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Conductor ends German concert with video appeal to save the orchestra

The orchestra in Duisburg is under threat of closure. Estonian conductor Anu Tali told the audience (in English) that if the orchestra goes, the city itself will be no more than ‘a coffee-stop before the next big city.’ Five German orchestras are presently under threat of disbandment.

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  1. Who are the five orchestras under threat of closure? There’s the Sudwest Funk and Duisburg. And the other three? Troubling.

    • Schwerin, Rostock, Remscheid-Solingen, Gera-Altenburg…

      • This situation is typical in Germany, since three of the four cities you mention are very small and yet they sustain large cultural institutions. Gera has less than 100,000 residents, but it maintains a year-round Stadttheater which it finances with over 4 million Euros per year. The Stadttheater maintains an orchestra, a spoken theater, and a puppet theater. The costs of the Stadttheater are shared with Altenburg, which only has 35,000 residents. Funding also comes from the state of Thuringia.

        And all of this is done even though Gera is only about 30 miles from Leipzig which has world class cultural institutions. It’s an example of how Germans feel culture should be local.

        What city in the USA (or Britain for that matter) with a population of 135,000 maintains a year-round orchestra, spoken theater, and a puppet theater?

        • Wanderer says:

          And what city in Western Africa with a population of 135,000 maintains the same? (irony off)

          Since when is the cultural desert most of the US represents to the civilized world when it comes to classical music, a benchmark for the rest of the world?

          If Germany has a very high if not the highest amount of theater seats and classical orchestra musicians per capita, I say good for them.

          • Greg Hlatky says:

            Hmmm, this view of the US as a “cultural desert” and “uncivilized” compared to those oh-so-sophisticated Europeans keeps cropping up in these parts. So I had a look at some figures:

            Population of the US (2010 census): 309 million
            Population of the EU: 502 million

            Nobel laureates in chemistry, physics or medicine (1981-2011)
            US: 123
            EU (plus Switzerland): 62

            Patent applications by priority country (2000-2009)
            US: 2,146,000
            EU (plus Switzerland and Norway): 1,129,000

            So, where is the European Microsoft? The European Amazon? The European Apple? The European Google? May we start calling Europe “senescent” and a “technological desert”?

          • Actually, I believe Finland has the highest amount of classical music seats per capita in the world.

          • In response to Mr. Hlatky below: Yes, American achievements in science are very high, mostly due to government support. There’s no reason we couldn’t have similar achievements in the arts (including high levels of availability and participation,) but in these areas we are far behind Europe.

          • Wanderer says:

            Mr. Hlatky,

            America has been good to scientists mostly because there is a lot of joint government and corporate funding for research and science, not the least for the military industrial complex.

            Look up your list of Nobel laureates from the US and count all of them that are actually immigrants from Europe… In a way it was Hitler who made the US big in that field. ;)

          • That ratio of seats in a theater to musicians on stage may be one benchmark to rate “success” but it must be balanced with $. What is the cost of the musicians to the cost of the bums in the chairs? For every seat that is filled, it must include all the costs that go with it, including taxes, marketing admin etc. It is magical thinking to equate the two otherwise.

        • Joseph R. Olefirowicz says:

          Gera-Altenburg’s facility in Gera is an incredible combination of a stunning Art Nouveau opera house with an attached symphonic hall (separate concert space, large pipe organ up front as well) which is second-to-none in nearly any country. To lose this cultural identity (which Thuringia has struggled with since people have literally flocked to the West after the Wall came down, in turn driving budget cuts) hits the foundation of the arts to the core. Eisenach, the “BACH” city, closed its theatre just a few years ago, and disbanded the tradition in the city that claims to be the No. 1 Bach destination in Germany. 4 million Euros is a drop in the hat, for the full-repertory (opera, symphonic, plays and yes “puppets!”) that a house like Gera offers, and in Germany, 30 miles is “still” 30 miles. To an American, this is a simple drive – but to a country that is driven still greatly by public transport, this would rip away the cultural outlet for any resident outside of a major metropolis. Many trains do not run back to these smaller cities after performances would be finished, and it leaves the cultural landscape barren with this short-term political thinking. To hear that Schwerin (an “A” house!) and Rostock are in trouble is something that seemed beyond possibility only 5 or 10 years ago. – Duisburg already failed trying to maintain a private commercial musical theatre, when the boom of commercial musicals in Germany built a new theatre for Les Miserables in the 90′s. – Duisburg without any culture would make an already tough city even more unbearable. – Part of this is that the working-class city struggles to keep its identity beyond being part of the heavy industrial “Ruhr” area. Losing the arts here, even with a city like Essen or Düsseldorf close by, would ensure Duisburg indeed becoming a “coffee stop.” – I admire the conductor’s passionate plea. – And with the SWF in trouble, we all don’t see that often the Radio Orchestras are the first to go, and silently, as they have the smallest audience base often in concert attendance, as their format is so broadcast-oriented, which has really taken a downturn in the availability of every recording known to man accessible through the internet.

          • Wanderer, that is exactly my point. We are a “cultural desert” and should try to emmulate the German model.

          • Wanderer says:

            WIlliam, I’m sorry then, I read your post in the exact opposite meaning.
            No matter where, one major problem the local cultural infrastructure struggles with anywhere is the readily available media based culture, world top orchestras and opera companies that kill the provincial local companies which fund these top-of the-pyramid very own talent base. It’s a vicious circle.
            Having the choice of going to the local small opera house or watching a DVD or live transmission on TV from Bayreuth or the MET even the most loyal fan base erodes…

  2. Whoa there! The US isn’t quite the “cultural desert” that Mr. Osborne makes it out to be. There are quite a few orchestras in towns with 100,000 inhabitants as well in the U.S, but perhaps Mr. Osborne doesn’t travel much. He should have a look at the list of orchestras by state in Musical America.

    The situation in Germany is indeed sad. However, that it would come to orchestra and opera closings could – and has been – predicted since the unification of Germany. The unification was a significant financial burden for all Germans, but in a time of prosperity the inevitable could be delayed. Now the PIIGS countries are a major financial burden in a time of recession and government deficits. It’s tough being the big kid on the block who will have to fork over the cash to support ineffective and corrupt governments in Southern Europe. And of course culture is the first to get axed when you’re already cutting state budgets to the bone.

    There is a reason why orchestras in smaller U.S. cities can exist (although they’re undergoing a Darwinian culling here too). It is called the per service contract. I.e., musicians are free-lancers who get paid by the rehearsal and concert.

    The unions have created a cushy situation for musicians in most European countries by ensuring that pretty much all orchestras and opera companies are financed with government and municipal funds, allowing German musicians to get a generous year-round salary, paid vacation, etc. and health care is already taken care of. The result is a disproportionate financial burden for tax payers relative to the U.S. Would you prefer to have an orchestra and opera company in every town or cut pensions, unemployment benefits, maternity leave and so forth? We may care, but to a vastly greater part of the population, orchestras are seen as expensive “elitist perks.”

    Suggesting that the German orchestras threatened by closings should adopt a per service contract structure would give the musicians’ union a massive coronary. They’d rather see the musicians fired and on unemployment benefits than be flexible and save their jobs. Yes, gas is rather expensive in Germany, but 30 miles is no distance when you can hop onboard an extensive and well-run rail system to the nearest major metropolis to attend a concert. As opposed to the U.S., this can easily be done without the need for an overnight stay.

