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October 11, 2007

Optimism about the Future with the New World Symphony

Early this month I was asked by the management of the New World Symphony to come and speak to the members of the orchestra (Fellows, as they are called) about the orchestra business. This group represents, in a very real way, the future of this art form. The New World Symphony (NWS) is a pre-professional training orchestra. Its musicians are mainly just out of music school, and spend a maximum of three years with NWS. Michael Tilson Thomas is their music director. Guest conductors, soloists, and guest musicians from great orchestras provide a broad range of performance and training experiences. This is certainly the best orchestral preparation a young musician can get...

In addition to musical training, NWS traditionally has had its young musicians do community engagement work. But what they have started this year is to teach the musicians what orchestras are all about - how they are structured, how they are managed, how they are financed. They are planning a series of talks, each treated just like a rehearsal service - 2 ½ hours long, with a 15-20 minute break - for the full orchestra. I was invited to start this program off - they plan to bring other senior department heads from orchestras (development directors, marketing, etc.) throughout the year. This is a critical part of the education of the next generation of orchestra musicians, and many music schools pay it lip service, if that. It is wonderful that NWS has added this to their agenda.

I was very surprised at the intense interest of the young musicians. The full orchestra (about 100) was there, and they paid very close attention. I spoke for the first hour and a quarter, and did the hour after the break as a Q&A. The session ran from 3-5:30, but the questions kept us past that end time, and no one left. When I finally did end it, a group came up to ask questions until past 6 pm.

I will reproduce here the notes I used for my talk, so you can see the subjects I tried to cover.

I. Organizational structure of orchestras

A. Board over everything - ultimate legal, fiscal responsibility
1. Board role, committees, fund-raising responsibilities. Describe financing of orchestras - 40-45 percent earned, 40-45 percent annual funds,10-15 percent from endowment - discuss how this is achieved, role of fundraising on everyone's part - role for musicians in donor relations.

B. Music director/executive director relationship
C. Staff departments and roles
D. Differentiate sizes of orchestras and realities of different staff sizes
E. Describe functions of each management department (explain how in small orchestras all may be done by staff of one to three)
F. Begin to discuss musician roles

II. Changes I have seen over 45 years in musician role
A. Musician participation in music director search committees
B. Same for executive director search committees
C. Musicians on boards
D. Musicians on board committees
E. Other ways - task forces, operating committees
F. Role of ICSOM, ROPA, and AFM in bring about changes
G. Need for musicians to understand that the bad behavior of managements and music directors through the 1950s really ended largely in the 1960s/70s because of AFM/ICSOM/ROPA efforts and increased power of orchestra committees - and to start thinking in new, un-adverserial ways

III. Variations emerging
A. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
B. Colorado Symphony Orchestra
C. Small orchestras where musicians may also be the management:
1. Missoula Symphony Orchestra - Executive Director/Principal Trumpet, and most of staff from orchestra
2. Reno Chamber Orchestra - Executive Director/Principal Bass
3. Many small orchestras have musicians as main staff
D. Changing roles for musicians - community engagement, engaging with audience, engaging with donors, need to develop different skill set

The Q&A session focused on many of these issues - with a lot of intelligent questions exploring the change in climate, and the change in the role of musicians. The questions were probing and insightful, and I must say that I came away from this meeting with an enormous sense of optimism about the future.

Posted by hfogel at October 11, 2007 3:39 PM

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