Study: There is very little deviation from year to year in orchestral programming

Pia Catton, The Wall Street Journal, 1/7/13

According to information analyzed by the classical-music website, when it comes to the composers whose work is regularly performed, there is very little deviation from year to year, at least in the top five. The two most-performed composers have remained atop the poll in each of the three years that Bachtrack has conducted it: Beethoven, followed by Mozart. Bach came in third for the second straight year. Schumann was third in 2010, likely owing to his centennial that year. Indeed, the data makes clear that composers' anniversaries and birthdays have a significant influence on programming. Claude Debussy, whose 150th birthday was celebrated in 2012, rose to the ninth slot, his first appearance in the top 10. Mahler made the top 10 in 2011 and 2010 on account of the 100th anniversary of his death, but plummeted to 56th in 2012. While Wagner and Verdi, both of whom were born in 1813, may see bumps this year, the one to watch is Benjamin Britten, whose centennial is being celebrated in 2013. As for works by living composers performed in 2012, one has to scan all the way back to no. 56, Arvo Pärt, followed by Eric Whitacre at no. 78 and John Adams at no. 89. There were no women among the top 100 most-performed composers in 2012.  


Peter Sachon,, 1/9/13
Museums and others are taking popular culture seriously.  Orchestras should follow their lead.  While the Smithsonian, MOMA, and others treat video games as art, orchestras in America will likely ignore Austin Wintory's popular Grammy-nominated symphonic score to the video game "Journey." Perhaps someone will put it on a "Pops" concert? Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable cut Ovation from its lineup this week. Ovation was the only cable channel dedicated to arts programming. It has been cut because it was one of their poorest performing networks. Three-quarters of its programming consisted of repeats of existing material. It was watched by less than 1% of customers, and it "costs too much relative to the value of service". Costing too much relative to value is a problem shared by orchestras, and so it is mystifying that, no matter how marginalized they become, orchestras program concerts as if repeating existing material were the best way to boost attendance and donations. And apart from the money, is that even the best way to present art? As the traditions of symphonic writing evolve, orchestras need to be partners with all kinds of living composers rather than reactionary judges.  It is time for orchestras to stop repeating the same music each year, and curate concerts using the entire American repertory.  It is better for the art form, and better for the bottom line.


Goodbye to white ties? Baltimore Symphony & Parsons re-imagine orchestra attire

Brian Wise/Kim Nowacki, WQXR Radio blog, 1/3/13

Despite countless advances in technology and fashion, [orchestra musicians] have been wearing essentially the same clothes since the time of Brahms: a white tie and tails for men and black gowns for women. Driven by a desire to modernize the image - and functionality - of orchestra garments, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra began a pilot partnership with Parsons The New School for Design last fall, aimed at studying new models for concert attire. Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony, first approached the school with the idea in 2009. "I see the orchestra evolving and changing but it's a very slow-moving creature," she explained. At a time when orchestras are seeking a fresher identity, the conductor reasoned that garments could be "a very compelling starting point to redesign and maybe reposition the orchestra in people's minds." Supporters of traditional attire believe that it sets a tone of decorum and visual uniformity on stage. Detractors say tuxes and gowns project a stuffy, Victorian image better suited to debutante balls than a modern arts organization. For musicians, the issue is one of practicality: performing is an athletic activity that demands maximum flexibility. "Classical musicians are still wearing garments that were designed before the advent of all kinds of textiles and technologies," said Joel Towers, executive dean of Parsons. "You wouldn't expect an Olympic-quality athlete to go trying to run the 100 meters in a pair of jeans. It doesn't make a lot of sense." Alsop hopes that a usable design will emerge in time for the orchestra's centenary in 2016.


Commentary: An iPad app makes you feel orchestral music is exciting and vital

Isaac Schankler, New Music Box blog, 1/9/13

At the risk of sounding like someone who hyperbolically rhapsodizes about every new technological gimmick, the new Orchestra iPad app is pretty great. At the very least, it presents an extremely pleasant and novel way to listen to and/or learn about classical music, in the very capable hands of Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra. It's like a rather strange and ambitious compilation album, spanning the history of the Western canon from Haydn to Salonen (naturally). The presentation is meticulous. For each piece we get video from three different angles, a stage plot of the ensemble, a score that automatically follows along with the audio, and a mini-essay by veteran L.A. Times critic Mark Swed. The interface presenting all of this is impressively intuitive, making it easy to seamlessly switch between and resize these different views. What struck me most about hearing the music in this context is how it subtly, almost casually presents an argument for the orchestra itself, as both an institution and an artifact. As a maker of new music it's easy to feel that the orchestra isn't as relevant as it used to be, a sort of behemoth of a bygone age, especially with the recent struggles that so many orchestras have endured. But encountering the music in this way, it's impossible not to feel that orchestral music is important, exciting, and vital. You see, very clearly, the effort and talent of everyone involved. And perhaps more importantly, you see them as people, with their quirks and mannerisms intact.


Using mobile phones to have an interactive orchestra experience

Emma Hutchings, PSFK Labs website, 12/21/12

Agency AKQA created the 'Mobile Orchestra' to celebrate the holidays. Teaming up with members of the Pacific Chamber Symphony and music director Lawrence Kohl, the agency produced an interactive experience that lets anyone 'play' an instrument in a performance of Carol of the Bells through their mobile phones. The orchestra is synchronized through wi-fi and can be played with up to 12 people; to begin, one person needs to visit Mobile Orchestra on their computer to get a unique web address. Then, they'll send the address to friends and direct them to visit the site on their smartphone. As friends join the orchestra on their phones, the 'conductor' will see how many people have signed up to play on their computer. When everyone has joined, the conductor presses 'play' and everyone's phones begin to play a different instrument. When we tested it at PSFK, our devices really did play together in harmony (make sure you have your volume up!), with each instrument chiming in at the appropriate time in the song. Check out the Mobile Orchestra in action.


Commentary: The orchestra that's planning for 2023

Norman Lebrecht, blog Slipped Disc, 12/16/12

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is in bounce-back. After a grievous strike and a dance with death, the DSO's revenues are back to pre-2008 levels, the governance has been overhauled and the ambition is vertical. There is still an operating deficit and a bank debt, but both are smaller than forecast. The key figure is expenses [which are] down $25.58 million. Aiming to become"'the most accessible orchestra on the planet", the DSO films and streams some of its concerts through a Russian media partner.  It takes more of its music out to the city's sprawling neighborhoods. It offers students an entire season for just $25. And it has set in place a 10-year plan to put financial and artistic strategy on a firm basis.  Find me another orch that thinks so far ahead.  

Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."