to do a better job of engaging younger listeners and making classical music more approachable? Yes. Are they working on finding that solution? Certainly no less than the Washington Post.

Posted by: anne34 | June 18, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

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