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re: Change: It's always been the name of the game

Would not comment on decline of classics, I do not believe it, but classical Rock and some kimds of metal are closer to classics than any other genre. I think these genres primarily share their roots, being created not for mere entertainment, though recently not much rock tends to be thought-provoking. 'http://musics-shop.info/, not a bad resource, where I have the possibility to compare.

posted by julia | 02/19/07, 7:09 AM | permalink

re: Response to Sam Bergman and Marc Geelhoed

Klaus Heyman wrote:

"and when it comes to seven figure salaries for musical directors, he's talking about "an open market" when, in reality, there is no 'market' for symphonic music because it is not viable without subsidies [sponsors, tax payers]."

There's not a product I buy that's not subsidized in one way or another - including, by the way, Naxos recordings. Subsidies may distort a market, but hardly make market dynamics go away.

Robert Levine

posted by Robert Levine | 07/27/06, 3:32 PM | permalink

re: Response to Sam Bergman and Marc Geelhoed

For the record: I never said or wrote anywhere "let's make music and never mind where the money comes from." That may be the conclusion Mr. Heymann draws, but it's not what I wrote, it's his own inaccurate punctuation.

I think most orchestra musicians would be insulted by his wondering if the audience noticed that one of the trumpeters wasn't a regular. If an audience-member doesn't notice an out-of-tune passage but a critic does, so what? Big deal, because if you don't know what's wrong, and ignorance is bliss, everything's hunky-dorey all the time, except, you know what? Sometimes it's not.

posted by Marc Geelhoed | 07/27/06, 8:06 AM | permalink

re: The Need To Be Nimble

I'm not sure if you were asking me or Mr. Noteboom, Barbara, but I'll tell you what I've heard on the subject from my friends in the SPCO. I haven't heard any complaints about the artistic partner system (that, of course, doesn't mean there aren't any, just that my friends seem not to have a problem with it,) and several of the "partners" - notably Dougie Boyd, Nic McGegan, and Roberto Abbado - are apparently quite popular within the orchestra. (The fact that the musicians did not have a good relationship with their last music director, Andreas Delfs, may or may not be a factor in this.)

I'll be interested to see what kind of programs the SPCO mounts with its newest partner, Dawn Upshaw. They ought to be in a unique position to explore some very interesting corners of new music with their flexibility and Dawn's well-known expertise in the area of modern vocal performance.

posted by Sam Bergman | 07/26/06, 4:45 PM | permalink

re: Why we're ignoring opera

Janelle, Marin Alsop was chosen by Placido Domingo and his advisors to lead the Washington National Opera's North American premiere of Nicholas Maw's 'Sophie's Choice', this November. Also Mr Domingo and his advisors have been strong supporters of Francesa Zambello, who this season launched her 'American Ring cycle', both in Washington and San Francisco. Before that, she staged for WNO Floyd's 'Of Mice and Men' and Britten's 'Billy Budd', and some other well-received opera productions.

I frankly was surprised to see Peter Sellars and Julie Taymor on the Opera News Top 25 list, but not Ms Zambello.

Mr Domingo and his advisors have also hired an increasing number of woman conductors for the WNO and LAO (but, alas, few woman composers except for Deborah Drattell). I apologize that residual heat and humidity are keeping me from thinking of the names of the woman conductors who have conducted the Washington National Opera in the past few years.

posted by Garth Trinkl | 07/26/06, 1:29 PM | permalink

re: But Doug Doesn't Mean...

Not Stalking Doug McL. (honest)

But the desire to vary the concertgoing experience has come up in most AJ open discussions. The unresolved question is how informal the experience can become before the art becomes a sideshow? Either that or I'm not seeing what you have in mind.

Open-air concerts, stage plays, and film screenings are now common and communities are realizing that arts festivals of all kinds can bring in people and their money. But these events don't always allow fully engaging the performance. Conversations, rolling wine bottles, clinking cutlery, and low-flying aircraft all affect the Hollywood Bowl (for example). There are already signs that movie audiences are tiring of living room behavior in movie theatres. Can the fine arts survive the same?