    The fact is that people no longer need an orchestra or opera company in their own town. Most of the general population lives in the vicinity of major urban centers and they have access to high quality “substitutes” such as CD recordings and HD performances in their local cinema. With the aging of audiences, no music education in schools, decades of suffering with composers who write music for themselves and academia as well as the resulting drop in attendance, we’re heading towards a world where only the large cities will have orchestras and opera companies.

    Sorry for the bleak prophecy. I know I’ll be the Cassandra in the room among the readers of this blog, but remember what I wrote 25 years from now.

    • Wanderer says:

      Tom, some reality check for you, the “desert” argument when you compare the US to Germany is quite justified.

      “If America averaged the same ratios per capita as Germany, it would have 485 full-time, year-round orchestras instead of about 20. If New York City had the same number of orchestras per capita as Munich it would have about 45. If New York City had the same number of full-time operas as Berlin per capita it would have six. Areas such as Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx would be nationally and internationally important cultural centers. The reality is somewhat different.”

      http://www.osborne-conant.org/arts_funding.htm

      And your suggestion that musicians all should be freelancers without social benefits lacks any reason except that you think it might be a good idea. What you call “being flexible” is nothing but being pushed down the social ladder massively. No thanks, you can keep that “dog eats dog” world to your side of the pond. We are doing relatively ok with our socialistic approach to culture.
      Classical art ALWAYS has been subsidized, it is an investment into a countries culture and education. It’s a direct benchmark for the level of civilization of a nation, how much it is willing to spend tax money for the arts.

      • Thanks for stating the dull statistics you dug out from somewhere I wot not where, Wanderer. They’re pretty useless examples. Perhaps I should mention to you that European universities don’t have the thriving concert series with top artists like most American universities do. And there are a lot of universities in the U.S.

        You’re comparing apples to oranges.

        It would surely be nice if the US had 485 orchestras with full-time employment and benefits like the European orchestras do. Unfortunately, as you can see from what is happening in Germany, England, Holland and other countries, the socialist European model is financially unsustainable

        The European model also hampers institutional adaptive creativity and renewal, which is why all Ms. Tali could do was voice a protest. All she got out of that was a little polite clapping from the audience, and that will be that. She surely won’t sway any politicians. If you get all your money from the state, private individuals and corporations will be very hesitant to step in for the state in Germany and fund their city orchestra, even though 4 million euros is a mere pittance for a metropolis like Duisburg (NB this last sentence was written sarcastically).

        In the U.S. an orchestra most often doesn’t have to be shut down because one single donor withdraws its funding. It is usually due to a progressive and systemic disconnect from their communities – which in turn drives away donors and sponsors – that is the underlying cause for orchestra closings in the U.S.

        I was in no way saying that all European orchestras should become free lance per service orchestras. Obviously, a year-round paycheck and benefits is the most desirable way to run an orchestra. The point I was making is that instead of shutting orchestras down and putting the musicians on welfare, it would be a more intelligent solution to let those orchestras which are threatened with closure have the option to enter into a per service contract. That way they might be easier to reanimate once there is a financial upswing.

        If you prefer the “government eats dog” option to what they have in the U.S. then that is your prerogative. While I agree that funding for the arts is important, we are now entering an era where fewer cultural dollars or euros will require flexibility and innovation in order for arts institutions to survive.

        When it comes to flexibility and innovation, the U.S. is way ahead of Europe, at least when it comes to arts institutions. It is the socialistic approach which is causing orchestra closings in Europe. When the money bags dry up and you can’t squeeze more taxes out of the population without risking violent street protests and national strikes, the socialists will always prefer their welfare programs to orchestra halls and opera houses. As will the greater part of a nation’s population for that matter.

        Classical art is now being subsidized well in China, so you better switch your socialist model out with a communist-capitalist model and order tickets for concert performances in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. The classical music environment is undergoing a fundamental change, and all orchestras in Europe can do is wring their hands and make appeals that few notice. They would do better to start rethinking old models.

        • Wanderer says:

          Spare your outrage. Anyone serious in the business knows the differences between the continents and cultural traditions. I’m not going into a pissing match with you about something like this.

          TomV: “When it comes to flexibility and innovation, the U.S. is way ahead of Europe”.

          And this opinion is based on what?

          “When the money bags dry up and you can’t squeeze more taxes out of the population without risking violent street protests and national strikes, the socialists will always prefer their welfare programs to orchestra halls and opera houses. As will the greater part of a nation’s population for that matter.”

          This is just a silly statement from a country that has no “socialis model” for the arts AND not even half of the cultural institutions per capita. You just proved yourself wrong.

          Anyway, if you just stay where you are it will be fine and you can enjoy your free lance true capitalist cultural paradise.

          • Wanderer, you’re the one who’s doing the “pissing.” While I did not agree with your viewpoint, my response to you – unlike yours vice versa – was quite civil.

            My opinion is based on being the Executive Director of orchestras in both Europe and the U.S. I realize this doesn’t give me much knowledge about the subject, but you’ll just have to put up with my uninformed blather.

            I hope you enjoy your socialist brotherhood of man as much as I enjoy my true capitalist cultural paradise.

          • Below, TomV claims he has been the Executive Director of orchestras in both Europe and the US. That’s one of the best laughs I’ve had on AJ in quite a while.

          • I have verified that he was MD of a large European orchestra.

          • Wanderer says:

            Well, if you choose not to bring arguments that’s fine with me. I guess you would if you could.
            I’m still interested to learn, what you mean exactly by “When it comes to flexibility and innovation, the U.S. is way ahead of Europe, at least when it comes to arts institutions.”
            Can you give us an example?

          • Surprising that TomV was the MD of a large European orchestra. Less surprising he no longer is. His overly broad generalizations about European orchestras and “socialism” are so politically biased they border on the ridiculous.

          • Actually, TomV, I have lived in Germany for the last 32 years where I work as a professional musician. My wife was first trb of the Munich Phil for 13 years and is now a professor in a German conservatory. And of course, we won’t know who you are because you won’t back up your polemics with your real name.

        • Joseph R. Olefirowicz says:

