Orchestras on the offensive: More than audience development!

In a rapidly and profoundly changing environment it is essential to make orchestras ‘future-proof’. Issues such as audience development, education and outreach programmes, or corporate identity have been high on the list of priorities for some time. Cultural organizations have to embrace change and see its potentials, to use technological tools and be open for unorthodox ideas.

Orchestras: relevant to kids & people & coummunity

Orchestras: relevant to kids & people & coummunity

Orchestras should think on their ‘dramaturgy’: an integrated approach involving all departments of his house – artistic management, media and PR, marketing, fundraising – to address the question: how can classical music remain relevant and demonstrate this relevance? In particular the internet has accelerated processes of cultural learning and un-learning. For classical music, this is both a challenge and a chance.

Orchestras have to offer a broad range of programmes aimed at reaching a diverse range of audiences, diverse target groups through a mix of formats, concepts and locations that reflect the social, cultural and economic heterogeneity of their home city. All, however, are held together by a commitment to the highest artistic standards.

Orchestras have to focus strongly on their youth outreach programme. They should encompass a broad and varied range of activities both in-house and outside: school sponsorships, radio features, participatory concerts. The great importance attached to these activities should be also demonstrated by the fact that despite tight budgets there are several full-time positions necessary to organize the outreach programme. Youth outreach is so important. Therefor orchestras might offer soecial music subscriptions for pre-school children.

Beside the educational and outreach business orchestras must also go for high-impact mass events, staging a partially free open-air performance of operas as well as a ‘Last Night of the Proms’, which attracts several thousand live listeners and more on the radio and/or online – music as an emotional spectacle for the people. Another good tool is the ‘music van’, taking the orchestra on tour to schools, social services, zoos, parks or the mountains, emulating the travelling musicians of old.

Co-operations between symphony orchestras and freelancers

There are a couple of the central issues raised by co-operations between permanent ensembles and freelancers: while the latter are commonly hired to address specific needs or reach particular audiences – and in this capacity often do excellent work – the two parties may not necessarily see eye to eye.

Working together with freelancers

Working together with freelancers

Co-operation between symphony orchestras and independent partners are fairly common for educational activities, as they are often project-based. Artistic co-operations are becoming more frequent, too, and they can give creative impulses and reach out for new audiences, though this has to be weighed against greater organizational efforts. Experiences are similar for co-operations between independents and opera houses, for example, by the Deutsche Oper Berlin and its new experimental space “Tischlerei” (“Joiner’s Workshop”): opera houses can offer resources usually unavailable to fringe ensembles, yet again, work styles are often markedly different, thus requiring more coordination. Immigration policies and their cultural aspects are a particularly interesting, but also difficult area in which independent artists or groups can play a role.

A case study of the Komische Oper Berlin in particular and its outreach activities towards audiences with a migrant background – typically hard to reach – shows how difficult (but necessary) co-operation is in practice and that there must be answers about the integration of migrant staff. Many of these aspects are also reflected in discussions with freelance artists. Artists of independent performance projects often do have their special experiences with orchestras and opera houses: variations from enthusiasm for fresh ideas and willingness to adapt working processes to reservations over perceived non-professionalism. This is a leadership challenge for every management.

Looking abroad to the UK and the USA, where independent artists and ensembles are much more common shows the differences due to the lower number of public orchestras in comparison to Germany and Central Europe. Very special is the relation from institutions to the “teaching artist”, who is much more than a music pedagogue, but a highly-trained, if independent, professional.