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I remember a moment during the summer of 2002, when I looked at my wife and told her that I needed to make a change in my professional life. I had been managing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for seventeen years--a dream job, to be sure--but there comes a time when one realizes that one needs a change, and probably the organization you are leading realizes that as well. 
October 30, 2009 10:51 AM | | Comments (21)
Earlier this year the National Endowment for the Arts released its 2008 Arts Participation Survey, and the picture it paints is worrisome. The study was done in May, 2008, six months into the recession, and certainly we can draw a conclusion that some of what it tells us was probably affected by the economy. But I think we would be hiding our heads in the sand if we argued that the economy was the sole cause of what looks like a continuing and increasing decline in attendance at all arts events, particularly classical music, in this country.
October 23, 2009 10:12 AM | | Comments (6)
If you go to symphony concerts in Europe or South America, you see audiences that tend to be more diverse than ours in the United States--more young people, more ethnic diversity, more apparent diversity of economic and demographic background. Since the criticism often leveled at American orchestras is their lack of such diversity, one certainly starts wondering just why it is different here. I was most strongly struck by this in São Paulo, where the São Paulo Symphony plays to almost sold-out audiences night after night and there are enormous numbers of young people--as well as racial and ethnic diversity that an American orchestra manager would die for. But the same tends to be true to a large degree in Amsterdam or Moscow or Hamburg.
October 16, 2009 10:32 AM | | Comments (2)
I appear to have caused some confusion in the past with my comments about orchestra board members who try to wield too much authority in programming decisions, and conversely about conductors who adopt an autocratic, almost dictatorial stance, saying, "I am in charge of all artistic matters--just leave me alone." In a private email I was recently asked, "Which is it, Mr. Fogel? Is the music director in charge? Or the board? Or, for that matter, the management?"

October 9, 2009 1:38 PM | | Comments (3)
In last week's blog, I began a discussion of some of the questions I am most frequently asked by orchestras engaged in music director searches. This week, I am continuing that subject.

What do we do when we start getting local pressure for a candidate?
It is shocking to me how often this happens. Sometimes it's a relative, sometimes it's a close friend, sometimes it's a well-meaning person who just loves the work of one conductor and pushes that name over and over again. It is really up to the music director search committee to hold firm, to apply identical standards to all candidates being looked at and discussed, and not to bend those standards just because someone (even a big donor) wants them bent. Once you start down that road, you'll never get off it. If you are involved in a search, you will easily find dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who are 100 percent certain that they know the right next conductor for you. They don't. Only a well-functioning committee that does its homework, and that rigidly applies the same standards to all potential candidates, is going to come up with the right decision. It takes a strong search committee chair, backed by an equally strong board chair, to resist the various pressures that will be applied on behalf of people's favorites.

October 2, 2009 12:34 PM | | Comments (1)
I've written about the subject of music director searches before, but I continue to encounter the same questions when I work with orchestras that are engaged in such searches. So perhaps there is some value in repeating points that were made in earlier blogs. The points covered here apply mainly to American orchestras--the community, education, and fund-raising work required of music directors in the U.S. differs significantly from Europe and other countries--and also for the most part to smaller and mid-sized orchestras. Those orchestras attempting to hire conductors with international careers have to operate in a different market, and while much of what I say here will be relevant, some things will not apply.
September 25, 2009 10:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Recently I went on a spate of listening to recordings of Mozart piano concertos. For about 50 years I have not been able to get enough of them--they seem to me to be Mozart's "operas without words," the highest form of his non-vocal art. The recordings I chose to hear were mainly those I grew up with, and a few others accrued along the way--recordings by Rudolf Serkin, Edwin Fischer, Daniel Barenboim, Alfred Brendel, and Clifford Curzon, among others.
September 18, 2009 11:49 AM | | Comments (10)
I rarely blog about a single recording, or set of recordings, but in recent months I have been immersing myself in an utterly remarkable demonstration of great chamber music playing, and I can't resist sharing it with you. It is a five-CD set (DHR-7921-5) from Doremi, a label that specializes in reissuing recordings of special interest. This set is built around the trio formed by pianist Emil Gilels, violinist Leonid Kogan, and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. This group stayed together for most of the 1950s, and broke up largely because Kogan and Rostropovich had very strong political differences and could not continue to get along. What a pity--I'm not sure there has ever been a more spectacular chamber ensemble. What you have here are three virtuosos, each with independent careers on a superstar level, but matching their musical personalities to perform as if they were one person. 
September 11, 2009 11:07 AM | | Comments (3)
One of the problems that the classical music world faces is the different ways that people experience music. The truth is that classical music is not meant to be background music. It is often not meant to "soothe," should in fact shake you to your roots frequently. But if you look at some of the marketing that is done by the recording industry, even by some orchestras or presenters, you'd think that we were closer to Montovani than Monteverdi. 
September 4, 2009 1:11 PM | | Comments (9)
I've written about this subject before, but the older I get the more baffled I am by the wall that seems to exist in this country between symphonic conducting and operatic conducting. It is not necessarily true at the highest level, where conductors operating at both major opera houses and major orchestras are not at all uncommon (James Levine, Andrew Davis, Donald Runnicles). But in smaller and mid-sized communities, there seems to be very little crossover, even in cities that have both an opera company and an orchestra. Furthermore, I have often talked with people involved in music director searches for symphony orchestras--not only lay people, but even orchestra musicians--who have said, "Oh, he's an opera conductor," with a tone of disparagement and an implication that the orchestra wouldn't be interested in him.
August 28, 2009 10:26 AM | | Comments (1)

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