If they made a movie…

If they made a movie about a radical business transformation in the orchestral world – what would that story be?

The new movie Moneyball that’s been generating a lot of buzz got me thinking again about the baseball/classical music analogy that we’ll be exploring in more detail during our May event. These two 19-century traditions are both navigating a very different world in 21st century. How has baseball adapted? How can we? How can orchestras create a culture where innovation is embraced?

And, perhaps most importantly, who will Brad Pitt play when an orchestral success story gets acted out on the big screen? Any nominations?


  1. Rick Robinson says:

    I think that movie would be one where the orchestra itself SPLITS in two. One orchestra being “repertory” and the other is devoted to “contemporary” or living composers. Certainly there is enough sheet music for both. Throughout evolution, growth bifurcates into new directions. Why doesn’t that happen much with orchestras?
    I began an innovative spinoff from my orchestra. It just needs support. Denzel should play me in the movie!

  2. COL says:

    I don’ t know which is the more provocative thing to ponder: the changes that could potentially introduce a renaissance of arts awareness, or who Mr. Pitt could best portray. My mind might wander during the concert tonight!

  3. I think the key difference between the baseball and classical music worlds is simply spectacle. If you look at the most remembered names in baseball over the last century (Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan), you will notice that most hitters were sluggers that had more than 500 home runs and most pitchers had killer 100+ MPH fastballs. You can inversely look at great situational hitters like Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs and notice that they do not share this same fame due to their lack of power hitting.

    Classical music takes advantage spectacle to a certain extent, with pops concerts and performances of grandiose works like the 1812 Overture and Beethoven’s Ninth, but there is a common fear that too much spectacle may lessen or even abandon the artistry of classical music. Continuing the baseball analogy, despite the various eras the sport has gone through, from the dead ball era to the dreaded steroid era, the art of baseball has largely remained the same. Spectacle has only been a means of drawing in fans throughout the history of baseball. It is because of exciting sluggers like Mickey Mantle that people become fans, and eventually become more aware of the subtleties of a perfectly executed 5-6-3 double play.

    Classical music shouldn’t be afraid of losing its artistry from the use of spectacle, but should embrace it as a way to draw listeners in, and eventually expose them to this great art.

    • Sigal Hemy says:

      Matt – even without knowing what a 5-6-3 double play is, I agree with this 100%.

      I think the best musical example we have of this in our time is the music of John Corigliano. I was part of a performance of his Circus Maximus two years ago, and the experience has taught me that composers and performers can take advantage of spectacle without detracting from a piece’s message or musicality.

      Circus Maximus surrounds its audience with musicians. In the program notes, Corigliano explains that this effect creates a metaphor for the inescapable commotion that permeates our modern lives, but the “surround sound” experience also engages the audience in a way that it isn’t accustomed to. During our performance of the piece, I had a chance to look out into the audience a few times. A huge number of people were shocked – in the loud sections, I saw people covering their ears. As a musician, I loved seeing these extreme reactions; I felt like we were really making an impact. And hasn’t making an impact been what we’ve been after all along?

      Check out the performance (and some great audience shots) here:


      • Anonymous says:

        Now that is spectacle I can get behind!

        I always get nervous that in attempt to “cross over “and find a bigger audience, this is where we’re headed… if we’re totally honest about what people will pay to see: http://youtu.be/ZKEOR_xWuwg

        Certainly, Andre Rieu’s take is not the “classical music” I know and love, but he does present himself as a classical musician. This is from his website:

        “You know that solemn atmosphere you find in the concert hall with classical music, and how it intimidates most people and keeps them away? With us, it is simply not there. My orchestra consists of young, enthusiastic musicians, who put their heart and soul into the music every evening when they play in our concerts. At one of our concerts you’ll see me and the orchestra, and the audience too, all having a lot of fun together. Swaying with the music, humming along, clapping, jumping up and down – it all happens! Every evening is a wonderful experience, and in my view there couldn’t be a greater pleasure for a musician. ”

        Personally I’d prefer Corigliano any day, but yikes, is this the spectacle people truly want?

        • Erin H. says:

          In response to: “Certainly, Andre Rieu’s take is not the “classical music” I know and love, but he does present himself as a classical musician…”Personally I’d prefer Corigliano any day, but yikes, is this the spectacle people truly want?”
          I, too, have had that thought before – especially while sitting with my grandmother, the two of us watching a PBS special of Andre Rieu. When I first saw Rieu, I was embarrassed: Embarrassed for the theatrics, for the musicians dressed in those period piece costumes, for my grandmother who doesn’t know *good* classical music. However, the more I watched I started to think the following:
          Rieu is managing to pull in a larger audience than most classical orchestras. He also seems to be pulling in a nice salary – I wonder if the musicians do, as well.
          He has turned millions of people onto classical music. People who didn’t have the patience to sit through a traditional orchestra concert could first enjoy the spectacle, and by association, later enjoy the music.
          Rieu is also connecting with the audience and they are having fun with the music. As musicians, isn’t that what we all want?
          It’s true, Rieu’s presentation isn’t my preferred style. But perhaps he is offering a financially successful and sustainable model from which more *classical* orchestras can learn.

