Another sign of trouble — and a solution?

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?

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Comments

  1. says

    Why would someone go to a chamber concert if they don’t go to a symphony concert? Because it’s easier. Chamber ensembles can come to YOU, playing shows that don’t cost an arm and a leg to go to, fit your schedule, and are located in places that you’d be going after work anyway.

    Can chamber concerts earn enough money? Who cares? The idea shouldn’t be how much money these shows will make but how much interest they can generate. If someone stumbles along a chamber concert and ends up enthralled by it, I would guess that they’re much more likely to go to the symphony. Sometimes you actually have to spend money to make money.

    What’s baffling to me is that agreements such as the 20% limitation mentioned even exist. It’s as if orchestra administrators think that the exclusivity of only being able to hear the first trombone at the symphony is going to draw people in. No one cares about the first trombone, though. There’s much more value in catching people off guard so they find themselves interested in something they never considered and certainly weren’t going to pay for.

    • says

      Hi, Josh,

      I think the 20% cap might come from the musicians. It’s been the orchestra managers who’ve recently been pushing to get the musicians playing chamber music out in the community, and the musicians (at least in Detroit) resisting the idea. The 20% cap in CO seems to be a compromise, the management getting chamber performances happening, and the musicians being assured that what they see as their main gig won’t be too thoroughly diluted. If I’m wrong about that, someone tell me!

      As for making money from chamber music, that seems to be the Symphony’s plan. They’re projecting the chamber concerts to bring in revenue they currently can’t bring in from symphonic events. I agree that the friendship value (so to speak) of playing intimate concerts in the community is in principle priceless, but on the other hand, the musicians have to be paid to do it. So the orchestra — trying to make this sustainable — hopes/plans to get a substantial chunk of earned income from chamber music ticket sales.

      Of course I see your point about a chamber concert being more accessible, and certainly more personal. And easier to get to, just as you say. Orchestras have found (in St. Paul and Richmond, VA, for example) that playing full orchestra concerts in community locations draws an audience that doesn’t come to the main hall.

      I should have been clearer, though, about the question I was asking. If the problem is that people don’t think the orchestra makes any difference to them, maybe some of that is lack of interest in classical music itself. It’s pretty hard to dispute that our culture, taken as a whole (and especially younger people), doesn’t value classical music as much as it used to, even 20 years ago. So if that’s a reason why people aren’t coming to the CO Symphony’s orchestral events, why will chamber concerts be any more of a draw?

      This is uncharted territory, I’d say. We’ll learn a lot when the plan is put into effect.

  2. says

    I think that opera, symphony concerts and chamber recitals are different, my preferred concerts are definitely chamber music. It is inevitable that opera will struggle as it costs so much to produce yet the number of seats in the theatre are limited; however I don’t think an opera house suffering means that string quartets will also suffer.

    However I have another view on this. Recently I have been looking into the post war Marxist art theorists. These theories are still dominating arts administration in the U.K., yet they are irrelevant to the current classical music scene. The clichés of Post-Modernism and Structuralism are still being quoted, such as art must be “dangerous”, “confront the audiences preconceptions”, “innovative”. A small number of otiose, state salaried arts administration departments in England have made sure that state subsidised arts are seen as silly and irrelevant. For instance a recent dance performance in England consisted of a girl smoking in a cage, under strobe lighting, trying to give herself an epilectic seizure.
    Every time a contemporary composer opens his or her mouth on television it usually re-affirms (intentionally or otherwise) that classical music is for the intellectual elite and they certainly don’t want people to come along and enjoy themselves. The U.K.’s professional standard youth orchestra has just done a work where they are beat boxing and not playing their instruments. Beat boxers like Killa Kela and Schlomo spend years mastering this art, how can classical musicians learn it in a few days? Yet it is this obsession with being different and innovative, irrespective of how silly or bad the results are.

