Thursday, December 21, 2006

Can an orchestra play too much classical music?

Elaine Calder, hired as a consultant by the Oregon Symphony, thinks so.

Link to Oregonian article
Link to Playbill article
Link to Daily Observations' roundup of generally negative blogosphere feedback on Ms. Calder's ideas

A few questions:

1. Why did Ms. Calder present her ideas to The Oregonian before presenting them to the board? Wasn't she hired by the board in the first place?
2. Why does she list a problem of the orchestra as being too "Portland-centric" when she is also recommending the orchestra get into the community more?
3. Ms. Calder's comment that "the balance of power has shifted to the consumer." Really? Didn't the balance of power always lie with the consumer in arts organizations? Maybe she should be saying that the Oregon Symphony needs to find their market.
4. Notably missing from the list of fixes is the desire to find more possible donors. It worked for the COC and it worked for Tapestry (as seen with their hearty surplus this year).
5. Why change the musicians' contracts? Putting their livelihood on the chopping block might sound good on paper but they're the ones that do the playing and really bring the audiences in. Rather, why not focus on excellence in performance?

1 comment:

  1. Darren Fung3:22 AM

    Hey Chris... was really interested to see this article posted on your blog (it's been a long time since I've checked it out!). I think it's really important not to take some of Elaine's comments out of context, and to take a look at some of the work that she's done. I think by Portland-centric, she's referring to the fact that the orchestra stays in Portland when it is indeed the ORGEON Symphony, and can go present throughout the state.

    If you look at Edmonton, their season is not inundated with gospel and pop stuff. Rather, they have five or six of those concerts, like most other orchestras. For better or for worse, those concerts are cash cows (little rehearsal time, big turnouts). I think the focus that she brings into "sustainability" is important and refreshing.

    Orchestras and all arts presenters need to be able to subsist, and unfortunately donors and government funding is just too unstable to be reliable. I don't think that anybody for a minute is saying "let's only do pops concerts," but what they are saying is we need to reinvent what we do so we can continue to be viable. The unfortunate thing is that among artists there is a sense of entitlement that an environment in which we can do our thing should always be there (I'm guilty of it too!) because we are doing something noble and romantic. Whether we like it or not, those days are long gone, and unless we fundamentally change the way we do things, orchestras will die.

    Let's not forget that two things about this article. One, it's a newspaper article and things have probably been swung around to make things sound more newsworthy. She never herself said that orchestras "play too much classical music," but that was an inference that the writer made. Two, she's in her investigative phase right now and hasn't presented her recommendations to the board. So let's wait before we pass judgement.

    Here's a really interesting article that I read at the doctors office one day.

    Hope all's well!