A new ego? Changes in orchestra musicians’ self-image change the orchestras

Musicians’ self-image in Germany and most European countries has changed profoundly over the past 30 to 40 years: from the self-centred (real or imagined) “genius” who had little interest to communicate with broader audiences – exemplified by Herbert v. Karajan – towards musicians who are far more open, ready to share their thoughts, emotions and history, and who, in this way, can help to maintain or awaken listeners’ enthusiasm for classical music.

There have been changes in the job profile of orchestra musicians, too. While technical skills have improved markedly, the demands of working life are no longer the same: perfectly trained young musicians need to make their careers in a less secure, more diverse environment. These changes have impacts on orchestras. The question for the orchestra management is how to deal differently with a younger generation of professional musicians coming into the orchestra. Where is your plan for a new personnel development? The real challenge is on the one hand to integrate the creative power and skills of young musicians and on the other hand to take leadership during the process of change management.

Gewandhaus Leipzig

For example the Gewandhaus Leipzig – traditional orchestra with younger musicians

Case studies – of musicians working freelance, in semi-permanent and permanent positions – illustrate the tension between risk and freedom, creativity and learning from the discipline within an orchestra. Many orchestra musicians also point out the changing ideas on hierarchy and communication. Relations between musicians and conductor have become more open, more interactive, while at the same time musicians still argue for the importance of leadership in order to make an ensemble into a coherent whole. These changes also have implications for music academies and universities. As job profiles become increasingly differentiated in a tight labour market they need to offer additional services that can equip students with skills beyond purely technical expertise, or that can provide information on alternative career options.

Even so, career centres from conservatoires report that interest in their services varies. Career options have changed and continue to change. There are now more free ensembles, and with a higher profile, offering jobs outside permanent positions – with greater risks, but also greater creative freedom. At the same time, being an orchestra musician rather than a soloist has undergone a positive re-evaluation. And many musicians are keen to combine both options.


One thought on “A new ego? Changes in orchestra musicians’ self-image change the orchestras

  1. Wise and interesting words. Anyway, I’ll always dream of doing music not for job, not even for fun, just for music itself. I owe all to her.

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