AJ Logo an ARTSJOURNAL weblog | ArtsJournal Home | AJ Blog Central
view by: newer entries first | older entries first
daily archives: July 26, 2006 | July 25, 2006 | July 24, 2006 | July 22, 2006 |

July 22, 2006

Aspen Music Critics Event

by diacritical
At the end of this blog (July 29-30), a group of four music critics gather at the Aspen Music Festival for a weekend of discussion. AMFS logo.GIF
AJ blog partner

Posted at 1:22 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

How this blog works

by diacritical
We've asked a group of observers of the classical music world to start a conversation on The conversation will last from Monday, July 18-Friday July 22, 2005. The blog is a lead-up to this year's Aspen Music Festival Critics' Symposium, where Hugh Canning, Justin Davidson, Andrew Druckenbrod, andDavid Patrick Stearns will be taking part in public panels. Reader comments to the blog...

Continue reading "How this blog works"

Posted at 1:23 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Who's talking...

by diacritical

Peter Dobrin
Philadelphia Inquirer
Andrew Druckenbrod
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Janelle Gefland
Cincinnati Enquirer
Klaus Heyman
Barbara Jepson
Wall Street Journal
Josh Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle
Allan Kozinn
The New York Times
Lowell Noteboom
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
Frank J. Oteri

Posted at 1:25 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

This blog

by diacritical
Over the past decade there has been a steady drumbeat of stories about how classical music is languishing, about how audiences are graying, and the business of music is becoming unsustainable. And yet, to be a music consumer this could seem a Golden Age. There is...

Continue reading "This blog"

Posted at 1:41 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)


by diacritical

Wanted: A Billionaire Who Loves Orchestras Peter Dobrin wants to know: "So where is the billionaire so in love with orchestral music that he or she wants to make all the difference in the life of an orchestra? Where is that hybrid philanthropist-music lover who wants to add $100 million or $200 million to the endowment of the Philadelphia Orchestra so it can stop fearing deficits; activate a range of education programs that can really inculcate children with classical music; and take a chance once in a while on edgy repertoire or the cultivation of a young unknown guest artist without fear of box-office repercussions?" Philadelphia Inquirer 07/19/06

Music; This is the Golden Age "Moaning about the state of classical music has itself become an industry. But as pervasive as the conventional wisdom is, much of it is based on sketchy data incorrectly interpreted. Were things better in the old days? Has American culture given up on classical music? The numbers tell a very different story: for all the hand-wringing, there is immensely more classical music on offer now, both in concerts and on recordings than there was in what nostalgists think of as the golden era of classics in America." The New York Times 05/28/06

Orchestras - The Best Or Worst Of Times? Allan Kozinn wrote a piece in last Sunday's New York Times contending that rumors of the demise of classical music are greatly exaggerated. But Greg Sandow doesn't believe it, and a vigorous debate has broken out... Sandow (AJBlogs) 05/31/06

Posted at 4:25 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

July 24, 2006

Taking Temperature

by diacritical

I can't decide whether the reason there are so many stories about the health of classical music is that so many people care about it or whether it really is an art form whose best years have past and whose activity can't be supported in current form. In either case, the "classical music is dying" story line seems to be the most enduring, and there are continual attempts to take the temperature.

One of the problems of course, as Greg Sandow has pointed out repeatedly, is that it's very difficult to get real numbers that measure good and bad. (it's much the same problem, I think, making declarations about which orchestras are playing the best - who actually gets to hear enough orchestras consistently through the year to be able to make such statements with authority?). Likewise, there are so many different numbers measuring different things in the classical music world, how do you make general statements that mean something?

As a consumer, this does seem to be an amazing time to be a classical music fan. Virtually all of recorded history is at our finger tips. There are more opportunities to hear live performances than ever before. More opportunities to play music in any of the thousands and thousands of community groups that have sprung up in recent decades. The level of performance generally across the land seems higher than ever (another statement difficult to quantify, I know). The 90s were a time of incredible expansion in music - dozens of new concert halls and performing arts centers, many new music ensembles, more concerts... And if you want to get into statistics, there are plenty to throw around that suggest health - not the lest of which that there are something like 14,000 new graduates of music schools each year, and every opening at major orchestras attracts dozens, even hundreds of applicants.

So maybe one of the problems here is coming up with a definition of what "healthy" is. Maybe if we're talking about the business of orchestras it mans one thing, the artistry of orchestras it's another, and maybe it depends on which vantage point you're trying to measure from. It undoubtedly looks different to you depending on whether you're an orchestra manager, musician, critic, recording exec, or consumer...
So how do we agree on terms?

Posted at 12:29 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The challenge for orchestras

by Lowell Noteboom

While reliable statistics may be elusive, no one has put forth a credible argument that there has been a real decline in the percentage of the population that appreciates the classical music art form, broad as that category may be. Most polls and surveys suggest that number has remained fairly constant over the years and is in the 10-12% range.

What has changed dramatically, of course, is the way in which the consumers are accessing and enjoying the music. For those of us who worry about this on behalf of professional orchestras and the challenges presented to them by these changes in consumer patterns and preferences (I am in my sixth year as Chair of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra), innovation and experimentation are critical. You all know the old joke that defines insanity as doing the same old thing in the same old way, over and over again, and expecting a different result. America's orchestras are recognizing, some sooner and better than others, that, while change can be scary, status quo is scarier.

The question, of course, is what to change and how to change it. Who decides? What if it fails? How do we assess the risk? How can we fix what's broken without dumbing down the product? At the SPCO we know that what happens on stage is what matters most. It's still all about the music. But we also know that it's more than that.

As the blog continues, I hope we can talk about how organizations that perform classical music can understand all the dynamics and ingredients well enough to know what is at the heart of truly engaging our audiences, whether they are in the hall for the live performance, listening in on the radio, podcasts, etc., listening to live streaming, etc. How do we make it the very best it can be? How do we collect and respond to their feedback? How do we convert them from casual listeners and single-ticket buyers to first-time subscribers? And from there to second-, third-, and fourth-year subscribers (once they do it four years in a row, they're usually hooked)?

How do we convert them from loyal subscribers to become donors and eventually true patrons of the orchestra?

I look forward to your perspectives.

Lowell Noteboom

Posted at 12:34 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Definitions & responses

by Barbara Jepson

Webster's defintion of "healthy" includes this one: "implies full strength and vigor as well as freedom from signs of disease." "Vigorous" and "flourishing" are also mentioned and, I think, apt for our discussion. So I throw these out as tools to help define what "healthy" means for music lovers, music institutions, performers and educators alike.