    Sometimes I work with a ballet company, the young girl who does workshops has to have the poster displaying dates in residential homes, ratified by the marketing department. One such poster was rejected. Why?- the margin was the wrong width, it was out by a few millimetres. These administrators are obsessed with branding, unifed strategic marketing stratergies – even though it does not work. It is the trivia of the arts and the expert marketeers in other industries don’t do this anyway.
    The end result is we have substandard marketing trying to promote unpopular arts with watered down Marxists justifications.

  3. says

    Wow, Ian, you bring a lot of different considerations to the table! I think the avant garde, while it certainly got more ‘dangerous’ after the war, was out to enrage the bourgeoisie since early in the century. After the Second World War, the avant garde essentially took over composition and made non-avant garde composers anathema. Just look at the abuse that was directed at Shostakovich. Yes, I suspect that a majority of arts administrators do probably come from a background where the essence of modern (and post-modern) art is assumed to be confrontational. This is, of course, one of the main things that have driven audiences from concert halls for the last fifty years. Sometimes one looks at the heroic efforts of some organizations to cultivate audiences for new music and wants to ask, “isn’t the nature and quality of the music the most important thing? And not just the fact that it was composed yesterday?”

    If people today value classical music less than in the past and there is a growing lack of interest in classical music, then one of the causes of this could very well be that a large number of composers chose to write music that was rebarbative and very difficult for an ordinary concert audience to understand, let alone enjoy. They may have told themselves that they were writing for the future, but, sorry guys, the future just sent back a memo and they’re not interested either.

    If audiences value classical music less, perhaps the actual aesthetic value of the music is relevant.

    I’ve talked about this in various posts on my blog. Here is one:

    http://themusicsalon.blogspot.com/2011/06/music-for-listeners.html

  4. says

    I think you are right Bryan. The strange thing about all this is that the well-heeled administrators, who get very well paid, are imposing these ideas on badly paid, or even volunteer, creative artists. This means the very people the Marxists were against, are still controlling those who do the work. The Situationists called this ‘recuperation’, where even politically subversive ideas are integrated and commodified into the established mainstream culture.
    The precepts of post war political analysis of the arts, hang over us like some tenet of a fundamentalist theocracy. This quote from Julien Alvard sums up this orthodoxy

    “Art is something disturbing, dangerous, equivocal, always threatening; it affirms man’s creative freedom, his capability to always go beyond his own possibilities.”

    This was published in 1952! – two generations ago; the world has moved on yet the artistic philosophy within the established contemporary classical music world, has not.

    • says

      That is an irony that had not occurred to me! Thanks for the great quote. One of the aims of my blog is to rethink this and rediscover aesthetics for contemporary classical music. Though the attitude you describe is still ubiquitous, it is no longer universal. There are more and more composers that are writing music that could unequivocally be called beautiful. Part of the job right now I would say, is to rediscover harmony. I talked about that in several posts on my blog:

      http://themusicsalon.blogspot.com/2011/12/who-killed-harmony.html

  5. says

    I’ve really enjoyed your blog posts Greg, always very interesting and as a composer/pianist very useful too.

    I certainly agree that some of the traditional classical music business models need to be updated. Orchestra members performing chamber music seems like a fine idea.

    The comments on 20th century music being partially responsible for the decline in interest for classical music is also very interesting.

    As classical music “evolved” in the late 19th and 20th centuries, becoming ever more complex, composers (and other artists) were under increasing pressure to top both what other composers were doing and what they themselves were doing. Stravinsky was so self-conscious he took this to a musical self-destructive end (after say his neo-classical period). And Stravinsky was one of the most creative artists ever. Prokofiev, Shostakovitch, Bartok, and others held up to these pressures better (perhaps at least in Shostakovitch’s case because he was staring down the barrel of a gun, but I digress). But there were the less creative types, inventing instead of composing.

    Once the 12-tone method was invented, creativity and musicality were no longer requirements for composers, anyone could be a composer, and if people didn’t like the results it was because they were too simple minded to understand it. What might have seemed a reaction against the bourgeois at first, quickly became the new musical bourgeois (especially when it found the perfect home in Academia, where art is often quantified to the point of meaninglessness). The result? It had already become the norm for young composers to attend conservatories to learn the art of composition, but now they were taught serial techniques, and taught to look down on masters such as Tchaikovsky and Schubert who were forced into musical ghettos.