I would like to agree with Joshua Kosman (separate post) that it isn't too hard to find out how to act in many new situations.

--- Ravi

posted by Ravi Narasimhan | 07/26/06, 1:25 PM | permalink

re: What can orchestras learn from opera companies?

The Maya Beiser concert is an interesting example. She was a member of the Bang on a Can All-stars. That group has always had a knack for marketing and savvy visuals. It belongs to a new trend of hipster crowds of primarily young string quartets and new music ensembles. Without the institutional baggage, it's easy to hire whoever you want to work with for designs and stuff- the latest post-punk graffiti artist or whatever.

At a place like the MET or the Phil, they want established names that are often more conservative or conventional. However, with Peter Gelb coming in it might get better. Certainly Taymor's production of the Magic Flute was (supposedly) quite visually appealing. Unfortunately, for the poor student that I am, I never had the chance to go see it.

posted by Eric Lin | 07/26/06, 11:56 AM | permalink

re: Oh God, Another Sports Analogy

No, Disney doesn't have boxes, and you're right, it's very fun. I used Disney as an example of a hall that has taken even a little step away from the usual and is being celebrated for it.

posted by Doug McLennan | 07/26/06, 11:40 AM | permalink

re: Oh God, Another Sports Analogy

But Disney Hall doesn't have box seats! And it's still fun! When I was there last, I was sitting behind Frank Gehry, who surely would've been first in line for the box-seat treatment.

posted by Marc Geelhoed | 07/26/06, 11:11 AM | permalink

re: Oh God, Another Sports Analogy

The laws of physics (specifically acoustics) constrain what you can do in a concert hall. You can listen to classical music in the Hollywood Bowl as well and get exactly what you're talking about. They have to amplify, though. I can't stand the place or the music as it sounds there.

The Bowl, like your sports teams, are selling a lifestyle - the sizzle, not the steak. I don't think that fine arts will be able to resist these trends and eventually they too will get crushed under the wheel of brand development. But, until then, let's enjoy it as best we can.

Ravi Narasimhan
Redondo Beach, CA

posted by Ravi Narasimhan | 07/26/06, 10:30 AM | permalink

re: Free has a Price, too

"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."

Hi Frank, I really appreciate this comment. And it's true -we all need to improve our listening skills, no matter the context. However, musically-speaking, this is part of what makes my work as a teaching artist so fulfilling - it's that my colleagues and I are inviting people to listen in a deeper way. We're not trying to tell our students (children and adults) what they should like or dislike in terms of composers or musical styles. Instead, we try to give them more listening tools to use and the opportunity to question and think more creatively. If this approach could be incorporated in the musical outreach programs, but without the "this is good for you" message attached to it, I think you would find an overall increase in curious and engaged listeners.

My sense is that the grassroots efforts from individual performers and composers, teaching artists, smaller chamber ensembles and organizations, music-bloggers... are the most effective in reaching out to new audiences and in keeping the classical music climate healthy. The bigger institutions are usually the slowest or the last to act.

posted by Beata Moon | 07/26/06, 9:49 AM | permalink

re: Response to Sam Bergman

But really, how many music directors make seven figures? David Robertson? No. Osmo Vanska? No, at least if Minnesota's 2005 IRS990 is to be believed.

This is an issue facing a handful of orchestras, call them the Big 5 or 7 or maybe 9, that doesn't concern most other institutions.

No chief executive, mainly responsible for the bottom line, should have control over programming to the extent of a music director, either. They may know music history like Taruskin maybe even conduct like Bernstein, but their ultimate responsibilities don't lay with art.