As for our primary topic, I definitely don't believe that classical music is dying. Nor do I think that every seemingly negative or discouraging development is necessarily bad (more on this later). But it's hard to agree that this is the best of times when there are a variety of symptoms of disease.

Bigger picture wise, I think the classical music industry is in a major transition time, and times of transition are always challenging. Some of these transitions, very much still in process, include:

1. In the orchestral world, the transition from traditional ways of selling tickets (subscriber model to single-ticket buyer model, box office/mail/phone to online sales) and, even more challenging, experimenting with all this at a time of financial challenges. Lowell Noteboom raises some important questions. But I'm not sure that figuring out how to convert single-ticket buyers to first-time subscribers should be the goal anymore. I look forward to hearing more about that from the perspective of music presenters.

2. For musicians with union contracts, the transition from traditional ways of obtaining compensation and protection to exploring new models. For example, the members of the New York Philharmonic recently opted to forego their usual flat fee up front to take a percentage of future royalties and retain ownership rights to the live recordings they're making under the aegis of DG Concerts for download. By contrast, the new provision of the Philadelphia Orchestra that Peter Dobrin noted in his July 19 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer (where 5 extra string players are presumably paid for showing up just in case someone is sick) is the old, work-rules kind of approach that has contributed to some of the financial challenges orchestras currently face.

3. For consumers, the transition from the purchase of physical CD's to online downloads(which hopefully will improve in sound quality over time)

Each of these transitions are opportunities as well as challenges, and I believe that the classical industry in the broadest sense (including critics, music lovers, etc.) has the potential to move forward in creative and vigorous ways. The question, as Lowell has noted, is what to change and how to change it without diminishing the core value--the presentation and enjoyment of the music itself.

Posted at 1:33 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (1)

Could It Be? Yes It Could...

by Joshua Kosman
Robbie Robertson: We wanted it to be more than just a concert. We wanted it to be a celebration.
Martin Scorsese: Celebration of a beginning or an end?
Robertson: Beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning.

The end of classical music, promised for so long and in so many ways, is taking its sweet time in coming. The full-time Cassandras -- Norman Lebrecht, Greg Sandow and others -- wag their fingers and warn us, "Just you wait, this is all going to come crashing down." And maybe they're right. But the prediction is always vague enough to be unfalsifiable. Each year that classical music manages to survive is read as merely a small delay of the inevitable; there are no data, no eventualities, that could actually refute the proposition that some day, some way, something bad is comin'.

Which is not to say that there isn't something winding down around us. There is -- but it's something we should be perfectly content to see the last of. It's the sense of entitlement that has attended classical music for so long, the unthinking assumption that this right here is musical culture and all those other sounds are -- well, something else. You can see how that attitude isn't going to get you very far in a pluralistic, multicultural democracy, and some of the resulting setbacks are frankly a little overdue.

But as classical music's inflated sense of self gets battered by reality, it seems to me that something much healthier has begun to emerge: An awareness that in the cultural marketplace, you have to pay your way. You have to bring something to the table that people currently want, or can be persuaded to want; you don't get grandfathered in.

Fortunately, classical music is something people want, in one form or another; that's why I feel so optimistic about its future. And I'd go further in my optimism and say that the troubles besetting the field -- which are real, no doubt about it -- can only have the effect of forcing the purveyors of classical music to state their case more clearly and more persuasively. The result may possibly be fewer performances -- not an inherently bad thing, if so -- but it will certainly be a culture whose participants have a clearer sense of the value and importance of what they're doing.

The kind of process I'm describing has already been observed in the area of contemporary composition. Hard-core high modernism was premised on a similar sense of entitlement -- the idea that carrying out the will of history trumped other imperatives, and that fulfilling that goal was the only ticket required. We can see how well that worked out. The decline of doctrinaire modernism has meant a flood of composers eager to beguile, fascinate, seduce and engage their listeners; in other words, the beginning glimmer of a golden age of composition.

I think the same dynamic is about to play out in the larger world of classical music as well, and for the same reasons. It's not the best of times yet, but they're coming.

Posted at 2:09 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

The view from the heartland

by 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 at 3:33 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

The Best of All Possible Worlds

by Frank J. Oteri
"There is at this moment of writing a serious hurdle ahead of...all music of an idiom later than the romantic nineteenth century. This is the hurdle into the regular symphonic repertory, so that the big works can be heard often and well played, and become at least as familiar as the Pines of Rome or the Heldenleben...

"The more responsible conductors, who insist on a hearing for contemporary works, have tacitly agreed with orchestra managers on a quota system: the 'difficult' work they many introduce are limited to two, three, or four a year. Until the mid-forties no American conductor who by training and experience knew his own cultural tradition could get a job with a major symphony orchestra, so almost all the 'difficult" works chosen by the conductors of the major orchestras have not unnaturally been European ones.

"The demands of the Musicians' Union, which quite rightly insists on a living wage and a full season's work for its men, have had the unintented effect of crystallizing the personnel of the symphony orchestra to suit the requirements of the works most popular at the time the union contracts were first put into effect--the works of the popular nineteenth century big noise composers: Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and so on. Orchestras find it so nearly impossible to make ends meet financially that demands for 'irregular' extra men--saxophone players, a fourth flute player, a fourth trumpet, a second pianist, or extra drummers...are a real threat to the budget. If a composer varies his instrumentation by keeping some of the men on stage idle temporarily, to the management it not unnaturally seems wasteful, since those men have to be paid for a whole evening's work anyway. Moreover, it is only the familiar works that fill the hall safely and surely. So managerial pressure will always be on the side of well-established kinds of music--which have the added virtue of being so familiar to the players that the require a minimum of rehearsal time."

The following words were penned more than half a century ago by Henry Cowell in the biography of Charles Ives he penned with his wife Sydney Cowell in 1955.

I agree with Barbara Jepson's assessment that all is not healthy at the moment for classical music despite classical music being far from dead. However, it seems like it's always been the worst of times for classical music and these times are better than any I can imagine.