    Today we still feel the effects. Change is coming, but most composers with musical intentions have forgotten the techniques of the old masters. We are in a sense starting from scratch. Not that we should go back to composing like Schubert, but that we should use these centuries old techniques to find a true modern voice.

    People as a whole, won’t (in general) identify with art from cultures centuries old as strongly as they will with art from their own time. Classical music must find a strong, healthy voice that speaks to our modern, international culture.

  6. richard says

    This is good news. As a composer, I’m not interested in writing for big ensembles. There is so much talent wasted in large orchestras. Most brass and percussionist’s orchestral music isn’t very demanding. With a strong emphasis on smaller ensembles, Orch might be able to hire a few saxophonists and guitarists etc.

  7. John P says

    I am a Denver area resident, and I think that some things about Colorado Symphony’s situation need to be pointed out before its dilemma can be used as some kind of example for all the ills of classical music and symphony orchestras.

    1. The former management alienated a significant segment of the subscribers by eliminating lower-cost seating in hopes these ticketholders would ‘buy up’. They didn’t and audience size plummeted. Apparently the management then began dipping into the endowment — a paltry six million — and before it was all over, reduced it to $2,000,000. Before he was finally fired, the bank account didn’t have money left to meet payroll.

    2. Twenty board members quit on the opening week of the season. That represented a sizeable loss of income. Little has been done in recent years to bring new blood onto the board. What I was told by someone close to the orchestra was that part of the board members’ frustration — in addition to the members not caving to a rather draconian reorganization — had to do with the feeling that they were ‘tapped out’. A systematic approach toward bringing new people onto the board over the years could have avoided at least some of that.

    3. Little to nothing has been done in the development sphere. Indeed, the former development director was one of the first to go when new management took over.

    4. The orchestra has been without a music director since the spring of 2010, and that director (Jeffrey Kahane) had already cancelled a large part of his last season for health reasons. The lack of an artistic rudder and a public figure who could have been helpful during this period appears to have caused considerable harm.

    5. And yes, the economy has been a factor, but not the only one.

    There are other factors, but these five serve as a good starting point for what seems to be ailing the CSO.

    And is symphony music in Denver dead? Is it no longer relevant?

    If the interest in symphonic music was dead in Denver, or people were not willing to come downtown for a concert, there would not have been full houses for a Rachmaninoff series with Olga Kern playing all five concerti and the orchestra playing three of the symphonies. The season ticket snafu notwithstanding, attendance has been largely up at the concerts in the last two years, apparently due to individual ticket purchases at the box office. If only this could pay all the bills.

    I’ve read the CSO’s ‘business plan’ and have some major reservations about it. And if Greg keeps his promise to opine about it in a future blog post, I may weigh in more specifically. But let me share a few thoughts here.

    While I love chamber music, in Denver you can hear groups like the Emerson Quartet in a superb concert hall for as little as $35 a ticket. And as good as CSO players are, (or four players from any orchestra) they cannot be compared with the Emerson, and I doubt that I would pay a similar amount to hear them in my own community. And if my interest goes in the direction of Strauss tone poems, Mozart or Beethoven Symphonies, or the Verdi Requiem, why would I be interested in hearing an evening of chamber music in a high school auditorium?

    What I find disappointing about the CSO’s new ‘business plan’ is how little attention has been paid to making the concert-going experience an attractive one. I lived in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s when interest had flagged. A special concert series that targeted a certain demographic (young professionals) and tied it to discounted meals in quality nearby restaurants, the right choice of evening, and (if memory serves) an earlier curtain time was very successful and was just one of several initiatives to build audiences in the early days of Esa Pekka Salonen’s career there.

    I’m all for many kinds of outreach, and if four symphony musicians can attract a crowd to hear Haydn quartets in an outlying suburb, that’s great. But hearing a talented and highly trained ensemble of several dozen superb players performing great music in perfect ensemble in a fine acoustic is the symphonic experience. It’s not elitist and it’s not something that only people of a certain education and background can enjoy. I remember being thrilled hearing Bach’s second Brandenburg concerto, Smetana’s The Moldau, and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkries when I was only six years old and could not read a note of music, let alone understand its form or the historical epoch from which these pieces sprang across the centuries to grab and me in their thrall for the rest of my life.

