How to engage people for classical music?

Most of the British orchestras have survived recents cuts. Some have shrinked the staff to fit. Work load is getting harder for those who are still on the job. Ulster Orchestra is in dire straits in these days. And there will be even more challenges in the future.

The Association of British Orchestras (ABO) tries to tackle this situation by launching a campaign with a fresh promotion video: Making everyday life special.

Problem of this video: Perhaps it is a German, Chinese or US orchestra playing Strauss “Zarathustra” on the recording. There is no real link to the UK or the UK orchestras in this video. It could be everywhere.

Finally, if you want to engage people for classical music via YouTube:  1. there should be more emotion, 2. a better story  and 3. a clear link to the UK orchestras for spreading the word getting the message going viral.


Upcoming events and conferences

A couple of interesting national and international events and conferences are coming up for the orchestra and arts management sector:

The China Symphony Development Foundation is preparing the National Conference 2013 in Xiamen, April 16-18.

The 23rd IAMA (International Artists Managers Association) Conference will take place in Vienna Konzerthaus from April 25-27. Title of the conference: “Innovating Tradition”.



Second edition of the fresh and innovative conference format Classical:NEXT 2013 is announced from May 29 to June 1 in Vienna, too. Classical:NEXT is a new, annual event that addresses head on the challenges facing the international classical and art music community, both in its entirety and within its various sectors. Classical:NEXT also offers an ideal opportunity to promote new talent, new creative ideas and future-oriented business practices.

The League of American Orchestras National Conference 2013 will be in St. Louis, June 18-20, with pre-conference seminars June 16-18.

The date and placed for the next National Conference of the ABO (Association of British Orchestras)  have already been announced: The 2014 Conference will be held in London from January 29-31, hosted by London Symphony Orchestra in association with the Barbican.

Finally: The 3rd International Orchestra Conference is to be prepared in Oslo (Norway) for 2014 , April 24 -26.

The endless classical crisis?

The final day of ABO conference in Leeds on 25 January 2013 gave participants a couple of ideas from outside the orchestra sector.

ABO conferecne in Leeds 2013 - the final day

ABO conferecne in Leeds 2013 – the final day

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.

Improving quality of orchestra organizations by personal development

Second day of the ABO conference in Leeds: One of the workshops dealt with the issue how orchestras tackle the problem of the abandoned retirement age in 2012, which is a special UK problem. But the presentations and discussions at least highlighted the issue of personal development for musicians, artistic appraisal and leadership skills within the orchestra.

Workshop on fresh ideas from Australia and New Zealand

Workshop on fresh ideas from Australia and New Zealand

The idea is that each individual (musicians/management) has a responsibility for the whole orchestra institution, but the management has to have “a 360 grade overview in 3D”. One of the key findings was that the principals, section and co-section leaders need artistic excellence but they should be better trained for their leadership role. There should be “new starters programs” for orchestra beginners at conservatoires. It’s not only about well performing, it’s about education work, chamber music, conducting, leading groups etc.

Artistic appraisal is only one management tool. It’s a regular process and dialogue on a day-to-day basis, not only once a year. It’s about unlocking potentials (appraisal = career review = professional development). Tricky is the jargon or wording to be used, because musicians may get scared when they hear “appraisal”.  Appraisal must not be negative criticism, it should be almost a positive experience. The attitude towards appraisal has to be changed. It’s about improving an organization, it’s not about giving management a tool for kicking employees out. Vocabulary should be especially respectful within the whole organization. Appraisal needs clear structures and responsibilities (section leaders, management and or music director).

Another workshop took a look to Australia which has 6 professional full time orchestras and New Zealand with 2 (in Wellington and Auckland). Barbara Glaser, CEO from Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, spotlighted a flexible payment scheme for orchestra players: 50 percent of annual income is guaranteed. All services (performances, rehersals, education work, chamber music, meetings etc. are paid extra. This makes balancing budget much easier for the orchestra management. Kate Lidbetter from Symphony Services Australia (a company build up by the six symphony orchestras) explained the “Artistic Reflection Kit” which is a very innovative and successful management scheme to enhance artistic vibrancy.