          TomV: You have very misguided concepts about the European, especially the German orchestra and theatre system. There are no “Unions” per se, which protect the musicians and their jobs. Everyone is at risk if the governments of their regions wish to stop funding the organizations. One cannot at all compare the American system of “per service” in a city of 100,000 with the same in Germany. Per service orchestras in the US, unless they are union scale (and most are not) cannot scrape together a living with what they are paid. Health Care and Pension are simply part of the European model of employment, and not a “benefit” as we call them here in the US. – Where the US pushes commercial sports ad nauseum, Europe attempts to balance its society through the promotion of culture. These models in Europe are not “unsustainable” they are simply a matter of funds being funneled in the right direction. In one theatre I worked in for a number of years, the ticket income to subsidy ratio was 9:91 percent. That’s right, ticket monies only brought in 9% of what was needed to fund the house. Now, this of course has been raised to about 18% over the years, as the balance needed to be righted, and that is what many orchestras are facing in the German system. As well, the opera houses having carte blanche with what was put onto stage in productions, even if some shows were selling at 20% capacity, caused an entire generation to be turned off to seeing opera, because no one wanted to look at the crap directors were putting onto stage. It is all being righted slowly, but as a result – we now see once strong orchestras in not-small regions of the country shaking horribly. But surely we cannot mean that the arts is only meant to be experienced from high-end, high-money companies? Where will the training houses be for the next generation to get their experience? Surely the arts cannot and should not turn into only what survives fiscally all the time; then it is not art anymore. – Mentioning the American University system and their bringing in of top artists also compares an educational model which is vastly different to Europe. In most major cities, top student musicians are already subbing in to some pretty significant orchestras while in school, which most US students are limited to their experiences within college alone, and many end up packing their instrument in a case after their degree, at becoming dismayed at the lack of opportunity. – The entire system of employment in Germany would not allow an orchestra to go onto Per service only, as employment law states that after two years of continuous employment (and this is also regular bookings similar to the frequency of per service) one has a standing contract with the organization. This affected the model of new commercial theatres in Germany, who then in turn started to put in a different show every few years to the theatre, to ensure the orchestration changes, and then the personnel. – As sick time and vacation time are inherent to Germany employment law; the American system of no vacation or sick time in a German orchestra would not only not work, it would be illegal. – The reunification of Germany has mostly affected orchestras in the East. Most of the ones spoken about at the moment are in the West. The financial models become unsustainable when an enormous burden is placed on the society by people taking advantage of the loopholes of either the health care, unemployment or welfare systems. This is the case in Europe at the moment, after the free immigration policies of the 60′s and 70′s now reaping the benefits of the second generation sitting on this “right” rather than using it is a back up system for a time in need. This in turn, strains public coffers which were once filled to capacity (as everyone contributed equally based on their income, etc) and now they are looking for ways to stuff the gaps. The arts system is not the problem, the social system is not the problem- the people draining the system are the problem, and I personally lived through the first health care reform in Germany, where quarterly co-pays (once!) of 10EUR per first time office visit caused a disruption to folks that would make Americans blush in envy. – Facit is: the support of the arts is both sustainable in Europe and a needed part of society. It was once needed in America, until our priorities shifted. And now gain alone is the art for which Americans will become known, and that will be a detriment to our culture, or rather a lack of one in future generations.

          • Mr. Olefirowicz,

            I will repeat myself from above by saying that I know both the European and American systems from personal experience managing orchestras on both sides of the pond. True, I was not active in Germany, but I know that apart from the UK, the models are pretty much the same in Germany and the rest of Western Europe.

            Naturally unions cannot protect orchestras from government action. The government just informs you how much money you’re getting next year – or that you may not get any at all – and then it’s up to the government financed institutions to deal with it. But otherwise, unions and union rules are ubiquitous in the daily workings of cultural institutions. These unions, as many unions unfortunately tend to do, would rather see their members fired and on the dole rather than looking for pragmatic solutions with management that would keep their members in a paying job. Admittedly, it has to be said that European management seeking pragmatic solutions is very rare.

            I can tell you that non-union orchestras have become a rarity in the U.S. Union scale in the U.S. is not fixed and is negotiable, except within the borders of major cities like NYC, Chicago, LA and other such major urban centers which have large concentrations of musical activities, including for-profit activities like Broadway musicals.

            True, musicians in per service orchestras in the U.S. are often not paid that much by individual orchestras. That is why free lance musicians typically work with 4-5 different per service orchestras which provides them with a somewhat decent salary. Since per service orchestras in a given region use the same musician pool, they are forced to close the wage gap with the highest bidder, or they will only get the best musicians for some of their concerts, if at all. So there is some built-in incentive in the free market madness.

            As for sports vs. culture, please have a look at the budgets European governments provide for sports relative to cultural activities. I think you will find that the vast majority of funds goes towards sports these days. This includes sponsorship money.

            As I said before, I prefer to see musicians employed year-round with accompanying benefits. However, the European model is only sustainable at the level various governments decide to provide funding for. Right now, it seems most of those governments have decided that there is an excess of artistic supply or that the cost of that supply is excessive relative to other government priorities. Hence orchestras being threatened with closing.

            While one may be horrified at market forces encroaching on the realm of the arts, it is nonetheless a fact that cultural institutions are increasingly operating on those terms, and that they are impacted by business cycles like any other business, and that they must run their activities accordingly.

            When it comes to market forces, Europe has increasingly become like the U.S. over the last three decades. 30 years ago, few Europeans owned stocks and financial news rarely made an appearance on TV. Most people were happy with their state pensions supplemented with savings in government bonds. Now financial newschannels are viewable throughout Europe and stock market ups and down are reported daily. Many, if not most Europeans own stocks through mutual funds just like in the U.S.

            Thus European orchestras are no longer the “holy cows” they once were, but objects of financial opportunity and risk just like in the U.S. European orchestras face a higher level of risk, though, because their funding sources, coming mainly from the state, are not diversified as they are in the U.S..

            I do not see any difference in students subbing in professional orchestras between the U.S. and Europe. If anything, it is easier for music students to sub in a professional orchestra in the U.S. because per service orchestras are very interested in hiring talented students. Whether music students are invited to sub in significant orchestras depends on whether they have the contacts, mostly through their teachers, or not. The ratio of such opportunities is not higher in Europe than in the U.S.

            I know full well what the typical terms of employment in European countries are, whether contractual or legal. All I have been saying is that it is these very same terms which obstruct flexibility in times of need. That is why the unemployment rate has generally been 4%-5% higher than in the U.S., percentages which will now increasingly include musicians.

            The number of people on welfare, unemployment and various other government-subsidized programs are a part of the fiscal crisis in Europe, I agree. I also agree that the U.S. would do well to adopt a state funded health care system similar to that of Europe. But this is not a forum for discussing politics in General.

            Yes, the arts are sustainable both in the U.S. and Europe. The only matter of dispute is at what level. It seems that that level in Europe is not as high as during the era when the EU consisted of 8 countries with little immigration and more limited social benefits. Likewise, the level in the U.S. will not be as high as during the Rockefeller renaissance of the early 1960′s and subsequent decades up to 2000.

            That is why I sing the praise of the recording industry and owning a good stereo surround sound system as well as the newly created opportunity of watching top-notch opera in HD at your local movie theatre or increasingly large HD flat screen TVs. Music and culture in the future will be much more of an individual choice activity than some kind of social obligation. Of course the great national flagship cultural institutions will survive in the future. But I doubt that there will be nearly as many B level or lower orchestras and opera companies as there are now a few decades into the future.

            Let’s hope that I am wrong in my prediction.

    • Jonathan says:

      The world is going though downsizing on many levels, mainly due to the economic fallout and inability of middle level consumers to keep paying for extra luxuries. It has always been a “Pass the buck” mentality for decades. Now the arts are suffering on a scale never imagined in the 1950′s when the dollar went far and middle class was secure. Let’s understand the conditions that led to the trouble we are in, and also acknowledge we hit over capacity in producing new music stars years ago. The account is dry, every hand is reaching out for support, and our governments can’t bail out the concert halls. This is reality in 2012 and for years to come. Downsizing in the arts is here to stay.

      • I might believe in the necessity of downsizing the arts if our military budget weren’t over 5000 times larger than the budget for the NEA. In most developed countries, cultrual and military budgets are about the same.

        • Yeah, and that’s why all the other developed countries turn to the U.S. to solve geopolitical crisis situations. Europeans were clueless during the war in Bosnia, which resulted in massive ethnic cleansing and genocide. It took the U.S. stepping in to put a halt to the shameful European inability to learn from its history.

          It’s time that Europe learned to take care of itself. If the EU increased its military budget 5000 times, then the U.S. wouldn’t have to spend so much on the military and would be able to spend more on the arts. I’m tired of the U.S. underwriting the security of Europe, Japan and Korea.