And the virtues of full-time 3rd and 4th trumpeters shouldn't be brushed aside. When the Chicago Symphony played Messiaen's L'Ascension a few years back with an extra on 4th trumpet, you could tell it wasn't the CSO brass. A similar situation holds with extra woodwinds, and even if not enough regulars are there in the strings. Sam Bergman's right on that one. If it's art that you're concerned about, you have to field the best team for it, and find a way to pay for it. You might as well as the Chicago Bulls to play with four starters otherwise.

posted by Marc Geelhoed | 07/26/06, 9:16 AM | permalink

re: The Need To Be Nimble

Sam Bergman's information about the contribution of the 20% salary cuts the SPCO musicians agreed to take prompts me to ask a question about another
aspect of the changes at the SPCO--the substitution of six "artistic partners" for a single music director. When the SPCO announced this change a few seasons back, my gut feeling was that management was making a virtue out of necessity. Some of the choices are intriguing, to
be sure, but Nicholas McGegan, Roberto Abbado and Pierre-Laurent Aimard could have easily been engaged for 2 weeks a year, bringing their special
artistic gifts and tastes to the orchestra whether it had a music director or not.

What I'm wondering is, how is this working from
the perspective of the SPCO musicians? Is the
absence of a single music director (particularly
one with more long-term, specialized conducting experience), affecting the caliber of the playing at all, or has it proved beneficial? I don't have
an ax to grind here, I'm just curious to hear your

posted by Barbara Jepson | 07/26/06, 9:02 AM | permalink

re: Response to Sam Bergman

Unfortunately, all of your ideas for combining MDs and CEOs into a single job (even for smaller orchestras) inevitably involve either elimnating certain duties, or transferring them to another person in the organization (your schmoozer-in-chief, for example.) The reason the "pro schmoozer" idea won't work is obvious - donors don't want to be schmoozed by some professional handler, they want access to the music director and the musicians. Ask any development official at any orchestra in the U.S., and they'll tell you that the most frequent request from donors is the chance to meet and talk with musicians, especially the MD, and to get the sort of "insider access" that every entertainment industry offers to those who bankroll it.

I still don't understand exactly how you're planning to hold down conductor salaries. You admit that there are very few good ones, but then make a logical leap to a world in which everyone just magically agrees (without illegal colluding) never to pay the best ones what their skills are clearly worth on the open market. How do I know they're worth that much? Because that's what someone's willing to pay them. (Any other measure of monetary worth is obviously arbitrary and subjective.) I don't like it any better than you do that Christoph Eschenbach is pulling down better than a million dollars in Philadelphia, but that happens to be the going rate these days. If orchestras become truly unable to pay these salaries, the salaries will, by necessity, go down. The problem with judging such things in advance is, obviously, that every orchestra hopes its new music director will improve or at least sustain its fortunes, and when that doesn't happen, they still have to fulfill the guy's contract. As to your assertion that musicians also make mistakes with MDs, I never said we didn't, and in fact, my own orchestra made such a mistake a little over a decade ago. But it is not the musicians who hand out unthinkable raises to MDs who are clearly dragging the ensemble into the toilet, simply to avoid admitting the mistake.

I'm not really going to engage the orchestra size topic too deeply, simply because I think that the feasibility of such an idea is bound up in all sorts of smaller issues that vary from city to city. The fact, as you pointed out, is that tons of smaller orchestras do operate with the numbers that you cite, and only the biggest orchestras have the numbers arund 100 that so clearly offend your sensibilities. It does seem to me, though, that the insistence that orchestras have too many musicians is much like saying that a football team shouldn't have to pay both a punter and a field goal kicker, because they can both kick the ball, and neither is on the field very much. Is it true that the team could survive without both? Sure. But they'd miss a lot of field goals and/or shank a lot of punts. If that's what you're looking for in your local orchestra, I really don't have an answer for that.

Finally, the argument over UK orchestras is really one of semantics. The idea that musicians in the London Symphony (for example) are "stakeholders" is a lovely bit of corporate doubletalk, but the reality is that they are hired and treated as "independent contractors." They are paid a wage, not a salary, and have no guaranteed minimum take-home amount in any given year. By any reasonable definition, those are freelancers, just as the members of the Orchestra of St. Luke's in New York are freelancers. (I'll defer on the issue of the UK orchestras' relative prestige, since it's a subjective judgment and always makes everyone angry.)

