Author Topic: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit  (Read 9471 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Greta

  • Guest
Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« on: April 13, 2007, 06:13:28 PM »
This weekend marks the final concert of our local outgoing MD of 5 years, and in a recent feature he fired well-deserved parting shots - revealing his frustration that his efforts at programming "more adventurous" music were continually met with resistance from the Board of Directors, as they feel that our audience wants to hear music that is "more popular and more universally well-known".  :'(

As an avid lover of modern music, I find this extremely sad - in the past five years we've seen some of the most interesting programming since I've been attending, and it's no secret he's had to fight for that. We heard The Rite of Spring, Firebird, Scheherezade - and boy this was a great program:

Adams – Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Revueltas – Sensemaya
Salinas – Danzas Peregrinas (US premiere)
Bernstein – On the Waterfront
Bernstein – Chichester Psalms

The last concert I saw of his and the memory I'll treasure was a blazing Shostakovich 5th, brimming with wit and passion - amazingly, this was only the 2nd Shostakovich symphony ever performed here in the orchestra's 54-year history - the very first time, being his own debut here with the 11th!  :o

He stated a reason for his resignation is he feels he didn't achieve his goal of culturally enriching our community - basically, he wanted to serve us a 7-course dinner musically, but the Board preferred meat and potatoes. When ticket sales falter, blame it all on the on the MD's programming - that's the modus operandi here.

In his words:

"Many people on the board think - a great deal think - that the fundamental reason why our audience hasn't gotten bigger is because of the programming," he said. "They think the music should be more popular and more universally well known. ... There's no evidence that it's the programming, or not. ... I just don't think we have to market to everyone."

...[He] also concedes that perhaps the new conductor will need to have both a different personality and different goals than his.

"It's a possibility that the new person will want to 'dumb down' the type of music," he said. "I don't think they will, because I don't think, despite what many people think, I don't think you're gonna get a big audience that way. I'm convinced you're not.

...My opinion has always been that if you put on a passionate performance, and you believe in that performance and that music, that's what's gonna get them."


It's an insult that the Board believes they can think for their audience, and feels our community is not capable of more than warmed-over warhorses and pops concerts. But to be pessimistic, maybe they're right - most people here appreciate a good old cry-in-your-beer country song a thousand times more than a Shostakovich symphony. (Shosty-- who? *burp*)

I don't blame him one bit for leaving, he's a talented young Brit (bearing an uncanny resemblance to a young Sir Rattle) who has a great career ahead of him where he'll get the freedom he deserves. The Board, and some of the musicians who have spoken out against him, should be ashamed.

If I didn't have friends on both sides of the aisle, I'd send a letter to the editor. It's just wrong in every sense to me, it's all about one thing - MONEY instead of ART. A smaller regional orchestra I suppose has less to afford than a large one when it comes to taking risks. Is this possibly an all-too-common occurence, that an MD can't even run his own orchestra because of outside pressures? (As in - *cough* the moneyholders)

It's a real shame.  >:(

Article from our paper:

Symphony Maestro Bringing Down Baton One Last Time

-Greta

Offline Anne

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1269
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2007, 07:17:57 PM »
That's a sad story, Greta.  I can feel your pain.  So, what's the answer to this dilemma which IMO happens all over the US in small towns and even in larger ones?  Would people come if an appreciation class were offered?

Offline Catison

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1185
  • Morty imagines "Organ, fog horn, cello, & kazoo"..
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2007, 08:23:02 PM »
Luckily, you don't live too far from Houston, which has one of the best orchestras and operas in the country.  But it is sad to see an adventurous MD leave a small orchestra.

What I want to see is evidence either way.  Has any orchestra anywhere increased their subscription base by offering more warhorses?  I can see both sides of the argument; however, I think it is the board that is the most short sided.  If you want to increase the amount of people who regularly attend your concerts, don't you think it would advantageous to mix it up a little?  That doesn't mean playing Schoenberg, but it does mean a Vaughn Williams or Bartok piece should be inserted into the programs occasionally.