    I was a music educator for the first part of my career, and I learned fairly quickly, that when people are exposed to great art — whether it’s Brahms or John Coltrane, or Michael Jackson — they are moved. If classical music is in a slump — and it is — it’s not because the masterpieces of our art form — from Josquin to Stockhausen to Boulez to Glass — are suddenly not relevant. For if the great historic arc of the musical arts are no longer relevant, why do we need da Vinci, Michelangelo, El Greco, Picasso, etc.? And what about Ben Jonson, Voltaire, Longfellow, Goethe, Tolstoy, and their ilk?

    I believe that the music of my art form is as relevant as it ever was, perhaps moreso. However, audiences today live in a much more culturally diverse world than I grew up in, so there is a much greater marketplace for the arts consumer.

    As a concerned Colorado Symphony supporter, I started a FaceBook page called “Save the Colorado Symphony” which has attracted over 900 people to join it. When new people join the page, I take the time to find out what I can about each of them by viewing whatever I can see in their profile information. What I was startled — and thrilled — to learn was how many young people had signed up. High schoolers, college students, young professionals. And in looking at their interests, I was amazed to see how many different musical styles they seemed to prefer, and that some were jazz musicians, rappers, and (for lack of a better term) “rock” musicians. And I was thrilled to see how many were not musicians, but people from professions spanning the economic spectrum from top to bottom.

    So if orchestras aren’t just attracting degreed people like me (and I have two), I see a lot of hope. Obviously answers are elusive. I admire the Colorado Symphony for at least trying something at all, flawed though I think it is in many respects. But in the end, the success stories of orchstras will come from those organizations that learn fast, can be nimble and resilient enough to capitalize on their successes and cut their losses. And when the successes happen, and the economy improves (Please economy: IMPROVE!) , hopefully the orchestras that remain will lead the way into a new era.

    • richard says

      Not all chamber music are string quartets. CSO has 4 percussionists, why not percussion concerts, why not keep them busy? Why not concerts of brass music? There are loads of new music for small mixed ensembles.

      • John P says

        That sounds good to me if it generates adequate revenue and increases an audience’s interest in participating in the orchestra’s core mission of performing great symphonic literature.

          • Chris says

            Yes, other key missions. The old core mission of performing great symphonic literature is over I think. Should the symphony maybe fill in some of the gaps public education leaves? (In terms of music ed.?). If one were to stand back and look at the broader picture, It really is all connected. To keep many orchestras performing we need to restore music education. And then if you look at the public education system in general, that also need massive change, and so on. There is not an easy solution. It is like the economy in a way, globalization has made it much more difficult for an Idustrialized nation to fail, without effecting the rest of the world. So in a simple way; our economic system needs to change, before anything will get better. One that is not based on mega-consumerism, resource depletion, or materialism.

  8. John P says

    I’m afraid I don’t agree with Chris that the role of orchestras in bringing Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, Schonberg, etc. to life in the concert hall is over, If Beethoven is no longer relevant, then are Shakespeare and Rembrandt no longer relevant? I really don’t think so, and I suspect that the millions who go to hear all three would beg to differ. And we would not be seeing sold out houses for things like the LA Phil’s “Mahler Project”, which wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t standing-room-only availability for tickets. And I don’t think Chris believes that either, or he wouldn’t be promoting music education in schools, which I totally support him in. And along with that, I would add that orchestras that don’t closely ally their efforts with any youth orchestras within their reach are squandering a wealth of opportunities for developing audiences.