Sam Bergman
violist, Minnesota Orchestra
news editor, ArtsJournal.com

posted by Sam Bergman | 07/26/06, 7:22 AM | permalink

re: Concerts in Parks

If I've learned anything in my 20 years of arts involvment I've learned that VENUE is EVERYTHING. Today's concert-goers want to be comfortable. They don't want a dress code, they don't want an uncomfortable chair and they don't want to have to be quiet.
Pop music scenes don't languish. Bars have lines wrapping around blocks to "hear" groups. "Scene" translates into "seen". And although we can scoff and snort about it, the patrons and theater-goers of Mozarts day were interested in the same parade of wealth and power that today's pop audiences are into.
God, what I wouldn't give to be able to take a glass of wine into a concert hall and imbibe while enjoying a recital by Joyce DiDonato.

posted by Megan | 07/26/06, 5:42 AM | permalink

re: Classical music coverage

Oh, no, I don't deny that Andrew Porter wrote more often for the magazine, and produced a larger quantity of sheer verbiage each year. But I think I've been able to achieve a comparable presence in the magazine by mixing shorter and longer columns. I could stop writing the essays and profiles, which are often very time-consuming, and produce twice as many reviews, but would that necesssarily be a good thing? Since I love doing the composer essays more than anything, I don't have any desire to make a change. I write 36,000 words per year, and that number has stayed fixed for the past ten years.

posted by Alex Ross | 07/26/06, 4:41 AM | permalink

re: Classical music coverage

My apologies, Alex, if the information on my
posting about classical music coverage included
erroneous information regarding the amount of space you get at the New Yorker compared to your
predecessor. I saw that in print elsewhere recently, and it jibed with my own memories--it
seems to me that Andrew Porter's reviews ran more frequently than yours have during the last few years. And I was thinking primarily
about reviews, not about the longer critical essays and extended profiles you mention above
which certainly qualify as "coverage." I should have been more specific about that, and I should have checked with you first.

posted by Barbara Jepson | 07/25/06, 7:55 PM | permalink

re: Technology and Music Criticism

Just a couple thoughts...

Scenario 1: I'm watching the Boston Pops rehearse with Elvis Costello for opening night. I look over at the bank of TV camera-folks filming and ask a publicity person a simple question: How much can they record? She tells me, basically, "as much as they want. They're only going to use 10 to 15 seconds." Hmmm. I ask if I could record some too, provided I only use one song. She okays this. So I tape two songs on the digital recorder, slice it in a half hour back at the office and we've got a one-minute clip - so as not to get into trouble with record companies, or the union - posted before the show.

Here's another idea, and one that's quite easy. I was writing a profile of Garrick Ohlsson, particularly his performing the Beethovan sonatas this summer at Tanglewood. He's obviously a great talker, so I asked if he could give me half an hour at his practice space. I brought the recorder again. We sat at the piano and he walked me through one of the sonatas. (As a non music-critic, I perhaps find it quite easy to play the "dumb guy," and lead him through as if he were playing for a regular person.) We sliced that into three, four-minute commentaries, teased it in the paper and our blog.

Finally, I'm posting a Schoenberg audio narration I put together in a few hours with a Mac/Garageband and a digital tape recorder. I wanted to try something fun and conversational to add to our more weighty discussion of budgets and the historic challenges of offering Schoenberg...



posted by Geoff Edgers | 07/25/06, 6:27 PM | permalink

re: You Get (or Perceive That You're Getting) What You Pay For

I'm impressed to hear about the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's success and that of the various Seattle groups Douglas noted. There's a lot of effort (and plenty of gimmicks) devoted to luring audiences to classical music performances. I think we need to focus on the product: the most important ingredient in sustaining classical music institutions is programming contemporary music in a way that draws new audiences. In recent Leisure & Arts columns in the Wall Street Journal, I wrote about a couple of orchestras that are doing that and experiencing a gratifying response from their audiences.