I am a composer of new music based in New York City and the Editor of NewMusicBox, the Web magazine from the American Music Center which covers music being created all over the United States of America. And from my vantage point, exciting new music is everywhere if you keep your eyes and ears open for it. Although it always feels like there could and should be much more of it and that more attention should be paid to the music of American composers by the mainstream music industry, presenters, audiences, patrons, the media, etc. In the realm of classical music, while the music being created in our time by American composers as well as international new music might not be as front and center as a new music junkie would want it to be, the range of listening possibilities is staggering both in terms of live performances and recorded ones. That said, classical music does not often seem to connect to the general public. And much of the popular music that seems ubiquitous feels mindless, superficial, and destined for forgettability. Exploring deeper, however, reveals alternative streams of popular music as well which, though they seem marginalized, are as rich as the similarly seeming marginal stream of contemporary classical music. And there has never been a greater connectivity to the music of the whole world.

The erosion of a mainstream has made the concept of household name popularity seem like a distant pipedream. But technologies that have arisen in the wake of the mainstream, like the personal computer, the personal recording studio, and the internet have made self-publishing, self-producing, and the possibility of a global audience more of a reality for a larger number of people than ever before in human history. And this is probably why, despite a decline in music education among the general population, there are more active composers and performing musicians in 21st century America than in any other time or place in human history.

The worst of the above assessment sounds remarkably close to Cowell in 1955. It has after all always been the worst of times for classical music. The best of it however seems more hopeful than ever before.

Posted at 4:14 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Cruise Control

by Allan Kozinn

Between my article at the end of may and the subsequent discussion on Greg Sandow's blog, I'm not sure I have a lot to say that I haven't already said, and perhaps worse than that, I don't see a lot to take issue with in the posts so far. The data is, in a way, contradictory: there are clearly challenges facing musical organizations, and particularly the biggest ones -- symphony orchestras and opera companies. They have to think seriously about how to move forward, because quite clearly, they can't keep doing the same old thing and expecting everything to be fine.

Yes, they can cruise along for a while, perhaps a great, long while. But that's what they've been doing for the last couple of decades really: their cruising days may be coming to an end. I mean, remember the 60's (and, okay, early 70's)? Clearly the height of Western Civ for other reasons as well, but think about the kinds of things the New York Philharmonic was doing. Prospective Encounters. Rugs concerts. Series that presented new music of all kinds and got people interested and involved and talking about it. Where is the equivalent? Lorin Maazel considers it big news when he does a Beethoven festival because a previous time he did one, the orchestra had a nurse in his dressing room in case he collapsed. Sorry, doesn't cut it. Other orchestras are far more inventive -- I'm thinking of LA and SF, but from what Janelle says, Cincinnati too) -- and no doubt it's still a struggle, given the humongous budgets orchestras carry these days. Manifest anti-creativity, one would think, is right out.

Which is why for me a lot of the promise seems to be among more modest (but also more creative) endeavors. Chamber orchestras like Alarm Will Sound. Series like the one at the Miller Theater and, increasingly, Symphony Space, which focus on new and/or unusual works -- and also, in the case of Miller, on early music. Or the programs Carnegie has put into Zankel Hall. Or the mini-festivals that Lincoln Center has booked all over town, which take in symphony orchestras as well as smaller-scale ventures, and use everything from Lincoln Center's halls to churches across town. And, while I admit that I'm not always crazy about the result, in terms of the musicmaking (or even, sometimes, the repertory choices), Leon Botstein's original ideas about what to do with the American Symphony Orchestra -- failing when he took it over, and drawing bigger audiences, at least, now -- were basically sound. New things can be done that will attract the curious and that also offer real musical sustenance. Orchestras need to realize that thinking in those terms is no longer optional.

Posted at 4:39 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (4)

The Greater Niche Theory...

by diacritical

Last week Disney's movie studio laid off 650 people and drastically reduced the number of movies it makes in a year (the irony of the announcement being made in the same week that the studio scored the biggest box-office in history wasn't lost on most observers).

Everywhere you look, producers of "popular" culture are scrambling to reinvent the ways they do business. The movie industry's best year at the box office wasn't last year or five years ago or 20 years before that; it was the 1940s. At the turn of the 1900's there were more touring theatre companies in America than at any time since. Radio's biggest audiences were decades ago.

There may be many more magazines no than there used to be but even the most popular of them attract a fraction of what they did 20 years ago (our perceptions are slow to change, though. People magazine, widely thought of as mass market, sells about 3.5 million copies a week - reaching only about 1-2 percent of the population, while the New Yorker, considered a niche publication, sells 1.1 million).

TV has also changed; top rated shows now get a fraction of the audiences they used to back in the 70s. And music: of the 100 best-selling albums of all time how many were released in the past five years? None. Where the biggest bestselling books used to spend months at the top of the charts, now it's rare for a book to stay there for more than a few weeks.

Is it that we've gone off culture? Not at all; it's a major American industry and the country's top export to the rest of the world.

The 1990s saw what was arguably the biggest expansion in the arts in America in history, with hundreds of new performing arts centers, concert halls and museums being built and thousands of new arts companies of all shapes and sizes. Audiences for what was traditionally call "high" culture have not experienced anywhere near the declines that "pop" culture has. In a world of niche cultures, it may turn out that some of the biggest niches are arts niches like classical music.

The news business may be an interesting parallel. Newspapers are under intense pressure right now. Their print circulation has been declining for years and the traditional print business model doesn't work like it used to. But it isn't that newspapers are less popular; when you factor in the online audience, newspaper readership has soared in the past decade. It's just that the business model hasn't yet adapted.

TV news has also seen declines in traditional viewership, but new viewers haven't been captured with web operations. As ratings have declined, TV news has reinvented itself out of the very thing we would have considered news 20 years ago in favor of nightly episodes of fire and crime tales in some odd infotainment spectacle.

Look at the top of the classical music charts and very little of what you see is what would have been considered "classical" music 20 years ago. It's a mix of crossover music that doesn't reflect what most orchestras consider their core repertoire. Look at the growth in most orchestra seasons and it's coming largely from pops/crossover concerts rather than the traditional stuff. So the question is: is classical music like the newspaper business, with a healthy audience waiting to find a new business model? Or is it like the TV news business reinventing itself out of what it has traditionally done well?

