Its not really an overabundance of orchestras. Its the economy. Orchestras rely heavily on donations from corporate foundations and wealthy individuals. When the market crashes, charitable contributions contract. The protracted bad economy is really putting some major orchestras in a bad position. The Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Detroit have had really serious problems. The answer to how to keep them solvent is money. Contributions and ticket sales.
The ultimate answer is to broaden the cusomer base. Make it more attractive to young people. Any endeavor, that does not attract succeeding generations, will die. Simple logic. These may help: Relax the dress code. Play more 'popular' classics. The stuff everyone will like. Overtures & light classics etc... Travel around the state or area to be seen by more people. I see where the New York Phil went to NORTH KOREA a few years ago. I wonder how many cities in this country would have liked to have had them come to town. Stop all the rehersals for EVERY concert. This saves money. The experience is the thing, not the artistic level of the performance. Every performance does not have to be perfect, esp when the main objective is to expose and gain new adherents. Play outside when possible. Children welcomed! Gotta figure out a way to get'em hooked. If not, soon everyone in the audience will have blue hair.
The best orch is down to europe and the U.S. 7 of 20 means they have twice as many good groups as we do.
Markets have crashed before and orchestras did not go out of business. I suspect something more fundamental is at work. Is the model of philanthropic financing still viable? How far can anything go relying upon the kindness of strangers?
Also does corporate/philanthropy sponsorship influence the musical programming? I'm speculating, but people giving millions to orchestras probably want to hear music that they know about and not something on the adventurous side.
BTW, a few examples of how to do it is, The 4th of July thingy yearly in D.C. and look at Andre Rieu and his orch. Thye probably make more money than all the 'best' orchs combined. And his performances are like a party. Just a thought.
Part of the problem here is to define what it is we are trying to save. Save the whales by turning them into catfish? No thanks. It would be tragic if we lost the Cleveland, Philadelphia, or Chicago either by outright failure, by erosion of artistic standards, or by turning them into pops orchestras.
You have stated some commonly held assumptions. They may or may not be true. I don't know. I don't think there is any question that successive generations must learn to appreciate the music or it all falls apart. Its the commonly held assumptions about how to do that that I wonder about. Dress code? Are people turned away if they attend in jeans? Do you propose to refuse admittance to anyone wearing a suit? Or do you refer to the orchestra members? What data is there to support an assumption that young people are turned off by formal attire? Play more "popular classics." I think there is some data to support this. Surveys tend to show a preference for Beethoven and Brahms over and over and over and over and over again. Some of us seek out music that is unknown and aren't motivated to go hear Beethoven's 5th for the eleventy-second time. Can't please everyone, but I admit I'm outnumbered on this one. Traveling is a very good idea, but very, very expensive. You won't fund trips by cutting a few rehearsals. Your next statement seems to me to be a circular argument.
Onhwy61---The current economic downturn is the most severe since the great depression. 3.5 years is a lot different that 9-12 months. Philanthropic financing had better be viable, because ticket sales will never sustain a modern orchestra, even if every concert sold out. People will stop buying tickets if you double or triple the prices. As for corporations, I doubt they care one bit what is programed. its about tax write offs. As for individual contributions. those people are more likely to be very serious about music. I think they would be more likely to prefer "adventurous" music.
Classical music radio stations are also hurting. Milwaukee no longer has one I understand. You are right, something more fundamental is at work. This very bad economy has just put a very bad strain on an already tenuous situation.
"Some of us seek out music that is unknown and aren't motivated to go hear Beethoven's 5th for the eleventy-second time. "
We aren't trying to get you interested in classical music. You already are. I was speaking of Mozart, Rossini, Tchaikovsky ... the warhorses. And not every night. You won't get the result needed and not change anything at the same time. But you will have to drop 'down' to get the young. As an analogy, you wouldn't try to get people interested in jazz by starting them off with Ornette Coleman. Besides I don't know the answer, but the OP said there is a problem. So the current program ain't working. I don't live near an orch, so it's CDs for me, and almost all of them are by European Orchestras.
I do see your point. But I think you missed mine. I cancelled my subscription (and stopped making generous donations) to the local orchestra because of programing and other artistic compromises. I know others who did the same. Last time I was there, the place was more than half empty. I'm not sure their focus on the old standbys is working out for them. They need to attract newbies without alienating the hard core guys like me.
