November, 2011

  1. Speaker spotlight: Ludovic Morlot

    Next week, we’ll be sitting down with Ludovic Morlot and leaders of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) to discuss Community, Creativity and Audience—the three big topics we’re exploring here at the American Orchestra Forum. Morlot is leading the BSO this month in concerts on the West coast and is also Music Director of the Seattle Symphony.

    This recent Boston Globe piece by David Weininger serves as a good introduction to his approach:

    The idea of civic engagement is popular these days, and many conductors give it lip service without much real substance. Morlot, though, has done more than talk; he has put energy and ideas behind his words. He has conducted not only gala and subscription programs but also family concerts. The Seattle Symphony has instituted a program offering two free tickets for children between the ages of 8 and 18 to any adult who buys a ticket to a subscription concert. There is a post-prison education program as well. Morlot even threw out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game in August. (“I did pretty good, actually. I had a 20-minute training session the day before, on the hill.’’)

    He is especially proud of a project called “Sonic Evolution,’’ for which the orchestra commissioned three composers to write new pieces, each inspired by a legendary Seattle musician: Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, and Kurt Cobain. The undertaking “is destined to be addressing an audience that might be intimidated by the classical music genre and repertoire,’’ Morlot explains. “But still, I think everybody deserves to have that first contact with live symphony music. So I’m trying to be creative with my team – to be as versatile, as flexible as possible – as diverse in what the offering is, so that the audience can be versatile and diverse as well.’’ Read the full article.

    While the event next week isn’t open to the public, we hope you’ll join us here at to follow our live blog. We’ll also be posting podcasts developed from the discussion later this month. If you have a question for the BSO, we’d love to hear it! You can leave a comment below or email us.

    Learn more about the Dec 7 roundtable discussion with the BSO.

  2. The community: a stakeholder or occasional special guest?

    In this post, Afa Sadykhly Dworkin—Vice President of Programming and Artistic Director of the Sphinx Organization and a panelist at our first live event—reflects on the ongoing discussion of how American orchestras relate to their communities.

    One of the topics that seems to never be exhausted fully, is the relevance of a symphony to its community. Even broader, it is about the relevance of music in general to the community it strives to serve. If we look upon music as a medium through which a community should, ideally, express itself, identify with one another, and find social value, then music needs to represent the community. In doing so, one must look at the content. What do we perform on stage? Who is in the audience? Are the audience demographics shifting? Are we seeking for those demographics to reflect the diversity of our actual community? If yes, how urgent is that desire/goal? I suspect that the answer should be “very urgent, as this may well directly relate to the long-term survival of live music.”

    Imagine what the audiences would look like in a vibrant place like New York, Los Angeles, Boston or San Francisco, if they truly reflected the rich diversity of that city… (more…)

  3. Taking the street out of street performances

    The Asphalt Orchestra (really a twelve-piece marching band) has made a name for itself with edgy, in-your-face, street performances. Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times describes them as “part parade spectacle, part halftime show and part cutting-edge contemporary music concert.” (Watch video.)

    So what happens when the Asphalt Orchestra decides to take their music off the streets and into the concert hall?

    It’s interesting to watch their solution to questions that orchestras also struggle with… how do you make a connection to the people on the other side of the music stands? How do you bridge the stage/audience divide? How do you engage people in the music? Their answer is a physical, choreographed performance—with musicians out of their chairs, virtuosic soloist spins taking center stage, and movement, movement, movement.

  4. The classical music concert stereotype

    I always enjoy reading Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise and writer for The New Yorker. In a recent interview with Michael Louis Vinson of the Appleton Post Crescent, he had this to say about some of the traditions surrounding the classical music concert experience.

    I really am a big believer in pushing back against some of these stereotypes around classical music. It discourages me when I see scenes in movies or even TV commercials where classical concerts always get depicted as a bunch of stuffy people in evening wear. When you go to a regular concert, people don’t dress like that. People dress up a little bit, in the same way they do when they go to the theater, but it’s really not that kind of an environment.

    Some of those stereotypes are self-generated to a certain extent. I think classical music has had a problem with projecting a certain image and being too reserved and too attached to some old rituals of behavior in the concert hall. That needs to be addressed, and there are some people who are really taking that on. They’re thinking about how we can do this differently. What is a different contemporary model that we could have for classical concerts? Read the full interview with Alex Ross.


