July 24, 2006
The view from the heartlandby Janelle Gelfand
Indeed, there are multiple issues here, from the perspective of orchestras and arts organizations, as well as that of the consumer. Let's look for a moment at the industry's impressive growth of regional orchestras and performing arts centers, that Doug mentioned.
Here in Cincinnati, Ohio in the past dozen years, the region has seen the establishment or expansion of about a half-dozen regional orchestras, including one across the river in Northern Kentucky. There is now a plan for a performing arts center in the Cincinnati suburb of Blue Ash (home of the Blue Ash/Montgomery Symphony). A couple of years ago, a stunning new performing arts center opened in Dayton (home of the Dayton Philharmonic and Dayton Opera). Why is Dayton relevant? Because within a decade, census predictions are that the 50-mile stretch on I-75 between Cincinnati and Dayton will be solid suburban sprawl.
So, it would seem the best of times for the music-loving pubic, but one of the worst of times for the venerable Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which used to be the only game in town (it's the nation's fifth oldest orchestra). It struggles to fill an enormous, 3,400-seat hall in a declining neighborhood on a weekly basis. Consumers, faced with so much choice right in their own neighborhood, seem to choose what is convenient (free parking, restaurants nearby) and safe (Over-the-Rhine is usually prefaced with the word "crime-ridden"). And tickets are cheaper.
Yet, under music director Paavo Jarvi, concerts haven't been so exciting since the Thomas Schippers era of the early '70s. The quality of the playing is undeniably improving and Jarvi's programming (I think) is a stimulating mix.
But what does "quality" mean to someone who may love downloading Mozart from iTunes, but who has had little other exposure to the art form?
This is also a town with a major music school, the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. A couple of years ago, I attended a CCM Philharmonic rehearsal, where a show of hands indicated that none of these music majors had ever attended a Cincinnati Symphony concert. Is the problem a dumbing down or a general apathy of our culture?
I am optimistic, but I think major orchestras have some major selling and educating to do.
Posted by jgelfand at July 24, 2006 03:33 AM
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