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 future. Like most orchestras, they face diminished funding as they look at their future. Steve faces that manfully, and brought me out to help with what seems to be needed, a new way of engaging with the city of Jackson.
I’ll have more to say on what happened at my visit, and, how, exactly, an orchestra might engage the community. But since time is tight today, I’ll start with something really terrific that the orchestra is doing, something I’ve never encountered before.
Like many orchestras, they have a composer in residence, Jonathan Bruce Brown, chair of the music department at Spring Arbor University, near Jackson. Bruce (whom I enjoyed meeting during my visit) is a good choice, I think. His expertly crafted music is a pleasure to hear, and I’d guess goes down well with both the orchestra and the audience.
But get this — the way the orchestra is introducing the piece they’ve commissioned from Bruce this year. It’ll be premiered on the last concert of the season. And at each concert before that, Bruce will come on stage and present his work at whatever stage it’s reached. That won’t mean performing the entire work in progress (which might, at any stage, be a work in fragments). But Bruce will talk about the piece, and maybe the orchestra (or individual musicians) will play parts of it.
I think this is a fabulous idea. I heard the first installment, at the first concert of the year (an engaging glimpse at various aspects of romantic music, featuring Ian Hobson making his expert way through the Schumann piano concerto). All Bruce did was talk about what he was going to do — what the piece would be, and what the preview process would be like. He was hard to resist, and I’m sure he drew everyone in. At the next concert, I’m sure all the subscribers will be wondering what he’ll have to show them.
As I said, I’ve never run into this idea before. Has anyone else ever done it? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Certainly it’s an idea that others should steal.