When I was in Austin, the MD there was starting to insert more adventurous music.  They played Janacek's Sinfonietta and pieces by Picker and Takemitsu.  I was impressed.  When I met him, I made sure I told him I appreciated the newer music.  So I am curious to see how this choice of repertoire holds up.  But then again, what works in Austin seldom works for the rest of Texas....

I am interested, because there is a big chance I'll be moving to the Beaumont area in next couple years (chemical engineering).
-Brett

Offline jochanaan

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 4700
    • Musician, Music Instructor and Piano Tuner
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2007, 08:39:44 PM »
Sounds as if the board is thinking bottom-line exclusively, while Maestro Zimmerman is taking the long view.  Oh, where can we find a board with vision?! :'(
Imagination + discipline = creativity

Offline Sergeant Rock

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 22906
  • Location: Wine Country Germany
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2007, 02:58:10 AM »
When I read the title of this thread, my thoughts about what constituted "contemporary" music ran to living composers, and I assumed your orchestra and MD were simply having a problem, like most conductors, selling Carter (for example). When I saw the actual list of composers the board objected to (including Bernstein, Shostakovich, Stravinsky) I truly was shocked. Wow...this is beyond conservative. I feel your pain.

Sarge
the phone rings and somebody says,
"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

hornteacher

  • Guest
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2007, 04:23:54 AM »
It's a shame.  Artists have always been pawns of the "bean counters".  Its the same in the educational world, the corporate world, and the religious world.

Harry

  • Guest
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2007, 04:25:17 AM »
It is truly a sad story Greta, it really is.

Offline Bunny

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1848
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2007, 04:58:01 AM »
It's strange, but even in NYC the warhorses sell the most tickets which is why MDs usually program the most experimental music with some of the most conservative.  Of course, here in the city Shostakovich, Bernstein, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Mahler and most of the late romantics are no considered as repertory standards rather than cutting edge. 

I really feel your pain.

greg

  • Guest
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #8 on: April 14, 2007, 05:05:17 AM »
that's dumb
the symphony orchestra where i live isn't doing hardly any contemporary stuff all year, either.... kinda like last year, they'd play about 2 or so shorter works by certain living composers, which is fine, but nothing avant-garde or by a true living legend like Penderecki, Boulez, or Carter. I suspect the only modern music they play is somewhat conservative so they don't "scare" the audience.

makes it frustrating when your favorite music is never programmed because for some reason everyone else hates the music you like  >:(

Offline toledobass

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1689
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2007, 06:35:20 AM »
It's an incredibly difficult balancing act for everyone involved in the orchestra.  Regional sized orchestras are faced with tiny endowments with little wiggle room.  The last moment scramble to balance the budget is all to familiar to people involved in these organizations.  A surplus is an incredible accomplishment, today.  

The one thing the board is responsible for is the welfare of the orchestra.  Many times they've drafted multi year plans on how to make the orchestra grow.  Yes, none of this has to do with the artistic side of things.   It's easy to dump on the boards because they are conservative and all,  but they're goal is to see that the institution remains in the community.  Remember that board members are volunteer members and it actually 'costs' them money.  

The relationship between MD and the audience is a very fine balancing act.  It's just like any other relationship.  I don't believe a MD can come in and drastically switch things around.  Especially when an audience is used to hearing only one vocabulary.  Just as in any relationship a trust must be gained.  If you are able to play things very convincingly the audience begins to accept the places you'd like to take them.  IMO the first order of businiess an incoming MD of a regional orchestra should be taking care of is sharpening the ensemble skills of the orchestra.  Once the audience sees that type of growth taking place they begin to become involved and wonder 'That was great, what's next?'   The level of trust the audience has for the orchestra grows.  The MD and orchestra are then in a place to say 'well you liked this so much we think you'd like this too'  That level of trust is when everyone begins to grow.  The audience begins to grow in size because everything is alive and everyone is engaged.   Best of all,  artistically,  not only the musicians grow from playing different rep but the audience grows in their artistic way as well and the board gets behind the artistic vision the MD and orchestra might have.

Let's not forget that on the other side of the coin: sometimes these same orchestras will play an occasional contmporary work that audiences won't go to since 'they don't want to hear the piece ruined, since they can't even get through a Haydn symphony with style'.