I've turned from the orchestra to chamber music. Its going to be difficult for the orchestra to win me back. Like everyone else, I only have so much time and money. I support what I think has the greatest artistic value.
BTW, I actually prefer chamber to orchestral on Disc. And I do understand what you are saying. It could be that the symphony Orchestra's time has about run it's course. Maybe they can survive in large markets like NYC where there are enough people with the money and background to support it. It has happened to other genres before. This used to be a transplanted European nation. It is now almost completely American. And classical ain't native to America. One last thing. Since we now know that corporate America does not pay taxes, their 'support' of the arts is actually being done with Taxpayer money. Just a thought.
Very interesting thread. I cannot be impartial here, being a professional orchestral musician, however I also want to maintain relative anonymity here so I can feel more free to post on these kinds of topics, so I will not go into specifics too much, and not about my own orchestra at all. I will comment on a couple of things that have been posted so far, though.
Rok2kid wrote "Stop all the rehersals for EVERY concert. This saves money." Leaving aside the strange implication following about artistic quality not being important (??!!), professional orchestras do not rehearse very much. For a typical classical subscription concert, most orchestras will have about four, at most five rehearsals, all in the same week as the three or four performances (this is assuming a large orchestra such as those actually named so far in the thread). For a typical pops concert, there will usually be only one, or at most two rehearsals. For a program which is repeated throughout the season, such as a kiddie show, there will usually be only one rehearsal at the beginning of the season. For orchestras that still play the Nutcracker every Christmas season (very few ballet companies use live orchestras anymore - they are in much worse shape than we), there would only be one rehearsal.
Brownsfan is basically correct about how funding works. Ticket sales for many orchestras only account for about 25% of their budget (this is an average of all orchestras, not just the big ones). All orchestras are non-profit organizations that must raise their budget all over again each and every season. One thing I will say is that corporate funding is nowhere near as large as you guys seem to think, and a great many large corporations have stopped giving much at all. A great many orchestras in this country are kept afloat by just one or two extremely wealthy individual patrons.
IMO, many orchestras spend far too much time trying to chase corporations and/or extremely wealthy individuals for huge donations, and nowhere near enough time focusing on the middle class, which would of course include most of their actual audience in attendance at the concerts. For instance, if an orchestra in a large metropolitan area could get at least 3000 people to give just $100 in a year, that's $300,000 right there. But too many orchestras only go after individuals who might be able to write one check for that three hundred grand.
There are a great many orchestras having this conversation right now, trying to stay viable. I will be passing along some of the comments here to some of my colleagues, both the positive and negative. Many orchestras certainly need to change their marketing strategies, that's for sure. Mine is no exception. I hope more people will contribute to this thread.
And by the way, Onhwy61, I'll be giving some thought to the idea that about 7 of the top 20 orchestras in the world right now would be American. My first instinct would be to say that that is probably about right, possibly one or two more, but of course this is a very subjective question.
Regarding the top 20 list
-- I'm in no way qualified to verify it's accuracy. Your thoughts would be most appreciated.
Let me share my own experience. I am a life-long classic music lover. When I lived in Philadelphia, I would attend Orchestra concerts an average of once a month (and sometime more often) beginning when I could only afford the $2 ampitheater seats that were sold the day of the performance. . . to an eventual upgrade to a season's box - as well as contributing financially. Did I enjoy all performances? Of course not. (One performance of Verdi's Requiem was a real clunker.) But over the course of each season, I was always treated to some amazing music - from the old to the new to the unexpected. I have very specific memories: the first time I heard Mahler's first (Guilini was the conductor); the complete cycle of Beethoven's symphonies and piano concertos and the Fantasia for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra (Serkin was the pianist for all of them); the world premiere of Del Tredici's Final Alice (Barbara Hendricks was the soloist); the time that Yo-yo Ma both soloed in a concerto and then played as a member of the cello section; etc, etc.
