Orchestra Now – But How (And Why?) – Presentation at Classical:NEXT, Vienna

The task: How can the orchestra find an authentic voice in the modern world? What should an orchestra embody and represent? These questions apply to all orchestras, but specifically to ensembles that are consciously developing their own distinctive voice. What does it mean to be an orchestra musician today? How can orchestra and its members find new narratives that represent their true voice? How about their managers, agents and the concert halls in which they perform?



The solution: Orchestra managements very often only have an internal perspective on the current challenges and on their in-house-problems. Here you’ll find a more or less external perspective. The President of the Federal Republic of Germany Johannes Gauck recently said in a speech: “Listening to good music is a meeting with good luck!” In this sense every concert announcement is an invitation to be lucky. Have you ever seen it like this?

Whenever orchestra managers meet on a national or international platform, they discuss almost the same problems about a) money (funding), b) audiences, and c) a lack of music education. Especially talking about audiences means younger or aging audiences, more diverse or shrinking audiences. In the last few years there have been lots of best practice examples and tools developed to tackle these questions.

Very often we are talking about a “crisis”. If there is one, it’s   n o t   a crisis of classical music. However, there is a crisis. It’s in the professional promotion of classical music to the society: orchestras, concert halls, agents, record companies, publishers etc. There is a severs lack of networking between stakeholders. At the Classical:NEXT: where are all the orchestra managers at this conference? Why don’t they take the opportunity of cross-the-border-networking?

Where are the potentials of our sector? We can make four points for the orchestras:

1. raising hidden audience potentials: take the example of the NY Philharmonic. When the orchestra did a rebranding process the outcome of a survey said that there are some 40.000 attendees entering the concerts. But there were more than 600.000 people who “liked classical music, but don’t attend”. This is a huge potential audience to researched and developed carefully.

2. strategic developing of artistic vibrancy: the quality of the orchestra performance is not only a result of combining a first class artist with a highly motivated ensemble. It’s an artistically driven management process. A wonderful tool for this task is the Artistic Reflection Kit, developed by the Australian Arts Council.

3. implementing a quality management system: take the example of the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. Some 300 different management processes have been surveyed and standardized: How do we welcome a visitor at the front door?  How do we consult ticket buyers on the phone? etc.

4. strengthen involvement of musicians:  take the example of the Berlin Philharmonic. It’s the artistically and economically most successful orchestra in Germany. Musicians are involved in more than 30 different chamber music ensembles. The democratic structure gives the musicians the right to elect the chief conductor and to vote for the CEO. The mission of the orchestra is perfect, authentic and brief: “128 soloists – one orchestra”. The musicians feel and behave as ambassadors of their orchestra. It’s not simply a job, it’s a special honor to be a Berlin Phil musician.

I do believe that there is a mutual responsibility of the whole classical music industry for the future development of our sector. The core question is: How do we create a new common spirit?

Classical:NEXT conference is a step into the right direction. But we all must and could do more.


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