          • Wanderer says:

            You should stop drinking the Kool Aid. You need to get out a bit.
            The US doesn’t HAVE to spend all this money on the military. Nobody was asking the US to invade Iraq or Afghanistan. If you knew a BIT about the Balkans and what the objective was there… but I don’t think you could comprehend it.
            You are not underwriting our security, we can take care of that ourselves. YOu are here to rule and execute your imperial hegemony over major parts of the world. You really should consider switching off that TV of yours and start reading some good history books instead.
            And since we are at it:
            Vietnam War: 2.5 Million dead, 2% Americans, 98% others
            Balkan Wars: 120,000 dead
            2nd Iraq War: 1.0 Million dead.
            “shameful European inability to learn from its history”? Really? Says a citizen of the US, the biggest ethnic cleanser and killer of civilians in our days?

        • Fully agreed. A F-22 Raptor fighter jet costs $144 million. The National Endowment for the Arts 2011 budget $3.5 million.

          There are two issues facing the musical arts today. (1. Old idea that musicians just ‘love to play’ and will keep playing no matter what happens in the greater world around them. (2. Idea that music does not require public investment though taxes. See more here about the historic problem: http://is.gd/HMFKf0

          • For Fiscal Year 2011, the Congressional Appropriation for The National Endowment For The Arts was $154,690,000, a figure many, many times higher than the $3.5 million figure you must have pulled out of thin air.

        • Mr. Osborne,

          It’s a pity that you’re so biased that you can’t comprehend that I am actually not particularly partisan, but rather an objectivist.

          It’s equally surprising that you haven’t emigrated to the worker’s paradise of North Korea where zealots of your ilk ply their trade, but prefer to beat your toy drum in the decadent, capitalist U.S. of A.

    • Orchestras are like sports teams. The more they work together the better they get. Pick up orchestras are almost always inferior to permanently staffed groups. Regular orchestras also have much longer and more diverse seasons which reach a larger portion of the public. And we’re not just talking about small cities. Even Miami, with a metro population of 5.5 million, no longer has a professional symphony orchestra. When even the Philadelphia Orchestra is bankrupt, it’s time to look to other models of funding, such as the public funding systems in Europe. The lack of opera in America is even more extreme.

      The moral of the story is simple. If you treat artists poorly (no health insurance, no retirement, small per service salaries, etc.) you generally get inferior art, if any art at all. That’s what creates cultural deserts. (And I might note that if you were willing to put your real name on your prophecy people might take it at least a little bit more seriously.)

      • Mr. Osborne,

        The qualtiy of music produced by the various “systems” has hitherto not been the topic of debate.

        It’s a given that on average, full-time orchestras will attain a higher artistic level than per service orchestras.

        Nonetheless you would be surprised at the level of competence of free-lance musicians in the American cultural desert. I have heard a per service orchestra perform a full program which included Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra on three 2 1/2 hour rehearsals and a 1/2 hour general rehearsal. The way they played the Bartok made my jaw drop, even if it wasn’t quite on the level of the Berlin Philharmonic.

        If musicians in most European orchestras had been asked to do something similar, they would go on strike or collapse in collective hysterics, as we have recently witnessed in Korea. I have likewise heard such full time orchestras perform concert programs including the Bartok with four 5 hour rehearsals plus a 2 hour general rehearsal, and the quality was not much better if at all.

        (Which name I choose to put up is none of your business. Those who truly know the classical music professions are sufficiently cognizant to realize that I know what I’m writing about.)

        • Wanderer says:

          As an experienced Managing Director you should actually know, that the better an orchestra, the more time you can spend in rehearsals. With not so good orchestras, you spend as little time as possible, get all the notes right and that’s it, not much more to achieve…

          • Stuart Green says:

            sorry but the better an orchestra the less time you need to get the notes right. Most of the available rehearsal time is spent on things musical

          • Huh? I think you got that bass ackwards, Wanderer.

            Now let me drink my Kool-Aid in peace and you go watch old Bill O’Reilly show re-runs, my irascible friend.

          • Wanderer says:

            Stuart, exactly. If you have an orchestra that can give you many colors it makes sense to use more time. If they struggle to play the right notes, you achieve that and that’s it. It makes more sense to rehearse more the better the orchestra, because the more you can achieve.

          • harold brown says:

            The better the orchestra,the less time you have to talk. Good orchestras need a strong personality to inspire,the notes they already know or can sideread. A good orchestra does`t struggle to play the right notes. What the musicians don`t need,is lenghty explanations .You have to show them,not to tell them in the first place. What a good orchestra doesn`t need is claptrap.There is much claptrap in Germany,almost never in the US or in Russia! Reminds me of Sir Thomas Beecham in the legendary TV interview about unexperienced,poorly trained conductors.Listen to what he says! Nine out of ten times it`s true. Or better,still.the famous (true) story about Pierre Monteux teaching a particularly wordy aspiring conductor at his school in Maine.The young apprentice bored his players to death with lenghty,unnecessary speeches about how Beethoven describes brooks,meadows,thunderstorms and so on in his Pastoral Symphony.Suddenly,some exhausted violinists bow dropped to the floor.And Maitre Monteux,with his unmistinkable French accent quipped without batting an eyelid: “And now,my friends,a branch has fallen!”

          • Wanderer says:

            Not even the best orchestras play everything always right or sideread it, depending on the difficulty of the literature in front of them of course. They do struggle also often, just on a different level. Also the best orchestras actually need explanations and guidance, of course preferably non-verbal.
            Don’t fall for the hybris of many of the top orchestra players, who consider themselves perfect, and ONLY in need of an inspirator. It’s far from the truth. Orchestras need good conductors and need to work with them regularly and with continuity.
            What I’m saying is, if you have for instance a principal flute player who can give you 100 different colors and shades for a phrase, you want more time to rehearse with him than with a flute player who struggles to play all the right notes at the right time, in which case you keep it as short as possible.

            What is “claptrap” by the way?

          • Harold, I don’t think rehearsal techniques are significantly different in Germany from any place else in the world. Can you document your assertion?

        • Your thinking is characterized by polemical half truths. Name an American city of 135,000 (like Gera-Altenburg) that has the sort of high quality pickup orchestra you describe. Even if there might be a rare example or two, the real truth is that most American cities that size have virturally no orchestral culture at all. Be honest, and people will be more inclined to believe you.

          • Ted Spickler says:

            This is a reply to the claim that American cities of less than 135,000 population have no orchestral culture and few to no orchestras. I went to Google and obtained a list of cities by population that ended at 100,000. Then, using Google, worked my way up from the bottom asking for an orchestra with the name of that city. After finding an associated orchestra for the bottom ten cities on the list I stopped the effort because it was taking too much time. The question should be rephrased: are there any cities with a population below 100,000 that do not have a professional orchestra? How far down on the population list must you go to find no orchestras? I happen to know of a 37,000 city that has a fully functioning professional symphony (Wheeling, West Virginia). These local orchestras usually have seasons of about 5 to 7 concerts and they work their schedules around so their musicians are shared with other small city orchestras. i have attended enough of these small city orchestras to know their concerts are generally quite good.

          • I didn’t say no orchestral culture, but virtually no orchestral culture. The 5 to 7 concerts per year that you mention describe the situation perfectly. That would be about 5 to 7 weeks a year that have orchestra concerts. The other 45 weeks of the year there is nothing. That’s a cultural desert.

            By contrast, a fulltime orchestra like Gera-Altenburg offers a concert each week for about 45 to 48 weeks a year, and usually with a new program each week. That comes to about 9 times as many concerts and programs. The situation with opera in America is even far more extreme. My question is, why do Americans try to overlook these important differences?

