Are 21st-century conservatories training musicians for orchestras of the 20th century?
I recently had the privilege of spending about two hours with a group of students from the Curtis Institute of Music, most of them majoring in orchestral instrument performance (but some composers and keyboard players were among them as well). The subject which I was asked to address was, broadly stated, "where are orchestras headed?"
I have to tell you how encouraging this time was. To be in a room with about 30 young music students who actually cared - cared passionately - about symphony orchestras, and their role in society, their ability to connect with the next generation of audiences, their willingness to be flexible. I spoke for about a half-hour, and then engaged in discussion for the remaining time. I spoke about the need for orchestras to re-think how concerts are presented, especially to younger audiences who grew up in a television/video age. I spoke about the need for orchestras to connect to communities, for orchestras to be willing to help audiences understand this art form (the way audio guides help us in the museum). After going over the challenges facing orchestras, I said the following:
"So what does this mean to you - musicians who may well be going out into the field of orchestras to make your profession? I think above all it means not only being open to a more flexible view of what the concert experience should be, but in fact being active participants in shaping that future. It means interacting with managements and boards in a positive way - which doesn't mean you won't negotiate contracts aggressively and passionately, but it does mean you'll also interact with them throughout the year in a positive way. You will be open to new ways of the music being presented on stage, and you will be open to new ways of working in communities. You might, if it suits your talents, be asked to speak publicly, or teach, or interact with community groups. If orchestras are going to connect with their communities, this may mean sometimes getting outside of the norm of 80-100 musicians appearing on one stage in a concert hall.What was so encouraging was the students' receptiveness to these ideas - and, in the discussion, the contribution of their own ideas and energy. It does make one feel that the future is very strong and secure.
It is likely that we will have to find new ways of using technology too. The old idea of technology - specifically recordings - being a major source of income for musicians and orchestra managements is over; it now must be seen as a way of distributing the music to a wider audience - not as a cash cow. All of this cannot happen to its full effectiveness without musicians as part of the thinking - and it cannot happen without a flexible approach from all."
This topic is of course widely discussed in our field on an ongoing basis--what should musician training actually entail? It is the League's belief that orchestras and conservatories and schools of music need to be in frequent dialogue to ensure that music students are receiving a complete education, beyond performance. Here is a link to a SYMPHONY Magazine article by Susan Elliott, which explores how orchestras and higher education institutions are addressing this issue.
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