The David Gockley statement I blogged about was only one declaration of trouble in classical music that caught my attention recently. Another was a news story about the Colorado Symphony, an institution that feels it needs fundamental change.
The emphasis is different here. David talked about the problems he faces. And the Colorado Symphony talks about solutions. But the solutions are needed, the story notes (if only in passing), because the Symphony is “cash-short” — hurting for money. Which means it has, in essence, the same problem as the San Francisco Opera. (And many other classical music institutions.)
And the solutions are spun as major change, which they really might be./ To quote from the story:
[T]he CSO plans to undergo nothing less than a complete culture change that rejects music-making offered with “little thought as to whether it truly was of interest and relevancy to a large part of the community” and plays up relaxed, consumer-friendly performances that meet audiences on their own terms and in their own towns.
The story calls this a “new classical-music model,” involving shorter concerts, touring shows, smaller ensembles, even video screens at concerts. Chamber music is a big part of the plan, and in fact the musicians’ work rules (specified, I’d imagine, in their contract) have been changed, to allow as much as 20% of their performances to be chamber concerts (by, for instance, string quartets) at “community centers, suburban theaters and churches.”
One reason this is notable: the Detroit Symphony management wanted its musicians, too, to do something like this, and the musicians angrily refused. In Colorado, the musicians agreed. To quote the story once more:
“We don’t know how it will all pan out, but the musicians said, ‘Hey, we’ll go with the flow,’ ” said cellist Matt Switzer, who helped negotiate the changes.
And in fact plans like this have been floated, privately, at least, many times before, imagining an orchestra playing a wide role in its community, going far beyond formal events in its concert hall. One friend of mine — a management consultant who found himself working with orchestras — put it this way: An orchestra should be the house band of its city. (On the broad model of a club that has one band in residence, doing many shows.)
The Colorado Symphony plan has been criticized. My friend Peter Linett, in his blog, thinks there’s no thought about audience development. Why will people come to chamber concerts, if they won’t go to symphonic events?
And another friend, located in Colorado (but not speaking publicly), wonders how chamber concerts can earn as much money as the Symphony seems to think they will.
These are worthy questions. Next week I’ll look at the Symphony’s detailed business plan – called “Creating a 21st Century Orchestra” – and see what light it might shed. I’d love it if readers would look at it, too, and make their own comments, even (especially!) before I post about it.
But let me repeat: This is another case of clouds darkening over classical music — over, that is, classical music done in traditional ways. The business plan makes that very clear, right at the start. I’ll leave you with what they say — another powerful statement, even if it’s more calmly phrased than what David Gockley wrote:
The Colorado Symphony Association, like other orchestras and many performing arts organizations, has struggled in the past three years with financial challenges. While to a degree this reflects the current economic conditions in Colorado and the country, the primary cause is that while the orchestra is recognized by many as one of the leading artistically accomplished orchestras in the country, it is not perceived as a critical community asset, relevant to its residents.
Note the emphasis here, especially since some people think that current classical music troubles are caused by the economy. Yes, says the Colorado Symphony, the economy plays a role. But the primary cause is lack of interest in what the orchestra does. Do we blame their management, or do we think, just possibly, that growing lack of interest in classical music — culture-wide — plays a part here?