'What To Do About My Local Orchestra'

August 6, 2010 at 12:23 PM ·

 Orchestra administrators write a lot about this topic, but here's a perspective from a popular political commentator, Duncan Black, aka 'Atrios' at Eschaton. He's talking about the Philadelphia Orchestra:

"Commenters wildly disagree about what should be done. As with newspapers, "what should be done" conversations have a lot to do with getting more people interested in your product, though I gather that to some extent financial problems go beyond low attendance even if the attendance problem is real...."

http://www.eschatonblog.com/2010/08/what-to-do-about-my-local-orchestra.html

Replies (37)

August 6, 2010 at 12:50 PM ·

I wonder if we're seeing just the tip of the iceberg here. How many other major orchestras are also quietly, but desperately, in trouble? I note that the author of the blog seems more concerned about the social amenities to be enjoyed in a public space than he is about the music. Curious.

It also looks like a cautionary tale about what happens to musical ensembles when their size and requirements become unsustainable, and the major weaknesses inherent in a system that turns arts groups into wards of charity.

August 6, 2010 at 02:12 PM ·

Three major factors contribute to the economic problems in the US.

1. Distribution of wealth

2. Increased longevity of the population due to improved medical technology.

3. Exporting of jobs to low-income areas.

This affects the amount of money that must go to support pensions, and the sources of that money and where it can come from.

Where does all the money go? Well 1/3 of the wealth in the USA is owned by 1% of the people and almost 60% of the wealth is in the possession of only 5% of the people. That is where the money is and why the economy is in such trouble. The lobbyist "industry" is basically dedicated to keeping and growing those percentages of wealth.

As far as orchestras are concerned, much of their support has come from the charitable contributions of such rich people.

One way to increase the future popularity (and even future economic survival) of "acoustic" music is through the programs in children's schools. There is nothing else that compares with the live sounds of expertly played acoustic instruments and some children will fall in love with such sounds and look for ways to make them continuing parts of their lives.

Looking into the referenced article, wrt. having public bars in orchestral venues - this sounds like a way to guarantee really spoiling the musical experience of the entire audience. You just know what will happen.

Etc.

Andy

 

August 6, 2010 at 06:36 PM ·

Last year my great aunt got sick.  She's been in the hospital for a year and a half.  She's arround 85.  My familly has had season tickets to/been member of the Czech Philharmonic for over 90 years, which is 4 generations in our case.  This year, she did not renew.  She's too weak and frail to continue going and would very much like it if I where to take her place.  Continue the tradition.

However, at 19, I don't really like to go spend the evening sitting in a concert hall crowded with people older than my mother.  Sure, the one quartet I whent to was amazing.  But I can see amazing acts on youtube and don't have to sit still for 2 hours.

That said.  Our philharmonic does not have any troubles.  They are actually a source of income for the city as many tourists come to see the relatively cheep concerts in the stunningly beatiful builiding.  

August 6, 2010 at 07:06 PM ·

I just have to wonder how much of it is due to declining attendance, and how much is due to having put endowments in the stock market.  Declining attendance is a problem, but is it what's killing orchestras NOW, or is that due to the fact that most endowments went south and suddenly they are looking to ticket buyers to make up the slack?

I just think that the declining attendance is a problem of its own, that perhaps is part of why money is tight, but the lion's share of the money problems are related to investments heading into the toilet.  I'd like to see where many orchestras put their cash before knocking the blame as far downhill as possible.

August 6, 2010 at 11:29 PM ·

That's what I'm saying though -- declining attendance has been a problem for some time, decades really.  I'm not sure if this current crisis can be laid at the feet of shrinking audiences, even if the decline finally got so bad that some sort of threshold was crossed.  I think that it's possible (but would have to be demonstrated) that extremely recent poor stock market performance tanked the orchestra's financial stability, and the decades-long slide in attendance is an easy target for blame.

Essentially, there are two different things at work here, one Long, Slow Slide and one Acute Crisis.

