July 25, 2006
Concerts in Parksby Janelle Gelfand
I believe that some free events should have a place in every community, if for only the general goodwill between arts organizations and the public, and not necessarily for some higher aesthetic goal. A year ago last June, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced it was abandoning its free "Concerts in Parks" concerts, which for 38 years had introduced generations of locals to orchestral music. Years earlier, it dropped a regional concert series established by Judith Arron when she was orchestra manager here, which brought things like Mozart piano concertos and Bach Brandenburgs to far-flung high school gymnasiums and small town squares.
Did these free concerts result in new subscribers? In supporters of classical music? Perhaps a few. But the exposure alone was immeasurable, and people I meet when I speak in public still remember them. They made an impression. People would go, numbering in the thousands, and literally hang from trees to hear the "1812." The concerts took the orchestra out of its ivory tower, and gave the people of this region a sense of ownership, even if folks only heard it once. I think it was a huge mistake to give this up.
As for those notoriously bad sound systems in these venues, is hearing a Shostakovich symphony on an iPod any better?
So, back to ticket prices. Every orchestra, chamber music series and opera company must decide how much price increase its market can bear. The Cincinnati Symphony is still recovering from a 12 percent drop in attendance following a 25-percent average ticket price increase two years ago. These arts groups have a real dilemma. They all want to sell subscriptions, yet they all offer last-minute discounts or two-for-one deals that would seem to reinforce those people who are last-minute ticket buyers.
I found Klaus' comments about orchestra industry issues especially relevant. Indeed, how viable is a full-time, 100-piece orchestra -- along with those highly-paid executives and huge staffs -- in most cities today? He voiced an idea that so many boards, artist managers, executives and musicians unions fear to broach.
The explosion of costs, the huge decrease in arts funding, the growing deficits and enormous administrations -- it all sounds eerily familiar. Indeed, it was all noted in the ASOL's Wolf Report of 1992, along with the equally eerie prediction that endowments tied to the stock market might be at risk.
Perhaps orchestras should look at that report again and ask themselves some of those same hard-hitting questions.
Free has a Price, tooby Frank J. Oteri
Allan, I can totally relate to what you're saying about some people lacking respect for something when it is free. However, I know from personal experience that you can even be sitting at a concert at Carnegie amidst endless chatter and I've also been to free concerts where the audience behaved spectacularly.
I admit I've officially given up on orchestra concerts in the park after observing picnickers not only talking thoughout the performances but even once watching folks nearby with a radio on tuned to a different station. I'm a fan of indeterminate music, and the combination of sounds was probably a more interesting experience than rehearing the warhorse I was trying to listen to at the time, but even I have my limits! These concerts are not for everybody. In fact, they're probably not for you or me. Clearly, though, we also need free events if this music is to have any impact beyond the folks who are willing to make sacrifices for it.
It's been said that "classical music" is more a way of listening to the music than the actual music itself and I think much needs to be done to get people to listen more attentively, no matter the context. The skills people can gain from focussing on music have much larger societal implications. In a world where most people are unable to listen to each other, very little ever happens beyond the surface level, there is constantly a threat of unprovoked aggression which frequently leads to uncontrollable large-scale violence, and uninformed opinions rule the day. Wait a minute, that sounds like the world we're living in these days...
You Get (or Perceive That You're Getting) What You Pay Forby Allan Kozinn
The question of ticket prices is interesting. Concert tickets are very clearly way overpriced -- I don't think anyone who doesn't work at an arts organization would argue that point, and the argument that arts organizations make (that the ticket prices represent only a fraction of what it costs to put on the performance) is, while true, not terribly persuasive to the people digging into their pockets. Their response, not surprisingly, is that someone is, or perhaps several hundred someones are, extremely overpaid. Which is a point that Klaus raised, and Klaus works (more or less) within the music world, so it's easy to understand the view of people outside it, who are being asked to fork over a hefty chunk of change for a ticket to a concert that stands a good chance of being indifferently played.
