The final day of ABO conference in Leeds on 25 January 2013 gave participants a couple of ideas from outside the orchestra sector.
Alex Ross, author of the book “The Rest is Noise”, Music Critic of the New Yorker, presented an overview of the recent crisis affecting some US orchestras and the wider classical music industry. He pointed out that the talks on the death of classical music might be older than classical music itself… Of course orchestras are facing severe challenges, there is Baumol’s cost disease, there is a decline of music critics etc. But some orchestras such as in Detroit, Philadelphia or Cleveland are doing better now than before the crisis. Cleveland has boosted the audience of college students as of 20 percent, Detroit is on its way of recovery.
A new problem which arises across the US is how to bring in a new generation of philanthropist. Younger wealthy people don’t want to give money to arts institutions just because they exist. The ongoing question is, how arts organizations have to change in a changing environment. The bios of orchestras and concert halls are linked past repertoire. There has to be a new balance to contemporary music. The “fear of the new” has become bigger: managements are scared by half full halls when putting a Schoenberg piece on the program, audiences are scared not to understand this kind of music (after some 100 years…). But the examples of Micheal Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony and Esa Pekka Salonen with the LA Phil have shown that is possible to be classical and modern and successful.
Classical music producers of the past have promoted it in a snobbish attitude as “good”, “great” or “serious” music. It has become an elitist, antique art form. The still existing concert rituals, rules, church mentality, when-you-should-clap advices are elements of this phenomenon. To change these images is a real challenge. Music is an art form of extremes: loud – silent, old – new, sad – funny etc. It’s not just another commercial product. Music is relevant to all people. And orchestras have got the chance to make music which they perform more relevant to more people.
Following sessions and discussions highlighted, that there is a gap of as well as a hunger for knowledge on the development of the arts in the 20th century. A good example is the topic Southbank Centre’s program titled: “The Rest is Noise”. Filling this gap and building bridges to other art forms and links to politics and history may be the key to develop orchestra programming and relevance orchestras for the future.