A brilliant composer friend of mine recently had a reading of a piece done by a major orchestra. All the other composers, she said, and the orchestra management, went around talking about how the orchestra desperately needs to come up with new ideas, so they can build up a new audience. Her piece was very percussion driven, centered around a trap-set part that the orchestral percussionists didn’t know how to handle, and so the reading was somewhat lacking. The other composers, commiserating, told her that the string section really needs to be the driver of an orchestra piece. And as she told me about it, I formed exactly the same question she’d been asking herself: Which is it? Does the orchestra need new ideas, or will composers invariably get screwed over if they don’t stick to the tried-and-true? How do these fucked-up orchestra composers and musicians manage to keep those contradictory principles in their heads at the same time?
UPDATE: I should have recalled that Charles Ives had similar experiences with orchestras, and wrote that the advice he received boiled down to: “If you want something played, write something you don’t want played.”