When I moved away from Philadelphia, I purchased a season's subscription to the National Symphony Orchestra; and I continued to support the Philadelphia Orchestra financially and even returned for an occasional concert. But that eventually that proved untenable. Unfortunately, over the years, the programming and performances of the National Symphony deteriorated little by little and became more and more lackluster and unenthusiastic. Unlike my experience in Philadelphia, I was rarely treated to "amazing music" - whether old or new or unexpected. Of course, there were exceptions: the NSO's performance of Final Alice (Hila Pitman bested Barbara Hendricks) and Leonard's Slatkin's educational efforts (such as the time he showed how movie scores were developed). But these exceptions were few decreased in number year by year. Eventually, going to the orchestra became an unpleasant chore; and many of my paid-for seats went unused.
Each time I cancelled my subscription, I would be contacted by the NSO; but the representative really did not hear or understand the reasons for my dissatisfaction. The calls were marketing and subscription renewal efforts and not a serious attempt to understand my dissatisfaction or learn what I would like from a symphony orchestra.
I am fortunate that I live in a city with many other performing art forms - there is more theater and jazz and dance in DC than in Philadelphia (while Philadelphia had more chamber music). So, as a cultural omnivore, I get my fix. And DC is not far from Baltimore; the Baltimore Symphony's performance of Bernstein's Mass (at the Kennedy Center) had everything that a performance of the NSO lacked.
The competition for the interest and financial support of the community is fierce. There are so many performing art forms competing for the same end. And there may not be a solution to the problems of American orchestras - especially in the current economy.
The biggest problem that I see is a public hostile to supporting the arts. The NEA is under constant attack fro the right and that source of funding has now shrunk to (last I looked) app 5% of their budgets. Since ticket sales won't do (insufficient demand), philanthropy is cyclical, and the public sector is bailing, you've got a problem with no obvious solution.
Long term,I believe that the only sustainable answer is more demand. However, public schooling dollars for arts training (also under constant attack where I live) and parental support (cost of private lessons?) seems to be shrinking. It looks like darker days ahead. Sadly.
Learsfool has made some real world points. As a member of the Board of Directors of an orchestra, every one of the points Learsfool has made are spot on. Corporate funding is down and will remain so as long as the economic picture remains bleak. Rather than focusing on finding funding from these organizations, seeking out the smaller donations from middle class citizens is a step in the right direction. It benefits the orchestra not only in the wallet, but provides a solid attendance base to grow as the need to replace our graying audience increases. I agree that we could do more to encourage younger audiences, but an orchestra would rather see butts in the seats enjoying the music than spend time worrying about how those folks are dressed.
Boards of Directors of orchestras need to do their part as well. Be ambassadors for the orchestra in your community. Board annual giving needs to be a solid commitment from every member, as does attendance at concert events. Too many trustees enjoy the cache they think membership brings them without a thought to the impact a proactive board can have.
As for rehearsals, most orchestras have reduced the amount held prior to performances. Some (including ours) will hold only three full orchestra rehearsals and a fourth for strings only in an effort to reduce expenditure. Remember that the musicians and conductor are dedicated to their craft and expect the performance to be the best they can do for the patrons that expect them to deliver.
The orchestra I am involved with is one of only three training orchestras in the US (think baseball farm teams here). Our musicians are students from Julliard, Curtis, and Peabody. The audience gets to hear tomorrow's stars today. Our former Music Director is Alan Gilbert, the current MD in NY. Our musicians go on to work for the major orchestras around the world.
One last point I would touch on is that European orchestras have the luxury in some cases of support coming directly from the government as a matter of national pride. US orchestras rely on funding from sources like the National Endowment for the Arts, a pool of funds not nearly big enough to go to everyone.
Thanks for the top 20 list. I'm not qualified to judge such things, but that never stopped me before! I guess the list as a whole looked about right to me, with one glaring exception. How is it possible that the Philadelphia did not make the top 20? Are things that bad there? Oh, those strings! Other than that, I guess I wouldn't have put the LSO in the top five, I would have moved Cleveland up to five ahead of Chicago (of course). Hard to argue too much with the Concertgebouw, Berlin, and Vienna. I'd have moved up the Dresden and Liepzig a good bit.
GSM and I are on the same page.
Learsfool, to you sir and your colleagues-- Hats off! You guys make this trying existence tolerable, and on a good day, you show us a glimpse of heaven!
