Commentary: Quandary for mainstream classical music orgs -- shrink or diversify?

Greg Sandow on his ArtsJournal blog, 3/24/11

[Lincoln Center's] Tully Scope festival lasted from February 22 to March 18, and offered 13 concerts, [including] mainstream classical, early music and new music.  The event I went to seemed to attract an audience from outside the classical world.  So suppose the festival, all of it, attracted an audience like this? (As I think might be true.) Not the usual classical audience, but instead the people we'd like to attract, "culturally aware nonattenders," people who demographically (except for their age) resemble the classical audience, but don't go to classical concerts.  First, it's a triumph.  Second, they didn't advertise programming or stars, didn't stress the names of performers or composers. They marketed the festival...[as] an experience. Of course, there are [already] variants of that -- "this is hip," "this is weird and offbeat," whatever.  Next Wave at BAM has been marketing that for years. So maybe Tully Scope did something like that with classical music. If so, it's a lesson to other classical music institutions. Don't tell people you're playing Beethoven. Tell them you're creating events. And then make them look, feel, and sound like events, whatever their content might be.  But there's a third point to make... the new audience you generate won't go to classical concerts as often as the old audience did. And for big orchestras or big opera companies, that's very bad news. They depend on people going several times each season. And if the new audience won't do that -- well, what will the NY Philharmonic become? You'd think it'd either have to shrink, or diversify.  And that, I think, is the key question facing mainstream classical institutions in the years coming up.  Shrink or diversify.


Commentary: Supply of arts will never shrink, so it's time to curate

Ian David Moss, Createquity blog, 3/24/11

An immutable fact of contemporary culture is that the volume of expressive content and product available for us to consume overwhelms not just our desire, but our physical ability to experience it all. The number of albums released on CD in 2008 is enough that a listener couldn't get through more than an eighth of them even if he had his headphones on for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Meanwhile, every creator must compete not only with all of her contemporaries, but also with all of those who came before her whose work survived to the present -- and that supply is not about to decrease anytime soon. (Unfortunately, creators cannot similarly count on dead audience members to be a part of their fan club.) Moreover, the phenomenon of oversupply -- or, put another way, hypercompetition -- is far, far bigger than the nonprofit arts sector. It affects industries ranging from video games to smartphone application stores, Facebook, cable TV, and yes, blogs. In many ways, it is existential in scope: our brains and lifespans are not built to withstand this onslaught of choices. The supply of artists, arts organizations, and even capital may increase with relative ease, but the supply of time in the day, last I checked, remains pretty constant.  So to me, the conversation we should be having is not about reducing supply. Instead it is about defining the responsibilities of cultural institutions to provide stewardship for a world in which supply of creative content is exploding and will never shrink.


Commentary: How to draw new audiences without wiping out what we've built up

Henry Peyrebrune, Adaptistration blog, 3/25/11

So we've all agreed that community outreach should be guided by a clear knowledge of our audiences, our playing should touch people at a deep level and we should build on this knowledge and experience to strengthen our relationships with the people in our community - and we've thrown out the idea of models - we're going to build the orchestra and relationships that are perfect for our own communities.  Everyone's nodding, right?  Did you notice I haven't used the words product or market? Music is played by people for people.  Well, let's get practical. How do we build these relationships between the people in our orchestras and the people in our communities without having to wipe out everything we've built so far?  Would it surprise you to hear that we're already halfway there?  Every orchestra is full of musicians (people!) who are well established and connected through musical and social networks throughout the community.  What if orchestras used these existing relationships to build their community outreach?  What practical steps could they take?  [Read his suggestions here.]


Commentary: What if modern classical music was more flexible, like the visual arts?

Colin Eatock, New Music Box blog, 3/23/11

Last November, Alex Ross wrote (in a guest column for The Guardian) about the popularity enjoyed by [visual] art noting that 327,000 people attended a Mark Rothko exhibit at London's Tate Museum in 2008. By comparison, he argued, "A century after Schoenberg and his students Berg and Webern unleashed their harsh chords on the world, modern classical music remains an unattractive proposition for many concertgoers."  Why is it that 327,000 people attended a show by Rothko, when concerts of the "equivalent" music (Ligeti? Takemitsu?) often attract only a handful of listeners? This is a recent development: a mere 100 years ago, the art and music worlds would not have seemed so divergent. [But] as the modern age progressed, the classical music world stood firm in its rejection of anything that lay outside its own grand recit of cultural history. As new popular forms emerged -- country, rock, rap -- the classical music world's reaction was to exclude each one of them.  By comparison, the institutions of the [visual] art world survived the 20th century through accommodation and flexibility. If classical music displayed a kind of bravery, the art world was smarter.  Perhaps the reason contemporary art retains its hold on the public is because there is no popular alternative. Whenever something comes along that could threaten the art world, the art world simply absorbs it, and its institutions remain strong. And who cares if people really love modern art, as long as they'll show up at the galleries and museums in droves, with their money in hand?


Britain's Royal Philharmonic performs for a strange new audience: garden plants

Agence France-Presse, 3/24/11

One of Britain's most prestigious orchestras has performed to a rather unusual audience -- row upon row of plants, in an attempt to see whether the music helps them grow.  The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed a three-hour recital in Cadogan Hall in London last week, with 33 musicians playing pieces including Mozart's Symphony #40.  In front of them were more than 100 different varieties of plants and bulbs including geraniums, fuschias and perennials. "We've played some unusual recitals before but this has to be one of the strangest," said the orchestra's conductor, Benjamin Pope.  "The audience was the most fragrant we have ever played to, although it was slightly unnerving to see row upon row of bowed heads instead of applauding human beings.  Hopefully the sound of classical music resonated with the plants and will result in a genuine growth spurt over the spring months."  The recital was organised by shopping channel QVC to test the contested theory that the reverberation of sound waves stimulates protein production in plants and may lead to increased growth.  A 45-minute album based on the performance, "The Floral Seasons: Music to Grow To", is available free to download to allow keen gardeners to make up their own minds about its influence.  The plants are also available to buy.

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