Friendly and dignified

I talked in my last post about ways that classical performances could be friendlier, so the audience -- especially a new audience -- will feel welcome. I gave examples from the Baltimore Symphony, the Pacific Symphony, the Jackson Symphony, and other orchestras. In all of them, the musicians or the music director, or both, did something at a concert to welcome the audience. What these orchestras did might not seem dignified. Ask all the people coming to one of your concerts for the first time to raise their hands? Went over very well at the … [Read more...]

Making it work — being friendly

At the end of my last post, I was imagining an orchestra -- or any other classical music performing group -- that created some real sparks. And that made people eager to go to its performances. And, once they'd gone, to come back again.A group like that might, I wrote, have people saying:"I feel welcome when I go to concerts." "There's a feeling of excitement coming off the stage.""I'm always surprised by what they do." "The orchestra cares about things that I care about.""I can't wait to go again. I know that something fabulous will happen, … [Read more...]

Making it work

So how (picking up from my last post) would an orchestra -- or any classical music institution -- connect more vividly to its community?I don't claim to have answers. And even if I thought I knew some things that definitely work, I'd never offer a recipe. Institutions differ. They might not all feel comfortable doing everything that I or anybody else might suggest. And communities differ, too. (And then, within any given place, there's surely more than one community, more than one subculture in your town that you might connect with. That's … [Read more...]

Doing Jackson

When I was in Jackson, MI -- continuing from my last post, about my encounter with the orchestra there -- my mission was to help the orchestra think about how it could connect more strongly with its community. I don't remember if I asked Steve Osmond, the music and executive director (and my old friend from the Yale School of Music) to drain me dry, as I've routinely asked people who engage me as a consultant (or who bring me to visit their school). But Steve most definitely did that. I spent time with five groups of people; people from the … [Read more...]

Something new

Still catching up. I want to talk about my visit to Jackson, MI a couple of weeks ago (and apologies to my old and new friends there, who might have expected to see something about them here earlier). The outline: Stephen Osmond, an old friend of mine from graduate studies at the Yale School of Music (he was a tenor, I was a composer), is both music director and executive director of the Jackson Symphony. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but no way. Steve is outstanding in both roles. And fearless, I must say, in confronting his orchestra's … [Read more...]

Success in Maryland

I'm very late in reporting here what happened at the first student orchestra concerts at the College Park campus of the University of Maryland. I've written about my project there -- to work with music students to help them find an audience their own age. All last year I tried to lay some groundwork for this effort, which in some ways proved very complex. When this year began -- I mean this academic year -- I wondered if there was time to get anything going for the first orchestra concerts, which were on September 30 (the Wind Orchestra) and … [Read more...]

What I said in Amsterdam

...for what I said in the Netherlands. Or at least the reception seemed very warm for me. What I said, in my keynote talk at Amsterdam's Classical Music Day. was essentially what I said in Australia in my keynote talk at the classical music summit in Sydney. Our culture has changed; classical music hasn't kept up with the changes; that's why classical music is in trouble, why people aren't going to concerts, why the audience has aged. Plus, of course, all the signs of hope, all the changes being made in so many places, in so many ways, in … [Read more...]

Quotation of the day

From Lawrence Goldman, CEO of NJPAC, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. He's going to step down to run a new real estate corporation NJPAC is starting:The arts centers that are going to be successful in the next decade or two are the ones that diversify their revenues, The basic economic model of presentations, tickets sales and fund-raising is beginning to break down.Note that NJPAC has been highly successful. As a New York Times story (the source of the quote) noted:The move does not reflect a state of emergency at the center, a need … [Read more...]

Adventurous conservatory

Continuing my report on my visit to the Netherlands...I visited the Koninklijk Conservatorium -- in English, the Royal Conservatory -- in The Hague, and spoke with the director of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam (the Amsterdam Conservatory). These are the two largest Dutch music schools.And very quickly I could see differences between what happens there and what I know in the US. The Royal Conservatory is making big changes. All classical music students, for instance, are required to study improvisation! That really does deserve an exclamation … [Read more...]

The crisis, viewed from Amsterdam

There's something lovely about visiting another country, and not feeling entirely like a stranger. Here in Amsterdam I met people who read this blog, and ran into an American cellist who took one of my Juilliard courses and now plays in the Rubens Quartet (based here). And someone even came up to me with fond memories of one of the concerts I used to host with the Pittsburgh Symphony.That's apart from the warmth of my hosts at the Netherlands Music Center, and the truly gratifying interest from so many people in what I had to say, whether … [Read more...]


Today I fly to the Netherlands, returning Wednesday night. I'll be giving a co-keynote speech, at a gathering of Dutch classical music people, focusing on Dutch orchestras. My co-speaker is Magnus Still, a very savvy Swedish marketer, now living in Finland. He and I should make a fine one-two punch, with me giving the larger picture of why classical music is having trouble, and him giving some practical advice about what to do right now. After that, we'll both take part in a debate for a smaller audience, again focused on Dutch orchestras. I … [Read more...]

Pigeon music

After reading my last post -- the one about the pigeon -- Matt Westfall posted a comment, very reasonably asking what classical music might share the pigeon's aesthetic world. It was fun thinking about that. Here are a few thoughts. I'd be happy to hear more. Mine seem fairly obvious, at least to me. No need to stick to pieces as famous as most of these.Steve Reich, Clapping MusicJohn Adams, Chamber Symphony (plus many others)John Cage, Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, 4'33"Debussy, Afternoon of a Faun, Petite Suite, moreBoulez, Sur … [Read more...]

The pigeon and classical music

Here's the title character (and friend), from The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, a terrific children's book by Mo Willems.  There's a series of these books: The Pigeon Wants a Puppy! Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! And more.As anyone can see, the pigeon and his friend owe a lot to modern art. They're completely at home with the visual styles of our time, as are their readers, adults and children alike. So here's another disconnect between classical music and the outside world. Families love these pigeon books. But if the pigeon looked like a … [Read more...]