I covered the LA Philharmonic's Minimalist Jukebox concerts back in March. Even though most concerts presented post-1960 orchestral music, the series sold at about 95% of the rate of the LAPO's subscription concerts. Some of the strong sales can be attributed to canny marketing to "alternative music" audiences as well as classical fans; most shows were available on iTunes within a few days. But I think the big reason is that, rather than presenting contemporary music reluctantly, as a kind of obligation, the LA Phil and its partner groups and venues embraced it as a selling point: this music is cool, hip, and relevant to our times. The audience age seemed well below that of standard classical concerts, with several shows attracting a good share of 30-, 40- and even 20 somethings. The LAPO supplied abundant contextual material, too -- lecture demos, program notes, an informative program. They made it seem like a special event, and listeners responded.

Last month, I covered (for the Journal) the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and its composers series, which this year was devoted to Lou Harrison. Previous installments have featured Chinese-American composers (Zhou Long and Chen Yi), Bill Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and Experience, and more, and the orchestra has embarked on a relatively ambitious commissioning program. The PSO does even more contextual programming, including discussions onstage during re-sets, even more detailed program books, film and video presentations, etc. Again: they show why contemporary music is relevant, and present it in a way that makes it a special event everyone wants to attend.

Last year I wrote for the WSJ about Portland's Time Based Arts festival, which does the same thing for dance, performance art and other edgy art forms and draws strong audiences for performers few in the audience have ever heard of. I'd love to hear from Joshua how well the SFSO's Mavericks festivals have worked; I thoroughly enjoyed the concerts I drove down from Oregon to hear, and the turnout seemed pretty good.

These experience bear out what Tom Morris, who runs the Ojai Festival and used to run Tanglewood and the Cleveland Orchestra, told me when I wrote about Ojai (which has built a community around new music for decades) in the WSJ last month: if you're going to present contemporary music, don't do it half-assed (well, he didn't use that term); do it proudly and enthusiastically, and audiences will respond. Maybe not exactly the same audiences that come to the stodgy classical concerts, though, and there's the rub -- you have to build a new audience while not alienating (or at least minimizing the alienation) of the old one.

In California, the music directors (Salonen, MTT, Carl St. Clair at the PSO) seem to have built up enough trust (often though various education and other communithy programs) that audiences will follow their orchestras into new territory.

A crucial ingredient is media coverage, as noted earlier in this discussion. I've written about classical music and arts for the Journal for a decade, and the pitches my editors accept generally tend to be those that involve such special events (e.g. Tan Dun's Water Passion , Golijov's Passion after St. Matthew). In my regular music column here in Oregon, I tend to devote a lot more coverage to the symphony when it presents a new or at least unusual work, simply because it's more interesting to write about and more interesting for my readers. I write for an alternative weekly, and the readers care very much about music, but don't subscribe to the pieties associated with the classical world. Neither do I; I choose to write about world music, some jazz and rock, and a lot of contemporary chamber music (often performed at universities) as well as the major classical groups, and I'll write about what's new and interesting regardless of genre. I'm sure it irritated the symphony that I devoted much more space in a recent column to a student performance of music by John Adams and other contemporary and local composers than to its all-Tchaikovsky concert that week, but I thought my readers would (and should) be more interested in the former. I hope that encourages our local institutions to present more contemporary work.

So the lessons here seem pretty clear: if you want new audiences, try programming new music, or at least relatively contemporary music. Market it as something special, as new and exciting, and provide potential listeners with enough information to help them understand its relevance. The media are more likely to pick up on it because it's, like, news. For one thing, you can interview living composers and tell interesting stories about their inspiration. That said, I'm certainly not going to devote a lot of space to new music just because it's new; it has to be something I think our readers will (or should) find at least interesting and preferably enjoyable, too. But now that contemporary composers are writing more accessible music than in the bad old modernist days, we don't have to apologize for recommending contemporary music. It's no accident that I've chosen to write stories involving composers like Harrison, Adams, Golijov and Zhou Long rather than [fill in name of thorny modernist of your choice here].