          • Ted Spickler says:

            The cultural desert you describe reflects the reality of culture in America. Those few of us who relate too and enjoy orchestral concerts simply cannot devote time and money to more than 5 to 7concerts in a year anyway. To support a “non desert” culture would require changing the experience of the mass public. Perhaps an El Systema type movement on a national basis might get there in 20 years but the cost of such a program I estimate to be in the hundred billion dollar region of yearly expense. Since the government is already broke the chances of doing that are as close to zero as you can get. Music education in the schools is driven by the sportprogram need for bands and too many products of that education end up in rock bands rather than classical music. I am amazed that in this environment there are so many musicians all over the country interested and capable of playing in even a local orchestra! I have a concern that in a desperate attempt to grow new audiences the orchestra associations are dumbing down concert repertoire; instead of educating a new generation we are bowing down to the masses. It remains encouraging that most Americans do have access to local and regional live classical concerts in a quantity that seems sustainable.

    • One of the biggest fallacies in TomV’s polemic is that he tries to draw a direct correlation between social democracy and orchestral culture (including its support systems.) (He does this in the post above and in several below.) The actual truth is that the support of social democracies for orchestral culture varies extremely from country to country in Europe. Germany, for example, has 133 state run orchestras while Italy only has two fulltime, year-round symphony orchestras (the National Orchestra in Turin and Santa Cecilia in Rome, and they are both essentially private.) Both countries are social democracies, but their relationships to the history and culture of the symphony orchestra are very different. For the most part, each European country has its own unique relationship to the symphony orchestra, so the sort of broad, anti-labor, anti-socialist generalizations made by TomV are very misleading.

      The density of orchestras in Germany, for example, is created by a very complex Gestalt of factors and social democracy is only one of them. One of the most important is that during the Cold War, both East and West Germany competed in their support of the arts in order to espouse the superiority of their respective economic systems. This created an artificial density of orchestras in both countries, and especially in East Germany. After the wall came down, a process was set in motion to eliminate some of these excesses. The elimination of redundant orchestras is mostly complete, but will continue for the next few years. It is extremely unlikely that it will result in the wholesale elimination of small, regional orchestras that TomV predicts. German beliefs about the edification of art and its relationship to local communities remains too strong for this to happen. (There is a very complex history behind this regionalism and concepts about the edification of art in Germany that I do not have time to explain.)

      TomV also overlooks that most of the orchestras facing elimination in Germany need to be evaluated on an individual basis. It is extremely rare for a healthy, well-functioning orchestra in Germany to be eliminated. It is when orchestras begin slacking, usually through poor management, that they face being disbanded. There is no blanket effort to eliminate all smaller orchestras. Many of them are doing very well and will continue to receive strong support. Another example is the Südwest Rundfunk Orchester. It has always been a special case because of the history of the unification of Baden and Württemberg after the Second World War. Again, we see that most generalizations are not valid.

      And in his polemic about the superiority of American innovation with orchestra management, TomV presents a list of half truths and plainly false information that is very harmful. When cities like Miami do not even have a fulltime professional orchestra, or when orchestras like Philly, Detroit, Honolulu, Louisville, San Diego, Colorado, New Mexico, and on and on, go bankrupt, we see there is far more to the story than he is presenting.

      I would encourage readers to be wary of politically motivated, anti-labor polemic about orchestras. It is often done in the name of progress, but that is not what it represents. It general, it is simply a contempt for musicians and unions.

      • Good lord, William, what a load of baloney. I’m already sick and tired of the political campaign rhetoric in the U.S., and now you make it sound like we’re issuing press releases about who is the more credible candidate to rule the free orchestral world.

        Speaking of generalizations, you were the one who stated that America was a cultural desert.

        Contrary to what you state, I am not necessarily an opponent of unions, nor of social democracy. So long as these have a limit where they don’t start being counterproductive to the benefit for all.

        I have experienced a situation here in the U.S., where due to budgetary reasons a limit had to be put to the musical excesses of an orchestra’s AD. I presented a plan that would have cost less in musicians’ fees based on the orchestra size of the repertoire. Instead, he chose to fire a number of musicians and keep the repertoire he had originally planned.

        Needless to say, the musicians were highly upset, which was exactly what I was trying to avoid with my suggested plan. As the orchestra was not unionized, the musicians immediately started a unionization drive, and I could not blame them. I was appalled by the AD’s actions myself. Suffice it to say that the orchestra ended up as an unionized one, but that the whole procedure was handled amicably, so there was no lasting animosity between musicians and management.

        In this case, I personally felt that a union contract was quite appropriate, since the musicians hadn’t received a raise for years anyway. The other downside of the idiocy of the AD’s action was that the lawyer’s fees for the orchestra resulting from the union negotiations were far higher than the savings of firing a number of musicians.

        I wrote earlier that the U.S. was undergoing a Darwinian culling of orchestras as a result of the current overall financial situation. All the orchestras you mention in the U.S. closed or are in trouble mainly due to bad management decisions (though in Detroit the decline of the city itself would have presented a formidable challenge even to the best of managements). So as you yourself say, the quality of management has a big role to play when orchestras fail or are threatened, whether in the U.S. or Germany.

        Comparing the situation in Germany, which has a population of ca. 80 million with the entire U.S. is ludicrous anyway. Just like you say, the priorities of various countries in Europe differ, just as they do between regions in the U.S. You can’t compare the cultural scene in NYC to the one in LA.

        Furthermore, you yourself present half-truths and disinformation.The reason that Miami doesn’t have a full-time orchestra is due to the fact that in the U.S., it is the community that decides whether it is a priority that they will back financially. It is not imposed on them by their government as a social obligation, as you so well illustrate in your example of Germany during the Cold War. Funny that you should treat the closings of orchestras that resulted from the revolution of 1989 as such a casual matter when you are so upset about Duisburg.

        You DO realize that according to a recent German report, the number of full time orchestra jobs in Germany has dropped from above 12,000 to around 8,500 with ca. 800 vacant positions put on ice, don’t you? You could make a helluva lot of orchestras out of those cutbacks in the social democrat haven of cultural expression. Probably quite a few more than the U.S. orchestras that closed or are in trouble that you mention above.

        I would encourage readers to be wary of politically motivated rhetoric that extolls the virtues of socialism in the name of cultural superiority or otherwise. It is often done as an example of preeminence over the capitalist system, but that is not a fact. Both the European and U.S. political systems are currently corrupt and on the rocks, and no amount of personal bias is going to change that fact. It will take a lot more than pro-labor and pro-capitalist rhetoric to reverse the contempt in which those with political and monetary power hold their fellow, less influential, citizens.

        Faux intellectualism won’t help either.

        • You’re beginning to moderate your tone to a level more suited to an arts administrator, so maybe this discussion has been worthwhile after all. I’m pressed for time, so I will only note that I have lived in Europe for 33 years and I do not see the crisis with their social democracies that you do. Most of the economic hardship here in Europe is largely a result of American financial practices involving the housing bubble. (Some small countries like Greece and Portugal might be exceptions.) It is also absurd to equate Europe’s social democracies with communist countries. Social democracies are capitalistic societies and bear almost no relationship to communism.

          • William,

            Yes, I know all about social democracies, thank you. I’ve lived in Europe for about 35 years, and I’m not an employee of FOX newschannel. The word “socialism gets thrown around in the U.S. with precious little knowledge of what European societies stand for. This is stupid, and shows how poor U.S. news channels have become at providing real information to their viewers.