Long, Slow Slide: decline in ticket sales (X)

Acute Crisis: stock market crash hence investment of orchestra money possibly tanking (Y), rich donors less willing to pony up (Z)

What is the most profound effect here -- the drop in X, or in Y + Z?  People always say that bad economies make people less willing to shell out for the arts, but are the most significant "people" in this statement the audience, or the donors?

We'd need to find out precisely what the orchestra's books have looked like for at least the past forty years, where most of its money has always come from, and whether or not the decline in ticket sales outweighs any stock market effect.  It wouldn't surprise me if the sudden nosedive in Y and Z were far more to blame than the long, lazy drop in X, but we'd have to do the math to determine it.  I wouldn't trust anything short of that, not the word of any board members, musicians, or anyone but the hard numbers.  This isn't a question for classical pundits, but for accountants.

Note that it may also be easier to sell vague and uncontrollable cultural problems as the cause of insolvency to the board of directors of most orchestras than "you people mismanaged the money."  :-)

August 7, 2010 at 12:16 AM ·

Some recent blogs here discussed ways for classical music organizations to continue to survive and thrive.  I'll add that the performers will have to do more of what they've already started doing -- going where the audiences are.  For a lot of us, that means the home.

This next statement may amount to heresy in the view of some, coming from a former music major -- especially on a site like this.  But the concert hall experience doesn't fit with my schedule, because most performances go on in the evening; and I'm not a night person -- in fact, my day begins at 4:40 a.m.  Like Timothy, I'd rather not spend time sitting in a concert hall -- not to mention the drive time back and forth -- when I can get an experience at home that is nearly as good -- even better in some regards -- thanks to radio, YouTube, and CD.
----------
I will pick up briefly on two of Andy's points.  I could write full-blown op-eds on each item; but since there are sites better suited for these subjects, I will limit my remarks here to a few lines:

1. DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH.

I don't care how much someone else has -- as long as they have legitimately earned or inherited it.  Since becoming self-supporting and self-employed, I've experienced life below the poverty line, on the one hand, and in free-and-clear territory, on the other.  The poor and the wealthy are not like two separate races but are often the same people at different stages of their lives.

2. INCREASED LONGEVITY OF THE POPULATION DUE TO IMPROVED MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY.

For some years, I have felt that we place an unnatural burden on our elderly population -- and ourselves -- by keeping people alive on machines.  My good mother and father died in 1991 and 1993, respectively.  No lingering, no heroic life-saving measures.  It was time to go on -- that's the way they wanted it.

The last time I revised my will and related papers, I arranged things, to the best of my ability, so that, when my final hour comes, I'm going.  I don't plan to extend my temporal earth-life one day -- or even one hour -- beyond what God and nature gave me.  Adding years to one's life is worthless.  Adding life to one's years makes more sense.

August 7, 2010 at 08:49 AM ·

Don, "My experience suggests that "increased longevity" is one of the factors that SUPPORTS classical music,  There is usually a lot of gray hair in my audiences." I can only agree! It will always be this way, with this generation and with future ones. Classical Music is not about to go the way of Big Band!

Andy - I disagree with your analysis. For me, the reason that professional orchestras find themselves in their present predicament is purely economic. People are paranoid about where they spend their disposable income. It's like that all over the world. Whereas they would have splurged on expensive restaurants, they are going to cheaper ones. Instead of joining a health club they take up walking. And instead of paying through the nose to see a professional orchestra (expensive because of overheard and greed, I'm sure) they are now going to see community and university orchestras, which offer the same program for free or at a low price. Yes, the quality is not the same, but that is what happens. On top of it, the whole family can come, even babies. Whereas most professional orchestras do not allow children at concerts at all.

So there is but one issue: professional orchestras and ensembles are suffering because classical music lovers are finding cheaper satisfaction elsewhere. There are not less classical music lovers out there. When I look into the audience at one of our concerts I see entire families. Yes there are older people, but many of our fans are young families that come to every concert because they can afford just that much and they want their children to love classical music.