But I don't think free concerts work terribly well. The concerts in Central Park -- sure, lots of people go. It's Central Park. I'm not sure the audiences are as huge as organizations claim. We have to give an "official" crowd estimate, for which we must ask the police. Once, when the Great Lawn was being reseeded and the Met's concerts were
moved uptown a bit, there was a paltry showing of maybe 4,000 people. The Met's publicist told me that the official estimate was 40,000. I told him he was insane, but I quickly discovered -- well, not so quickly, it took the entire second act, and conversations with a great many representatives of the police, the park police, etc. -- that the police give us the estimate that the Met tells them to give us. The last policeman I asked while still identifying myself as a Times guy said "40,000." I said, "You're trained to deal with crowds. Does this look like 40,000 people to you?" And he just gave me a sheepish smile and repeated the official estimate. So I asked the next policeman I saw, without identifying myself, just as if I were a passerby, and he said, "I'd guess around 4,000." So much for that. I wrote all those details in my review, by the way, and the next day the Met's publicist told me that a low number would be bad for fundraising. "That's not my problem," I told him. "I'm supposed to report the reality." "But Allan," he said -- having worked for the UN before coming to the Met -- "there IS no reality."
That said, the Met and Philharmonic audiences in the parks are reasonably well-behaved, but that is not universally true of audiences for free events, which is one reason I think people should be asked to pay SOMETHING, just so that the performance carries at least some small value for them. The Free for All concerts at Town Hall that Barbara mentioned are a perfect example. They tend to draw an inordinate number of people who have clearly turned up not so much because they want to hear the music or the performers, but because it's a free seat indoors for a couple of hours. Tourists bring children and let them make noise and eat and drink. There are other distractions as well, and I can't help but think that if the concerts cost even as little as $5, a lot of that would disappear. I know I sound like an elitist. I'm not. I just want to hear the concert. And by the way, Barbara is correct in saying that they don't draw full houses, which has to be embarrasing when an event is free. I prefer to sit in the balcony when I'm covering them, and up there, I can pretty much have my choice of seats -- there are dozens of empty ones, and there are usually more than a few empty seats downstairs too.
Price Pointby Frank J. Oteri
There seems to be pretty clear evidence that if you want to reach a wider audience for classical music you either have to create more opportunities for free encounters with this music or make it more affordable. Barbara mentions the BBC Beethoven downloads, and we all know about Klaus's ongoing success with Naxos. Since NewMusicBox launched in 1999, it has offered in-depth articles, multi-media interviews, commentary etc., all accessible for free for anyone who visits. The running joke when we launched, which was in the wake of the deaths of every general interest classical music magazine in America, was that if we had to deal with subscription sales, predetermined advertising revenue, and other vagaries of the commercial marketplace we couldn't survive. We don't and so we did.
The reality is that in this day and age the price point has a great deal to do with whether something can reach a wider audience. But this has always been true to some degree. In the days of courtly patronage, a lot of great music was created but it reached far fewer people than this same music reaches today through affordable recordings, radio broadcasts, etc.
So, yes: free concerts, free museum admissions, you name it! But opening the doors only works when people know that they are open which means education and a greater responsibility to fostering the arts in the mainstream media. And, of course, there also needs to be a way to fund all of this. At a time when even a 1% government stipend to support the arts is considered controversial, money needs to be raised in other ways.
There's been a lot of banter in the blogosphere and the greater online media community about the Metropolitan Museum of Art raising its admission to $20. My favorite is still an ArtsJournal link from earlier this month in which Christopher Knight cheekily asserts that the Met should raise admission to $50 since Velazquez is a greater artistic genius than ABBA and tourists are willing to spend $100 for tickets to Mamma Mia.
Knight points out what I've always known as a lifelong New Yorker: since the museum is situated on public land you can donate anything you want and the Met cannot refuse you admission. But once again, this is further proof that for those in the know, there are few barriers to access these days. The question remains: what do we do to remove the barriers for the people for whom these same barriers have made our music as unrelated to their lives as the folks who had no access to court concerts in earlier times?