Just something to show the 'type' of thing I was talking about.
The Nutcracker shown back in DEC 2011 on PBS. It was sort of like a dance contest, a different ballet company every night. All performing the Nutcracker. I LOVED it. I have never had the slightest interest in Ballet, other than the music, but I was STUNNED at how much I enjoyed it. Two people explaining between acts and after the final, made the entire night. This is another example of how to get the public interested. Put it on TV with 'hosts' (that are well known to the public at large) to explain as the concert is going on. Between movements. BTW, a few years ago, the BOLSHOI even found the time and interest to come to my neck of woods. I didn't attend. After the PBS thingy, I can't wait for another chance. Still waiting for the top American stuff to show up.
MartyK1: I agree with you. I think that public support of the arts is also cyclical - and not just related to the vagarities of the economy. Right now we are in an anti-intellectual phase.
Slipknot1: You also make great points. (1) There is a significant difference between the US and Europe regarding governmental support of the arts; there seems to be little public sentiment for public government support of orchestras in the US - at least now. (2) A Board of Directors of any organization - not just an orchestra - is supposed work for the organization in return for the prestige of the board seat. This involves raising money, being an ambassador for the organization, etc. Too often, board seats become an entitlement.
Rok2id: Your comment reminded me of Leonard Bernstein's Young Peoples Concerts. He made classical music come alive - even just using the medium of the small black and white televisions available at the time. I suspect that the impact of that series lasted a long time. At his best, Leonard Slatkin can sometimes display a hint of Bernstein's ability to communicate with an audience.
"Symphony in C", previously known as the "Haddonfield Symphony" in New Jersey is missing.
Oops, should have read as missing from the list.
This is a great discussion. I am traveling with my family to spend the weekend in the city of my nearest symphony (one of the tiny ones on the web link; half the state away) and take in two performances. I would love to hold season tickets, but it is challenging with young children and distance. We also attend many of the summer festivals in the Rockies, which is a great place to bring children because it is more relaxed and you can attend the less expensive rehearsals and chamber performances. I frequently observe that we are the only attendees with children. And yes, they pay attention to the performance, or quietly color during inevitable attention lapses. Where will the future be without fascinating the young?
"Symphony in C", previously known as the "Haddonfield Symphony" in New Jersey is missing.
Bless your heart! That's the orchestra I serve as a member of the Board of Directors.
No, bless your heart, keep up the good work!
For all you bluegrass folks. Strings as good as Philadelphia / Ormandy. :)
Ricky Skaggs & Friends - Sing the Songs of Bill Monroe
Gaithers - Gospel Bluegrass homecoming Vol 1
Onhwy61, thanks for the link. I feel compelled to point out that this list was made by polling critics, not musicians. I assure you the list would be quite a bit different if musicians had been polled. It is also almost four years old now, which is not a long time, but there happens to have been quite a bit of turnover in key positions in many American orchestras the last few years (and I'm sure the same is true in Europe). The top American orchestras, IMO, right now,(and not necessarily in this order!) would be the Met, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, LA, NY Phil. There are several others right under those. Certainly the traditional "big five," consisting of New York, Boston, Chicago, Philly, and Cleveland, are not actually the best five anymore, though they still rank that way in salary, along with Pittsburgh and LA and San Francisco. It is absurd that the Met is not higher on that list, and that Pittsburgh is not on it at all. Pittsburgh, for example, became one of only two orchestras in the history of the Proms that got invited back for next summer directly from the stage right after their concert this past summer.
As for the European orchestras, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is another absurd omission. Also the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. There are some other bizarre selections on that list, but I will not knock my colleagues...
Thanks to all the others posting about the main topic of this thread, and please keep the posts coming! To Gsm18439, I understand your frustration with orchestral marketing departments - believe me, most musicians everywhere are very frustrated right along with you. However, I will say that the managers will be more likely to listen to your concerns when you are supporting them financially. Also, consider writing to them with detailed concerns. If everyone that was frustrated withdrew their support, orchestras would cease to exist for the most part. I would encourage you to renew your support for the NSO - that is actually a very fine orchestra that has greatly improved and is attracting many great young musicians. If you haven't heard them in a few years, I assure you you will hear a distinct improvement if you go again now.