Oh, and I agree with Klaus (whom I regard as one of the great advocates of classical and, increasingly, contemporary art music) and the others about ticket prices. As John Rockwell noted in a speech at the Oregon Bach Festival a few years ago: there's nothing wrong with audiences for new music that lower ticket prices won't solve. If that means we need to re-examine the whole business model to lower costs, then let's get on with it. Clinging to the old model seems short sighted; in a generation, there'll be a whole lot fewer jobs in this business if we don't build new audiences. And a number of institutions here on the West Coast seem to be figuing out ways to do that. .

I also think the whole stuffy way classical music is usually presented needs to be junked and re-thought, but that's another subject.... Thanks to Douglas and all the participants for providing this forum and last year's.

posted by brett campbell | 07/25/06, 3:47 PM | permalink

re: Change: It's always been the name of the game

Andrew's right that change is the only constant. Perhaps the biggest change has been the niches that the audience now put themselves into. Many operagoers never go to a symphony concert. Many orchestra subscribers don't hear live opera. Early-music connoisseurs only want to hear that genre, and new-music listeners remain deaf to the virtues of early music.

The quote-unquote nicheing or nicheification of listeners may be the biggest threat to major symphony orchestras, which have to fill thousands of seats 3 times or more per week. Their offerings must appeal to more listeners if they're going to make it. So the health of classical music is one thing, but the the health of institutions is quite another, as smaller groups who provide the Clement Janequin or Sciarrino their fans crave can still draw an audience relatively easily.

posted by Marc Geelhoed | 07/25/06, 3:21 PM | permalink

re: Classical music coverage

I might add that Andrew Porter never wrote longer essays and feature pieces for the New Yorker. His work consisted entirely of reviews. In the ten years I've been at the New Yorker, we've made classical music a regular presence not only in the critics section at the back of the magazine but in the lead slots in the middle. I've written 5000- or 6000-word pieces on Mozart, Schubert, Verdi, Wagner, Strauss, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Morton Feldman, and Theodor W. Adorno, extended profiles of John Adams, Thomas Ad├Ęs, Valery Gergiev, the St. Lawrence Quartet, and the "Doctor Atomic" team, and various other essays on musical topics. From a certain angle this could be seen as an advance rather than a decline. In general, I get the space I ask for and the space that I need.

posted by Alex Ross | 07/25/06, 2:45 PM | permalink

re: Classical music coverage


I liked what you had to say about newspapers, and wanted to add a little. I'm an arts reporter at the Boston Globe. My beat includes classical music, museums, opera, etc.

Arts leaders always seem to be so convinced that coverage is being cut/dumbed down that they often ignore the facts.

Here's one good example: http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/exhibitionist/2006/05/fact_checker_sa.html

Here at the Globe, we had to make paperwide cuts last year. The paper's leaders knew that the folks in arts who accepted our buyout offer - classical music critic Richard Dyer and chief theater critic Ed Siegel, to name two - needed to be replaced. And so while the Globe cut positions in the newsroom and eliminated our home section, it immediately started national searches for critics and kept those arts positions. (Jeremy Eichler, for example, will start at the paper in the fall and Louise Kennedy has replaced Ed.) I'll also add that my position, added in 2002, was a new one.

But wait. What story got out to the so-called public? Here's a good one:


Beyond that, I found myself acting as a personal fact checker at Symphony Hall. During intermission, I'd hear two clearly intelligent gentlemen exchanging information over cappuccinos. They would be telling each other how the paper wasn't going to cover classical music anymore, that they had heard this from so-and-so and wasn't it sad what was happening to the Globe. At the American Association of Museums conference, I sat in the audience as a panel assembled to critique media coverage - a panel that included an unknown freelance writer, a former staffer at the local alternative paper, and a producer-type from our local public radio affililiate - proceeded to tell that same story.