I feel bad for what is happening with professional orchestras, but they are victims of their own policies and success. People simply cannot afford the ticket prices and then have to pay a babysitter too, when they can go to a local orchestra that will only charge the minimum or even be free for all. So, when people accuse non-pro orchestras of stealing business I feel it is unfair. Also, we are keeping the interest going and have always been there, operating the same.

I used to go to BSO (Boston Symphony Orchestra) concerts when I was young (I was over the minimum age), with my Dad. During one concert I burst out crying and sobbed through the whole thing. My Dad asked me if it was because the music was so beautiful. I said no, it was because all around me were white haired people and no young people like me and I was afraid that by the time I was his age there'd be no more classical music. Now I find myself to be his age and Classical Music is as popular as ever. In my opinion, the reason more young people don't come is that they are not the targetted market. So, there is no reason to worry for classical music. I would worry more for the professional symphony orchestras that have so ill-managed their business that they will go the way of the buffalo. As for our concerts, they are sold out every time and people are turned away (we are a university orchestra)! Times change, the stuffy snobbery that hangs around the halls of most symphony halls needs to be aired out and room needs to be made for more modern attitudes.

August 8, 2010 at 02:19 PM ·

Timothy-- If all your peers feel the way you do, there won't be revenue-producing orchestras around much longer. You are quite young yet, and I think you will see the error of your own arguments over time. YouTube is not the answer, although I use it myself and find it useful. We don't have a good perspective on this yet. I suggest that you go to a concert when you are able to sit still for a couple of hours, and I also suggest that you focus on the music rather than the ages of people around you. Help straighten out the balance. Bring friends! :-)

August 8, 2010 at 05:20 PM ·

I'd like to give my two cents the repeated use of the adjective "stuffy" regarding classical music concerts. I live in Europe and when people go to a concert, they take the opportunity to dress up. Coat or suit and tie for me, evening dress for my wife and daughters. Not only is it a way to show respect for the artists and the event itself, it gives the audience an excuse to feel good about themselves and enjoy a 360° experience. In other words, a concert is a special evening!

The last time I went to the Ritz in London, while I was wearing a suit - OMG! - I had forgotten a tie. Being that there is no entry at the Ritz without a necktie, the concierge lent me one. Is this what people mean about "stuffy"? I thought it was fun, part of the experience - and a memory to share with you now.

Cheers! Dimitri

August 9, 2010 at 12:31 AM ·

Lisa's comment: "… the stuffy snobbery that hangs around the halls of most symphony halls needs to be aired out and room needs to be made for more modern attitudes."

Agreed.

Dimitri's comment: "… the repeated use of the adjective 'stuffy' regarding classical music concerts. I live in Europe and when people go to a concert, they take the opportunity to dress up."

Although Lisa's reference to "stuffy snobbery" doesn't mention concert dress, it's hard for me to avoid picking up that ball and running with it, now that we've come this far.  I heard a radio segment in 2005 about, coincidentally, the Philadelphia Orchestra.  The commentators were saying something about how incongruous it seemed for these players to be engaged in such intense, demanding work and, at the same time, be so encumbered by these stuffy, hot, formal penguin-type outfits.

You see, I'm looking at the issue chiefly from the performer's viewpoint.  I know firsthand that symphonic playing is, indeed, hot, intense, gritty work.  I've seen some excellent presentations of European ensembles performing standard works -- with the ladies not all having to wear the same color dresses, and with the guys ditching the jackets and ties and rolling back the shirtsleeves a couple of notches from the wrists.  To me, as a player, this is so functional, so practical, so logical.  BTW, the audiences weren't all gussied up, either.

