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July 10, 2007

Five Days in Music City!

The American Symphony Orchestra League's 62nd Conference, held this past June 19-23 in Nashville, will go down with a number of distinctions...

Not least among them is that distinction of being the final Conference of the American Symphony Orchestra League - because the organization decided, by vote of its member orchestras, to change its name to the League of American Orchestras. (No one could reasonably argue that LAO is not an improvement over ASOL as an acronym - even if we determine not to use the new acronym in any official way). We will not actually begin usage of that name until the fall, because the formalities of new business cards, letterheads, etc. take time to implement. The Friday afternoon session, called "Celebration," at which awards are given out, was kicked off by a freshly-written country and western song by Don Schlitz, the recurring chorus of which was "You can't call me ASOL anymore!" Click here to hear the song.

Second, at the Conference Luncheon, League Board Chair Lowell Noteboom and Executive Vice President and Managing Director Jesse Rosen gave an update on the League's new implementation plan which accompanies the strategic direction. You can click here to read the Executive Summary of "Supporting Orchestras in a New Era."

Another one of this Conference's distinctions will be its high attendance - the largest number of registered delegates since the Conference of 2000 in Boston: a total of 1,389. The performances by the Nashville Symphony and the Nashville Chamber Orchestra in the magnificent new Schermerhorn Center were terrific, too - if you want to experience a really successful new concert hall, take a visit to Nashville.

I believe that the most significant distinction about the League's 62nd Conference was the depth and breadth of the topics covered; I do understand that this may well seem self-serving to readers, and I invite anyone who attended the Conference to react in any way that they wish. But I did feel that there was an enormous amount of new and provocative thinking on display. The Engaging Art: Research, Practice, and Innovation session was lively, stimulating, thoughtful, witty, and thoroughly involving. It was available for blogging via ArtsJournal.com, and so many people from around the world tried to join in that it crashed the computers. As Doug McLennan of ArtsJournal.com wrote after the event that the blog "served more than 10,000 pages, with 3,500 visitors to the blog. Readers from all over the world [as far away as Finland and New Zealand] contributed comments and our crack team of Orchestra League fellows were swamped monitoring the comments."

Just after the Engaging Art session, we held our first Innovations Expo, which featured roundtables where 18 orchestras and five other organizations described new approaches to concert presentation, patron and audience development, technology use, and education programs. Delegates were able to experience these innovations and question the representatives of those organizations about details. When I made the rounds of the Expo, most areas were packed with curious Conference delegates. One wonderful aspect of this was the huge range of orchestras represented, from the Chicago and San Francisco Symphonies to orchestras from York, PA and Owensboro, KY.

On Saturday morning, representatives from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, along with facilitator Paul Boulian, led a three-and-a-half hour session called "A Radical New Revenue Model for Orchestras," which focused on innovative ways of thinking about patron development and structuring the organization so that patron development is the responsibility of all departments, the Board, the volunteers, and even the musicians. It had the largest attendance of any Saturday session I have ever attended at a League conference (more than 300 people attended), and I've been to about thirty of them!

Kenneth Schermerhorn was awarded, posthumously, the Gold Baton (the League's highest honor) for his work in raising the artistic level and stature of three American symphony orchestras during his career - New Jersey, Milwaukee, and Nashville. The Ford Made in America program, sponsored by Ford Motor Company Fund, which led to the writing of Joan Tower's Made in America, was performed at the Conference concert by the Nashville Symphony under Leonard Slatkin. The program was recognized for its uniqueness in providing performances of this new work by 65 orchestras, at least one in every state, in a season-and-a-half. And because of its success, Ford Motor Company Fund announced that it would support round two - for a piece that will be written by Joseph Schwantner (and which will be premiered by the Reno Chamber Orchestra in the fall of 2008).

Last but certainly not least, enormous thanks go to Alan Valentine and his team at the Nashville Symphony for their hard work and enthusiasm in assisting the League's staff in Conference preparation and for assisting in its smooth execution.

Many of you have asked that we post information and content from many of our sessions--and we will do so as content comes in. Keep checking www.leagueconference.org as we add audio, links to PDFs, and photos in the coming days and weeks.

Posted by hfogel at July 10, 2007 3:36 PM

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