To Barbara: All of the Aboveby diacritical
I can't say that every community group is hugely popular, but certainly the well-run ones are. And yes, they're orchestras and choruses primarily. They have a fan base because the fans are part of their community. So yes, that puts them in a different category than the potential audiences for professional groups. And I don't by any means think the ticket price factor is the primary reason people attend these events. But the point is that there is an audience out there, and whether it's price or community, they will come if they feel motivated.
Lowering ticket pricesby Barbara Jepson
A few questions for Lowell and Doug concerning their latest posts: Lowell, re slashing ticket prices for the
SPCO's smaller series in suburban locations throughout the Twin Cities--what does it cost to present those
smaller series? How much of the cost is covered by those sold-out box-office receipts? And how were they
selling before the SPCO lowered the prices?
For Doug, re the community series you mention in Seattle: are these choral groups and chamber ensembles? Other? Community orchestras of the sort that were involved in the Ford Made in America program? And are they more popular because they're more affordable or because they have stronger ties to the community?
I'm interested in the above because I've always wondered how much larger the audiences for classical music
would be if tickets were free or significantly reduced in price. At Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera and at the New York Philharmonic, ticket prices keep getting higher and long-time subscribers to the Met and the Philharmonic tell me that each year, the number of operas or concerts in their series keeps going down and the prices keep
Certainly the much-mentioned 1.4 free downloads of the Beethoven symphonies offered by the BBC suggest potentially larger audiences are out there, as do the attendance figures for free classical concerts in Central Park each year in NYC. But when Town Hall introduced a free concert series here a year or two ago, not all of those concerts sold out. There's still the programming factor and the appeal of individual performers to reckon with.
The Zen Of Subsidy And "Congestion" Pricingby diacritical
Klaus gets it right, I think, when he talks about the money side of classical music. The costs of producing and presenting have become detached from the market demand. There are some very good reasons for this, of course, not the least of which is a sense that the art is more important than the marketplace and we need to find ways to make it happen because it's important.
So you go down the road of subsidy. And we've worked out a system of non-profit subsidy that has generated enough money to make possible a great array of artistic activity. Over the past 30 or so years, arts institutions have professionalized their business operations, and in an attempt to justify the well-run arts organization from the not-so-well-run, we've adopted formulas that suggest what percentage of a budget to be subsidized is tolerable.
But hitting the subsidy quotient is as much a philosophical thing as an economic imperative. If it's easy to raise lots of money, then the natural inclination is to expand. You expand and expand until it's too difficult to raise the money you need and you have to cut back.
That's way too simplistic an explanation for a very complex business model, but it gets me to the point I really want to make. And that's on the consumer end: The subsidy system is in part justified on making the artistic activity happen, yes. But it's also predicated on making the art accessible to more people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford to buy tickets. If the real cost of that orchestra seat is $250, there are few who could afford to pay it. So subsidizing it allows ticket prices to be set at lower, presumably more market-competitive rates.
Except they're not so competitive anymore. Peter had a terrific story last winter about the cost of a ticket to the Philadelphia Orchestra 20 or 30 years ago and the cost today. The increases far outstripped inflation. But more than that, the cost of going to many arts events these days is not competitive. I like going to movies. If I go and it's not a great movie, I shrug it off and hope the next one will be better. The $8 or $9 investment is reasonable. But if I spend $50 or $60 for a ticket (X 2, plus $15 for parking, etc) and it wasn't great I feel cheated somehow. All it takes is to feel that way a few times and I'm less and less willing to take chances.
The $50 or $60 (much more for opera) may be entirely reasonable given the costs of producing it, but the point is that at that cost it's a different value expectation than many of the alternatives available to me.
There are lots of experiments with pricing going on right now. Five years ago museums in the UK made admission free. Overnight attendance doubled. Turns out people use a museum differently if the price barrier is removed. The Metropolitan Museum is going the other way and increasing admission to $20. That will scare some people off, but the galleries are so crowded now, that's probably not a bad thing. There's no question many people will use the Met differently because of the ticket increase, though.