At 19 or 20, I started getting rid of the jacket and tie myself.  This was for small chamber ensembles -- we played a number of performances in un-air-conditioned halls during hot, humid weather.  From that point on, for me, there was just no going back to the old way.  And I'm pleased to see some chamber groups and some soloists going casual more often these days.  Regrettably, the major symphony organizations -- at least here in the USA -- seem not to have caught on.  If they did, I don't doubt that this would do a lot to break down the wall of snobbery, apartness, and elitism that surrounds classical music.

I could write some full-blown op-eds on three other topics I see here -- respect, feel-good-ism, ticket prices -- but this will have to do for now.

August 9, 2010 at 03:03 AM ·

 I read the comments before I read the blog itself, and I expected something different.  Rather than a big demographic or economic analysis, the blog actually seems pretty straightforward with its recommendation:  more eating and (especially) drinking.  Dinner theater is a popular niche, what about dinner concerts?  Jazz cafes are popular, why not more string quartet cafes?

August 9, 2010 at 09:27 AM ·

Dimitri - I live near Paris, France and perform often in Paris. The only people who get dressed up are the older people. Who else is dressing up? Who cares what people wear. As a performer what I care about is that people don't clap between movements, get up and move around, snap gum, or slam doors! An educated public is a pleasure to perform in front of. But, who cares what they wear. The snobbery I am referring to has nothing to do with appearance, but with attitude. Classical music should be affordable to all, not just the upper crust. In fact, you very eloquently proved my point. If modern professional symphony orchestras want to survive in the present economic environment, they have to lose the pretense. It will still be special, it will always be special. You see, to me this IS the problem. If people think it's a special event, and something you do very occasioanally then orchestras will suffer financially. It is bad marketing. For ages symphonic music has been passed off as being so special that it should be expensive and dressy and special and a huge event. I am suggesting that that attitude should be done away with, replaced with the attitude that yes it is special but affordable and something one can do with the whole family and won't break the bank. Amature orchestras have been presenting it this way for decades, not to steal business away, but to take advantage of the market share that is lost on Professional orchestras.

Jim, right on! As far as what we perfomers wear, we always wear black. Us women can have some variety. But, you poor men with your bowties and coats! But, I have a feeling that most musicians would like to keep it that way. I agree about it being gritty and sweaty! I don't think people know how much we sweat and suffer on stage, but it's worth it! I like getting dressed up to play, I even put on "musical" earrings, even though I know nobody will see them!

Karen - That would be a great idea for small chamber groups, but not symphony orchestras!!

August 9, 2010 at 03:30 PM ·

Lisa - what I was saying is that a concert, in Italy at least, is considered a special event. It has strong social overtones, people attend not only to hear music, but *also* to see and be seen, to meet people and to network. That's one reason why senior citizens are not the majority of concertgoers here: audiences are cross-generational.

That doesn't mean that you can't go to concerts every night, but it does mean that each one is in its way a cherishable opportunity for multiple reasons. Italians tend to live "events" to the fullest, and many people feel better and more secure of themselves when they look their best, i.e. the suits and the evening dresses. That's not snobbery or elitism, that's just enjoying life!

In addition, concerts are "affordable" here for just about everyone, as they are heavily subsidized and sponsored. In my city at least a quarter of the tickets are routinely given away, when the concerts aren't free to begin with.

But then again, perhaps my view only applies to Italy. 

August 9, 2010 at 04:40 PM ·

OK...I repeat, it is special. Who said it wasn't? What's with the "it's special, it's special" reasoning? We all agree, it's special. Now, that has nothing to do with the issue. The issue is orchestras are going under, and why. It's not about clothes, it's not about age. You started this by talking about Europe, thus my response, since I live in Europe, that's all.

August 9, 2010 at 10:14 PM ·

Concertmaster salaries at the largest orchestras are all in the mid-six figure ranges, and conductor's salaries occasionally cross the 7-figure threshhold.  Orchestra's seasons have expanded and larger concert halls have been built.  Problem is, the number of butts willing and able to fill all these seats has not expanded at the same rate.  (I did say number, not size!)  Ticket prices have increased faster than the audience's wages.  Music schools are churning out graduates a  rate that doesn't jive with the number of jobs available.