            For a number of years now, I have thought that the U.S. could learn certain things from Europe, just as the Europeans have assimilated the American free trade and investment sectors. America should not copy everything in the European system, but the basics of providing free or low-cost health care, a free or affordable education for anyone who qualifies and quality retirement care for the elderly are the things Americans should take a very serious look at. These are the fundamenta principles that a modern society follow to provide an equal chance in life (or as near thereto) for all of its citizens. The rest is peripheral.

            My tone has always been based on my perception of the “systems” in Europe and the U.S. America isn’t the culprit of the financial mess a number of European countries find themselves in.

            America is not the USSR and does not dictate the trade and fiscal policiest of the EU. America’s problem is one of unbridled capitalism and a lack of consumer protection, whereas Europe’s problem is one of unbridled social welfare policies and an unhealthy level of government control of almost all sectors of EU revenue producing sectors.

            Both approaches stink. Read up on your economics – it is a serious gap in your perception of reality, which sometimes make you say rather silly things based on purely ideological opinions.

            All the best,

            TomV

  3. Greg Hlatky says:

    “It’s a direct benchmark for the level of civilization of a nation, how much it is willing to spend tax money for the arts.”

    Self-serving codswallop. Utter hogwash. Even a cursory look at European history over the last century shows that spending high levels of tax money on the arts isn’t in the least bit inconsistent with political fanaticism, one-party and totalitarian government, industrial-scale slaughter within and among nations, murderous ethnic hatred, concentration camps, execution cellars and clouds of informers.

    • Amen brother.

      • TomV,

        I say ‘thank you’ for your superb posts. I particularly appreciate the point about military spending. Bravo.

    • Wanderer says:

      Logical fallacy? Correlation, not causation. But you are right. Spending for the arts does not correlate with level of peacefulness. Most peaceful are some tribes in Polynesia apparently.

      But I do believe culture CAN give purpose and order to violent societies. “El Sistema” in Venezuela comes to mind.

  4. There is another model of classical arts funding operating right now — in Istanbul. It’s two-tiered: 1) government subsidized opera, symphony, and ballet in every major city since the 1930s; 2) corporate-owned and -operated orchestras, concert series, and festivals. The corporations are banks and industrial holding companies who are putting vast amounts of money into arts because it gives them social status. There are also cultural foundations (one is celebrating its 40th birthday this year) that produce and present concerts and festivals, but they are supported almost entirely by corporations. Although there are wealthy individuals who do contribute, public funding is very small here compared to what exists (and is required for non-profits) in the U.S.

    Excepting the state symphonies, the corporate-owed symphonies are pay-per-service, and unions don’t exist here. The quality control for all of it depends solely on who is in charge. Since the country established state-owned music conservatories in the 1930s alongside the performing institutions, the orchestras in particular are reaping the benefits — a young, ambitious, and well-trained generations of musicians.

    Not all is perfect here, but it’s an example of another route. What is working well here is that corporations feel it is a mark of social responsibility to put their name all over high cultural events.

    (I’m from the U.S. and I’ve been living in Istanbul for five years. I write regularly for TIME OUT magazine and TODAY’s ZAMAN newspaper, and recently contributed to MusicalAmerica.com.)

    • I was in Izmir, Turkey last month. I noticed the state opera there is doing ten productions from June through September — something unthinkable for the vast majority of American cities which are vastly richer. I also noticed that all the singers were Turkish. Some of the blustering posts above illustrate why America faces these problems. A limited cultural life is always reflected in a political culture with the same problem.

    • Alexandra, do Turkish local governments or corporations also fund ensembles that play music from Turkey’s own indigenous art music traditions? More generally, can you say how well Turkish (say, Ottoman-era) art music is flourishing vis-a-vis orchestral and operatic music from the western European tradition?

      • @MWnyc:

        Yes, definitely. The government, chiefly, supports with both money and lip service the performance of Turkey’s indigenous music. There are many private and public schools (including conservatory programs) that provide education in what’s known as “Turkish classical music.” The general knowledge of Ottoman-era music (years 1453-1830 primarily) is not as great among the youth (which is 60% of the population) as among their parents’ generation. But every performance of historical Turkish music I’ve attended was a full house.

        All that is simultaneous with performances and education of Western classical music. The attendance at both opera and symphony is usually full-house too. And all ages! I think because this music was adopted in the 20th century and is so different from historical Turkish music, the attraction to it is strong. Part of that attraction is its innate virtuosity, which Turks find magnetic. Anyone who knows how to produce beautiful, strong sound is a star. Not surprisingly, opera singers here are revered.

        New music and jazz, I must mention, has a strong foothold too. I pay a lot of attention to those genres in my journalism. There’s wonderful innovation going on in this part of the world. Again, most of the public performance of it is supported by corporate money, while some takes place in the state conservatories.

  5. illustrates the course of values of conteempotrray civilization..
    I wonder what the future will manufacture

  6. Wanderer,

    “When it comes to flexibility and innovation, the U.S. is way ahead of Europe, at least when it comes to arts institutions.”

    “Can you give us an example?”

    Sure, but I’ll be brief, since I’ve already written more than enough on this thread.

    1. The Met’s broadcasting performances in cinemas throughout the U.S.
    2. The Cleveland Symphony’s satellite venue program.
    3. The Declassified musician’s collective activities.
    4. Almost all aspects of fundraising, especially in the area of bequests.

    Cheerio!

    • Wanderer says:

      And what makes you think that activities like that are exclusive to the US?
      Have you heard of the Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic?
      Have you heard of the “Konzertmilch” campaign in Dortmund?
      Have you heard of the Live-CD project of the Gürzenich in Köln?
      etc. etc.
      You sound just bitter, that someone was saying the truth about the low density American “cultural desert” and try to rebattle for hurt pride since.

      • Wanderer, stop being so angry. It’s bad for your blood pressure and hence for your overall health.

        Greetings from a concerned fellow commentator.

        • Wanderer says:

          What makes you think I’m angry? I’m amused by your ignorance. How can someone who claims to have actually done leadership work in Europe know so little – as you reveal with every post by you – about the cultural and political realities of (central) Europe? Quite amazing.

          • Whatever little I know still makes me more informed than you quite apparently are.

            Now unless you come up with comments that are factual and address the issues of this thread, I’m done with you,

            Let me return the compliment and say that you’re quite amazing too.

            With sincerely hearfelt and compassionate greetings,

            TomV

          • Wanderer says:

            I started with factual comments to which you replied with a hurt ego:

            “Thanks for stating the dull statistics you dug out from somewhere I wot not where, Wanderer. They’re pretty useless examples.”

            Let’s stop this circular nonsense around your pride here. Have a nice day.

    • Ted Spickler says:

      i have seen statistics indicating that only about 3% of the population have an interest in attending an orchestral concert. In the USA there is a notion that the majority rules and particularly at a time of fiscal insanity the majority would complain about having even a small amount of their tax dollars support something they have no interest in doing. Thus we depend on those wealthy donors sufficiently appreciative of the arts to do most of the funding. I myself am in the 3% but rarely attend a concert because of the expense and energy needed. I have spread my sparse attendance among the local full time city professional orchestra (of national stature) and several regional orchestras where the musicians are paid by the hour and, despite the expected superiority of the professional orchestra, I have enjoyed the regional concerts as well as the big city concerts. i attribute the success of the regional orchestras to effective conducting and musicians who play well enough that I rarely hear the difference. We may have to be satisfied with fewer of the really big orchestras and greater appreciation for the smaller ones. ideally the rich donors would fully fund the big orchestras so that all chairs are endowed. Then ticket prices would only need to pay for administration and the electric bill. Just imagine how different this picture would be if an orchestra received as much interest and appreciation as the local football team! One stadium full of attendance at one football game would fill the concert hall for an entire season. The 97% simply do not know what they are missing and I feel sorry for them.

