Orchestras and new music

The following comes from somebody in the business who wants to be anonymous. It was sent as a comment on my book, but it’s worthwhile putting it out for everyone to see:

Permit me to offer a real-world perspective re your comment that “orchestras should try to find people who really like the modernist works.”

That’s very true, but the cold, hard fact is that, at the present time, it’s a small audience.

The research I’ve seen says somewhere between 5 – 10% of the current orchestra audience likes modern or contemporary.And the other 90%+ are becoming increasingly reluctant to buy an expensive ticket for a concert where half the program is music they dislike.There’s a fundamental law of consumer behavior at work here — people don’t spend time or money on something they don’t want.This fundamental reality applies to consumer behavior across the board, including orchestras.

I’ve also seen analyses of ticket sales that shows there is a strong, statistically valid inverse relationship between the word ‘premiere’ in a program – world, national or local — and ticket sales.In other words, say “premiere” in a classical context and you can count on lower attendance.

These are just the realities of the orchestra business today.And here’s one more cold, hard reality: if new music sold more tickets, you can bet your bass clef orchestras would be doing a lot more of it.

I confess the data I see makes me kinda skeptical that the answer lies in whether or not we play new music, in and of itself. I sense that the answer is to connect.And to deploy all the elements of the experience — the music, how it’s performed, how it’s presented, etc. etc. — towards that purpose.

I think what you’re REALLY arguing, Greg, is that we need to change the paradigm, challenge the assumption that today’s audience is tomorrow’s audience, that today’s concerts are tomorrow’s concerts, that today’s organizations are tomorrow’s organizations. The tricky part is getting from today to tomorrow; I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

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