July 25, 2006
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 .
Posted by kheymann at July 25, 2006 07:14 AM
I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Heymann and what he has accomplished at Naxos, but I have to interject here and point out that this post is flatly inaccurate in several very important ways.
"Very few orchestras have asked themselves whether they really need a Musical Director AND a Chief Executive." This is undeniably true, for the simple reason that in every major orchestra in the world, the MD and the CEO each put in more hours of work than anyone else in the organization with the possible exception of the development director. To suggest that these are redundant positions shows a profound lack of understanding of either job.
"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?" Yes, there certainly is. This is an absurd apples-to-oranges comparison. As has been noted by critics around the world in recent years, the supply of truly great conductors is extremely short right now, and when you add in the collection of skills necessary to be an American music director these days (ability to connect with audiences and the wider community, willingness to spend endless hours schmoozing the big donors, and dealing with all the various personnel and political issues that arise within the orchestra, among others,) the list of candidates gets even shorter. That makes the best conductors ever more valuable on the open market, and I defy anyone to suggest a way that MD salaries could be reined in without violating every anti-trust law known to man. If every orchestra got together tomorrow and agreed never again to pay an MD more than, say $300,000 (or whatever,) that would be collusion. If what Mr. Heymann is actually suggesting is that orchestras should only pay what they know they'll be able to afford well into the future for their MD, he is dooming every orchestra but the richest five or six to second-class status for all eternity. Are some MDs overpaid, based on their performance? Certainly. But those are mistakes that any orchestra can make in seeking the right partnership between musicians and conductor, and boards should be willing to correct those mistakes far faster (and with more input from the musicians) than they ever do.
Finally: "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." This is one of the biggest myths among critics and other observers of the industry: that one musician is as good as another, and there's no reason to persist with the permanent group of nearly 100 musicians that most major American orchestras have. The fact is, newcomers to an orchestra take months, and sometimes years, to truly gel with their colleaues, and contrary to the wrongheaded assertion that all orchestras sound the same these days anyway, plugging the nearest freelancer into the existing orchestra as a replacement for a permanent player is not an equal swap. Look at the UK, where many of the top orchestras are made up entirely of freelancers, and where their prestige and artistic reputation have plummeted over the last two decades.
The fact is, orchestra musicians may be more anonymous (due to our numbers) than those in a string quartet or small ensemble, but we are no less susceptible to issues of chemistry and long-term compatibility. Every musician and conductor can tell you that permanent members of an orchestra tend to be passionate about their work, and to have a very palpable sense of ownership of the organization and its place in the community. Subs and freelancers have no reason to have any such loyalty or sense of ownership, and since they can be terminated at a moment's notice, they are inclined to take no chances in their performance, playing not to achieve great results, but to avoid noticable mistakes.
I don't disagree that orchestras tend to be too slow to implement needed changes, but Mr. Heymann's suggestions above show a decided lack of real knowledge of how orchestras work. Frankly, I'm surprised.
violist, Minnesota Orchestra
news editor, ArtsJournal.com
Posted by: Sam Bergman at July 25, 2006 11:46 AM
Post a comment
Tell A Friend