Classical music: if not dying, at least crippled?

I just had a long discussion with some colleagues at a lunch break yesterday, and it revolved around the fact that we’re playing without a contract (since last June) and progress right now is painfully slow because we don’t have a full-time president of the association (the management CEO) due to immigration work-visa problems (the person in question is Canadian).

I think that there is a high level of frustration with the fact that we don’t feel valued by the community in which we live and perform. It might not be true, but it feels about true to us when we look out into a half-empty auditorium for many of our concerts. We’re up on stage, working hard, making music to standard that is the highest in the orchestra’s history. However, the orchestra is unable to meet fund-raising goals which would make financial security viable, while less people each season seem to want to attend our concerts.

We’ve had some vanity gifts which have enabled our previous music director to record anything he wanted, but nothing that would enable recording anything with our current music director. On that front, we cannot even afford to record our concerts at broadcast or recording quality due to budget constraints – and these performances will be lost forever for future use. It’s not that we can’t afford to produce the recordings, but that we can’t even afford to hire the engineer to record, rent equipment and edit the masters.

So, this leads me back to the larger questions/thoughts:

1. How can we motivate those with the deepest pockets to see the orchestra as a community asset which helps the greater good of the community in which it resides?

2. Since fancy new attempts to attract the 25-40 year old “golden” audience demographic seem not to work here in Portland – how do we appeal to people who are indifferent to classical music in practice (but in favor of it in theory) in a cultural landscape that favors the hip and cutting edge without alienating our primary base audience which sticks with us through thick and thin?

3. If we alienate our base they won’t come back for years. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the public flap about the non-renewal of our former principal flutist has led to negative feelings about our music director and that those who are feeling badly are very reluctant to return to concerts, regardless of who is on the podium.

4. How do we reconcile our low level job satisfaction with our need to project positive and involved personas on-stage?

5. Given that studies have shown that the vast majority of major donors and/or board members of symphony orchestras have studied music earlier in life for at least a couple years, do we really have a chance to reverse the trend when arts programs are among the first to be cut and the last to be reinstated due to budget shortages?

I’d welcome your thoughts on these questions – I’m stumped, and I think that the industry as a whole is, too.

You can contact me directly here.

3 thoughts on “Classical music: if not dying, at least crippled?

  1. hobbes

    Jeffrey Kahane brought in Yo-Yo Ma and that seemed to recharge the giving community in Sonoma County. The Oregon Symphony is so far superior to the Santa Rosa Symphony. Whatever it takes to invigorate the people with the real money.

  2. Pingback: Kenneth Woods- a view from the podium » Archivio » Managing Change

  3. ORSymphony Fan

    I attended the baroque concert on Monday night. I got the feeling it was a different crowd from most Monday night subscription concerts. It seemed younger than normal. There were faces I had never seen before.

    Maybe the answer is more specialty concerts that target a specific demographic. It could mean smaller scale concerts at a smaller venue. A few gala concerts each season could fill up the big hall.

    We may have been spoiled by the James DePreist phenomenon. The man speaking to an audience could make anyone from any walk of life feel comfortable at a concert. He built quite an audience that way. It is a hard act to follow.


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