          • Mark Clague says:

            Just wanted to note that spectacle is not at all a new thing in classical music. In the 19th-century there were “Monster Concerts,” usually combining touring professionals with local instrumentalists or singers to create huge musical spectacles. Showmanship attracted large audiences to concerts and the programming was usually designed to educate the public, using light classical works to attract and movements of symphonies to introduce more “serious” music. John Philip Sousa did this with his band, performing his famous marches, but also opera arias. The U.S. premiere of Wagner’s Parsifal was done by the Sousa Band — not the Met. Like Rieu, French conductor Louis Antoine Jullien was criticized for his showmanship — say putting the piccolo players in a tree for a summer garden concert and stunning the audience when the birds began chirping from the treetops with such vituosity. However, many thought his 1853 orchestra concerts in the U.S. to represent the best standard of artistry and performance yet seen in the New World. A performance of Mahler 8 (the so-called “Symphony of a Thousand”) or even our American Orchestra Forum serves to draw a crowd by doing something special, something that has to be seen live, something worth the trouble to attend. What I get from the Rieu performance is the importance of creating a comfortable experience for listeners in which they can participate. The singing along and especially the audience waltzing are great. The use of video to show the performers up close and personal also seems important and something that all ensembles could begin to adapt. Video is still expensive, but not prohibitively. It’s a lot cheaper than before. Rather than fighting the Internet over who gets people’s attention, maybe orchestras could use Internet tools to make the live music experience more vivid.

          • Kevin Maloney says:

            I agree completely with the use of video and internet tools to “spice” up the live music experience. When I think back to my experiences hearing the Chicago and Boston Symphonies in person, up close video shots of the performers would have added a great deal to the performance, much as they do during PBS broadcasts. Even as a musician attending these concerts I felt a distance between what was happening on stage and being experienced in the audience. If I felt that way as a musician, I can’t imagine how the “average” audience member felt.

            The keyword to me is “participation.” We live in a society where people want to feel like they are participating on some level, regardless of the scenario. Reverting back to the baseball/classical music analogy, fans love to yell at the umpire, cheer or jeer players, sing God Bless America and Take Me Out to the Ball Game in chorus during the seventh inning stretch. They get to actively participate in the experience. This an area orchestras need to explore and experiment with. There is a great video of Gustavo Dudamel conducting a performance of Mambo from West Side Story with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. I have to admit, this was one the most exciting performances I have ever heard. The bass section spun their instruments, different sections stood up and down, musicians danced in their seats…it was inspiring! Imagine the possibilities…

          • Anthony Do-Hoon Kim says:

            I’m not sure that much of the Rieu crowd has actually switched onto the classical music genre. I’d say that maybe less than 5% of them fully become engaged into the classical music scene that we’re talking about. Chances are if they’re going after Rieu, they will probably never want to sit through a Bruckner symphony. You can’t simply ask someone to develop that part of their mind without really knowing how to go about doing it. It’s a complicated process to be able to actually sit through a symphonic experience and enjoy it to its full abilities, if you’re only used to pop music and Andre Rieu. It takes time and effort. This is a truly difficult situation for the classical music community… we’re battling against a society that is going away from understanding (or even wanting) depth and refinement. It doesn’t help that we’re not present in the major media, we’ve completely been run out by the pop culture and most of the Americans have been brainwashed to completely ignore classical music altogether.

            I do find the theme of this film to be quite fitting in our discussion here. Without a question we have to change the system that runs our community, our collective consciousness, that’s allowing us to exist in this “50 ft of crap and then there is us” plane. Maybe more spectacle might work, maybe somewhere between Rieu and what we have today is it, maybe we as classical musicians should reach out to other genres and not be afraid to mingle? Here are some examples of classical musicians collaborating with other genres of art and performances:



            http://youtu.be/qteVnPTDhh4 (yikes?)


            I think what we learn from the Rieu world is that we cannot water down the product that we’re putting out there. Ways of packaging, ways of delivering, ways of advertising, with all that, sure. But when we perform our Beethoven 3 and Sibelius 7, we still have to perform as if our lives depend on it, with a meticulous scholarly research, along with technical and artistic refinement, so that if we could somehow get the attention of a new listener, we can draw them into a well of infinite abyss that they will never want to get out of.

          • Anthony Do-Hoon Kim says:

            Forgot to mention that grungy Brad Pitt kinda reminds me of younger David Robertson! All I know is that Ian McKellen would play Leonard Bernstein… and Tom Cruise on Esa-Pekka Salonen.

          • Rick Robinson says:

            I think what we’re talking about here is the balance between “art” and “entertainment”. There’s a tension in the industry between appreciating “pure” art for its own sake and audience-centric entertainment, the so-called “dumbing it down”.
            This is not either-or but exists on a continuum. There is an entertainment aspect to most art and an art to most entertainments.
            I believe our art is in need of “warming it up” because the traditional concert experience where no one talks to the audience is just too cold for curious young audiences. We can offer BOTH experiences.

  4. My name is Trish Cornett and I am a doctoral student in the “Ensembles in the U.S.” class at the University of Michigan.

    Two quotes from the “Moneyball” trailer stand out to me. One was a character saying to Brad Pitt, “You’re threatening the game, threatening the way they do things.” And another was, “You’re discounting what scouts have done for 150 years.” With classical music today it sometimes feels that any change is met immediately with this same attitude of resistance. Perhaps it is, as Matt pointed out, that we are afraid of losing the artistry to the use of spectacle. But as Matt also pointed out, the art of baseball itself hasn’t changed. The way we enjoy the art of baseball has changed. Is allowing the way we enjoy classical music to evolve really “threatening the game, threatening the way we do things?” I don’t think so.

    That said, I do think there’s hope! As an avid Red Sox fan, just a few years ago I would not have been able to enjoy Red Sox games while living in Michigan without purchasing the most expensive of cable packages. But now, thanks to a $9.99 subscription, I can listen live to every game online. To me there is a parallel between this and the “LA Phil LIVE” series, or perhaps the concert webcasts that are becoming increasingly prevalent in the college band world. As our lives become more and more connected, enjoying your favorite “local” entertainment from afar has become something we almost take for granted. I applaud programs like “LA Phil LIVE” for evolving with the times, and hope to see more of these programs in the future. If they work, as Brad Pitt says, “We’ll have changed the game.”

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