The music business is also experimenting. CD sales are declining. Why? People wonder why they have to pay $18 or $19 for a CD that they might not like when they get home. Downloads are hugely popular in part because you know exactly what you're buying and the new value proposition seems to make more sense. Klaus is a master at finding ways to make the recording projects he wants to do work out at prices people will pay and that he can afford to produce.
I'm not suggesting it's all about pricing. But what's so magic about our current subsidy formulas? If a 50 percent subsidy is considered a "reasonable" business model, why not sixty percent or seventy or eighty or free? What determines reasonable or sustainable? I know, I know - it's largely based on how much money can be raised. But if the currently acceptable subsidy rate still isn't enough to keep ticket prices competitive and pay the bills, then it's not working and it's not entirely the fault of the product. Price does matter.
There's been an explosion of community orchestras and choruses in America over the past ten years. Some of the most successful classical music endeavors in terms of attracting loyal audiences here in Seattle are community groups. Partly they're successful because they have a built in community. But they're also easy to access and you don't go hoping they hit a home run every time to justify the cost of your ticket.
Technology and Music Criticismby Peter Dobrin
Regarding Janelle's comments on evolving newspaper treatment of the arts, here's a link to something we did in our coverage of Gary Graffman's retirement as director of the Curtis Institute of Music. In addition to a preview article, we gave readers a link to the entire interview with Graffman.
But here's the part that was really exciting.
We produced a slide show with backstage and performance photos of the students at Graffman's final concert with the Curtis orchestras. The photos go by, paced slowly, while an excerpt from the concert plays ("Firebird"). And our review of the concert was embedded with links to sound samples from the concert itself. In other words, where our review referenced a phrase or aspect of the music, readers could click on a link to hear the actual passage from the concert.
We've been talking with the Philadelphia Orchestra about doing this with their concerts on a weekly basis. No agreement so far, but the spirit of the talks has been positive.
Anyway, here it is (assuming the technology works):
Bravura Bartók at tribute (music samples, slideshow)
The Need To Be Nimbleby Lowell Noteboom
Allen points out that, while the biggest musical organizations face the biggest challenges, the promise seems to be with modest, creative endeavors. He specifically mentions chamber orchestras as part of that promise. I agree.
Here in Minneapolis/St. Paul we enjoy an abundance of cultural riches for a metro area our size. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra together serve up more live orchestral performances per capita than in any other city in the country. The Guthrie Theatre and dozens of other very fine theatres give us great choices as well. The Minnesota Opera's offerings are also of the highest quality and very popular.
In this high-supply environment, what's a presenter of classical music to do, given all that the other bloggers have already identified as the challenges? As Joshua said yesterday, we all have to bring something to the table that people currently want. No one gets a free pass just because the quality is high.
I think the answer lies in recognizing the need to be nimble and to be quick. I am fond of comparing the SPCO to a small sailboat, tacking and turning, catching the latest breeze, avoiding the approaching swell, and having fun in the process. It's not only what you do, it's how quickly you do it (the oncoming swell doesn't stop and wait until you're ready for it). Large institutions, and large orchestras in particular, find it difficult to be nimble and quick. It's a skill they must learn.
Innovation isn't so much an activity as an attitude. It's about being open to new ideas, not automatically resisting them. It's not about changing one or two things and then locking onto them as the new unchangeable tradition. It's about continuous change and adaptation. Talk to the folks in the computer industry and ask them whether the changes they made last year are good enough for today or next week.
But innovation can be risky, and fragile organizations don't have a lot of risk capital. Management and boards may be afraid to take a chance with something really new and different if the cost and/or outcome are unknown. Couple that with a large complement of folks who are locked into doing things the way they've always been done, and you find yourself with high levels of resistance to change. Remember what I said about the definition of insanity on day one of this blog?