    Remember the Knight Foundation finding that around 70% of people at orchestra concerts played some kind of instrument in their past, or play the instrument now. So youth orchestras, music programs in schools (where they exist), area music schools and conservatories can all be excellent places to start developing audiences for the ‘old core mission’. In Denver, there are no fewer than seven or eight youth orchestras, and if you go fifty miles up or down the road, that expands out to about ten or twelve. Hopefully in trying to expand its audience, the CSO is going to take the Knight Foundation’s valuable finding to reach out to schools, and also to the youth orchestras who really represent the richest core of interest within school-aged young people.

    Greg, I agree with you that orchestras need to review what they are doing to find new audiences. A generation or two ago, that’s when pops concerts became a moneymaker for them. But there definitely is a need to do that. My only caveat would be that orchestras really take time to listen to their communities in developing these new audiences and new venues. (I worry that too many of these new ideas are hatched in board rooms or with marketing people who think they know what the community wants because they had a conversation with a couple friends over dinner.) In this time where budgets are being slashed, there is no margin for error, no time or money to fund half-baked ideas.

    I’m not close to the situation there, but it looks like the Brooklyn Philharmonic is embarking on a very interesting program of engaging audiences from different communities within its borough starting (I believe) next season. Hopefully that is the result of a conversation the orchestra had with those communities and that we can all learn from that. We need to get past the blogging and talking stage to see what’s going on out there.

    Thoughts?

    • says

      The Brooklyn Phil is doing fabulous stuff. And seems to be getting traction in Brooklyn communities. I’ve blogged about their revolutionary rethinking of what an orchestra can be.

      I’m not convinced there’s a causal relationship between playing an instrument and going to concerts. The existing audience came to classical music at a time, long ago, when young people routinely studied classical instruments and went to classical concerts. No surprise that the people who go to concerts today would have done both.

      Look at other genres. When jazz exploded, generations ago, did its eager audience already play sax or drums? In pop music today, has the large dance music audience study synthesizer programming? Of course not. And if you look at people studying classical music today, even my Juilliard students, they’re not (on the whole) concertgoers. When I was at the University of Maryland, we found a large resevoir of students who played orchestral instruments — and even played in two orchestras on campus, made up of non-music majors — who never went to classical concerts, even at the university.

      • John P says

        Greg, in my post, I went out of my way to cite anecdotal evidence. I have anecodatal evidence I could cite from my own experience that points in the opposite direction. But like your examples, it’s generalized and not really research-based. The Knight data comes from a not-long-ago study of about fifteen orchestras over years spanning the 1990s and early 2000s (including the Brooklyn Phil, whose current initiatives we have both praised, appear to have sprung from a project funded by this study).

        I think there are many reasons why people are interested in one art or the other. However, as one interesting conclusion coming from the Knight Study, 78% of people who attended concerts of the fifteen orchestras in their study said they had played an instrument. At the very least, I think a number that high is worthy of further examination and exploration. I don’t know what the percentages would be for people who listen to jazz or pop, and I wonder if that isn’t comparing apples and oranges to some extent.

        This issue of declining audiences is complex to be sure, or you wouldn’t be presenting a course on it at a place like Juilliard. However, communities like Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Portland (three that come immediately to mind) seem to be doing some things that are working.

        • says

          John, I know that Knight study, and I’d suggest reading it with a grain or two of salt. I know something about some of the initiatives the study talks about, and in my judgment, the study evaluates them way too optimistically. I think what’s involved here, to some extent, is a need felt by both the foundation and the orchestras to show that the Knight money was well spent. You’d never know from the report, for instance, that the Brooklyn Phil was on bad shape, with half-full houses for the concerts Knight didn’t fund. And no audience spillover from the initiatives Knight funded into the rest of their events.

          Nor, as far as I’m aware, did any of these orchestras’ initiatives lead anywhere. That’s the besetting problem with so many changes in our business. They’re unfurled with much fanfare, and then quietly abandoned. So, John, while I can’t blame you at all for thinking the Brooklyn part of the Knight program led to where Brooklyn is now, it’s not so. They had several changes of administration, zigzags in artistic policy, and finally a near-death experience, leading to the cancellation of last season. They’ve now risen from the ashes as virtually a brand-new organization, doing something unprecedented, with no roots — conceptually or in staffing — in anything they did before. They could do this because they had nothing to lose. They were just about dead.