It may sound like an idealist fantasy but in ways this is the an experience I've had in my carreer and finds that it works and makes everyone feel like they are accomplishing something.  


I feel like I'm rambling,  I hope some of this makes sense.  (I don't have a chance to preview right now,  but I wanted to at least get a few thoughts down)

Allan

Greta

  • Guest
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #10 on: April 14, 2007, 07:19:23 AM »
For Brett-

Quote
I am interested, because there is a big chance I'll be moving to the Beaumont area in next couple years (chemical engineering).

Brett, it's a nice area, especially for that field, coincidentally what my dad works in. If you're staying for the long-term and don't mind a bit of a drive, I'd suggest living out west closer to Houston or in the Galveston Bay area, there are some pretty bedroom communities with great schools there and the cost of living isn't bad at all. Houston has a wonderful arts scene, and especially with Rice's Shepherd School there contemporary music abounds. It's almost a 2-hour drive from where I am though so I don't get to make it there as often as I'd like.
---------------------------------------------------------------

I actually wrote these comments down last night when it was fresh on my mind and just now added a couple of rewrites after reading the replies, so hopefully it's not too long!  :-[

It's a tough, tough thing. As I said I have friends in our orchestra, and really want to see the organization do financially well, for the good of them and even more for the good of our community. They cover a pretty wide range area, a couple of medium size cities and several small communities, that all told equal around 500,000 people. 

I don't really know what the answer is to presenting contemporary music in smaller regions. What galls me is that it's a big part of the job of an MD to carry out his artistic vision by programming what he feels is rewarding, and shouldn't he have the  freedom to do so? He is the artist, who has devoted his life to music, and who they put their trust in, but instead it is the businessmen running the show. I know it's good business sense, but is it the best thing for our community? I just don't know.  :-\

Looking at old programs, ten years ago the programming had reached a high point under the previous director, who had been here for 15 years at that time and built up a strong relationship with the Board and the community. A decent mix of Austro-German fare and strong conventional 20th c. repertoire. Though, contemporary pieces were normally snuck in on warhorses, and new music had its share of rocky receptions.

I vividly remember the premiere of a new piece by the composer-in-residence then (a former musician of the orchestra), and hearing grumbles beforehand, oh, here we go again, as concertgoers perused the adventurous program notes and libretto. Apparently it seemed, the audience had come to associate his pieces as avant-garde fare to suffer through. This was my first encounter with his work, or indeed much new music, as I was pretty young at the time. I was personally fascinated and found it an evocative piece, for solo tenor and orchestra, set to beautiful poems by the poet Kevin Elmore. It was freely atonal and introspective, and the restlessness in the audience and murmurings were palpable.

In this current situation, there have been several factors at work, besides just programming. Not the least being Hurricane Rita, which destroyed the symphony's hall and left them as an itinerant band for the last two seasons, as well as severely limiting the audience's discretionary income.

But toledobass, you hit the nail on the head - trust is absolutely the issue. Actually, this MD relationship started off on the wrong foot.

Quote
IMO the first order of business an incoming MD of a regional orchestra should be taking care of is sharpening the ensemble skills of the orchestra.

One of the first things the new Maestro did was have the whole orchestra reaudition, and did not rehire a few well-known principals, including the concertmaster of more than 20 years, which caused a lot of heads to roll. These players were either past their prime or just really weren't up to snuff to the ones coming from Houston to audition, but they were hometown people, and this rubbed some the wrong way. This in turn, made most of the principals uneasy - they had just seen their longtime friends fired. However, it vastly improved the playing level of the orchestra. And right off the bat, he had some ambitious programming ideas that the Board simply wasn't ready for (one being Britten's War Requiem). The musicians seemed really excited though, and I hoped in time the great performances he inspired would help to strengthen trust.

But a large shortcoming was the fact that he didn't move here, something that made not just the organization, but the audience, suspicious. Although it's the larger norm nowadays, it never has been here. He stated he wanted to very much, but the salary didn't allow his family to be able to make the move and there wasn't a position available at the university (odd because that had traditionally been the case for our MD to also teach conducting).

