AJ Logo an ARTSJOURNAL weblog | ArtsJournal Home | AJ Blog Central

« on the record | Main | Resources »

October 28, 2006


I would like to welcome you to my blog, which I hope will become a forum for issues concerning American symphony orchestras. In the three years since I have become President of the American Symphony Orchestra League I have visited and spent at least one day with 95 U.S. orchestras of all sizes and types, and have heard about 70 of them perform, so I think that I may have an overview that is fairly thoroughly grounded.

For instance, just last week I spent a day with the Board of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra in Michigan - a $900,000/year orchestra. The CD sampler they gave me from a number of their performances was astonishingly good - and the internal spirit and morale of the Board and staff and music director was inspiring. They made a decision about five years ago to raise the artistic level of the orchestra, which meant taking on greater expenses, and they have unquestionably done that. They do have some deficits, but they have a very solid plan for dealing with them, and we spent most of our time together discussing the possibility of a capital campaign scaled appropriately for their community.

A week earlier, I heard the first concert of a new music director in Santa Barbara - Nir Kabaretti. I thought the concert was terrific, and found an orchestra that has been in the black for the past three years, is operating solidly, has very good internal alignment between board, volunteers, staff, musicians, and music director. These are the kinds of stories that don't make the news - and that I hope to report on in this space.

The reason I do all of this traveling is not because I love airports so much, but because the League and I are committed to taking the pulse of our nation's orchestras so that we, as a service organization, can be of the greatest help to our members.

Finally - one thought for those who believe that the orchestra field never changes. On Friday night Oct. 20, I attended the New York Philharmonic's performance of Prokofiev's music, with the original film, of Alexander Nevsky. On Saturday night, I attended a concert of the student orchestra at Northwestern University. The Philharmonic concert was conducted by Xian Zhang, the orchestra's assistant conductor. The first half of the Northwestern concert was conducted by Ruth Lin, a talented doctoral conducting student. Thus, with in about 26 hours, I saw two symphony orchestra concerts conducted by Chinese women. Anyone around this business for any length of time knows that twenty-five years ago the chances of that were zero!

I'll be posting approximately every week, and I promise also not to shy away from the tough issues that the orchestra field faces - even while also trying to report the good news that tends to be hidden because controversy and problems are more attractive to much of the press. I will write about music I hear, about interesting new ideas I encounter, about people I meet, in short about the whole breadth and depth of the orchestra world. From time to time, I may invite a guest blogger. I look forward to exploring our orchestral world with you.

Posted by hfogel at October 28, 2006 3:29 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Delighted you are blogging, Henry. I will forward a link to my colleagues in China--they will be especially thrilled to see your conductor comments. The League might also consider linking the blog to a translation device: as the Ministry of Culture of the PRC is in the process of "marketizing" much of what had previously been supported by the State, Chinese orchestras can use all the mentoring they can get, be it in person or through blogs.

Posted by: Cathy Barbash at October 30, 2006 8:24 PM

Henry - welcome to the blogosphere! I'm particularly glad to find you here, as you have consistently been a voice of reason respected by many (in spite of the shrill voices from all sides of the orchestral wilderness).

Posted by: Charles Noble at October 31, 2006 1:04 AM

This is great, Henry!!! Once again, you're on the innovative edge...

Posted by: cindy egolf at October 31, 2006 3:30 AM

As conservatories have master teachers, you are the symphony orchestra's 'grande homme'. Many friends are excited when you visit their city--your voice of experience, assertion and evaluation has helped so many. You mention Traverse City--did you stay at the resort with the creative wooden lobby? Safe travels--hope to see you again as in Milwaukee--great fun!

Posted by: Jeffrey Biegel at November 1, 2006 6:04 AM

I have, for many years, appreciated your views on the 'State of the Union" I look forward to your thoughts through your Blog.

As a former Orchestra Manager, now working in theatre, I may be lured back again if we can truly adress the hard tough issues inherent in the structure and mindsets.

Posted by: Howard at November 2, 2006 12:05 PM

Terrific to see your Blog! what a great way to invigorate a first hand comittment to our exciting orchestral life in the US. Of course what we all want are some of your legendary speeches on podcast for traveling and distant "Vogel" admirers. Good Luck!

Posted by: Thomas Hampson at November 6, 2006 2:31 AM

Dear Mr. Fogel,
May I first say how delighted I am that you are beginning this blog. I think it is a fantastic way for you to share some of your views and interesting happenings with those of us that are as large musical dorks (people who quibble about the minutia of orchestras). It's a beautiful thing.
In regards to your note to those of us who feel that the orchestra field never changes, you have raised a valid point. Indeed, years ago it would have been highly unlikely for a broader range in the cultural diversity and backgrounds of conductors. We are now in a different time--one of greater transportation and globalization, more services we can tap into and use to global proportions. And how is orchestral music reflecting these changes in our daily lives-- the way we conduct business, the ways we live, interact, associate with one another as humans and in our rapidly changing physical and cultural environments?
The presence of the two Chinese, female conductors is good. We need a broader range of cultural diversity within the performing arts in general, and those who attend performances. Still, that does not change the artistic deliverance of those works. Having live music to Alexander Nevsky is not revolutionary--the NSO did it some years ago. And I happen to know Ruth Lin. Although I do not remember where she grew up, I hope it wouldn't offend her if I said that she seems quite acclimated to the States. She spent her undergrad at Northwestern, as well, meaning she has lived here for some time at the very least.
It is wonderful to read your field reports, speaking of the excellent quality of the musicianship of notable smaller, regional orchestras. That is the first step. What else are these fine ensembles able to do to entice audiences and excite them about classical music?
Is such skepticism unmerited? If having two Chinese, female conductors is the best example of the orchestra field changing, the field is in need of some inner and outer reflection.
Perhaps one of the greatest services the ASOL can offer to its member (and all) orchestras is the skepticism and criticism necessary for them to become a contemporary form of art. Ask the difficult questions about how they are artistically satisfying (if at all) their audiences and in what ways. And, mainly, what can they do better?

Posted by: Tarin Ain at November 17, 2006 2:27 PM