      • Wanderer says:

        3% is for the US. In Central Europe the figure is somewhere between 7-10% according to several surveys. And in South Korea it is app. 25% of the population.

  7. Michael Hurshell says:

    @TomV

    “I have likewise heard such full time orchestras perform concert programs including the Bartok with four 5 hour rehearsals plus a 2 hour general rehearsal…” I would like to ask in which country this occurred. The subject above was, if I recall correctly, the current crisis involving orchestras in Germany. The law there, as you surely know, stipulates 2.5 hour long rehearsals, incl. a 20 minute break. Average rehearsal number: varies, less in the major orchestras (from 2 to 4 incl. dress reh.), more in the municipal/regional ensembles (3 to 5 incl. dress). But even with smaller regional orchestras, I have never seen anything like the amount of rehearsal time (4×5 + 2 = 22 hours) you speak of. – On the subject of what amounts of money are used by governments for diverse purposes, it is important to recall just what amount of tax money (from West German taxpayers) has been used since unification, to pay for the improvement of East German infrastructure: roughly 100 billion euros per annum, from 1990 right through today. It’s a strain few countries could bear. I tend to think that this (rather than immigration or “business cycles”) is the cause of the current woes here. I am of course deeply saddened by the current goings on in Duisburg, Freiburg etc. But there are still more professional orchestras and opera houses playing full time seasons in Germany than anywhere else. So I wouldn’t agree with the statement that “the system has failed.” The situation in other western European countries is quite different, to be sure.

    • Michael, I did not get into technical details of union agreements about rehearsal time, since I didn’t think that was particularly relevant to my statement.

      The country I was referring to had similar rules, i.e., a “rehearsal” was technically 2.5 to 3 hours. It was nevertheless possible to schedule two such rehearsals in one day with a stipulated break in between. Two 3 hour rehearsals in one day or even one of the two didn’t happen too often, since it resulted in a really PO’d orchestra. Mon.-Fri. were rehearsal days, and Friday was general rehearsal and concert day. Thus you get the 22 hours of rehearsal time. I’m glad to hear that there are fewer rehearsals in Germany, because frankly, the rehearsal time I was referring to was excessive. Perhaps they’ve negotiated different rehearsal rules by now.

      If you read one of my earlier comments, I specifically mentioned the cost of unification as being one of the causes why the German government – as a proxy for the German tax payer – is unlikely to levy an extra “cultural tax” to preserve all German orchestras and opera houses.

      Obviously, once you start closing orchestras and opera companies that may have existed for decades, if not for over a century in the case of opera houses, then the system has failed. At least as far as the musicians and local audiences are concerned. I find nothing to cheer about when orchestras are threatened by closure. I merely state my opinion about the exigent circumstances that may be the cause.

      In Europe the system has failed in the sense that government benefit spending has become so vast that you reach the level when you can’t raise taxes anymore because if you do, you might as well start paying everyone a government salary and skip the taxes. But then you are back in the DDR.

      The system is failing orchestras in the U.S. as well but for a number of different reasons, which involve financial bubbles and misguided priorities by the music establishment over the past 100 years. But that’s a whole different story.

      • Michael Hurshell says:

        Thanks for the detailed response. I suppose I resist the phrase “the system has failed in Europe” because Europe is so diverse, with so many widely varying economies and states of financial crisis. I merely think Germany deserves a lot of credit for managing its unification costs while maintaining – not fully, but trying – a network of orchestras (both concert and theater) to such an extent. I do agree with some of the comments made in this thread, that musical education is key (Finnland is a great example), not least because chances are that significant members of government (esp. state diets, where decisions about how much cultural funding goes around to whom are made) will have had some sort of musical education themselves, and are less likely to regard music as a dispensable luxury. At the end of the day, I must say that I am very distressed about the situation in Duisburg. I have worked with the Philharmonic more than once, and believe that they are the city’s most valuable cultural asset. It would be terrible if the city council actually gave up on them!

  8. harold braun says:

    Of course it is ridiculous to state that the US are a cultural desert.Having experienced musical life in both Germany and the US in equal measure,I have to say that playing standards generally are much higher in US orchestras than in Germany.Partly because of much better training,partly because of the lack of state subsidy,which,among many disadvantages,at least enforces competition and high standards.For too long a time many provincial orchestras in Germany didn`t care about dwindling audiences and only over the last couple of years some of them managed to develop closer ties to their communities.After 1990,many orchestras from the former GDR tried to get a piece from the cake,but the cake was simply to small.Their former subscribers now had access to a variety of national and international high calibre music making.It didn´t exactly help that most German orchestras are opera pit orchestrasin the first place.Many companies went for “Regie theater,followed by a drop in attendance,and,of course,a drop in revenue .Generally,too many german orchetra players have settled in for mediocrity(and quite sometimes even less) ,because they felt too secure of being employed and payed without regarding their qulity of playing.

    • It’s true American players are often very good, but the advantages of this are limited because they have so few orchestras and opera houses in which to perform. America only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year while Germany with only a quarter the population has 47. Only 3 cities in the top 100 in spite of a population of 320 million is what objectively defines a cultural desert. And all of the denial about that concrete reality is what defines delusion.

      • I live and work in the cultural desert of Minneapolis, which is out in the middle of nowhere, and which cannot begin to compare to such arts centers as New York, Chicago, Boston or Washington.

        We have two full-time professional symphony orchestras that play on the same three nights each week, often to full houses, in state-of-the-art concert halls.

        We have two local non-profit organizations NOT AFFILIATED WITH LOCAL COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES that sponsor numerous concerts and recitals by visiting artists. And then there are, of course, the many college- and university-sponsored presentations of visiting artists, all of which are open to the public (for a fee).

        Oddly, there are more first-class concert halls and recital halls in the Twin Cities than there are in London, which has many times the local population—and there is a second Ordway concert hall in the works, due to open in another two or three years, as the first Ordway now finds itself overbooked.

        We have a professional opera company that mounts five productions each season, a concert opera company that presents three operas each season, and a university-affiliated opera institute that mounts two productions of professional standard each season. Many opera performances sell out—despite the fact that Minneapolis, like most cities in the U.S., is not now, never has been and never will be an opera town.

        We have two full-time modern dance companies, and two non-profit organizations that sponsor visiting ballet and modern dance companies from all over the world. We also have a for-profit organization that sponsors local performances by large Russian ballet companies.

        We have three world-class art museums, one of which is considered by experts to be the leading museum for modern and contemporary art in the world (an opinion I do not share).

        In addition to the great Guthrie, which keeps three different productions running on its three stages year-round, we have more professional repertory theater companies than one can shake a stick at—it has become impossible for me to keep up—and all such companies perform year-round. We have two for-profit theatrical enterprises that sponsor touring productions of Broadway plays and musicals. One would have to attend the theater nightly in order to catch all the productions—and this does not even take into account the nonstop flow of college, university, semi-professional and amateur theater activity.

