Another look at orchestras

Orchestras are in trouble, in the end, for one simple reason — their market is shrinking.

You can see that in a long-term decline in ticket sales, especially for most orchestras’ core subscription series. You can also deduce the shrinking market from the overall situation of classical music, which each year gets less important in our culture. In the early 1960s, Life (then the leading mass-market national magazine) commissioned a piano piece from Copland, and printed it, for readers to play. In the early 2000s, classical radio stations wink out of existence, and a new generation — even its most smart and educated people, even its intellectuals, who know all about novels, film, and painting — hardly even know the great composers’ names. Richard Florida, in his convincing book The Rise of the Creative Class, says that cities can no longer attract businesses because they have an orchestra, an opera company, and a ballet. Instead, they need to have a young “creative class,” made up of smart and interesting people who, for music, want a lively mix of local bands — a distinctive local music scene, which classical music can’t be part of, because everywhere you find it, it’s more or less the same. (And not exactly lively.)

What can orchestras do, if their market is shrinking? They themselves could shrink.

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