  5. Maine Pro Musica: Taking this show on the road

    A recent article in the Portland Press Herald introduced me to the work of Janna Hymes and Maine Pro Musica, an orchestra that’s taking their show on the road:

    “The model for the large orchestras can work. But if it’s not working—if every cog in the wheel is not working in unison with the others—you get off track and things fall apart,” said Janna Hymes, a former Fulbright scholar who moved to Maine in 2000 after stints as associate conductor at the Indianapolis Symphony and resident conductor of the Charlotte Symphony.

    Maine Pro Musica is unique. It is a professional orchestra whose members all live and work in Maine. … While the 55-member orchestra is based on the midcoast, it has no home. Hymes models Maine Pro Musica after those turn-of-century bands that traveled by rail and steamship, playing in small communities across rural America. The mode of transportation has changed, but the orchestra prides itself on bringing music to communities that rarely get to hear live orchestral music. Read the full article.

    Her lightweight approach to administration means there is no full time staff and Hymes runs the orchestra from her home. The funding model is also unique in that community groups raise money to pay the musicians and often use the concerts as fundraisers. The built-in community support also helps guarantee an audience in towns that the orchestra might not have a connection to otherwise. It’s an interesting new take on the orchestral model.


  6. Is the traditional concert experience actually a radical one?

    In the classical music world, we talk so much about ways to enhance the tradition-bound concert experience—down with tuxes and gowns! up with video projections!—that I found this an interesting read for an alternative point-of-view. (more…)

  7. Do America’s Orchestras Serve All People in Our Communities?

    In this guest post, Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras and panelist at our October event, responds to a recent report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) and reflects on the question of orchestras and community. The NCRP report examines foundation giving and the organization’s press release featured this stark headline: “Arts Philanthropy Not Doing Enough to Reach Poor and Minority Populations.” Read the full report.

    Since participating in our panel on the question of orchestras and community, I have been giving some thought to a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy that challenges the extent to which orchestras serve their communities and suggested that small organizations might be a better outlet for support.

    Among the several blog posts I have seen and conversations I have had about the contents of the report, no one has questioned the need for greater philanthropic support of smaller, culturally specific arts groups and of art that promotes greater equity. In fact, art itself is a vital means of advancing justice and understanding in a democratic society. While there is no question that symphony orchestras are rooted in close associations with wealth and an elitist understanding of value and purpose, a lot has changed in recent years. It is important to set the record straight and recognize the enormous strides orchestras have made to become more far-reaching cultural citizens who support the arts education of our children and define audience to include all segments of communities. (more…)

  8. You had me at the album art, “Greatest Video Game Music Ever”

    Video game music. Full disclosure—I don’t know much about it. I don’t play video games. I can’t hum the tune from Angry Birds.

    That said, I find the coverage of the new London Philharmonic Orchestra recording “The Greatest Video Game Music Ever” quite fascinating. When was the last time TechCrunch—a top technology blog—had an article about orchestras? Much less one with this enthusiasm for the form?

    The comments include a spirited discussion of composers/music that should/should not have made it on to the disc. (“Spy Hunter? Hello?”)

    Video game concerts have been making the orchestral rounds over the last few years, usually relegated to summer or Pops fare. What would happen if this passion was channeled into some of our “regularly scheduled programming”?

  9. The New York Philharmonic’s Alan Gilbert on Community: “It’s very conscious for us.”

    Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, took some time out from his rehearsal schedule in San Francisco last month to chat with us about community. He says the true importance of being the first New Yorker to lead the New York Philharmonic is that he understands what the orchestra means to the community and to the audience that comes to the concerts, whether it’s a performance at Lincoln Center or a concert in the park. “We are trying to be New York’s orchestra, not just an orchestra in New York.”

    Alan Gilbert will join us for our free live event “Talking About Audiences” next May.

  10. Thoughts on “Talking About Community”

    In this post, Neil Harris reflects on the American Orchestra Forum: Talking About Community event that took place on October 23.

    Now, almost two weeks after participating in the panels at Davies Hall, some reflections on that experience. First, it was exhilarating to see so many people interested in the health of the American orchestra, brimming with insightful observations. I wish there had been more time for the audience members on Sunday to have posed more questions or made additional comments, but the larger conversation was certainly encouraging, on a sunny Sunday afternoon. (more…)