So, besides admiring the problem, what can actually be done about it. We have been doing a lot of things differently at the SPCO over the past few years (and we definitely haven't dumbed down the product in the process). Here are just four examples from a much longer list:
1. Good-Bye Music Director; Hello Artistic Partners. 2002-2003 was the SPCO's last season with a traditional Music Director. Since that time we have been engaged in an exciting new approach to artistic leadership. From the podium its led by six Artistic Partners (Roberto Abbado, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Joshua Bell, Douglas Boyd, Nic McGegan, and Stephen Prutsman). They each are with us 2 or 3 weeks a year, and each have committed for 3-year gigs. When Josh Bell rotates out next year, he will be replaced by Dawn Upshaw for a 3-year run. The Artistic Partners conduct and perform. Audiences and musicians alike are loving the variety, the different personalities and styles and the fact that it's new and different and constantly changing.
2. Musicians Responsible For Artistic Program. When the Music Director position was eliminated, artistic programing was passd to a five-person committee, three musicians and two senior staff. They do everything the Music Director did (or was supposed to do) with respect to planning seasons and programs, selecting guest soloists (we don't need many, given all the APs already in the mix), and guest conductors. In a very real way, the musicians of the SPCO now own the programing. It makes a difference in how they feel about it, and you can hear the difference in the hall.
3. New Partnerships With Major Universities. Given the bountiful supply of orchestra concerts in the Twin Cities, we decided to take our show to another city...Chicago. We just finished the first year of a three-year partnership with the University of Chicago that brings us to that campus three times a year. We perform on their regular chamber music series, work closely with the composition students in the School of Music (performing their orchestral scores that they could never get played in the old days), and going into the local Hyde Park public schools in furtherance of the University's outreach program. It's a win-win for the SPCO and the University. We are doing another partnership with the University of Minnesota. More about that in a later blog submission perhaps.
4. Taking Live Performances to the Neighborhoods. Being a chamber orchestra has its advantages when it comes to performing in smaller neighborhood venues. In additon to our 16-week Masterwork Series in the beautiful Ordway Performance Center in downtown St. Paul, we do a smaller series in each of six suburban locations all over the Twin Cities, about 24 weeks per year altogether. That may not be so innovative in itself, but our new pricing structure is. Two years ago we took a deep breath and decided we wanted our live performances in those dispersed venues to be more affordable to everyone. So, we slashed prices. Highest-priced ticket in the house in all six locations is only $25 (about half of the prior price). There's also a $10 seat, and kids get in for $5. We are selling out the houses on subscription, and lots of young parents are bringing their kids. Meanwhile, the Masterwork Series at the Ordway is doing just fine at the traditional higher prices. No one has abandoned that series for the less expensive option in the neighborhoods. It's working.
Okay, so I know that sounds like an advertising plug for the SPCO, but the point is that innovation makes a difference. And you have to keep doing it. It's an attitude and it can change your culture in significant ways. It creates energy, excitement and engagement for musicians and audiences (and boards and donors). That's what the orchestra world needs more of.
Classical Music is in good shape but its purveyors have problemsby Klaus Heymann
If classical music as a genre were really in trouble everybody in the field would be in difficulties. But as I look around in all the markets we operate in around the world, I see organizations that are doing great, others that are doing OK and others that are in crisis.
It's the same in the record industry -- we [Naxos] had a record year in 2005 and the first six months of this year saw another record. Other companies had problems in 2005 and continue to have difficulties in 2006. We ourselves are doing great in some territories and have difficulties in others -- it all depends how the local management deals with the changes in the market. Of course, our business has changed beyond recognition -- we hardly make money from selling CDs and DVDs any longer -- it is digital distribution where the money is. The space available to classical music in the shops is shrinking, not because people don't want to purchase classical CDs and DVDs anymore, but because retailers can use the space more profitably for selling movie DVDs and computer games. Many specialist shops on which we relied for the sale of specialist repertoire have gone out of business, not necessarily because there were no customers but because they failed to adapt to changes in the market.
I think the same applies to the organizations presenting classical music -- symphony orchestras, opera companies, concert promoters -- their world is changing and will keep changing even more in the years to come.
Although many of the more successful organizations have adapted to changing circumstances, many others have not.
