How Troubled Orchestras Can Bounce Back – And Flourish

Friday, September 14, 2012

Minnesota Orchestra Minnesota Orchestra (Greg Helgeson)

Recently, polled listeners on what's needed to help troubled orchestras in several major American cities. Focusing on major symphonies in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, St. Paul and San Antonio – all of which face contract disputes and bulging deficits – the responses varied considerably.

Some listeners called for for management shakeups; others advocated more innovative programming and concert formats. A few said that orchestras need to take on a greater educational role in order to fill the void left by public school cutbacks.

In this segment, we review the poll results and pose some of your comments to three experts:

Listen to the show above and tell us what you think of the solutions offered. And please share your reactions in the comments box below.


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Comments [12]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

The nation's orchestras are all in the same dilemma. Audience size has greatly diminished and the remaining patrons are not doling out funds as previously. Talent uncompensated financially seeks other venues and teaching. The Minnesota, Seattle, Philadelphia, Atlanta and dozens of other orchestras may soon disband and the New York City Opera because of the Koch brothers taking over the former State Theater of Lincoln Center appears to be forced to go under. Their orchestra also was one of the best. If young singers have no place to prepare for the big time except to sing in smaller European opera houses, where the interest there is to help their own citizen, then BIG TIME STUPIDITY HAS TAKEN OVER OUR "CULTURE." What is the point of reducing our so called spending budgets to the point where nothing of value exists in the USA? My cousin MICHAEL BLANKFORT wrote both the books and screenplays for the 1953 film THE JUGGLER Hollywood film made in Israel starring KIRK DOUGLAS and the 1950 Hollywood film BROKEN ARROW starring JAMES STEWART and JEFF CHANDLER [Cochise]. The music for THE JUGGLER was composed by opera composer GEORGE ANTHEIL, in whose opera VOLPONE I sang the tenor leading role [Mosca] in its professional world premiere in NEW YORK in 1953. ANTHEIL, famous for his opera TRANSATLANTIC and BALLET MECHANIQUE looked exactly like Peter Lorre. I am a romantischer heldentenor. I have sung four solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall. As part of my Ten Language Solo Debut concert at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, I opened my three hour concert with the Invocazione di Orfeo from Jacopo Peri's opera EURIDICE composed in 1600, the first opera, composed in the same year as Shakespeare wrote HAMLET. It, and from the same concert, can be heard my singing Florestan's "Gott, welch Dunkel hier ! from Beethoven's FIDELIO and "Sound an Alarm" from Handel's JUDAS MACXCABAEUS in the live performance on my three websites,, ,, and It received rave critical notices in newspapers and magazines. My voice teachers were the legendary MET OPERA singers Alexander Kipnis, Friedrich Schorr, Frieda Hempel, Martial Singher, John Brownlee, Karin Branzell and Margarete Matzenauer. As an opera composer myself ["Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare"] I fully comprehend the assumed urgency of recognition of the still living. I am the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute in Boonton, NJ where I train actors in all the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers in all the Wagner opera roles. My singing of TRISTAN, GOTTERDAMMERUNG SIEGFRIED, SIEGFRIED, SIEGMUND, RIENZI, LOHENGRIN, WALTHER VON STOLZING PARSIFAL, ELEAZAR, FEDERICO, ORFEO and OTELLO can also be heard at RECORDED SELECTIONS on the three websites.

Dec. 25 2012 07:18 PM
Mark from Brooklyn from Brooklyn born and bred

Enough! This topic is getting old. Fast.
I think that if the 1% (and you know who you are) pay for nothing else you should at least (be made to) contribute toward sustaining our culture. What do we value as a society? More specifically, what do you value in our society? Do you not think it shameful and demeaning that our great cultural institutions are reduced to begging for what you consider pocket change? Wouldn't it be a better world if, say our mayor would set an example of munificence by underwriting the New York Philharmonic? It would be prestigious for him and beneficial for New York and the world.

Dec. 09 2012 06:16 AM
Polly from St Petersburg FL

I agree that education is the key, including music in school, on the radio & YouTube, learning an instrument and knowing musicians personally. I grew up with classical music and raised my daughter to play too. It's a vast body of work that needs to be taken in over a lifetime. Now, gray-haired, I adore small ensembles and living composers' work especially. When I go to our orchestra concerts I usually sit up close because I like to watch the musicians' faces and fingers. (I concur on the risers idea!) In my small city it's a gift to have such talent living in our midst.