The situation just isn't sustainable.  Orchestras have grown in number and scale faster than the demand for tickets, making them much more dependent on (vanishing) contributions.  The current recession has exacerbated the problem, but didn't create it.

August 10, 2010 at 12:53 AM ·

Ticket sales isn't the problem. I heard that most orchestras make only around 33% of their money from ticket sales. Most of the rest of the money is from donations from individuals and businesses and/or from the interest off of Endowments.  The current presidential administration is looking at cutting the amounts of tax-deductible donations that businesses give to non-profit organizations. This will, obviously, have a huge, negative impact, especially on the arts.

I think the only way to solve the problem is to reduce costs, primarily salaries. However, the music unions are usually unwilling to budge much when it comes to salaries. I think musicians deserve a fair salary, but I'd rather go see the orchestra on Saturday nights than stay at home because it no longer exists.

August 10, 2010 at 01:10 AM ·

Don -

In my personal opinion, a large-scale effort to make going to concerts seem more fashionable and trendy (as it is in Italy) would make a difference. That would make more people - especially younger-age - want to go. That, in turn, would make more broader-base sponsors more willing to help finance the events, as they would get a greater return in image.

Audiences would get younger, more people would be exposed to Classical music and perhaps develop a love for it, more money would move around, the music industry and the musicians themselves would benefit.

I could go into greater detail but alas, my opinion is of limited consequence.  

August 10, 2010 at 08:43 AM ·

Yes, it seems like it's a combination of things. I disagree with the statement about giving to non-profits/not supporting the arts. Non profit orchestras/ensembles are filled with artists too! You don't have to be a pro to be an artist. I also don't think the key is to lower the salaries of musicians. Most the ones I know are not rich. There are tons of musicians out there, scads and scads of us. Most cannot support themselves by only playing in an orchestra. Almost all are giving private lessons, or have another job, etc. So, lowering their salaries won't change a thing. The supply is greater than the demand in terms of openings. Lowering costs shouldn't mean having musicians become slaves.

August 10, 2010 at 01:03 PM ·

 In a short blog, he mentioned:  1. better concessions during intermission; 2. drinking wine on a blanket under the stars; and 3. open bar.  You can have any or all of those at orchestra concerts.  Movie theaters, which are also big auditoriums where everyone is seated and watching/listening to something in front, make most of their money on concessions.

August 10, 2010 at 02:17 PM ·

All of these suggested additions to the concert experience are merely small band-aids on a large wound. Others have already mentioned this, but it's worth repeating that orchestras are too big and too costly. We pay our conductors way too much; we pay our guest soloists way too much. We know that ticket revenues don't even begin to cover costs, but we persist in building larger (and largely unsatisfactory) concert halls in densely populated areas on the fiction that this will help solve the problem. But in fact, it only makes matters worse. It raises the costs of everything, and it requires larger salaries for the musicians so that they can afford to live in areas with the most expensive housing in the nation. Large numbers of staff are needed to run large organizations, and contracts are given to fund raising organizations that are very good at what they do. Their skill and familiarity with the system allow them to vacuum up all the available resources, leaving just scraps for the smaller arts groups in other parts of the country. I don't know who sells the idea that this is the way arts should be positioned in this country, but what other businesses can you think of that would survive if run like this?

We need to decentralize the arts, and we should do it quickly. I'd rather see many small, fine orchestras throughout the country than a few large ones in dense urban areas. Let's get real about this. We already know that large numbers of people living outside metropolitan areas do not, can not, or will not travel great distances into the cities to hear symphony performances. So large urban areas enjoy a rich, but heavily subsidized, cultural life, while the rest of us scramble to survive in the hustings.