        We have a giant comprehensive university—in possession of an indecent budget and an indecent endowment—that is one of the finest research and educational institutions in the world, far superior to anything in Britain, France or Germany, even though it would not be among the leading such institutions in the United States (the last time I checked, its ranking among U.S. universities was number 61). We also have a plethora of small colleges of genuine distinction, far too many to keep up with, in fact—and even more such institutions within an hour’s drive.

        The two largest local libraries, if located on the European continent, would instantly become among the ten most important libraries in the entire European Union—even though our two largest local libraries enjoy no significance whatsoever by American standards.

        We have two daily newspapers written and edited to a high standard, intended for a highly-educated readership. I dislike both papers intensely—but the sole European publication of comparable quality would be the Financial Times.

        I wish I didn’t live in such a cultural desert.

        • It is misleading to present Minneapolis as a norm for the USA. Once again we see a myopic cherry picking of information to create a false picture based on what seems to be nationalistic pride. We should also note that by world standards, even Minneapolis is not all that great. In terms of opera performances per year, for example, Minneapolis is in only the 204th position – though by American standards that makes it an oasis in the cultural desert.

          • Here are some clips from a commentary in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis from April 23, 2004 entitled “Music Education Permeates Finnish Society” written by Kristin Tillotson:

            “ Helsinki alone is home to five symphony orchestras. Nationwide, there are 21 more, as well as 12 regional opera companies. At least eight world-class conductors, including the Minnesota Orchestra’s Osmo Vanska and the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Esa-Pekka Salonen, were raised and trained in Finland . More than 30 full-time classical composers live and work there.

            The article continues:

            “How has a nation of 5.2 million people — a population only slighter greater than the state of Minnesota ‘s — produced such a surplus of talent? […] Outstanding music education is the primary reason. But at its source is a national attitude that music is not dessert, but an essential food group for personal, cultural and civic sustenance, and as deserving of government subsidy as health care and schools.”

            The Star Tribune article continues with a quote of the director of advanced studies at the Sibelius Academy , Osmo Palonen:

            “‘[Music] is so ingrained in our culture; there is never a question about the government putting a lot of money into it. This also makes music very democratic here, not just something for the elite.’”

            Anyway, when Minnapolis has 21 orchestras and 12 regional opera companies, come back to me and we’ll talk some more.

      • harold braun says:

        I´d agree they probably don`t have many opera houses in the US,but they certainly DO have many symphony orchestras.If you don`t believe me,just look up at Musical Americas annual compendium ,how many orchestras per state are listed.But then,Opera ,like in England,never played such a major role in musical life as the symphony.

        • This is a common misconception because of misleading information published by Musical America and the League of American Orchestras. The numbers are only meaningful if they not only list the orchestras, but also their status (amateur, student, semi-professional, town&gown, professional, etc.) And we also need to know how many performances per year the orchestras have. With that information, concrete conclusions could be drawn (which is probably why the information is not available.)

          • harold brown says:

            But Musical Americas yearly Almanac definitely lists the status of all US orchestras,along with a rating from A to G(those from E-G are mostly university and student orchestras) according to their ranks and budgets.Believe me,it`s right here befor me,opened up!

          • It’s good that Musical America now lists the status of the orchestras. If the number of performances per year were listed, we could see how the US ranks in terms of performances per year by fully professional orchestras. The ranking would be better than opera, but still very low.

          • William,

            All of the information you seek about the number of productions is availabe on orchestra websites.

            Secondly, as non-profits, all orchestra I-990 tax forms are publicly accessible.

            Anyone who wants to research these matters can easily get the information they need.

  9. Greg Hlatky says:

    “Look up your list of Nobel laureates from the US and count all of them that are actually immigrants from Europe.”

    Not to take this discussion too far afield but since you requested I had a look. Of the 123 US laureates in physics, chemistry and medicine from 1981-2011, 81 were born in the US, including Robert Grubbs of Possum Trot, Kentucky (a cultural desert). 13 were born in EU countries. Of these, four (or their families) emigrated because of Naziism and one because of the Hungarian revolution. The number of US-born laureates who emigrated to Europe and made their reputation there is zero.

    As for your other implication, if all the fruits of that research came at the behest of the military-industrial complex, all I can say is that if so it could only burnish the reputation of that much-maligned construct.

    • Wanderer says:

      Greg, why do you only count laureates since 1981? I guess I know why… ;) Let’s not get too serious here, I could care less, my remark was tongue in cheek at someone who seems to be full of that American false sense of pride and superiority.

      I’m not sure what kind of discussion we are actually having here. Does anyone dispute actually, that the arts in general and classical music in particular are less supported and popular in the US than in central Europe? Because that is simply a fact. That doesn’t help the German institutions btw, who are struggling at the moment.

      But the German problem at the moment is due to public finances, not to lack of education or public interest. Municipalities in Germany are facing high debts at the moment, which is why some do reconsider their spending for art institutions.

  10. In regard to the discussion about the availability of art in regional areas, Minnesota has a population of 5.3 million. About 60% of the state’s population lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, which means that about 2.3 million people live outside the city’s cultural sphere. For the sake of our discussion, it might be useful to consider what cultural offerings those 2.3 million people have? Which cities in Minnesota, for example, with populations of about 135,000 (like Gera-Altenburg in Germany) have a fulltime, year-round orchestra?

  11. Just a note about the original issue. I live in France where the government, like Germany, supplies the bulk of the support for orchestras and operas. The “1% for the arts” is a given, no matter who wins the elections. This support (it never actually reaches one percent but is close) provides funds for orchestras and operas around France. It also does museums, theaters, art fairs, clown schools, street performers, etc. and a great part goes to encourage the film industry. The government has the ability (the duty?) to see that this money is spent is the most effective way. Opera, for instance, is the most costly art every invented so the culture ministry sometimes obliges cities, like Strasbourg, to share their productions with two nearby metropolitan areas. Sometimes, the question of the need of a secondary orchestra is raised. (The Orchestre National de Ile-de-France is now under “review” as Paris has about six orchestras already – but the debate is lively). No government is obligated to simply provide “welfare work” for artists and that is why, all around France, the lively competition for local and national funds requires the arts institution to stay creative and compelling. If attendance sags, for example, the next budget is likely to be reviewed more carefully.

    • Does the “1% for the arts” in France refer to 1% of the GDP, or 1% of government revenues?

      • 1% of the US Federal government’s budget would be 36 billion for the arts. That’s 248 times more than the current NEA budget.

        • Which would be relevant if the US economy were structured in the same way as European economies. Or if the US wasn’t called upon to have the world’s biggest military and humanitarian delivery complex.

          Or if the private sector wasn’t so important to funding the arts. You can’t count the roughly $400 million in private opera funding yearly, for example, and yet that money goes “for the arts.” Or the private museum funding, art (painting, sculpture or otherwise), or orchestral funding.

          The United States model of arts funding may not be the same as Europe’s, but it is certainly no worse. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and the constant disparaging of the US in this regard – even in the face of detailed, cogent responses – is getting very old. Respect for both sides of the ocean is in order, I believe.

          • The US only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year, so our system is obviously not as good as the European one.

          • Wanderer says:

            Of course it is worse – read less. Despite the stronger private sector funding the US traditionally enjoys. This is a simple fact, nothing personal no disrespect, just the hard numbers. We could have spared 90% of the posts in this thread, if our friends in the new world would not deny that simple reality out of false pride.

            And please spare us that nonsense about the US “being called upon to have the world’s biggest military industrial complex.” Nobody is calling. Except the profiteers of war business, most of them sitting comfy within the US itself.

      • It is 1% of the annual budget…

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