Discussion Topic: Community

  1. A “Resurrection” in Kansas City

    Steven Winn examines the resurgence of orchestral music in Kansas City.

    “You hear the trembling of the world,” Kansas City Symphony music director Michael Stern promised the packed-house crowd at Helzberg Hall. He was telling the audience what to expect in the premonitory opening moments of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” which the orchestra was about to perform.

    When it came, the trembling was a fearsome thing, shimmering and glowering in the strings. Over the next 100 minutes, Stern led his mighty forces (a huge orchestra, choir, two soloists) deeper into the darkness, through patches of pearly bright light and on to a resplendent finish. The hard-working horns shone especially brilliantly, onstage and off, throughout.

    For a first-time visitor to this splendid 1600-seat hall, one of two performance spaces in the eye-popping new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, it was impossible not to reflect on what a resurrection, what a rising from the dead, this Super Bowl Sunday afternoon concert represented.

    Thirty years ago, in 1982, the city saw its troubled orchestra, the Kansas City Philharmonic, throw in the towel and disband. A group of civic leaders moved quickly to create a successor, the Kansas City Symphony, which performed at the old Lyric Theatre and also played regular concerts at three suburban venues. It was a challenging arrangement. Attracting audiences to the acoustically compromised 3000-seat Lyric in a moribund downtown posed one problem; traveling around to the far-flung suburbs was another. Something had to change.

    And so, in a carefully plotted strategy, it did. (more…)

  2. Collaboration and experimentation: Ludovic Morlot at the Seattle Symphony

    Steven Winn examines Ludovic Morlot’s new vision for the Seattle Symphony.

    Ludovic Morlot, the ebullient new 38-year-old music director of the Seattle Symphony, is making waves in his city, creating fresh pathways of connection between the orchestra and its community.  According to a recent admiring piece in the New York Times, Morlot hopes to make the Symphony “central to Seattle’s cultural scene, open-minded and with a taste for collaboration and experimentation.”   Plans for the 2012-13 season include a series of 10 p.m. Friday new-music concerts (open-endedly dubbed [untitled]) in the lobby of the orchestra’s Benaroya Hall home, with drinking and mingling encouraged; the premiere of John Luther Adams’ ambitious “Become Ocean,” an especially apt fit for this water-oriented place; and a collaboration with the Intiman Theater, one of the leading lights of a theater-rich town.  The season announcement came at City Hall, after a free concert attended by Mayor Mike McGinn and lots of children.

    In another news story, Morlot expressed his enthusiasm for the orchestra’s Symphony Untuxed concerts.  As he told the Seattle Times, “We want to be very casual and invite everyone to come as they are.”   That may be especially important in this city, where Northface jackets and REI hiking boots are for many a standard dress code.  Morlot is taking care to take a full measure of his new city.  He threw out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners baseball game. (more…)

  3. 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

  4. Arts participation: how many carolers does it take to break a Guinness record?

    Answer: 9101.

    In another twist on the participatory arts theme, the Boston Pops is hoping to break the Guinness World Record for “the most carolers in one place.” Singers are invited to Christian Science Plaza in Boston on Saturday for some holiday cheer and hopefully some history-making. In order to break the record, more than 9100 carolers must sing continuously for 15 minutes.

    With arts participation on the rise—as the Getting in on the Act study reports—maybe this is the year they’ll do it?

    Learn more on Facebook and the Boston Pops website.

  5. 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 symphonyforum.org 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.

  6. 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…)

  7. 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.


  8. 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…)

  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…)