August 10, 2010 at 02:31 PM ·

Once again, there are tons of orchestras outiside of cities. It's unbelievable how many orchestras there are out there. On the other hand, top notch orchestras in the USA, for example, you can count on your two hands. You are comparing apples and oranges. If you want to go hear classical music CHEAP (or even free), you can. If you want to go to top notch world renown symphony orchestra you pay through the nose. Those are the orchestras that are faultering.

Also, the answer isn't to serve beer and popcorn at concerts! My goodness, the very idea!I hope I hope I misunderstood! Maybe during the Intermission, but at any rate since one cannot take food into the concert hall (and rightly so) it's not enough time to eat much anyway! We serve refreshements during intermission but it doesnt make us money, and never will.

August 10, 2010 at 05:49 PM ·

"Lowering costs shouldn't mean having musicians become slaves."

I think this is a bit of an exaggeration. Do you really think it's appropriate to call someone who does something they love, but for a slightly lower salary a "slave"?

August 10, 2010 at 06:31 PM ·

Marty...you can't be serious. Read what I said again. I also happen to play violin in a symphony orchestra and for the time being, I'm not paid at all, which is fine. So, don't be ridiculous. You have completely misunderstood, or worse, are trying to start a fight.

August 10, 2010 at 07:07 PM ·

I don't think food at a classical music concert is a shocking idea.  At the scientific institute where I work we have lunchtime seminars where food is served in the auditorium.  There is also a high-quality piano in this auditorium and the institute has arranged for some local conservatory students to come and give occasional lunchtime concerts.  People attend a concert on their lunch hour as a little break from work and eat while they are listening--it isn't a big deal.  

I also play violin in an amateur orchestra.  We have a POPS concert in June at the town hall.  The audience is set up with tables on the ground floor and there is a strawberry festival, so some of the audience eats strawberries and ice cream while they are listening to the concert.  It is the biggest fundraiser of the season for the orchestra. 

 Lisa, what is it  that you hope you misunderstood?  I mentioned thinking about movie theaters as a way to look at the problem from another angle.  Movie theaters are also losing audience to DVDs, Netflix, etc.  What ideas are they trying in order to get people to leave their home entertainment centers and come to the theater?  Refreshments are a big source of revenue for them.  And food was a lot of what was mentioned in the blog too.  

August 10, 2010 at 07:56 PM ·

Talking about refreshment, the New- York Times made last week and impressive review of a James Ehnes recital at the Mostly Mozart festival, where it happened that he did not play any Mozart. During the recital,the public could drink wine and had all sorts of refreshments. When Ehnes came on stage with his pianist, he introduced the first piece, being a Kreisler's favorite, adding, "wow, I can see you are being served with wine...Usually, we like our public to be intoxicated..."

This is stiil in the New-York times ( go for the review) and you can hear the joke and watch Ehnes performing the Praeludium and Allegro,filmed by an amateur...

August 10, 2010 at 08:40 PM ·

Karen, you were talking about Consession booths and said, "Movie theaters, which are also big auditoriums where everyone is seated and watching/listening to something in front, make most of their money on concessions". Nothing about movie theaters losing business, etc. The suggestion you are making is better concessions, like movie theaters who make lots of money on that, will draw in more money during classical concerts. So, following that reasoning you think it's acceptable for people to be crunching popcorn and sucking the last drop of coke from between their ice cubes (for this is just what happens to what is bought at the concession booth), during a classical performance. That is what I hope I misunderstood. Open bar, at a classical music concert? Why? Do people have to get tipsy to put up with classical music? Or better yet, one drunk person running over a poor little kid and that's the end of that orchesta.

The goal shouldn't be to dumb down classical music and only play the hits, offer light shows and popcorn, to draw the younger crowd! What is that saying? Change is needed to make it more affordable and make access easier and maybe loosen up the stuffiness a bit. Listening to the music, hearing what the composer is doing and telling you, that is accesible to all and is show enough.