Posted at 6:13 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Healthy But Strained

by Peter Dobrin

Orchestras cannot be truly healthy until they stop operating in a climate of fear (which unfortunately, is our zeitgeist - but that's another story). A lot of the strain orchestras feel comes from the fact that they are being asked to be all things to all people - "entertainment" for the masses, "art" for the aficionados, and enlightenment for school-children. They're getting pulled in different directions.
If orchestras are going to grow (what better sign of good health is there than growth?) they would do well to take on all of the roles they are being asked to play, and to find special funding for each of them. But here are some of the things standing between orchestras and a bright future, as I see it.
1. Growing the repertoire. Nothing is more harmful in the long run than programming the same pieces repeatedly. It's deleterious to the musicians, the artform, and in the end will erode audiences. Orchestras should not only commission new works, they should find size-appropriate venues to try them out. If an orchestra thinks it can't sell such works on its subscription series, why not perform them on a special series in a church or smaller hall? Growing the repertoire might mean not only creating entirely new works, but also a new body of transcriptions. Think of the critical and popular stir it would cause to commission, say, three composers to transcribe the Brahms violin sonatas for orchestra? Audiences love Brahms, and it would give composers a way of connecting with audiences in an artistically substantive way.
2. Growing audiences. Can't orchestras do a better job of performing at times and places that are convenient for the people buying the tickets? A number of orchestra managers have said to me in the past year that they feel that their jobs are about meeting the demands of the musicians' contract, not the demands of the audience. Here in Philadelphia, Sunday afternoon concerts - which the musicians resisted until recently - have been popular.
3. A more collaborative relationship between musicians and management. Tremendous progress has been made in the past three to five years in getting players and management to the table for reasons other than contract negotiations, and it can only be good for heading off misunderstandings and getting to good ideas.
4. Making risk possible again. Orchestra managements are often criticized for their conservative approach to repertoire and guest soloists and conductors. How about a national endowment to which orchestras could apply for funds that would support risky projects?
5. Getting over yourself. Joshua Kosman is right in emphasizing that we live in a pluralistic, multicultural democracy, and that classical music's sense of entitlement is something that needs to be shed. Likewise, I doubt that the collective whining and begging ("this business is so hard," "why don't people understand that classical music is good for them?") makes anyone feel like attending a concert or giving money. People want to be part of something they perceive as a winner. The sooner classical music marketers can figure out how to create a sense of event to concerts, the sooner classical music becomes a more visible part of our cultural landscape.

Posted at 6:20 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Concertgoers Just Wanna Have Fun

by Allan Kozinn

I'm not sure it's so much a question of people wanting to be associated with a winner; I think it's that they want to be excited by the musical events they attend. They're spending a lot of money to go. And much of the time they could be having a similar but more enjoyable and immensely less expensive experience at home listening to a CD. What orchestras have to do -- and I'm not sure why we're focusing on just them, there's plenty else out there, but maybe they're the most change-averse -- is find ways to give their audiences an experience that they will find memorable, moving, visceral, or whatever (depending on the program), both musically and extra-musically, and that will make them want to go back for more. This is what I don't see a lot of at the moment, at least on the orchestral level. But where the beasts aren't quite so ponderous -- that is, with chamber orchestras, chamber ensembles, soloists -- there seems to be greater freedom to experiment, and the experiments are yielding more hits than misses.

Posted at 7:19 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Classical music coverage

by Barbara Jepson

Since Doug mentioned changes in the newspaper business, I'd like to note another symptom of ill-health in the
classical music world: the steady attrition in classical music coverage at many daily newspapers, which means less coverage for local music institutions. In 2004, the Dallas News eliminated one of its two full-time critics, though he continues to contribute occasional freelance pieces. Recently, Wynne Delacoma, the longtime classical critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, took a buyout and will not be replaced with a full-timer, though a freelancer is providing some coverage. Two critics at the Detroit News, one of them in the classical area, reportedly took buyouts as well and will be replaced by one full time critic covering both beats. There are papers in major U.S. cities where a staff classical critic is being asked to cover other disciplines at the expense of classical coverage or where the full-time critic has lost the ability to assign stringers to cover some events during the peak season. (Even at the New Yorker, Alex Ross gets less space than his predecessor, Andrew Porter.)

If online subscriptions are compensating for the decline in readership of the print editions, why is this happening?
In other words, I don't think it's just economics; it's this blasted stodgy image that classical music has when the greatest classical music itself anything but stodgy--it's vital, involving, soul-satisfying, exciting. Newspaper managements are chasing a younger demographic and classical listeners--at least at your garden-variety symphony orchestra or chamber music concert are not in that younger demographic. But If your definition of the classical audience also includes those who attend new music concerts or who download classical music to their iPods or or subscribe to online classical services, the age demographic goes down. How can we get that
across to newspaper management? Should classical critics be paying more attention to what's offered online and what's going on in new music circles? The latter is a hard sell at most papers. So it seems like a vicious cycle,
but that doesn't mean it can't be broken. And one way to break it is to shed that sense of entitlement that Joshua
Kosman pinpointed, which in my experience is often accompanied by outrage and whining.

On a more positive note, the New York Times has actually increased its coverage of classical music compared to a decade ago and has hired Daniel Wakin to cover the genre (as well as other disciplines) from a business perspective. And other papers are asking their classical critics to write page one stories, which I think is a
welcome development.

Going back to our larger topic, I have always believed that classical music is elite but it is not elitist--anyone can enjoy it. The most successful music institutions on the current scene have found the right combination of enticing artistic product and wise fiscal policy/leadership to offer to their communities. Continuing deficits are a symptom, a signal that something isn't right in an individual institution. In some cities, it might mean that corporate donors have re-located; in another, it might mean population loss or a music director who just doesn't connect to the audience, no matter how solid his or her music credentials. It might mean an irresponsible board, or an ineffective one. Or it might mean that for a particular community, a 52-week contract is insupportable. A 40- to 48-week contract might
be better artistically as well as financially for many mid-size cities. It might mean that in some regions, fewer
orchestras or opera companies or chamber series might actually prove healthier for all concerned. What I find
inspiring is that despite the formidable challenges facing the classical music industry, new festivals, concert
series, record projects, etc. continue to be developed every year. That's a testimony to the formidable power of the art form itself.

Posted at 8:39 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (4)

July 25, 2006

Simulcasting the concert and podcasting the review

by 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."

Posted at 1:30 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Finding the Niche

by 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?

Posted at 6:19 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

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

by 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.

--Andrew Druckenbrod

Posted at 7:12 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (2)

Classical Music is in good shape but its purveyors have problems

by 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 at 7:14 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (1)

The Need To Be Nimble

by 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.

Posted at 7:24 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (4)

Technology and Music Criticism

by 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)

Posted at 7:49 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (3)

The Zen Of Subsidy And "Congestion" Pricing

by 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.

Posted at 8:56 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Lowering ticket prices

by 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
going up.

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.

Posted at 10:13 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

To Barbara: All of the Above

by 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.

Posted at 11:29 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Price Point

by 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?

Posted at 11:53 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

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

by 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.

