Of a Prince, a Palace and the Ripples of History

Last week, I gave a version of this entry at a fundraising event, and later found myself thinking that its underlying message applies to many arts communities. Perhaps it will remind all of us that the structures of support are now communal. The vision that could be accomplished by one powerful man from over two hundred and fifty years ago, must now belong to the community as a whole. Imagine it is 1766, and you are a prince. You have built a palace in rural Hungary, and you love music. Five years ago, in 1761, your brother had discovered a … [Read more...]

10 little questions

Over the past two weeks I've been either attending or conducting concerts woven around a central idea. As both an audience member and as a performer, what struck me was the realization that these were as much projects as they were concerts, and that those projects created a following (read audience or community) around the organizing ideas.  That led me to think about the way communities are formed, how they sustain themselves, and why they stay alive or die.Mulling over the subject, in turn, led to these ten little questions. Perhaps they … [Read more...]

An Unfinished Story, postscript

Much has changed around us. We haven't changed much. Embedded in these last six entries are indictments of our ways of doing what we do, the practices we have come to call normal. They are killing us. Killing the field, and ultimately killing the art. Yes, it's true that things happened to us, but we also happened to things. In other words, we were comfortable with the way we were, we were terribly slow to adapt, and it has caught up to us. We still tend to think of management and artists as being adversaries. Our contracts have almost no … [Read more...]

An Unfinished Story, Part 6

Part 6 of 6 The monopoly of the past century was finished. All seemed lost. That year was a catastrophe. As the months progressed, income plummeted for the organizations while the expenses continued at the same level as before. Again this was because the organizations tried to honor the promises they had made months earlier when they had announced their concerts, repertoire, and guests. Finally, when the season ended they made drastic cuts. Everyone hoped people would return to the concerts, but many didn't. They also hoped their donors … [Read more...]

An Unfinished Story, Part 5

Part 5 of 6 Then the bottom fell out. Of course, the bottom didn't only drop out on the world of the concert-giving organizations; it was systemic. It crossed every boundary, every country, every business. It was incredible. Many people lost their jobs. Many businesses failed. It was a free-fall. And it kept falling. Everyone thought there would be a bottom, but each month the crisis deepened. Even the banks were in trouble, and certain large companies too. But they got massive government help so they survived. This support said much … [Read more...]

An Unfinished Story, Part 4

They were in great danger, but they could not see it.Of course, in the background were frequent economic expansions followed by recessions. The recessions were particularly tough on the organizations because their business model didn't allow them to react quickly enough. When the audiences and contributions would get smaller as a result of the temporary economic downturn, there would naturally be a deficit. It was as if there were two slopes, similar in shape but one always a bit behind the other. The forward slope represented revenues, while … [Read more...]

An Unfinished Story, Part 3

New technologies emerged. At first this development seemed positive. There were new programs on the radio and television. More people heard music through the new technologies than ever before. Certain musicians proved to be very good teachers within the new mediums. Many people were inspired. Radio and television offered new ways to experience extraordinary events and entertainment. They were fun and they felt freer than the traditional entertainment formats. As those technologies matured, each venue of delivery, called stations or channels, … [Read more...]

An Unfinished Story, Part 2

Part 2 of 6 Time passed. The cost of the concerts grew. This was, in part, due to the professionalization of management. There were larger staffs with specialists in fundraising, marketing and administration. The musicians cost more too. They were increasingly of a new, educated class. Many had two and even three degrees. The season grew to encompass a much larger part of the year. The artistic level of the musicians rose dramatically. The musicians, quite rightly, expected a living wage for the commitment of time and the expectation of … [Read more...]

An Unfinished Story

Part 1 of 6 Once upon a time in America, there were concerts. People went to them and then went home. In between those two activities they listened to great music. That was the whole point. It was a total experience inside the concert hall, complete in and of itself. These concerts needed organizational structures to become stable. They needed administrators, volunteers, conductors, guest artists and a predictable roster of musicians. The people who produced the concerts explored different ways of organizing themselves. There were many … [Read more...]

Can we talk?

I heard a wonderful concert by The Cleveland Orchestra a few weeks ago. Soloist Richard Goode performed Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto on a program that included Carl Maria von Weber's Overture to Der Freischütz and Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony. Goode was eloquent in the Beethoven, and the orchestra played nuance upon nuance to help create an unforgettable accompaniment. Ivan Fischer conducted, although that hardly seems an adequate term. It might be better to say he prodded, seduced, led and inspired the orchestra - first to remind all of … [Read more...]