August 10, 2010 at 09:24 PM ·

Don and Robert, you both bring up many valid points.  Cultural organizations in the US have never had the government support they have had in Europe, and I doubt that's changing anytime soon.  The private sector is a little tapped out.  There will have to be some contraction. 

Large urban areas may find they can't support quite as many groups.  Other orchestras may find that a 10-concert season is feasible and a 15-concert season is suicidal.  Kids entering music school would be wise to have a back-up plan and job skills more sophisticated than asking, "Would you like fries with that?"

Recorded music has become so ubiquitous that people need a reason to shell out for concert tickets.  If selling beer and wine in the lobby helps, here's to it!  I fervently hope there will be healthy orchestras and appreciative audiences forever, but, as Edward Abbey once so eloquently put it, "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."  Most orchestras should concentrate less on outdoing last year's season or the neighboring group's accomplishments and more on meeting the true wants and needs of their audiences.

August 10, 2010 at 10:06 PM ·

I'm a lover, not a fighter, so it must have been a misunderstanding.

August 10, 2010 at 10:27 PM ·

Don R. "Robert S. Would a small, decentralized, orchestra survive in your town with a very limited audience  ? Come to think of it, those gazebo concerts so common in the Summer usually have a good crowd but, typically, there are no tickets or other fees."

A good question, and a fair one. We have just such an orchestra in my very small city, and it is a very fine group. On the other hand, its "season" consists of only four or five concerts plus a chamber series featuring small groups taken from the larger ensemble, also about four or five concerts. Some larger orchestras play that many gigs in a week or two. Our orchestra is about 25 years old, and it has been struggling since the first day.

The orchestra stagnates for lack of funding, which used to be a problem most small orchestras faced, but now the largest ones are in the same boat. It also stagnates for lack of audiences, in which boat we again find ourselves in company with the big boys. Yes, larger audiences would help, but even if our hall (700 seats) were packed at every concert, I doubt it would be enough.

Not to change the subject, but I detect a thread through this interesting exchange that orchestras must be subsidized, and the only difference is whether they should be subsidized from the private sector or the public sector.

To be honest, how many businesses and corporations in this country would underwrite the arts if they got no credit, no good will, and no tax write-offs? How many CEOs would simply say "Here's a check to cover your operating expenses this season. Don't tell anyone where you got it." (waits for laughter to die down) So, in effect, the government is subsidizing the arts by making it financially beneficial to the donor. On the other hand (I think we're up to three hands now), where is the government getting its money? From us. So we're subsidizing the arts, albeit indirectly, but we still must pay a lot of money to enjoy them. I think we're getting the butt end of this deal.

I doubt mocha java or popcorn in the lounge will solve this dilemma, but I would like to hear the ideas of other vcommies on how to nibble away at this predicament. It should be interesting!

August 10, 2010 at 11:23 PM ·

Wow, I must really belong to a unique orchestra! We are from a "small city" that one wouldn't think has any reason to have a symphony orchestra in it. We are amature, we hire ourselves out, we are lightly subsidized, we charge a reasonable price for tickets. We play about 25 concerts a year. We have travelled to China for performances twice in the past three years. 95% of the orchestra are volunteers. The orchestra is run by volunteers. Most of our concerts are sold out, and sometimes we draw crowds of 3k. We are in a pretty good financial position and all of this is done without sponsors. We present programs that are what we want to play, we do not treat our audience like idiots. We just did a 7 concert series of Mendelssohn's Lobgesang, for example....not because it is popular (Lord knows, it isn't!) but because it is what we wanted to do. Our concerts were sold out.

I totally agree, subsidizing is not the answer. I know classical music will survive and there's no question of it going away. What will happen is that orginizations who feel they are entitled to success will suffer. It is about sharing the demand, or building demand.

August 11, 2010 at 08:36 AM ·

Don, I don't think we'll be touring the USA! If they don't support their own orchestras then I doubt there are funds to hire us! We have gone to China twice because they are interested and want to experience classical music. We have a website, I'll send you the link. We are not a super good orchestra. We are a unified group who love playing together. There is a certain ambiance at our concerts that audiences appreciate.

