Poll: The Future of American Orchestras

Monday, May 02, 2011

Orchestras of nearly every size, location and budget are grappling with questions about how to ensure their future. Many are asking themselves, will the affluent continue to see orchestras as worth supporting? Or will they turn their focus to more populist forms of philanthropic giving? Moreover, will audiences continue to turn out for Beethoven and Mahler in an age of texting and YouTube?

As WQXR examines the future of American orchestras in a special Greene Space event on May 3 (webcast live on WQXR.org), please vote in the poll below and tell us what you think:

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Comments [7]

The comment about audience members at classical concerts often being comprised mainly of other musicians has a lot of truth to it. Choral concerts always attract lots of singers. Violin recitals always attract other violinists, both professional and student, etc, etc. I'm a professional musician and high school orchestra director. When I am not busy playing a gig, I am often in the audience of a concert. At one time, a great number of people (especially those of European heritage) all played instruments in school, and continued playing as amateurs. So, in fact, the older audience that we have seen die away WAS comprised of musicians. As a music educator, I teach my students as wide a variety of music as possible, so that they are exposed to all kinds of styles and composers. Hopefully, they will take their knowledge and love of music with them, when they graduate, and attend concerts and play a bit on their own, as adults. Community orchestras DO abound (at least in NJ), and people ARE interested in music. I recently played a concert of video game music, with video clips being streamed on a screen above us. The place was packed with a young audience that payed good $ to see it. There IS hope for the future, with proper programming, to attract a wider audience base. Let's see which ensembles choose to take the leap..

May. 03 2011 08:22 PM
Joshua Stein

I think management needs to set an example if the they are asking the musicians of the orchestra to make conssions. It is apauling that orchestra managers making a million dollars a year in these hard times. This poor public relations.

Lower tickets prices. Have one or two days at half price.

May. 03 2011 07:33 PM
David from Flushing

The major threat to American orchestras is the audience demographic time bomb. In 20 years or so, most members of the typical audience will be dead with no younger ones to replace them.

People under 60 simply do not care for classical music and there is nothing that can be done about it. There has been a cultural change whether we like it or not. Fewer than 10% in surveys admit any significant liking for classical music.

I like organ music, a small subset of a small subset of American music. A large portion of organ concert attendees are fellow organists. At the dedication of the Rogers organ at Carnegie Hall, Virgil Fox asked how many present were organists and about 95% raised their hands.

As audiences disappear in the future, I suspect that orchestras will also find themselves playing to other musicians rather than members of the general public. Sadly, American conservatories may prove to be the source of future audiences rather than future performers.

May. 03 2011 04:31 PM
Tom Hynes from southern California

Older, wealthier orchestra donors must realize that they are part of the problem, even as their patronage keeps some orchestras alive. As long as patrons limit their preferences (and contributions) to Classic/Romantic fare, with knee-jerk resistance to anything new, they all but guarantee the eventual demise of the American orchestra--artistically and financially. The issue is not atonal/serial work--it is ANYTHING not Brahms, etc. A recent (varied, energetic, tonal) work by a prominent Latin American composer premiered by a soCal orchestra was met with extreme mixed response--literally 50% love, 50% hate, according to their own poll. These are the types of works, images, efforts that are crucial to the survival of orchestras in general. As long as the orchestra is presented as only for wealthy Mozart fans, the end is just over the hill.

May. 03 2011 03:33 PM
innes borstel from new jersey

i don't know about professional orchestras, but here in northern new jersey, you can trip over a different community orchestra every couple blocks, it seems! i don't think the problem is the material, though we often hear only the big name pieces when there is so much other great stuff out there. the ticket prices are daunting...

May. 02 2011 10:00 PM
Margaret Hayter from Nutley, NJ

I am a subscriber to the NJSO which I really enjoy. To get younger folks to enjoy it also, this orchestra and others need to rethink their approach. Start with the outdated program notes. Change the font to something more modern, skip the glossy pages and stuffy graphics. Get some young graphic designer to reimagine the program and see what happens.

Make the concerts more fun. Have the conductor speak directly to the audience.

I feel as though concerts have not changed a bit in the 40 years that I have been attending. I'm not young, but I sure am ready for something new and fresh.

May. 02 2011 05:46 PM

I know it is a difficult balance as most arts organizations are under-funded to begin with, but I think the price of a ticket keeps many people from attending, especially those with families.
I know that ticket price definitely affects what perfomances I attend each year; I try very hard to expose my son to as many performances as possible, but having to buy 3 tickets I think twice whenever each one is $20 or more.
I would think that volume might make up for the reduced price though; 10 people paying $10 per ticket beats 2 paying $40 doesn't it? I mean the objest is to appeal to or introduce the music to as many people as possible right?

May. 02 2011 04:36 PM

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