          Old reports can be misleading…

          • Chris says

            I should also state here that I think this change can happen. If it will indeed happen is up for debate, and only time will tell. what I am trying to get at here, is that there are indeed far greater problems than are being discussed. Each organization, and art form is working on problems specific to them. What if they all joined together to create change as a whole?

  9. Chris says

    I did not mean to say that the “old core mission” is not relevant. It is just obvious to me, that it needs to be expanded. Obviously Beethoven is relevant today, it will be relevant in any time, as long as it is accessible. I feel like the industry is not looking at the broader picture. It is unfortunately not politically appealing to talk about other influences on classical music outside of the industry. Why? Yes there are ways for orchestras to change a few things to get through this economic slump. But to me that is a band-aid, and not a fix in the long term. A large percentage of income for orchestras come from “Big Money”. Orchestras should be finding a way to ween themselves off corporate dollars as this form of income will become less and less. We have an economy based on consumerism that can not last like this. Our civilization is running into walls of resources and population and finances that we can not get around. If people can not afford to eat, they will not go to a concert. Yes, you can tell me: “Chris, this is a post about orchestras, not natural resources”. Well they are connected! We are not seeing the change we need right now coming fast enough. So we are in a “limbo” if you will. Our path could go many different ways.If you don’t think Global Climate Change is a real threat, or fresh water resource scarcity a real threat, then so be it. But these are real threats. For me the change needs to come in education, and our “culture” first. Music can have a profound impact on people. It needs to be utilized for humanitarian purposes more often! If musicians use classical music as a “tool” in humanitarian, and environmental efforts, how could be denied substantial relevance?

  10. John P says

    (Note, in my previous post I meant to say that I went out of my way NOT to cite anecdotal evidence)

    I think that any reading of the final report from Knight, or the earlier Issues Brief (which was quite scathing and hardly optimistic) would show that the projects funded resulted in outcomes that were only mildly successful down to a number of outright failures, and that those which achieved any success had no real sustainability. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Brooklyn’s mild success isn’t necessarily connected to its current aspirations.

    What interests me about the Knight study was that in these failed attempts, some things were learned that could serve to guide orchestras and funders going forward. This comes out in the final section “Lessons Learned” (49-52). I think any orchestra trying to reinvent itself in this new environment — or funder thinking about helping — would do well to consider these.

    I am myself particularly interested in Lessons for Orchestras #9, calling for more research into those people who do NOT attend concerts. The Knight study was groundbreaking in this area (the largest consumer survey ever conducted in the classical music field), and while more needs to be done, it’s obvious that we need to know more.

    You are obviously immersed deeply in the topic and have been for some time, and your views must be given great respect and weight, and I certainly do. To better understand where you’re coming from, I plan to read all your past posts and learn from your insight as I endeavor to initiate conversations in my own community that — I hope — will be helpful as our resident orchestra, The Colorado Symphony, attempts to reinvent itself in this changed environment. In the end, solutions for each orchestra will be as unique as the communities they seek to serve.

    Thanks for your continued insights.

    • says

      Thanks to you, too, for your thoughtful comments. And for caring so much.

      Studies of nonattenders — aka most people — are essential, but difficult. They’ve been done, and what comes through most strongly is sheer lack of interest. The difficulty is in finding out what in fact would attract people. Because, in truth, people don’t know what would attract them, if it’s something they’ve never seen before. They don’t really know what they’d think, because they have no experience with it.

      One thing necessary, I think, is to understand the culture no attenders — aka most people — already have. And to gauge from that the expectations they’d bring to an orchestra concert. A lot of people would like to believe that classical music is too complex for mainstream Americans, but I think the opposite is true — that most classical music events aren’t challenging enough, aren’t contemporary enough, and require more passivity, from the audience, than contemporary people would want.

      In my Juilliard course on the future of classical music, I assign some reading from a book by Richard Florida, about the kind of nightlife creative, educated people look for. It’s pretty clear that a standard orchestra concert wouldn’t interest them very much, and in fact might seem artificial and inauthentic.

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