One afternoon session gave the next generation of musicians their say. What do they expect from conservatoires, what do they expect from the orchestras and how will their professional future look like?

ABO conference: Classical music has to promote potentials better

It has been a very interesting opening of the annual conference of the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) in the Grand Theatre Leeds (UK) on January 23, 2013.

Richard Mantle, GD of Opera North, adressing the ABO conference

Richard Mantle, GD of Opera North, adressing the ABO conference

Get some fresh impressions and good ideas:

Dan Jarvis (MP), shadow minister of culture from the Labour Party in his keynote complained about the government cuts in the arts sector from 2012. Arts councils have lost some 30 percent of their money. Cultural and music education in schools is still shrinking.  The importance of cultural education for the economy and society is underestimated by most politicians. This has to be changed. The development of culture institutions have been the key to city-center-refurbishment in many UK cities during the past 20 years. The importance cultural issues have to be put more into the common discussion, Jarvis pointed out.

Max Hole, chairman and CEO of the Universal Music Group Int., talked on the issue “How I learned to love classical music but fear for its future”. He highlighted that the massive losses of vinyl, cassette and CD sales during the last 20 years have not been compensated by digital sales, streaming and downloads yet. But the development of digital media and of the internet offers great opportunities for the industry. Spotify as a legal platform has got some 18 million users, of whom one third pay for downloads. The count of users has doubled in only one year. For example the recording market in Sweden has grown about 14 percent in 2012, Hole argued. This development shows the huge potential of the market. The record companies will stay relevant for the whole industry, the artists and the audiences with diverse and special services. The quality of services at least does fight internet piracy by quality, too.

The way of listening to music is changing drastically due to the boom of mobile devices. But the music industry is not yet making the best of it. There are many best practice examples how to build better links to the audience. Especially the social web gives the unique opportunity to bring listeners and fans of an artist and the different products (recordings, performances, ticket sales, “likes” and recommendations to friends) together. Industry tries to develop this potential with new platforms as, which is an online magazine as well as a shop. In this context the use of new Apps get important, too.

Hole continued to say that the word “classical” still scares potential audiences. Great performance on stage is of course essential, but not enough any longer. In many cases there is to much “protocol” – when to clap, when not, the stiff dress code, no drinks in the hall, starting promptly etc. Hole remembered that Mozart in a letter to his father had been enthusiastic about the audience clapping within the movement. Why is this banned in classical music today, but not in jazz? There should be much more different concert formats for different target groups in future. Hole saw many potentials to be developed such as connecting with audiences, video answers from the artist on questions from the audience, re-performances of commissioned music.

British Orchestras – What’s next?

From January 23 to 25 British orchestras will discuss their future challenges at ABO Conference in Leeds, hosted by Opera North. Association of British Orchestras has annouced “three days of vigorous debate, frenetic networking, agenda-setting keynotes, career-changing seminars and delegates from all around the world”.

Annual Conference 2013 in Leeds

Annual Conference 2013 in Leeds

The partnership with the Musicians’ Union established in 2012, looking at performance management, CPD and retirement planning for orchestral musicians,  will be continued “with a series of sessions in partnership with Conservatoires UK focusing on joint roles in providing development opportunities between professional players and the next generation, and what the students themselves have to say about their future careers”.

However, this will be another interesting ABO conference exploring the future of orchestras. Lern more about the schedule, speakers and events.

The future of orchestras – listen to the discussion on BBC

Journalist Shirley Apthorp and Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras, discuss the future of orchestras with Andrew McGregor. A very interesting 20 minutes from the BBC iPlayer-site you should listen to.


What about the lack of music education? What about the global orchestra markets? How will the business models look like etc.? How does the Berlin Phil. march forward? How do the British orchestras. Follow this link.