American Orchestras Face the Music

A Podcast on the Future of Symphonies from Coast to Coast

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra's season-long strike has been the starkest reminder of the challenging times facing many of America's 1,800 orchestras and their musicians. The Louisville Orchestra, the biggest in Kentucky, filed for bankruptcy in December. Its 110-year-old counterpart in Honolulu liquidated two months earlier. Other orchestras have posted major financial losses -- from Philadelphia to Westchester -- even as they've reached new artistic heights.

What should be done in light of the current difficulties? And where does a model for the future lie? In this special podcast, WQXR Vice President Graham Parker -- formerly Executive Director of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra -- talks with three experts: Mark Stryker, the arts and entertainment reporter at the Detroit Free Press, Jesse Rosen, the President & CEO of the League of American Orchestras; and Tim Cavanaugh, a senior editor at Reason magazine who covers the business of the arts.

Music selections: 1) Duke Ellington's Suite from "The River" played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; The Melody of Rhythm by Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer and featuring the Detroit Symphony

Podcast produced by Brian Wise; Engineering: George Wellington

Weigh in: Do orchestras need to reinvent themselves in order to ensure their survival? If so, how? Leave a comment below:


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Comments [5]

Ian from Kansas from Kansas

If you look at the Musician's web site, there is a great deal of information that describes some really bad decision making by the managers. It also illuminates just how bad the local coverage is in the Detroit papers (aka management mouthpiece). If you read the DSO management facebook page, nowhere will you find it mentioned how management brought "labor" into the process of making huge changes in the work the musicians do. That's either really bad leadership of it's intentionally provocative. Neither choice is worthy of one of the best orchestras in the world. The board should throw those managers out and get back to working with the musicians to save the orchestra.

Mar. 22 2011 07:15 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from BOONTON, NJ

1800 orchestras in this country represents many many more than those who are unaffiliated with an orchestra, but who definitely love their instrument and the music they play. As in every endeavor, classical music, the theater, fine arts, museums, and libraries, there must be a core of enthusiastic supporters and "evangelists" who reach out to secure new fans. Every musical format has its virtues. We do not want to curtail rap, country western or rock music and their fans but rather facilitate their osmotic hearing the music in ancilliary venues, and in school and pre-school activities. Modern sophisticated methodologies that have massive outreach potential should be more imaginatively employed. A FUN, enjoyment, approach, not an ivory tower professorial protocol can elicit favorable interactive commitment to deepening one's core interests and values. Charismatic personalities have been known through the ages to enlighten and enlist "the troups."

Mar. 22 2011 03:46 PM
David from Michigan

The DSO is a special case. The directors raised over $60 million for an expansion project, put it in the stock market and lost most of the money. They then proposed to cut musician's salaries by 33% to make up the difference and refused the offer of binding arbitration to settle the strike. So while other orchestras may be having financial poblems, the DSO suffered from other bad policies that dug the hole deeper.

Mar. 22 2011 11:47 AM

As a native of Detroit and a former member of the Met Orchestra, I can barely express my distress at this situation. I have been in the loop with the DSO's difficult journey and have also been connecting with my local classical music FM station in an effort to keep the music alive. I truly believe there is a way!

Mar. 21 2011 03:06 PM
David from Flushing

It is tempting to draw comparisons between Detroit autoworkers and Detroit musicians. Both produced products for which there was declining demand at a high cost.

There is little need to rehash the age of audiences and what will happen to them in 20 years or so. Classical music simply is a vanishing part of our culture. I feel sorry for all the talented people who will not have opportunity to perform in the future.

Mar. 20 2011 07:22 PM

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WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape. 

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