#Orchestras into the Future – Final Declaration of 4th International Orchestra Conference

The international orchestra community gathered in Montreal from May 11-14, 2017.

Find here the final declaration of the conference: ioc4_conclusions_en(1)

Conference Podium in Montreal

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How ‘off’ is time off? Musicians creativity beyond the collective

The daily routine of an orchestra musician tends to be both crammed and regimented – yet even so, many are still preoccupied with music after work. You may ask whether this fascination is purely enthusiasm, or whether it reflects a creative deficit in the workaday experience – a deficit that many musicians try to balance by doing ‘their own thing’ during their time off.

Off time engagement: orchestra musician conducts brass band

Off time engagement: orchestra musician conducts brass band

Such activities can be directly music-related, e.g. playing in a chamber orchestra. But the links may also be more lateral, as other examples illustrate, such as music education and outreach, or even political activities to combat cuts to cultural budgets. Sometimes these extra efforts are appreciated by colleagues, sometimes they are regarded more as a private diversion. Professional input is also crucial for many amateur ensembles (of which there are thousands in many countries). Whether a school orchestra or a small local symphonic ensemble it is rarely the remuneration (if any) that motivates professional musicians, but the pleasure of making music, motivating others and doing something beyond the confines of a professional orchestra. Music education and outreach are perhaps among the most important ‘off time’ engagements that musicians can take on.

Of course there are political and civil aspects of ‘off time’ musical engagement: this can take many forms – from promoting a particular instrument (as done by the Confédération Internationale des Accordionists, which organized a 24-hour internet broadcast of accordion pieces) to fundraising for charitable causes to political protest.

What is the main task for the orchestra management in this context? How is it possible to create an atmosphere in which musicians can develop their artistic skills for themselves as well as for the whole orchestra organization? Peaceful cooperation and communication between management and musicians creates an atmoshpere of understanding and trust. This is the most healthy environment for future success. The orchestra should support musicians off time activities, because they will benefit the organization, too.

Musicians in foreign orchestras – everybody is a stranger, almost everywhere

Many musicians possibly play at some time with the idea of working in a foreign orchestra. In Germany for example 27 per cent of orchestra musicians are not of German stock. The motivation for musicians to come to Europe esp. to Germany is manifold: Germany is an attractive place for professional musicians: 131 professional full time orchestras, unlimited contracts, high artistic and employment conditions, good monthly wages.

 As a musician in an orchestra abbroad?

As a musician in an orchestra abbroad?

But what are the motivations, chances and challenges for professional musicians of leaving Germany? For some, it is a matter of improving job chances, while others may seek artistic stimulation or even to do musical “development work”. In any case, the farther away, the greater the challenges, musically as well as in practical terms. There are musicians who worked in Italy, Spain or Portugal, but were eventually forced to return to Germany due to economic reasons after the latest financial troubles in those countries. Periods abroad as a musician may be challenging and sometimes tough, but musicians often emphasize the opportunity to gain experience and the sheer excitement of trying something new.

More complex are biographies where the career trajectories lead for example from ensembles in Spain to Brazil and finally New Zealand. As becomes clear, there is no such thing as a perfect work or orchestra systems and much will depend on personal temperament, but at the same time working in several countries also holds great possibilities. Less challenging proved to be the cases of young musicians who joined the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra when it was founded in 2007. With its excellent financial position, the orchestra took care of many of the practical problems usually facing ex-pats. Instead, settling in proved to be more about dealing with cultural and musical issues. Cultural aspects – of living in a Muslim society, in an absolute monarchy, of forming a new orchestra from scratch with members from 30 nations – have been a challenge, even for Kurt Meister, orchestra manager of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and previously with the Bavarian State Opera. At the same time these unfamiliar economic and political structures can also offer distinct advantages.

And how is the experience of repatriates? Having returned to Germany or any other home country after years with another orchestra, many musicians talk about some of the issues that may crop up upon return. For example, where German ensembles often offer superior musical standards, working atmosphere tends to be more formal. Repatriates often recommend gaining experience abroad, though counsel openness and flexibility.

Another experience is the incompetence of management and leadership (which can occur in every orchestra). But it hurts if musicians from abroad, who committed theirs lives for the artistic development of an orchestra, are threatened to lose their jobs first, which was the case at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO – Kuala Lumpur) in 2011.

Done with learning? No opportunities for further training in orchestras?

The idea of learning a life long is common in many professions, yet curiously absent from the job experience of most orchestra musicians. It is in fact something of a taboo topic, seen to indicate professional deficits rather than potential for improvement or a preventive (medical) measure. Only a handful of music academies have even begun to address the issue. Musicians themselves give a whole range of responses on the subject: some have already had very positive experiences, others would reject institutionalised further training, pointing out that participation in chamber orchestras often is an effective substitute. The central question seems to be on of communication: how to criticise perceived shortcomings of colleagues’ performances in a constructive manner?

Musicians want to learn more - not only for outreach and education work

Positive feedback comes from some orchestras, after special workshops with specialists for baroque music or for respiration and brass instruments: not only do musicians find their technical abilities improved, the workshop also has a beneficial effect on group dynamics and communication. Trainers point out that playing techniques are acquired during the body’s prime years, yet these techniques may no longer be adequate later on as physical capacities decline with age. It is here that further training can make a significant difference to improve play and prevent occupational illnesses. Further training also offers some benefits from a management perspective: as a preventive medical measure it is usually cheaper than remedial action or losses due to sick leave; but, seen as an indication of goodwill, it can also improve mutual trust between management and musicians. Even so, opportunities for further training remain limited at the moment. Most institutions that offer further training do not focus on artistic development, but on subjects such as outreach work or communication.

An exception in Germany is the Baden-Württembergische Ensemble Akademie Freiburg (BWAEF), offering master classes in early and new music, instrumental training, technique and music theory.

Conclusion: Orchestra musicians need more opportunities for additional and specialist training on the job to keep up and improve their artistic excellence for a long life in the profession. Orchestra management should discuss this issue in the orchestra in an active role.

Concert halls – Temples of art and cultural work place

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg HarbourConcert halls have to fulfil varying functions for audiences and musicians. Beginning in London in the late 17th century, cities with strong civic traditions such as Hamburg and Leipzig soon also erected purpose-built concert halls. Originally following a “shoe box” design, more recently architects and acoustical engineers have advocated other shapes. Acoustics are, of course, a central aspect for musicians when rating a concert hall.
Yet other aspects are important, too: historical and architectural flair, catering and, often mentioned, but frequently overlooked by architects, a spacious backstage that allows easy storage of and access to instruments. From the perspective of audiences, other aspects gain importance: of course, acoustics are fundamental again, but listeners also appreciate features such as smooth audience flows with short (or no) queues at doors, toilets or bars; seats that are easy to find and that also offer good views; or the setting of the concert hall with good accessibility or beautiful vistas.
Among new concert halls, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg – still under construction – is certainly among the most ambitious. Christoph Lieben-Seutter, director of both, Elbphilharmonie and Laeiszhalle, Hamburg’s other concert hall, knows about their different profiles in terms of size, atmosphere and acoustics. Rather than creating competition, he is confident that they will complement each other. Given its protracted development, the Elbphilharmonie is a good example for the fact that concert halls – established, newly built, or planned – often court controversy. Other topic examples in Germany are the cities Bonn, Dresden, Saarbruecken, Bochum and Konstanz where concert hall plans face opposition for a number of reasons.
For example Stephan Braunfels, designated architect for the Saarbruecken project, knows the difficulties. But apart from financial and political questions, a concert hall architect also has to face other aspects, such as local style history and the combination of acoustic and visual experiences.