Gaining profile! Orchestras semi-autonomous and happy?

Orchestras in Germany (and elsewhere in the world) integrated into a multi-section house or opera house often have a low profile, their contribution barely noticed by audiences and underplayed within the institutional marketing mix. It is the semi-autonomous ensembles that have the freedom to create their own artistic programme and identity – which in turn can become a valuable complement to the activities of a theatre or opera house.

BOBAt the same time brand building is possible even within the limitations of a multi-section house: small concert series, outreach programmes and a clearly defined online presence on the institution’s homepage can all contribute to a much stronger profile. For example the Erzgebirgische Philharmonie Aue is a case study for a small theatre orchestra with a strong, regionally rooted identity. Grown from a merger of two ensembles – one a theatre orchestra, the other a concert orchestra – they have combined their respective strengths to become a key player in the cultural life of the region. By contrast, the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn is strongly resisting calls to be integrated into the municipal theatre, for whose opera programme it currently functions as a semi-autonomous “service provider”. This relative independence is important – both for the ensemble’s cultural profile, but also to protect it from the political fallout of ongoing budget quarrels.

The Staatskapelle Weimar is another example for – in this case, far-reaching – semi-autonomy: part of the Deutsches Nationaltheater und Staatskapelle Weimar plc, its labour committee even has a say in the ensemble’s controlling and is thus able to influence programming and touring. While the added responsibility requires considerable extra effort, it also adds greatly to flexibility. Perhaps the opposite end is represented by the Sinfonieorchester Wuppertal. While the past decade under Toshiyuki Kamioka was artistically very fruitful, the ensemble – doing both opera and concert “service” – has a somewhat indistinct profile. This is partly due to staff issues, but also comes down to details such as a hard-to-find webpage

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