Posted at 12:48 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (1)

Free has a Price, too

by 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...

Posted at 2:34 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (1)

Concerts in Parks

by 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.

Posted at 8:32 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (1)

July 26, 2006

Free = Cheap. An American Reality

by Andrew Druckenbrod

Loved Klaus' comments, but I wanted to comment on pricing, already given insightful thought above in the thread. This is a fascinating subject -- far more complex than I ever thought when I first delved into it as a critic.

At the base of the issue, in my opinion, is that, with everything else orchestras have to worry about, they should not have the added burden of being agents of social change. Offering free tickets is social policy. It is not the way the free market works and it carries with it many associations. The greatest is that Americans don't respect something that is free. Oh, we may take it once or twice, or more, but we don't respect it. At least not most of us. With the exception of special events like park and summer outdoor concerts, there should always be a price for admission. (comparing this to the free museums of London are just as problematic as comparing the governmental funding of orchestras there to ours. There are many differences to take into account.)

Americans tend to view quality in relation to price. If it is free, it is cheap. Furthermore, we are wary of "free offers," wondering what the catch is. Frankly, there usually is a catch! Once you are in the hall, the orchestra starts telling you how (sometimes from the stage itself, sometimes in programs) the only way the ticket prices are free, or even remotely affordable, is because of people who donate money, and you should be like them! A big guilt trip and big catch, even if it is true.

So, how to handle pricing? I am sure that there have been some good experiments on this over the years, however perhaps stratified pricing is the answer - but changed from what is typical now. Classical music has always been socially stratified, just like our culture, and orchestras can't change that. A significant amount of people exist who want to pay a lot for a ticket because they want to feel they are getting that top-notch experience for that fun night out. It's the same with 5-star restaurants. Most of us have felt this at sometime, especially when we venture out to something else we are less familiar with. So perhaps radically reduce the price of the B seats in the hall (placement-wise, not necessarily sound-wise), so that at least some payment is made, but it is competitive with movie theaters. And then keep the A seats (again, in placement, such as balcony) in the higher range (not too high, but substantial) and then offer extra incentives for these, like a special reception room or parking arrangement for them. I think, actually, many orchestras do this last part. It's especially good when a musician or two attends the reception as an added benefit.

So is this an elitist suggestion? No! It is a reflection of the market. Every pop/country/hip hop concert is this way; Broadway and other arts, too. We can't berate orchestras to be more market savvy, and then turn around and say it is elitist for them to cater to different patrons differently.

Some want to come for the music; some want to come for the social experience (whether we like it or not, "being seen" is still a large reason why many attend classical concerts). Some don't have much $$, some definitely do. There are music lovers in either category (and there are other categories, of course). But, even as I posted above about how the institutions need to always be changing, stratification has been a constant from the early days of concerts and operas going public. Pricing won't drive it, that stratification is already there. I know that subsidizing anything is difficult for administrators, but I think a two (or more) tiered price structure, with very low minimum, but a high roller's option might not be a bad idea and might fill halls from both directions.

Then again, all of my tickets are comps, so what do I know...

Posted at 6:03 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Response to Sam Bergman

by Klaus Heymann

The three questions which I asked in my original contribution don't have to be asked by orchestras which are in good health and which can afford both a Musical Director and a Chief Executive; a Musical Director with a seven-figure salary and 100 musicians on six-figure salaries with 52-week contracts. But there is only a handful of these and all others will have to ask these hard questions [and probably others] if they want to survive and continue to offer good concerts and employ musicians full-time.

Regarding the musical director/chief executive issue, I am in regular contact with both chief executives and musical directors, both in the United States and in the rest of the world. There are quite a few chief executives who have excellent repertoire knowledge, know how to put exciting and commercially successful programs together and how to balance the books - the only thing they cannot do is conduct. Whether an orchestra with such a chief executive also needs a musical director is the question that needs to be asked.

But there are also conductors who are well organized and qualified administrators and whether they need a chief executive is the other question. I know what I'm talking about because, in the distant past, I was the general manager of a symphony orchestra. Furthermore, the Musical Director/Chief Executive formula is by no means the norm in the rest of the world which is why it is something orchestras in trouble may have to look at.

I agree with Mr. Bergman that there are not a lot of truly great conductors around today but that also was true in the past. The question is whether any conductor is worth a seven-figure salary [and whether he should demand it] given the fact that many orchestras can't really afford it. I don't think an orchestra will necessarily descend to second-class status if it doesn't employ a seven figure conductor and, instead, employs only an excellent musician to improve standards. I will never understand why the musical directors in the United States have to do the schmoozing - I think orchestras would be far better off hiring a professional schmoozer or finding an enthusiastic supporter of the orchestra to do the work [I know what I'm talking about because I once was the unpaid chairman of the fundraising committee of a symphony orchestra] and hiring a terrific six figure conductor instead. I was not suggesting that orchestras should get together and cap the salaries of their musical directors but simply that they pay no more than they can afford, given the difficult times. And when it comes to mistakes made by boards when appointing a new musical director, orchestra musicians are at least as likely as boards when it comes to making the wrong choices. Again, I know what I'm talking about - I actually drew up a checklist for several orchestras who were and are looking for new chiefs.

Regarding the size of the orchestra, every conductor I know wants to have the biggest possible orchestra but, in reality, most have to make do with what is possible. Basically, most works composed before 1890 can be performed perfectly well by an orchestra of 70 musicians - 50 string players [14/12/10/8/6], 8 wind players [2/2/2/2], 10 brass [4/2/3/1], a timpanist and a percussion player. These 70 musicians can play all the great favorites from Mozart [he only needs 33] to Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky and practically all great concertos. Of course, additional full-time piccolo and cor anglais players would be convenient and desirable and bring the total to 72 players. A third clarinet and a third bassoon and a harpist are also desirable but already a bit of a luxury. And I think the great majority of orchestras around the world makes do with about that number [74/75] of full-time musicians. All other positions are filled by extras, many of whom are regulars - I have to deal with this issue all the time when these medium size orchestras want to record repertoire that requires additional musicians - a third trumpet, one or two more horns, a few extra percussion players, etc. - it's referred to as "augmentation" and the question always is who will pay for it. Of course, ideally orchestras should not have to rely on freelancers even for Mahler, Ravel and Richard Strauss but if it is a matter of survival, orchestras will have to manage with a smaller number of salaried players and doing all the big jobs by adding freelancers. And, of course, orchestras will also have to look at their administrative structures and cut an administrator before cutting a musician.