Sep. 17 2012 03:51 PM
Shoshana from Boulder, CO

The New World Symphony's Pulse concerts were a big hit with younger audiences. Here's another concept: BSO & DJ Gabriel Prokofiev & DJ Danny Rampling

Sep. 17 2012 12:44 PM
Bob from Atlanta Suburb

TV started a transition from aural to visual in what people expect from entertainment; besides the costuming of the orchestra ladies, the mention of concert hall friendliness was interesting. Our seats are in row Q, 17 rows back from the orchestra pit which is sometimes filled with seats. We can see the first violins and cellos and basses, a few second violins and violas, the row of brass and the percussion. We can't see most of the woodwinds. Folks in front of us see less and row A sees the first violin and cello players in the front of the orchestra. (Obviously all see the conductor and soloists). So why is it better to see a live performance if you can't see the performers? I assume there is a reason that they don't put higher risers so all can see all of the instruments, probably acoustical; but that would go a long way towards making a long drive in traffic more rewarding.

Sep. 17 2012 11:25 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

I think one way troubled orchestras can bounce back is to program perform an inspired program such as the Barber Essay No 1, too long neglected I think, the Corigliano premiere, "One Sweet Morning", searingly performed as though it's been in the Orchestra's and Ms. Blythe's repertory for years, and Dvorak's d minor Symphony. Without the distraction of a t.v. director's decision to focus on a player (or players')expression(s), I heard a program worthy of the ages. I hope it will be available on C.D. and/or for download. It was the finest Dvorak d minor I've heard, my favorites being the recordings of George Szell and Pierre Monteux with the Cleveland and London orchestras. Re Ess's thoughtful post, I'm the exception who prefers above all recordings to attending live performances of operas, orchestra concerts and chamber music, though certainly I realize that's preferring a facsimile to the original. To me, it's all the more praiseworthy and awe-inspring to realize that a favorite performance was done live without any editing and/or second takes involved! I think it's wonderful that there's a large contingent of young people attending performances at Avery Fisher Hall. I can't wait to hear the season opener and listen to the Gala.

Sep. 17 2012 10:02 AM

I take my teenage son as often as possible to see live music, and he loves it. Usually we do see other young people in the audience. Why not brand the musicians like rock stars? All that talent and dedication to their craft - they ARE stars!

Sep. 16 2012 04:07 PM

As a frequent attendee at Avery Fisher Hall, I would note that there actually are far more young people in attendance at NYPhil concerts than one might expect. The open rehearsals (tickets are $18,I believe) draw school groups. I think every Saturday evening concert we attended this spring had a large school group in the audience. Nor were we the only family in the audience. Of the cultural events we enjoy in the area, NYPhil concerts feature the most diverse audiences.

The NYPhil Concerts for Young People are very popular; I think they sell out every season. It was thanks to those concerts that we became NYPhil subscribers. I think outreach targeted at young children is key. Familiarizing children with Beethoven, Shakespeare et al. at a young age will, I believe, make them more receptive to and less intimidated by works of art, music and literature that require thought and attention. My children are just as comfortable -- and appropriate -- at the NYPhil as they are at rock concerts.

As for a lack of emotion or engagement, I have to disagree a bit with other posters. First of all, listening to a broadcast just is not the same as experiencing the music in person; I imagine Les realizes this, too. And while we do notice differences between conductors, we have enjoyed some extraordinary performances that have elicited wildly enthusiastic responses from the audience (e.g. Yuja Wang; David Zinman's conducting of Beethoven's symphonies; Alan Gilbert and most of the audience airborne at the end of Mahler, etc.). We also tend to focus on certain members of the orchestra who appear most engaged in their work -- the enthusiasm is contagious.

I think Sidney is onto something: I do find that smaller ensembles make a bigger impact on me. The musicians' interactions, non-verbal communication and passion for the music are much more evident. Perhaps more outreach involving chamber music would help?

Sep. 16 2012 11:17 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

I agree with Sidney's comment as regards New York, but the others in the "Big Five", depending upon who the conductor or guest conductor is, can still make me feel the level of excitment and involvement written about. (My experience is with broadcast and "on demand" concerts. I'm not able to hear them in person.) For me, the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra consistently display the virtues written about. They really want to play!

Sep. 15 2012 09:59 AM
Frank from Brooklyn

It strikes me that orchestras should hire staff and board members from a much younger generation that can advise the old folks in the institution on how to better connect with young people. Let's face it, it's a sea of gray hairs most nights at Avery Fisher Hall and many of those people won't be around in another 20 years. Are young people suddenly going to stop listening to the latest indie-rock bands and take up Beethoven? Not unless orchestras can show them why their music matters. Otherwise, sitting in a dark hall watching people in tuxedos for two hours isn't alone going to entice many twenty or thirty-somethings.

Sep. 15 2012 09:12 AM
robert wittrig from denver, CO

I love your station

Sep. 14 2012 10:09 PM
Sidney from New York

Most important for me is the way the players communicate with the audience. The passion is gone in the majority of the big orchestras today. The players look board and half asleep. To experience the impact of a group of young, committed, impassioned musicians playing together is the polar opposite of what most orchestras deliver today. After hearing a Perlman Program evening on stage where the emotion is wrung from every performer to the ultimate degree, I know I can never appreciate the NY Phil again as I once did. I think the orchestras themselves need to change.

Sep. 14 2012 07:32 PM

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