You are absolutely right, Allan, orchestral management is an almost impossibly difficult (and delicate) task! (One reason it interests me so.)

The list of candidates and their programs has been posted and there are some to really look forward to. And this time, it has been said the new MD will be required to live here. But perhaps he or she shouldn't shy too much away from bold programming - I could envision a young, eager music director with a charismatic personality being successful with some fun, palatable contemporary pieces thrown in now and then. Perhaps more Adams, or Daugherty, Higdon, et al.

And then as Allan said, gaining trust by leading the orchestra in solid, inspired performances that the audience can get excited about, and being an informed and energetic advocate for classical music in the community. And as these things (hopefully!) happen, plus the orchestra will be back in its beautiful restored hall, it will draw the audiences back, maybe even to greater numbers. Trust is the key factor, and that's just got to be built from the ground up. It's a long-term goal, but something really worthy of working forward to achieve. 

-Greta

Offline oyasumi

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 155
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #11 on: April 14, 2007, 05:46:31 PM »
It's great living in LA where this isn't a problem. Not just the major orchestra, but all kinds of organization dedicated to new music, ah

Offline Grazioso

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2324
  • Currently Listening to:
    notes
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #12 on: April 15, 2007, 03:14:04 AM »
When I read the title of this thread, my thoughts about what constituted "contemporary" music ran to living composers, and I assumed your orchestra and MD were simply having a problem, like most conductors, selling Carter (for example). When I saw the actual list of composers the board objected to (including Bernstein, Shostakovich, Stravinsky) I truly was shocked. Wow...this is beyond conservative. I feel your pain.

Sarge

I thought the same thing: that's mostly all old, accessible, canonical music. If that's considered contemporary and cutting edge, Heaven help subscribers to that orchestra.
There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. --Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Offline toledobass

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1689
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #13 on: April 15, 2007, 09:21:10 AM »
I wanted to add that there are in fact MD's who have figured out how to make it work at the regional level.  Jung-Ho Pak comes to mind. 


Allan

Don

  • Guest
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #14 on: April 15, 2007, 09:28:40 AM »
I think it's important to keep in mind that most folks who attend concerts are not serious classical music enthusiasts.  They want to be entertained and feel secure.  So it's no surprise that most of them want nothing to do with so-called contemporary music.  If Bartok is programmed, you've hit the edge of the envelope.

Offline aquablob

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 700
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #15 on: April 15, 2007, 10:25:07 AM »
I think it's important to keep in mind that most folks who attend concerts are not serious classical music enthusiasts.  They want to be entertained and feel secure.  So it's no surprise that most of them want nothing to do with so-called contemporary music.  If Bartok is programmed, you've hit the edge of the envelope.

This is the truth, plain and simple. Programming Schoenberg right after the Emperor Concerto will not result in the audience warming up to Schoenberg. On the contrary, it will simply drive away many concert-goers. Not only will these people dislike the Schoenberg, but they will also feel slighted by the MD. This is what happened in Chicago with Barenboim (my mother and father being prime examples). As a business -- especially one that relies heavily on philanthropic contributions and necessarily high ticket prices -- you must maintain your audience base. Drawing a few more people (Schoenberg lovers, in my example) to the concert is not worth losing many more customers, some of whom are probably big donators.

On the other hand, as a business you DO want to draw the Schoenberg lovers to your concerts; you just don't want to lose your other customers in the process. In my (limited) experience, it seems that programming the avant-garde with the warhorses is not the right path. Creating a separate series or two, perhaps, for the more "special-interest" repertoire might be a better bet. No, these concerts probably won't fill up the way an all-Beethoven concert will, but it seems like a good way to get on the good side of those Schoenberg lovers that don't normally attend, and you don't risk losing your main audience base.

After a few seasons of doing this (and gaining trust/clientele from many camps), maybe you could start mixing things up a little bit -- but you still have to be careful. What I mean is that there is plenty of 20th-century music that is more accessible than the 2nd Viennese. Instead of programming a Beethoven symphony with Schoenberg, pair it with some Debussy, and even have the MD explain that Debussy's music IS, in some ways, atonal. Use "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," for example, and mention in the program how it broke the mold and represented the emergence of a new harmonic language. It's such easily accessible and gorgeous music that it's unlikely to drive people away, and you may even be able to convince people that they DO like some contemporary music. And that's a big step.