I don't think our UK orchestras will agree that their prestige and artistic reputation have plummeted - these orchestras are actually not made up of freelancers [Mr. Bergman is not correctly informed here] - the players are actually stakeholders in their orchestras but they get only paid when they play, at least that's the situation of the top London orchestras. And they all survive and play many great concerts. Of course, they don't pay their principal conductors or musical directors seven figure salaries - they only get paid when they work. Most other orchestras are on salary.

Posted at 6:45 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (2)

Five Stars

by Frank J. Oteri

Andrew Druckenbrod makes several good points when he explains why Americans distrust freebies. One that might get overlooked in all of this is the 5-star restaurant paradigm he describes. Perhaps we should start calling classical music "5-star music"?! Where the parallel breaks down is that the 5-star restaurants don't complain that fewer people eat at them than, say, at McDonald's. Yet the fancy eateries are happy with the number of customers they have since that small number can support what they do. On the other hand, so many people who care about classical music (myself included) complain that so few people are listening to it partly because we are worried that without greater audiences there will be no way to economically support this music in the future.

Classical music, particularly orchestral music and opera, costs a helluva lot more to make (composing time, copying time and part preparation, the number of people involved in performing it, rehearsal time, logistics, etc) than almost any other kind of music (although pop production values and costs for recordings and various arena concerts for the most part trump those of classical music). So, more money needs to be generated in order to make classical music happen. Back in the days of courtly patronage, folks like the Esterhazys or Frederick the Great could have orchestras at their disposal—although they certainly weren't 100-piece bands—but remember far fewer people listened to this music then than they do now. Yes, free concerts are frequently not aesthetically rewarding experiences—and I'm not sure the best way to introduce potential new 21st century American fans to this music is through the inevitable cavalcade of 18th and 19th century European warhorses (Brandenburgs, Mozart, 1812 Overture) that Janelle Gelfand cited earlier in this chain. But, what we really need are other kinds of exposure for this music to grow an audience (if that's ultimately what we want to have happen): radio, TV, schools, a presence in society beyond the recording and concert experiences, free or otherwise. You hear the latest pop tunes every time you're in a clothing store. You pretty much only hear classical music—old and usually less than stimulating classical music—in railroad and bus terminals; allegedly the program was started to keep derelicts out of these public spaces, and it worked...

Yet despite all of this, classical music, through keeping the prices relatively low compared to the cost outlay of making this music, has still managed to bring "5-star" aesthetics to many denizens of our great fast food nation. Go figure.

Posted at 8:58 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Oh God, Another Sports Analogy

by diacritical

I hate sports analogies. But, in terms of marketing their product, probably no industry is better at selling itself today than professional sports.

In the past 15 years, just like in the arts, there's been a flood of new facilities built for pro sports. In some cases, perfectly good arenas and stadiums have been decommissioned or torn down to make way for them. These buildings cost hundreds of millions each, and cities across the land have anti-ed up the cash. The justification for these new buildings? Revenue opportunities. Mostly the new buildings offer more ways to extract more money out of fans, even if in some cases the buildings hold fewer people than their predecessors.

Here's the parallel to Andrew's earlier post -pro sports knows a lot about who its fans are and why they come. They know it's important to give away lots of their content (so every game is on TV) so that they're a daily presence in people's lives and so they can hook you with their story. They know it's important to have a "bleacher bums" section where tickets are cheap, the view ain't great, but the camaraderie is over-sized. They know just how much they can raise ticket prices so the average fans can still afford to come fill the seats. They know how much free stuff they have to give the rabid fans (season ticket holders) so they'll shell out major money. And they know how to provide the "luxury" experience for corporate overlords willing to pay for expensive private suites with all the amenities.

Compare that with most of the concert halls built in the past 15 years (and there are many). They all, more or less follow variations on the traditional concert box plan, and aside from the view and some variation in acoustic, they're all the same experience. The modern concert hall is a formal experience, just like it was decades ago. The seats are rigid and packed close together. The rows regiment the experience, and the setting drips with expectation about how you're to behave.

Now, this may be fine for some occasions and for some people. But the world has changed. My favorite movie theatre in Los Angeles has wide aisles, reclining seats that let you rest your head, and a food menu that rivals a decent restaurant. It's fun being there.

Why aren't there luxury boxes in the new concert halls? (and I don't just mean those silly barred-off "box seats" that some halls push). Why is the range of experience offered to concert-goers so narrow? There are people willing to pay to stand at the Met. There are people willing to pay big bucks for great orchestra seats. But what about something more? Real luxury boxes, BarcaLoungers or some such, a "bleacher bums" section... Where is the imagination? One of the great pleasures of going to Disney Hall in LA is the theatrical way the audience is arranged. It's fun just to be in the hall. But there still needs to be more of a range of experience possible...

Posted at 9:32 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (3)

What can orchestras learn from opera companies?

by Barbara Jepson

Janelle's reference to the American Symphony Orchestra League's 1992 Wolf Report, and its possible relevance
to orchestra managements today, reminds me of some interesting findings that came out of a survey done for
Opera America in 2003. (Locating it is a little, um, shall we say, circuitous. Go to www.operaamerica.org, then click on "Companies," then "Marketing and Public Relations Resources," then "Deepening Opera Attendance"--the 2003 study. )

In a section called Research Findings Challenge Conventional Opera Wisdom, the following points struck me as particularly intriguing and possibly germane to orchestras and chamber ensembles as well:

1. There is no ladder!

The research did not support a long-standing belief in the industry of an upward, linear progression from
ticket buyer to subscriber to donor (then to higher-level donor) that underlies the marketing strategies of many
opera companies.....

2. The seat is the benefit (The second and third points listed here are numbered differently in the report.)

Preferred seating was seen as the primary benefit of subscribing or donating by 70% of all interviewees and
90% of subscribers......

3. Major donors do not appear to reflect the thinking or priorities of most of the audience.

The current approach to Board membership may be a barrier to deepening opera attendance and personal
involvement with opera companies.

By focusing primarily on major donors, companies may be leaving significant dollars on the table.......

What are the implications of There hasn't been much about opera on our blog so far. And in light of our "best of times, worst of times" issue, It's intriguing to me that, according to Opera America, the opera audience in the U.S. grew 35% between 1982 and
1992, and an additional 8.2% between 1992 and 2002. The growth has obviously slowed since 1992, and we all know of individual situations where there's been a major drop-off, most notably, at the Metropolitan Opera.