Having dealings with orchestras, opera companies and managements in more than 30 countries around the world, I continue to be amazed that so many are not operating based on sound commercial principles. Budgets are based not on the anticipated revenue from ticket sales and other sources, but on the wishes and demands of the artistic directors, musicians, singers, stage directors, and others -- and then management has to go and find the money from sponsors to cover the difference between costs and revenue.
Very few orchestras have asked themselves whether they really need a Musical Director AND a Chief Executive? Is there any reason why the Musical Director of an orchestra in a big city has to make more money [a lot more money in many cases] than the city's mayor? In my hometown, Hong Kong, the Musical Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic [which is frequently playing to half-empty halls] is reported to be making more money in a week than the city's Chief Executive, who is doing a pretty good job running our city state of 7 million people and who has approval ratings [in the high sixties] that would be the envy of most if not all prime ministers and presidents around the world. This kind of excess just doesn't make sense.
Do orchestras have to have more than 100 musicians on salary? This may be necessary in cities where there is no pool of competent freelance musicians but not in metropolitan areas with an abundant supply of talented and competent musicians.
If anything, it is the explosion of costs that threatens the existence of many organizations presenting classical music simply because music lovers can no longer afford the ticket prices and associated costs. Classical music will survive and perhaps even grow dramatically given the potential of the Internet -- it is the purveyors who have to change if they want to survive .
Change: It's always been the name of the gameby Andrew Druckenbrod
Evolution. Isn't that what this is all about? If we did manage to ossify the music industry so that this amorphous thing called classical music and its institutions never changed, musical life would be so much poorer for it. Not because what we have now isn't worth keeping, but because of what we would miss out of in the future. It's the same argument I apply to those who don't (think they) like new music. In fact, I always get a queasy feeling when people talk about the good ole days in general and predict a dire future...I have never bought into that. By now we'd all be in hell if it were the case.
No, I agree with Frank that there is so much out there now in terms of alte, canonical and new music, both live and in recordings, there's no time for it all, and I would hardly want to live in any different time. It's simply human nature to fear the future and worry about the loss of the familiar. The same goes for concerns about music institutions. The past is really not as great as it seemed. A lot of the solutions being posed here and elsewhere, some so common sense that it's amazing they aren't being widely adopted, are concerned with how to preserve our intuitions in face of the changing world, but I think it would be better to find ways to allow the institutions to evolve, as well. So, yes, the field is having trouble maintaining itself for various reasons, but maybe that's what always happens, because it is not meant to maintain itself, but to change.
More later. And more specifics. This is my underlying feeling on this, probably reflecting that most of my young career has happened after all the so called golden ages of classical music, even the CD boom, had already expired. So I have gotten a little tired of hearing about how horrible everything is and how I am supposed to have missed out on all the good times. Also, I feel for the real people in this, the musicians and composers (and critics and administrators) whose livelihoods are at stake, and I want to post about this later, but as far as aesthetics and institutions, change is good - in fact, it is inevitable.
Finding the Nicheby Frank J. Oteri
While Doug's assessment that "[i]n a world of niche cultures, it may turn out that some of the biggest niches are arts niches like classical music" seems to parallel what my experience of the early 21st century marketplace has been, I wonder if we are ultimately selling ourselves and the rest of the world short by limiting ourselves to this niche.
I did not become a fan of classical music until I was in my teens and I was hooked by a combination of mostly new music and opera. I attended an arts-oriented high school (NYC's High School of Music and Art now consolidated with Performing Arts High as LaGuardia High School), heard Steve Reich on the radio (WNYC was stilling playing music most of the time back then), saw and heard Philip Glass on a short TV documentary that aired on PBS affiliate WNET during prime time, and chanced upon a free performance of an obscure Verdi opera staged at the open access Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park by Vincent La Selva and the New York Grand Opera. (These days the free parks offerings now known as Summerstage take place in a location far less accessible to serendipitous interlopers which improves the experience for those already there but makes it harder to become one of those people.)