At least, that's how I'd do it.  ;D

karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #16 on: April 15, 2007, 10:56:05 AM »
What I want to see is evidence either way.  Has any orchestra anywhere increased their subscription base by offering more warhorses?  I can see both sides of the argument; however, I think it is the board that is the most short sided.  If you want to increase the amount of people who regularly attend your concerts, don't you think it would advantageous to mix it up a little?  That doesn't mean playing Schoenberg, but it does mean a Vaughn Williams or Bartok piece should be inserted into the programs occasionally.

There really are people, former subscribers to symphony seasons, who refuse to pay top dollar for another year of tired old chestnuts.

There is really no reason on earth to spend $150 on a pair of orchestra tickets, to hear the Eroica again.  Not that it isn't a great piece.  But there's lots of other great pieces out there waiting to be heard.

karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #17 on: April 15, 2007, 10:59:23 AM »
This is the truth, plain and simple. Programming Schoenberg right after the Emperor Concerto will not result in the audience warming up to Schoenberg. On the contrary, it will simply drive away many concert-goers. Not only will these people dislike the Schoenberg, but they will also feel slighted by the MD. This is what happened in Chicago with Barenboim . . . .

This is one piece of the truth;  but it has not at all been the "plain and simple truth" in the case of two seasons of intensive Beethoven-&-Schoenberg programming here in Boston.  I am sure there were regular patrons who elected to attend  concerts other than those including Schoenberg;  but the story has been richer than a simple exodus.

Offline Earthlight

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 33
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #18 on: April 15, 2007, 02:40:17 PM »
Jung-Ho Pak comes to mind.

My last post on the old board was a frothy paean to a thrilling Asian-themed concert he led with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. I'm really sorry he's leaving Connecticut.

Greta

  • Guest
Re: Contemporary Programming Takes Another Hit
« Reply #19 on: April 16, 2007, 12:59:10 AM »
Quote from: aquariuswb
On the other hand, as a business you DO want to draw the Schoenberg lovers to your concerts; you just don't want to lose your other customers in the process. In my (limited) experience, it seems that programming the avant-garde with the warhorses is not the right path. Creating a separate series or two, perhaps, for the more "special-interest" repertoire might be a better bet.

I like that idea too. The program I posted above of the Adams and Bernstein with the Salinas premiere was an example of a concert (at least here) that catered to the contemporary set. It wasn't as well attended, but the people there were enthusiastic and appreciative. It meant a lot to our sort. But I'd say the Bernstein was the big name in that concert though, for the uninitiated.

I personally have not bought tickets as often to our local symphony, because, my god, you can only hear Beethoven's 5th so many times. Beethoven and Brahms are big favorites here, Dvorak's 9th is another regular. I'd rather opt for going to Houston to partake of their diverse programming over hearing a warhorse again at a local concert, but for a contemporary themed concert I would definitely be there.

It's still kind of mystifying to me, I mean it's not like our MD was programming the 2nd Viennese. Much of the conflict seemed to be more internal than anything. If the house wasn't full, the audience that was present ate up Stravinsky, and couldn't keep from breaking into applause (and even a "Bravo") after a particularly rousing 2nd mvmt of the DSCH 5th. The receptions were so positive, that tells you something. But applause doesn't pay the bills alone...it takes more warm bodies in seats for that.

The turnout for Pops concerts is quite large here, why not let them have their Bond extravaganzas with guest pop vocalists to boot (that was I kid you not, part of the Masters concert series this year), and then have programs for the modern music lovers as well?

I hope our new MD will have some good ideas in this direction and be able to win enough trust to achieve them. The candidates look strong, and the curiosity and big pieces they're auditioning should help tickets sell. List of Candidates and Programs

I'm most interested in the young Asian woman who is assistant in Seattle (Carolyn Kuan). Her bio describes her as "a keen advocate of new music". She's first out of the box with Tchaikovsky's 5th, I'll be pulling for her.