Live Blog: A chat with the Boston Symphony Orchestra

What follows is a live blog from our chat with leaders from the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday, December 7, 2011. Participants included:

Mark Volpe, Managing Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Anthony Fogg, Artistic Administrator of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

James Sommerville, Principal Horn of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in Canada

Ludovic Morlot, Music Director of the Seattle Symphony and former Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

John Harbison, composer and chair of the composition program at the Tanglewood Music Center

5:04: Sommerville: there already is a lot of technology on stage, dating from all periods (violins, french horns, electric guitar). We use it not because it’s the newest, but because it’s the best. Any technology has to serve the unique atmosphere and experience of the live concert experience–the silence, the community.

5:00: Volpe: Driving people to the live experience is how we want to use media. If there is revenue to be shared along the way, they’ll do that.

4:54: Volpe: on technology… business model is yet to come, but already Tanglewood uses robotic cameras to broadcast concerts outside. 140,000 people subscribe to the BSO podcasts on iTunes. BSO is lucky to have MIT Media Lab involvement. One challenge is always working through the rights: players, publishers, artists. There’s a comparison to baseball and the fear that TV would ruin the audience for the live game.

4:54: Volpe: BSO uses very targeted offers to get over price barrier for younger audiences. Morlot: Seattle Symphony offers free tickets for ages 8-18 when accompanied by full price adult ticket, for all subscription concerts. Harbison: it’s a huge deal, get young people in there to hear the sound for the first time.

4:51: Volpe: the one thing he worries about is that there are 2 or 3 generations now who are not as musically literate as previous generations. BSO works with sponsors to get instruments back in the schools. Arts advocates failed in letting arts education leave the schools.

4:47: Sommerville: we all see the trends about the greying audience. With all the choices one has, it seems everything is becoming more segmented. It could be that’s our niche. People come to different things at different parts of their lives.

4:43: Volpe: Everyday he focuses on… how do you cut through the noise? How do you continue to have the BSO be an institution that defines Boston in an ever more cluttered marketplace? The orchestras that falter have lost that position.

4:37: Volpe: For a Music Director, you’re looking for someone who will inspire the orchestra and the audience, engage with the community in the broadest sense. You also need someone who will make a commitment to the city, even though the best conductors now work on five continents.

4:29: Morlot: Artists must be versatile to create a versatile audience. Morlot programmed Frank Zappa and Beethoven on his first subscription concert. His hope is to inspire people to have a first experience with the orchestra and after that people will hopefully come back.

4:23: Volpe thinks every day about how best to leverage the BSO brand, the 133-year legacy, all the BSO’s resources in new media.

4:22: Fogg: most creative part of my job? Balancing the budget. No really, it’s finding that opportunity or circumstance to allow an artist to do something they’ve always wanted to do.

4:18: Sommerville: BSO players have gotten more nimble over the last 13 years, since he started. Conservatory training now is broader. Musicians are exposed to more performance styles. New players in the BSO bring that with them.

4:14: Harbison: Tanglewood composition program now includes movie/television writing. The program encourages the development of very specific skills, recognizing that it’s a different time now for composers.

4:11: Volpe: decades ago, there were 6000-7000 households feeding into subscription concerts, each going 20-25 times. Now it’s 40,000 households, averaging 6 concerts.

4:10: Sommerville: Musicians grumble when we get out Tchaikovsky’s 4th again. Ok, some do. But people enjoy hearing their favorites. People like to hear these things and it’s tremendously important for the audience. Morlot: And there will always be someone for who it’s new.

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