To your last point, the decision my wife and I made to cancel our subscription and donations was a difficult one. I remember telling my wife, "We may not like what is going on, but these musicians deserve our support. What happened is not their doing and its not their fault. They have been injured as much as anyone." We have made our reasons for withdrawing support known to the orchestra and continue to do so every time they call for a donation. Some of the representatives we have talked to have been sympathetic to our position, but all of them have been genuinely grateful for our candor.
The economy is what it is. Everyone has had to make adjustments as a consequence. This applies both to orchestras and those who support them with charitable contributions. Eventually this problem will resolve itself. Our decision to withdraw support had nothing to do with money. It was prompted by the CEO with full support of the Board of Directors moving the organization in a direction that we simply could not support. I continue to attend a few concerts a year in an effort to stay in touch with "the state of the orchestra."
As has been previously stated, there is a deeper problem at work. The key to long term survival for orchestras is to correctly identify the deeper problem and appropriately respond to it.
My premise is that orchestras must identify the private individuals who support the orchestra with charitable donations. I'm talking everything from $100 to $100000 +. These are the folks who must be retained at all costs. The demographic must be understood, and recruitment must focus on this demographic. These are the people who are not likely to withdraw support every time the economy dips or a new political philosophy prevails. Understand clearly their wants and needs. Don't alienate them! Support from governments and corporations will always be too unstable and unpredictable to provide a basis for long term viability. Those funds, when available, should be directed to the endowment and special projects. They should not be depended upon for ongoing yearly expenses and salaries for musicians.
I'm not so sure the current governance structure of orchestras isn't part of the problem. I hope I'm not being unfair, but this looks like a good ol' boys club that answers to no one and doesn't care what I think, in stark contrast to the musicians, marketing folks, and volunteers who continue to call and solicit donation, and who appear to be interested in serving the music more than their own egos. The gene pool is too small! In a publicly held corporation, the Boards are at least in some measure accountable to the shareholders. If the executive committees and Boards make bad decisions, and continue down a path of folly, what is to be done about this and who has authority to do it? Must an orchestra fail completely before they listen? It is a difficult problem, because some of the directors are also major contributors.
The last two posts just confirm my fear that American symphony Orchestras are destined to become a Megalopolis phenomenon. Playing to the same crowd. They will fade from the conscious of the other 99%. Professional sports used to be the same in this country, all concentrated in the Northeast, now they are everywhere and trying to gain footholds abroad. When I was in the Army the guys that advised American busniess on being better managers, would also come and teach Army Officers. The thing I most remember was this: The First Step In Problem Solving, Is To STATE the problem. Being careful not to confuse the symptoms with the problem. It's a business, you are trying to SELL a product. Act like a business.
HI Rok2id - I understand where you are coming from in your last post - many orchestra boards or management teams have a hard time stating problems, and many musicians don't help matters either. However, "acting like a business" is not always the answer. Some boards think they can run an orchestra like they run their for-profit corporations, and those with that attitude usually fail spectacularly. Arts organizations are very different animals from the for-profit corporate world. Producing great art must be first and foremost - otherwise no one is going to support the organization. Far too many orchestras (and other arts organizations) are cutting the product (meaning not just in dollars but in quality) and paying the price for it.
Another weird thing is that many arts organizations do not like to advertise that they are beginning to have financial trouble, claiming that no one wants to give to an organization in trouble. So they wait until it is far too late, often drastically cutting back the product the while. That trick never works.
Hi Brownsfan - thanks for the comments. Regarding the governance structure of orchestras, these can be quite a bit different from group to group, and then as far as fund-raising goes, there are always big arts donor politics, which are different in each locale and can be very tricky (fortunately, the musicians have nothing to do with any of that, though it does greatly effect management). The executive board is ultimately the responsible party, though, you are correct there. The management team runs the organization for them. Often the vast majority of the full board members have no idea what is going on, and don't want to know - they just blindly trust the executive board. But every organization is different, and it is hard to make generalizations. The size of orchestra boards vary greatly, as well, as do the size of the management teams.
