What an honor!

I’ve had some urgent personal business, and couldn’t immediately respond when Dixon — the cartoonist at Adaptistration — so wonderfully lampooned me. Adaptistration, as people in the business know, is Drew McManus’s enterprising blog about the orchestra business. Enterprising enough, in fact, to have a cartoonist, and here’s what Dixon did to me (follow the link for the original):


I don’t think I’ve ever been caricatured before. And, quite honestly, I wouldn’t have thought I was well enough known to caricature. So I’m really quite flattered. I’ve asked Dixon (through Drew) if he’d send me an autographed copy of this really well-done cartoon, and when it comes, I’ll probably frame it. 

One thing missing from the story was a link to The Australian. I was interviewed by their writer Michaela Boland for a story taking off from the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy, which appeared on June 4. She quoted me quite a lot (again I’m flattered), and you can follow the link to see exactly what she has me saying. A few details aren’t quite in place, and she might have strengthened my remarks about an orchestra of younger players just a bit, but still — it’s accurate. I said this heinous thing, which — as I know full well — flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that our orchestras play very well.

Which in fact they do, by normal classical music standards. But are those standards high enough? Not just for orchestras, but for all classical music performances. When we go to an orchestra concert, does the hall crackle with excitement? Do we hear playing that melts our hearts, and keeps us on the edge of our seats? Do we hear performances that are unique — performances that stand out, in distinctly individual ways, from other performances of the same piece? 

I don’t think so. And that, I think, is a problem in an age when we want to get more people going to classical concerts. If the performances are merely very good — if their highest excellence is largely measured by subtleties only a connoisseur can appreciate — then what’s going to keep people coming.

This will be a perfect time to ask how well orchestras really play, something I’ll start to look at on Monday. 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. says

    While I don’t particularly agree with the specific comment under scrutiny, and I think it might have been a bit unwise to air it, if nothing else it seems to coincide with some other important questions regarding the legitimacy of Orchestras.

    Rick Robinson’s remarks (an Drew McManus’ reply to it) in the thread were particularly intriguing. But what if there were competing orchestras? Let the orchestra that could draw the most resources in the region be the one to survive, maybe. In some ways that’s already happening-I’d just seen the livecast of the LA Phil here and have been discussing some of the implications (even with members of the Orchestra) about the implications of folks in Louisville, where the Orchestra’s future is pretty bleak, can go hear the LA Phil in the theaters.

    But that’s probably not quite the type of competition that would help local communities when it comes to maintaining a local Orchestra. The other type of competition for resources is something I’d been exploring for a while–non-Western Orchestras. Since the ticket sales an donor base is usually maintained on a local level, what happens when a local population has an ethnic population hat reaches a critical mass that can then start supporting orchestras that they want to see as in the case in the Bay Area where nearly 2 dozen traditional Chinese Orchestras, Traditional Chinese Youth Symphonies, and Traditional Chinese school music programs exist?

    I don’t see the San Fran Symphony making a decision to re-define their seasons offerings to include a large number of full scale Chinese symphonic works, right? So the .5 million Chinese-American population there becomes the ticket a donor base for all the local Traditional ensembles an programs.

    As McManus said in that reply:

    Those are interesting points Rick and I think it comes back to something that’s discussed here in posts and comment threads quite often: if ideas that require radical shifts in how orchestras employ musicians and operate have merit, then they should be able to carry a new ensemble toward success regardless of any existing orchestral presence.

    I guess it might be useful for folks to start looking at what actually forming large ensembles are doing in the US rather than relying on thought experiments to think about what might or might not be since, as McManus concluded in his reply:

    Consequently, attempting to use existing institutions to test radical ideas seems entirely counterproductive.

  2. says

    Interesting views as usual and I am glad you have the courage to mention that high standards are not enough.

    I remember I was in a record shop in London in the 1980s and playing was a very good singer performing standards, accompanied by a very good big band, recorded beautifully. Over the songs an enthusiastic voice-over announced that this release had won several Grammys (Grammies?) for best recording, best production, best arrangements, best performance etc. However the point is it sounded like yet any other high standard jazz performance and the numerous awards did not make me want to buy it. In fact musically it was covering very wellworn ground.

    There is a fifth dimension to performance and composing, that some people have, and some do not. I have a friend who is a session guitarist, and when he tries out a guitar in a shop everyone, customers and staff, turn around and watch and listen – there is a magic in just a few simple chords when he plays them. It is this magic that attracts audiences I believe.