Yes, it's true that this is not an easy time to be in newspapers. I'm sure many are cutting back on arts coverage, along with coverage in other areas. (Did I read that the Los Angeles Times is no longer sending its beat reporters out on the road to cover the Kings? That's a MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS TEAM!) But I also found so many papers and writers looking for ways to connect and reconnect with smart readers. We're doing it the old fashioned way, through compelling narratives, reporting and reviews. And we're branching out to do blogs and audio commentaries and slideshows.

How will this all pan out? I'm not sure. But I do get a sense we're trying, and that many of our bosses recognize there's an audience for arts coverage.

Whoa. This was way more longwinded than I meant to be.


posted by Geoff Edgers | 07/25/06, 1:05 PM | permalink

re: Technology and Music Criticism

The Curtis orchestra of course is students, but I am hopeful that the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra will approve the idea. There are some restraints. I believe that we will not be able to use more than three minutes of sound clips.

posted by Peter Dobrin | 07/25/06, 12:16 PM | permalink

re: Technology and Music Criticism

Peter, I remember when you did this, and I thought it was brilliant. I took the idea to my editor and our online editor, who concluded that I would not be able to meet my one-hour deadline after the concert. Did you have to get permission from the musicians union to use the musical excerpts? I hope you succeed in doing this weekly, because it might pave the way for all of us.

posted by Janelle Gelfand | 07/25/06, 12:06 PM | permalink

re: The Need To Be Nimble

It's worth noting that, in addition to the experimental ideas Mr. Noteboom makes mention of above, the biggest change of all in St. Paul was a shocking 20% pay cut for his musicians. The salary cut resulted in many of the orchestra's musicians having to make serious life sacrifices, and in some cases, even to sell homes and move their children to other schools. I'm not saying it won't be worth it for the SPCO in the long run, merely noting that it was the musicians' willingness to agree to that unprecedented cut that made all the other changes even possible.

It's also worth noting that many of the SPCO musicians remain firmly convinced that the changes in general have been to the detriment of their organization. Again, I'm not saying they're right or wrong, merely pointing out that, several years into their revolutionary contract, the SPCO remains a very divided orchestra.

Sam Bergman

violist, Minnesota Orchestra

news editor, ArtsJournal.com

posted by Sam Bergman | 07/25/06, 11:55 AM | permalink

re: Classical Music is in good shape but its purveyors have problems

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.

Sam Bergman
violist, Minnesota Orchestra
news editor, ArtsJournal.com

posted by Sam Bergman | 07/25/06, 11:46 AM | permalink

re: The Need To Be Nimble

As someone who is serving a first term on the board of a small New York-based music group, I can understand why it can be difficult for boards of especially larger organizations to act "nimbly and quickly" when it comes to reacting to the changing world around them. In my experience, it seems that boards in general tend to be slow-moving. It is easier to talk about change instead of actually implementing what needs to be done because of the politics involved. I appreciate you sharing your creative solutions at the SPCO. Do you have advice on how boards can learn to be more nimble and quick? I'm sure there are individuals on many boards with innovative ideas, but how does that person win over the entire board to make change happen?

posted by Beata Moon | 07/25/06, 11:18 AM | permalink

re: Definitions & responses

Traveling to a concert hall, usually in the center of a metropolitan area, to hear a performance is an anacronism. That's left over from the era where people would take the streetcar downtown to shop, see a movie, visit a museum, and so on.

For better or worse, we now travel to stores, restaurants, and theaters closer to home. I think it's time for performing groups to examine how to fit into this lifestyle. Dividing the season amongst multiple venues is one way to do this, but I think the collective creativity of the people involved with this blog could yield additional ideas.