But contrast this to the symphony orchestra world. On the ASOL web site, under Quick Orchestral Facts for the
2002-03 season, it reports that total attendance at all orchestra concerts declined slightly in the 2002-03 season,
though it was still higher than a decade ago. (When they broke out classical concerts only, attendance had grown
by about half a percent.) We all know of individual situations in more than one major city where attendance is
easily down 10 percent or more.

What are the implications of these findings for orchetras? We haven't had much discussion of opera so far--is this the best or worst of times for opera? It seems like it's better overall than for symphony orchestras. Why might
that be? Do the visual and theatrical elements of opera make it more appealing to people? I've hated most of the visuals I've seen at symphony orchestra concerts, although I recall a wonderful recital by cellist Maya Beiser at Zankel Hall that went far beyond the usual slide accompaniments that attempt, in often silly or superficial ways, to mirror the music. Whoever did the visuals for her--it was an artist or designer of some sort--was really imaginative.

Posted at 9:57 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (1)

Doug Says...

by Joshua Kosman

"the setting drips with expectation about how you're to behave," as though that were a bad thing. I've never understood this notion that the existence of social norms in a particular setting is a daunting obstacle or some kind of fatal buzzkill. Yet it's a fairly common theme in discussions of how to make classical events more "welcoming." People can't be comfortable at concerts, the thinking goes, unless they understand exactly what kind of deportment is expected of them; and acquiring that knowledge is far too onerous.

Well, phooey. The other week I attended Catholic Mass for the first time, and of course it was hilariously easy to figure out how to behave. You stand when the people around you are standing; you sit when they sit; you don't holler "Yo! Bishop! Over here with the wafer!" unless someone else does it first and no one seems to object. Yes, you're always a beat behind the congregation, but so what?

Those simple rules work just fine at classical concerts, too, even for first-timers. And conversely, I believe -- though I could be wrong about this -- that the existence of a code of behavior ties in with Andrew's point about cost implying value. Having to leave behind your tub of beer and your garlic sausage is a kind of cost, and the imposition of that cost tells you that something is happening here that may well reward your sacrifice. It makes the event special. One of my favorite sights at the Symphony or the Opera is to see a young, even teenage, couple, out on a date and endearingly overdressed for the occasion. They know that this is a big deal, a cool thing, and that it calls for the cool-event costume -- even if they're not clear on how far to go with it.

Posted at 10:37 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

But Doug Doesn't Mean...

by diacritical

quite what I think you're reading into my comment, Josh. I think there should be plenty of expectation in the concert experience. Indeed, I think there's way too little now. It's one of the reasons I cringe when people start talking about "accessibility", which usually means "music lite" or some other form of lowered expectation.

I resent the charge that artists are snobs. The biggest snobs in the world are baseball fans, who throw around stats and observe copious traditions and act like the game is the Center of All Existence. Other snobs? I have been doing some home remodeling, and in the course of going to the local lumber store, am made to feel like an incompetent if I don't know the precise language or can't immediately see the advantages of one choice or another. Yet we celebrate snobbery in these forms. Why? Because they're somehow more authentic than art?

No. I think people love to belong to clubs. People like to feel smart. In the know. People like to feel like they're sharing an experience with other people who care about it too. Too often the doors are thrown open to the arts with too little demand or expectation. We minimize the passion of expertise that comes with getting to know something very well. I think we ought to celebrate the traditions and create more of them. Be more clubby (albeit an open club), not less.


Is listening to a concert in uncomfortable formal seating regimented in rows the last best way to appreciate the live concert experience? And isn't it possible, as sports teams have, to find ways to give people a wider range of how they can enjoy the live concert? I love going to concerts. But I don't always feel like being so formal as most halls want to insist you are. Most of the listening I do is around the house while I'm walking around. Or driving in the car. Or on my bike. We're a much less formal culture now than we used to be, even 20 years ago. We listen to music in more ways and in more places, and we have more control over our cultural menus.

The live concert experience should definitely be something different. It should offer us more. And does. I'm not making a plea for fewer expectations; indeed, I'm arguing for more. But I'd like there to be a wider range possible, and I think one of the ways classical music is narrowly defined is in the way we experience the live concert.

Posted at 11:05 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (1)

Why No Luxury Boxes?

by Barbara Jepson

The reason there are no luxury boxes in many of the newer concert halls is that many architects want to move
away from the red-velvet opulence of the traditional 19th century concert halls after which many of our older halls
were modeled.

The idea is to make the seating more democratic. It will be ironic if this ultimately winds up turning off those who are
eager, like the "corporate overlords" that Doug mentions in his discussion of baseball parks, to pay extra for an added level of comfort or status, and makes everyone equally uncomfortable in the process.

Posted at 11:10 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Democratic, Schmemocratic...

by diacritical

Barbara - In what form democratic? Are we really arguing that the current conventions of concert-going are democratic? And who says luxury boxes have to be on the order of the old red-velvet European type? Do I resent passengers in first class as I schlep by them on my way to economy? Do I really believe that fans in the luxury boxes at the baseball park are having a better time than I am in the upper deck? On the web, the basic business model these days is to offer a feature-packed free service, gather up as many fans of the service as you can and find ways to offer premium "extra-service" enhancements that a tiny subset of the free group will want to pay for. Most arts groups offer versions of this now - special perks for being members, like backstage tours or museum entry after hours. We're living in an increasingly concierged society, and the one-seat-fits-all model ain't a gonna cut it.

Posted at 11:36 AM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

The Necessary Means

by Frank J. Oteri

While it's true that any event that is free for all can wind up becoming a "free for all," as many people here—myself included—stated, I'll also have to take some issue with the tiered apprach that Doug has just suggested.

Yes, baseball—which I agree the classical music biz should do more to emulate—has elite boxes and bleacher seats, as do the airlines. (I never knew what it was like to feel the disparity between first class and coach until I was trapped on a UA plane on the O'Hare runway due to NY weather conditions and the flight staff wouldn't even give me a glass of water while first class passengers were being offered snacks; don't get me started.) But American audiences are equally used to more equitable arangements: there is no extra charge for sitting in the front of a bus, and thanks to Rosa Parks anyone can, and movies are one price for all seats. And recently, according to popular opinion polls, Americans overwhelmingly rejected a plan for frequent business class riders to fast forward through those time-consuming security checks at airports. It's nice to know that in the land of the free, sometimes everyone is equal no matter what their purchasing power is.