You mentioned endowments - one fascinating aspect of these that many people have no understanding of is that sometimes they are actually not much help at all as far as operating expenses go. It depends on whether the contributions are "donor-restricted" or not. The donors can put all kinds of stupid restrictions if they want, and there is not a damn thing anybody can do about it, rendering the contribution essentially untouchable and useless. So some orchestras that may have what looks like a sizeable endowment can't actually put it to any constructive use whatsoever, even if everyone involved wants to do so, unless they can convince the donor to remove the restriction. You would be shocked at some of the stories I have heard about donor-restrictions in various orchestras around the country.
it seems rather odd that the BSO,which is probably the most financially endowed orchestra in the world,isn't in the top 10.i realize that these ratings are subjective,but you have to wonder why their standing isn't little higher.does anyone have any ideas?
It's a British / European Publication??
Time to think outside the box and bring the symphony orchestra into the 21st century. Just a few random ideas to make the orchestra more relevant to more people in today's market for attention.
Allow tweeting by musicians during performances. It's not as if every musician is playing during every moment of a performance. Why not let him/her tweet their thoughts during those idle moments? Find out what the brass section really thinks about the guest conductor.
Appear regularly at non-classical music festivals. Why not the CSO at Lollapalooza or Baltimore SO at Ozzfest? The London SO at Stonehenge on a solstice -- trippy!
Link classical music to a reality TV show. Screw dancing, how about "Conducting With the Stars"? A series where a group of non-musician celebrities attempt (with the help of a real maestro) to conduct an orchestra through a musical movement. The audience then votes on who continues to the next week. Half of the show would be actual performances, with the balance being the conductor teaching and explaining to the celeb how to understand and direct the music.
And of course, there's the obvious -- "Symphonic Idol".
Some of these ideas are crazy, but so is MMA. I'd just hate to symphony orchestra go the way of the vinyl record.
Route9, many people would still put the BSO in the top ten - certainly there would be no debate about them being among the top ten American orchestras. As for the whole world, they would still probably make that list too, though it might be close. What was odd to me about that Gramophone list was the large number of Russian orchestras. Yes, there are some good ones, but that number of them in the top 20 in the world most musicians would probably not agree with.
You are correct about the BSO's endowment, too. They will be the last orchestra standing, for sure.
... I'd just hate to symphony orchestra go the way of the vinyl record.
Onhwy61 (System | Threads | Answers | This Thread)
Actually, that's exactly what we would like to see happen. A resurgence of orchestra popularity not unlike what is happening with LP's. Sales of turntables and vinyl are going up every year.
Wow, I get to the Meyerhoff for the BSO frequently. Didn't realize the BSO was so well endowed. Glad to hear that. The BSO and Meyerhoff is an oasis for lovers of good music in Baltimore. I notice the aging clientele when I go. Lots of grey hair. The BSO seems to be doing things to try to broaden their appeal, pops concerts and such. The US needs its symphony orchestras to help offset the power of pop culture otherwise. Its a tough battle, but hopefully good taste perseveres.
"Its a tough battle, but hopefully good taste perseveres."
This attitude is part of the problem. Good taste? Music is music, none of it is better than any other. And to most people it reinforces the commonly held view that classical music is for snobs. Being a snob is frowned upon in the young world.
"Music is music, none of it is better than any other."
Kinda like "No Child Left Behind" then I suppose. I know what your saying but find it hard to say that all music is created equal.
I suppose it could be argued that fine arts in general appeals to snobs, almost by definition. There is surely a correlation. Does that make all lovers of a particular fine art, whatever that may be, snobs? Are rappers who look down on classical music snobs?
I think snobbery refers to how people perceive others relative to themselves. Determining one to be a snob based on the the kind of music they appreciate would seem to be a form of snobbery in of itself.
hahahah don't be difficult. You know exactly what I was saying. I am not saying Beethoven is no better than some guy in Togo beating on a drum. I was speaking of the differnt genres of music competing with classical music, or the entertainment dollar in this country. However, classical is not better than jazz or pop or r&b or country or bluegrass etc..... just different. As they all are from each other as well. Look up the definition of snob and I think you will agree you can love classical as I do and not be anything close to being a snob.
I would agree with all points in your last post.
maybe this post has also something on this subject....
"Fed up with people making noise at classical shows"