I have faith in classical music. It will always be here!


August 11, 2010 at 01:38 PM ·

Lisa-- Wow! How wonderful! Your orchestra is certainly a bright spot in this somewhat dim picture. Send me the link to your site, too.

In addition to the professional orchestra I mentioned in my earlier post, I organize a string orchestra that plays on instruments of the New Violin Family. We're in rehearsals about eight weeks each summer, and then we present several benefit concerts for worthy causes as our "season" ends. Like your group, we are all volunteers. At our latest series of concerts, just completed, audiences were small.  So anyone who can draw 3,000 people to a classical concert gets my attention in a hurry.

You have obviously found a route into the heart of your community, and I would love to learn more about it. Perhaps some of your approaches would work here, as I am already thinking about the 2011 season. Please feel free to contact me off-list if you prefer, and all best wishes for continued success with your ensemble.

August 11, 2010 at 02:45 PM ·

 Lisa F. When you mentioned that you played in an orchestra in the Parisian region, it didn't take long to guess which one it was when you used the word "campus". I've known about the orchestra for a while and have visited the website before, in fact I kow people that play/have played in it.

Even though you say it's in a "small city", two factors that would seem to contribute to its success might be that you have a metropolis at the doorstep, so I'm curious, do you know from how far afield your audience is drawn?

The other aspect was that the orchestra seems to frequently collaborate with a choral group (sometimes more than one at the same time). That always seems to be a winning formula to draw in the crowds.

August 11, 2010 at 04:38 PM ·

Nigel, yes you have guessed who we are! It's true that we benefit from being so close to Paris, I didn't mean to sound like we were in the sticks, tee hee! Most of the concerts that we play in the Orsay area are drawing from the areas of Orsay, Les Ulis, etc (Or from that part of the region that is south/south west of Paris). The place we hold our concerts at cannot hold more than 500, including the orchestra. When we play in Paris, it's usually in a church/cathedral (St Sulpice, for example). We also have a great Conductor/Musical Director. I know our musicians come from far and wide (Paris is big you know)! I hope you only hear good things about us at any rate. I see you live in St-Nis...my husband is from there. Come and see us sometime please :o)

August 12, 2010 at 04:38 PM ·

 Lisa, one sure way to get me along to a concert would be to put something of mine in the programme, in fact I have a short overture that could be easily programmed at the start of a concert for example, a work that the brass players would probably appreciate, and I've never had any complaints about the string writing. Anyway you can listen to it and have a look at the score from the webpage. I see that I started putting all the parts there - another little job to finish off sometime, putting the rest there. 

I know at least three players from your orchestra, a couple of them cellists (one is on your bureau). If they are your typical player then I'm sure the result would be superb! 

August 12, 2010 at 07:56 PM ·

I'm on the "Bureau" also. Oh so you know her! I love her to bits, she's great. She's our cello solo in fact. Her Father is quite the Organist and played Saint-Saëns No 3 with us a while back. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/André_Isoir

I can't get the music to play on your website, it just says "waiting for video" and then nothing happens.

I'll take a peek at you piece, and pass it along to our Conductor. Better yet, you could come to a concert and talk to him in person, or I could set up a phone call.

August 13, 2010 at 01:14 PM ·

 Lisa, that's an excellent idea to make the Conductor aware of the piece in advance. Sorry that you couldn't hear it yesterday, i noticed there was a period that site wouldn't load properly, just try again - hosting is with a company in Marseille, normally 99% fast and reliable.

About the original topic of the thread, when I was still in Auckland, the Philharmonia there used to have a pre-concert talk when they were going to premiere a new work. They scheduled it separately eg. 7pm if there was an 8pm concert so there was plenty of time for the composer to elucidate their work, rather than having a conductor squeezing in a few words in front of the players.

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