Live Blog: Behind-the-scenes conversation with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

What follows is a live blog from our chat with leaders from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday, February 14, 2012.

Participants included:

  • Deborah Rutter, President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Martha Gilmer, Vice President for Artistic Planning and Audience Development
  • Anna Clyne, Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Stephen Lester, Bass, Chair of the Orchestra Committee
  • Lawrie Bloom, Clarinet

3:33 Clyne: Music can create a space where anyone can express and share themselves.

Rutter: CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti connected with young women in a juvenile detention center program. He performed opera arias with two singers, explaining the stories behind the music, stories of love, loss, and betr. He spoke to three dozen teenagers behind bars, speaking directly to connect them to the music he’s devoted his life to. He’s trying to show that this music reflects all of humanity.

Lester: CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti is very committed to the audience in Chicago. It’s very evident in what he does.

3:26 Rutter: CSO musicians and administration had training in fostering innovation. Prototyping is key. Experimentation is a big part of what the organization needs to do.

3:25 Gilmer: WXRT (a rock station in Chicago) and CSO present “Classical Encounters,” targeted at WXRT listeners. It includes informal conversation with a classically-trained WXRT DJ before the concert, drawing parallels that the audience will immediately get. For example, Bartok used “sampling,” of folk melodies, like Moby uses sampling.

3:18 Bloom: In collaboration, there is inherent risk.

3:13 Gilmer: The importance of taking risks cannot be underestimated. CSO has pursued collaborations with a rock radio station, dance companies and others. One key is to collaborate with organizations at the same artistic level.

3:11 Clyne: With contemporary music, there is no comparison point, usually, you haven’t heard the piece before performed by other orchestras. Working with the CSO, you know you are hearing the best possible presentation of the music.

3:09 Rutter: She doesn’t think there is money to be made in media. It’s about building an audience so that people come to your concerts. From her perspective, with media, the orchestra just needs to minimize its loss.

3:07 Rutter: The orchestra is an artistic organization, not a financial institution. If it was a financial institution, nothing of what they do would make sense. The goal is to create art. One must take the long view.

3:04 Gilmer: A tough question… let’s say you could have a Thursday night recording out on Friday morning, in the hands of people, via online distribution. How do you balance that with spending money on 6 months of editing and finishing? Balancing the speed/quality. How do you decide that?

3:03 Rutter: The financial balancing act is something an orchestra always has to deal with. There is always a tension with how much and what to do. She’s been having this conversation her entire career. The difference now is that people ask more broadly, “Does excellence really matter?” It hasn’t changed her opinion, but people now ask that.

3:00 Gilmer: The question is — how do you hold onto quality in the midst of change?

2:59 We’re back from a short break.

2:40 Bloom: There used to be Arts section in the newspaper. Now it’s Entertainment. He believes we need to preserve this music as an art. It causes some people to be reactive and others proactive.

2:38 What is the musician’s role in driving this? Lester: Musicians have eery interest in making sure the music is appreciated and understood by as many people as possible. Musicians also have a sense of pride and proprietorship in the music, they don’t want to see it twisted and contrived to be mass market product. They seem contradictory at first, but they actually complement each other. It’s a tension that goes back decades. Goes back along time, especially in the US.

2:35pm Lester: Great questions. And we’re the wrong people to ask (re: distribution). We are interested in the music played. The context it’s given in. That’s what we are interested in.

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