Cost squeeze — further thoughts

Lying behind almost all the difficulties classical music has (and especially orchestras) is growing lack of interest. I’m fascinated to see that I’m not the only one saying this. It’s just about become a mantra, when classical music trouble develops. It was cited, for instance, as one cause of the New Mexico Symphony bankruptcy, the end of the Syracuse Symphony, and the drastic decline of freelance work for classical musicians in New York. 

Or, to use the words people involved with these things used: In New Mexico, the orchestra suffered from “changes in music taste,” and in Syracuse from “shifts in population and cultural taste.” And in New York, work is drying up in part because of “the Classical Music Recession. That is, the decreasing profile of the art form amid modern entertainment-saturated life.” 
Another thought. One reason for the loss of interest is that classical music is only just starting to become a truly contemporary art. If orchestras (and of course other classical music institutions) want to have a future — if they want to find a new audience — they have to start moving down this road. 

But at the same time, they have to keep on doing what they already do, to serve their existing audience, which still pays a large part of the bills, even if it’s slowly fading away. So now these poor, beleaguered, cash-strapped institutions have to go in two directions at once. Which adds to their expenses. And the cost squeeze continues. 

      Looking for hope

I’m going to offer some solutions, though first I’ll have to take my trip to Britain, which starts tomorrow. Solutions, by the way, not just for the orchestra cost squeeze, but for other financial situations I’ve cited earlier, which classical music needs to solve.

Not that I think I have all the answers! Far from it. But I do have some ideas. 

I’d also recommend Tony Woodcock’s blog. I’ve mentioned him often. He’s the president of New England Conservatory, and formerly ran orchestras. In four recent posts, he tackles some of classical music’s problems:
American Orchestras: Yes, It’s a Crisis” — in which Tony says many of the same things I do.
The Coolest Band in the World” — an inspirational post, offering the Berlin Philharmonic as a proven model of a better way to run an orchestra.
How to Miss the Titanic” — again inspirational, this time offering the London Symphony as a proven alternate model.
Special Forces Commando Unit” — in which Tony takes inspiration from NEC students.
(And I should take inspiration from Tony’s titles!)

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. Fred Lomenzo says

    As an active composer who regularly attends concerts I often speak to the “average” regular concert goer and try to elicit opinions on their likes and dislikes, reasons for attending ect. I like to do this before announcing that I am in fact a composer. Most are older but not all. There seems to be more enthusiasm from those who are new to classical music than from those who are not. As several concert goers have attested to, they have eagerly opened up to contemporary music, however they now generally avoid concerts heavy in it. Many still regularly attend although there is a definite lack of excitement for them. As one concert goer put it they ” don’t enjoy contemporary music and they have heard old stuff before”. Some also stated that they were thinking of not renewing their subscription the folloing year.

  2. says

    Greg, I see strong comparisons between the state of classical music institutions and the state of traditional churches. The church world responded by creating “church plants” – new churches with new models reaching new people.

    Classical arts needs a similar.movement.

    Kyle Baker

    M.Mus. Belmont