We've narrowcasted our way into a new form of success. And yes, we're better at it that the rest because we've been a niche market for a long time. And now, thanks to the internet, pockets of interested folks scattered all over the globe which formerly barely made a dent in their own communities have now been linked together to form a viable demographic than can be marketed to. This viable demographic has led to the success of everything from the various new music initiatives like Bang on a Can, Alarm Will Sound and eighth blackbird (imagine the existence of any of them a generation ago) to specialized recording initiatives like Miklos Spanyi's traversal of the complete clavichord music of Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach for BIS or Naxos American Classics' Milken Archive of Jewish American Music. (We are still awaiting Klaus Heyman's first comments on this blog.)
Indeed it's a great time to be a fan of classical music. I average five concerts a week sometimes and things I miss frequently get recorded not long afterwards. Last year, works by Chris Theofanides and David Del Tredici premiered by the Atlanta Symphony were recorded by Telarc the following morning and released just months later. Later the Milwaukee Symphony did them one better and released a download of Roberto Sierra's third symphony the morning after they premiered it. There's so much music coming at me all the time that I can barely keep up with it.
But how do you reach the person who isn't already a fan? I have access to more of this amazing music than ever before in my life but that's because I know where to find it. And if there's something I don't know, it's never been easier to look it up. You can find a detailed exegesis about the operas of Rimsky-Korsakov or the quartertone experiments of Mildred Couper with a simple Boolean search on Google, but, of course, it only works if you already know the names to trigger such a query.
In a society where music education continues to decline as does mainstream newspaper, radio and television coverage for this field, there is no viable way to broadcast information about this music to people who would find it of interest if only they knew it was there.
Now that every other activity is as much a specialized interest as classical music once was, it is perhaps comforting to know that we at least have learned how to make things work for ourselves inside such a box. But at the end of the day, even if everyone else is now in a box, is that really such an ideal place for anyone to be?
Simulcasting the concert and podcasting the reviewby Janelle Gelfand
In many ways, as Barbara and Doug have noted, the classical music business is experiencing the same kind of transformation - I hesitate to say crisis - as the newspaper industry. I would wager that our audiences are quite similar, given that the 18-34-year-olds don't seem to be reading newspapers or attending concerts for whatever reasons. We are being told at our paper that we are a niche publication for people over age 40. The days of long, thoughtful or even investigative pieces are gone at most papers. Everything is designed for the quick read for busy people, and stories that were once counted in inches are now counted in lines.
Technology is taking both industries to realms unknown. The classical music industry, slow to catch on at first, has now figured out how to sell tickets online, create useful Web sites, present simulcasts of live concerts on giant screens and make recordings for downloading. But no one really knows where all this will end, and how orchestras, opera companies and string quartets can harness it all to secure their future.
It's the same with newspapers. As we speak, our paper is expanding its online division. New emphasis is planned online for arts and entertainment - which is a good thing. We are all girding for big changes that will include podcasting and video-reporting. We are hearing lots of new terms, like "reverse publishing" (writing it first in your blog, and reprinting it in the paper edition) and "self-publishing." Self-publishing is becoming more and more important, partly, I suppose, because of all those blogging opinion-writers on the Web. Perhaps paid critics will become dinosaurs. People want to personalize what they watch on TV (one of our local news shows delivers the news that you vote to see), pull up on their personalized home pages, listen to their own mix of music on their iPods and write their own reviews.
It may not necessarily be a bad thing. But we as writers and arts groups will have to learn to evolve along with the media that is changing at warp speed.
I agree with everything stated here by Peter and the others, that the public hungers for more knowledge about the arts, given the exposure and opportunity to participate. We as arts writers must be diligent in encouraging the exploration of new repertoire, lest the art form languish. Musicians unions may have to rethink how they structure their contracts - perhaps actually teaching music on a regular basis as part of their agreements, if that is what a community needs. One of the wisest comments I ever received was from Catherine French, former executive director of ASOL, who said to me in 1995, the bottom line for a bright future is whether or not an orchestra is "doing what is necessary to make itself indispensable to its community."