The San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, is a prime example of this. I have to drive fifty miles each way to hear the San Francisco Symphony. (No, public transportation doesn't work well for these distances.) They do have a "run-out" series in a nearby suburb, but those are evening performances that run too late to be compatible with our work schedule. And the series features just a fraction of the season's offerings.

If I could go to another nearby community to hear one of the matinees that we now have to drive so far to attend, it would be the best of both worlds.

posted by Garth Cummings | 07/24/06, 10:12 PM | permalink

re: Cruise Control

Thanks John, although for the record, I should point out that I'm not the Times's chief critic. That would be Tony Tommasini.

posted by Allan Kozinn | 07/24/06, 7:00 PM | permalink

re: Cruise Control

RE: Robert's comment's (above): Mr. Kozinn is more thorough, more fair, more knowledgable, more easily the finest Head Music Critic for the NYT since the late HCS. I have been reading the Music Reviews (Classical, sometimes others) in the NYT since 1962.

The NYT has traditionally been stodgy, under a vast array of Music Directors for almost the entire 20th and 21st Centuries with a few notable exceptions: one summarily fired in the late 1930s after not quite three years; Mitropoulis; Bernstein; Boulez (who learned all the classical, Romantic, Late Romantic, most of the 20th before 1948 -- essentially the entire orchestral repertoire except his own (of course !), was routinely hated by Winthrop Sargent of the New Yorker, and rarely given even an "all right review by anyone of the NYT); William Steinberg (who, even after a stroke, remained MD of the PSO, Acting MD of the NYP, and interim MD of the BSO -- between Leinsdorf and Ozawa) and made notable recordings with the BSO for both RCA and DGG); Masur to some extent, who inherited an Orchestra in tatters from Mehta, then later was considered boring, after he had raised the performing standards tremendously -- still was given a lifetime MD Emeritus title not given to anyone since Bernstein in the previous more than 50 years). It was not a scret to anyone the Maazel's appointment was intended to be "interim"; the other choices before Maazel included Eschenbach (not unreasonable at all) and Muti (insane). Neither took the job, although Muti's Agent announced at one point that effectively negotions were almost complete, probably would take only a couple of weeks more, and Muti was set to start the 2004-2005 Season. The wrinkles were that Eschenbach wanted Philadelphia, and Muti is still himself -- nasty, arrogant, a bad conductor, and now has no appointment as anything. The names listed as "innovative" composers is miniscule, and dozens more names could be added for every MD except Toscannini, and even he did a smattering of new pieces both with the NYT and later the NBCSO.

I do not believe that either HCS nor Mr. Kozinn "do not believe in fairnes [n]or accuracy.

posted by John Turner | 07/24/06, 4:29 PM | permalink

re: Cruise Control

Yes, you're correct: I would have you believe that the Philharmonic is a stodgy, hidebound institution, although I wouldn't say it plays nothing but warhorses. It devotes its program overwhelmingly to warhorses, with the minimum number work new, recent or unusual works necessary to make it impossible to say "nothing but warhorses." This belief is typical of Times critics because we either go to hear the orchestra week in and week out, or keep tabs on what it's up to, and have done so for a long while. And it is equally typical of just about anyone else whose experience is similar, because that's the fact. Beyond which -- good morning! -- critics deal in opinion. Informed opinion, ideally, opinion based on experience and long observation, but opinion nevertheless. To me it's fair and accurate; your mileage may vary.

posted by Allan Kozinn | 07/24/06, 3:28 PM | permalink

re: Cruise Control

Allan Kozinn's comments about Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic are not only grossly unfair but highly misleading. The Philharmonic,whether with music directors
or guest conductors has over the years played a wide variety of new works by today's leading composers,for example, Adams,Carter,Corigliano, Saariaho,and others,to
name only a few.Yet Kozinn would have us believe that the Philharmonic is a stodgy, hidebound institution that plays nothing but the same old warhorses. This is unfortunately typical of the New York Times music critics,who seem to care nothing for fairness or accuracy.

posted by robert berger | 07/24/06, 2:43 PM | permalink

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