As I said earlier, I think the main reason why we would want classical music to reach more people in the first place is because the listening habits it engenders makes for a more civil society. And, yes, much of classical music's history, at least pre 20th century, is wrapped up in separating the haves from the have-nots: who was able tgo hear this music in centuries past, who wasn't. (This is part of the reason why there is frequently a disconnect with classical music for many Americans when it is presented in elitist garb; I still remember the misperceptions about classical music that were so common among students of mine when I was a high school teacher 20 years ago.) I also know that villains like Hitler and Stalin both loved classical music and used it for nefarious purposes—the human intellect has the capacity to uglify even the most sublime experiences. But at this late date, I think that having more people gain the ability to listen quietly to something and then reflect on it is ultimately a cause for the good that we need to be promulgating—to quote another sometimes controversial 20th century political leader—by any means necessary.

Posted at 12:53 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Why we're ignoring opera

by Janelle Gelfand

Barbara brings up an excellent point about opera We are ignoring the opera industry, probably because most of the news we hear is more positive than that in the world of instrumental performing arts. Opera companies have younger audiences, they commission new works that get lots of local and/or national press (in our town last year, it was Richard Danielpour's "Margaret Garner") and yes, they are infinitely more accessible to the general public for the reasons we all know -- not least of which is surtitles.

Granted, in our town, we only have four operas, so there is a great deal of anticipation for the summer festival season, including dressing up for opening night. (There's also lots of reminiscing about the Zoo Opera, the Met's summer camp in the old days.)

I find it terribly interesting that two of the biggest names heading opera companies mentioned in this month's Opera News, are former record company executives, the Met's Peter Gelb and Cincinnati Opera's Evans Mirageas. I have to admit that I was skeptical when Mirageas was named artistic director here, since he is neither a conductor nor a stage director. But we have just come off the most impressive season in years, in terms of the consistently high production values in all four operas. Most promising, the repertoire won't be all ABC's. He has coming in future seasons Daniel Catan's "Florencia en el Amazonas" and Osvaldo Golijov's impressive "Ainadamar."

One thing that I did notice about Opera News' 25 Most Powerful Names in Opera was the conspicuous absence of women in powerful places. I know that this is the case among American orchestras and the battle female conductors and composers continue to wage, but I was disappointed that only four women were noted, and one of them is dead! (Maria Callas)

Posted at 12:54 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (1)

Luxury Seating, part two

by Barbara Jepson

To answer Doug's questions: The absence of boxes as they exist in the great 19th century halls and their imitators
is viewed by some architects as a way to break down the barriers between what Frank Oteri calls "the haves and the have nots." Everyone sits on the same kinds of seats. (Disney Hall is a prime example of this.) There are no
areas with private entrances for box holders only, and everyone has the same amount of leg room. At Strathmore, in Bethesda, Maryland, architect William Rawn provided an extra 4 inches of leg room between seating rows; he's 6'8", and was tired of feeling cramped.

But of course in halls without boxes, some seats are still better than others in terms of acoustics and sightlines, so you still have tiered pricing. The "democratic" part is an aesthetic illusion, or an attempt at one. I think there is a genuine component of wanting to make the concert hall feel less formal.

As you say, a luxury box need not follow the old, red-velvet model--and it will be interesting to see, with 4 halls
opening this fall in North America, how they handle that issue. For myself, I love the experience of hearing music at a traditional shoebox rnegie Hall, with its red-velvet boxes, old-world feel, and pleasing acoustic, and I love the
informality of Zankel; if there was a way to replace Avery Fisher Hall with a hall that had the vitality, innovation and and generally fine acoustics of Disney Hall my concertgoing life would be complete, at least acoustically and aesthetically. I'm not bothered by the idea that you dress a bit more to go to some events at some concert halls,
nor do I feel compelled to dress up to the max. (But I've noticed that in cities outside New York, people
tend to dress up more for the symphony or opera than they do on normal (vs. gala opening) nights here, so maybe
that's more onerous in the Seattle area.

Here again, we're in a period of transition, and some new approaches to seating, feel, and layout are being tried. I think that's healthy, but I don't know if it would really make a difference to someone who has never contemplated going to the symphony or opera, or who is thinking about it but perceives it as formal and intimidating. What got me there in the first place was the transcendent beauty of the music itself, and that's what draws me back, again and again. That, and the special thrill of live performance.

Posted at 3:39 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Response to Sam Bergman and Marc Geelhoed

by Klaus Heymann

Mr. Geelhoed states the prevailing attitude absolutely perfectly "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" and "no chief executive, mainly responsible for the bottom line, should have control over programming to the extent of the music director, either" - it says "let's make music and never mind where the money comes from" [ I'm wondering whether anybody in the audience noticed a few years back that the 4th trumpet in the Messiaen Ascension was not a CSO regular].

Regarding Mr. Bergman latest posting, I'm not saying that orchestras have too many musicians - I'm even saying that, if they can afford it, having 100+ musicians on salary is a good thing - what I'm saying is that orchestras must look at how many people they have on their payroll if their existence is threatened.

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].

Posted at 6:39 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (2)

Different Appetites for Different Senses

by Frank J. Oteri

Before this debate comes to an end, I couldn't resist relaying a small anecdote from this evening. I just came back home from a free concert in Madison Park, a small park across from the Flatiron Building in Manhattan which is a short walk from my office at the American Music Center. Pianist Fred Hersch was playing in the park with his wonderful jazz trio. The audience for the most part was extraordinarily attentive, even during the almost barely audible, though thoroughly worth hearing, bass solos. And the music was really challenging at times: there was a piano trio version of a typically angular Ornette Coleman tune that put a whole new spin on his usually pianoless music which was obviously a far cry from easy listening. No one left. No one so much as made a sound except for a few toddlers, who will no matter where they are, right?

However, I couldn't help but continually think of this whole discussion throughout the performance, especially when I looked around and saw people having their picnics, among them a couple eating food they brought from...Wendy's. Perhaps I should reconsider the five-star music and food analogies I was riffing about after reading Andrew Druckenbrod's comments earlier today. Even still, there's lots of food for thought here that I hope we all continue to ponder on and that this dialog will continue and expand.

Posted at 8:47 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)

Thanks to all

by diacritical

Thanks everyone for participating in this conversation. As usual, I don't think anything in particular was resolved. But could it be with such a large topic? Still, it's worth talking about if only to get some insight on other pespectives. We'll be continuing this conversation live Sunday afternoon at 12:45 in Aspen with Hugh Canning of the Times, David Stearns of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Justin Davidson of Newsday, and Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Posted at 11:46 PM | permalink | email this entry | Comments (0)


Site Meter