High Entry Cost and “Retainability” of Musical Organizations

Kid Rock performs with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The Sold-Out show raised over a million dollars for the DSO. Or maybe some of those funds are going to relocate the Kid Rock Badass Beer?

In my previous post I outlined some aspects of various performance based industries (Classical Music, Sports, Pop Music) and how audiences numbers can matter little to the largest organizations within them (Orchestras, Sports Teams, Pop Superstars).  I highlighted what i was referring to as an “infrastructure” which contributes to the lion’s share of revenue (and resources) that are as much, if not more, important to the profitability (and sustainability) of such industries.

Ironically, given his position within the field of cultural economics and the “Cost Disease” named after him, William J. Baumol discusses how industries can become “too big to fail” in almost the opposite way that so-called labor-intensive industries (such as the Performing Arts) are “too big to succeed” due to the Performance Income Gap.

Continue reading “High Entry Cost and “Retainability” of Musical Organizations”

Are Orchestra Musicians Replaceable?

Drew McManus pointed out a piece written by Michaela Boland which had some interesting quotes by Greg Sandow with whom I don’t necessarily agree on many points though he is one of the critics of the current status quo of Classical Music in the US.

Among the orchestras that have shut their doors and dismissed players there are some groups that have survived due to radical restructuring, which is where Sandow sees the future of the industry. Columbus Orchestra, by way of example, staved off closure in 2008 and retained 53 full-time players by reducing salaries by 27 per cent. Detroit Symphony Orchestra is engaged in similar talks with players.

Sandow argues that players in America’s top orchestras have traditionally been well paid, with salaries above $100,000, and the cuts are having an invigorating effect. “It’s interesting to talk to young musicians about this; they don’t see it as a problem, they’d consider themselves lucky to get any of these positions,” he says.

Historically, however, because of the status and the good pay, few of them could secure such jobs.

Sandow says that if the Philadelphia Orchestra were to suddenly discharge all its musicians and replace them with young players on contract, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up for in pizazz.

“I wonder if that wouldn’t be more exciting to hear,” he says. “It might really surprise people.”

This echoes some things said by Eric Edberg during the Detroit Symphony Orchestra debacle

I’m living in New York this semester, and have met a number of young free-lance players, some of whom are graduate students at big conservatories.  Guess what?  Most have little if any sympathy for the DSO players (who have not managed to successfully reframe the conversation and are losing the PR war, even with music students). They love all sorts of music in addition to classical music.  Plenty find traditional symphony (and other) concerts boring.  There are plenty of classical-change advocates, in various stages of self-awareness, among them. Right now, they have little or no work.  Student and, in many cases, instrument loans to pay.  Fantastic players.

Many see the union as the problem (even if they’re not going through one of those college-age Ayn Rand phases).  The players have been successfully characterized to/construed by them as greedy, selfish, and/or out of touch.  A lot of these incredibly-accomplished young players (and I bet there are bunches more in Baltimore, Bloomington, Cincinnati, Cleveland, LA,Miami,  etc.) seem excited at the idea of going to Detroit to work in a “new model” symphony.

While Unions may or may not be the problem (cf. Michael Kaiser’s recent post, Are Unions to Blame?) there is this sense that for good or ill, with younger musicians (many of whom are, as Eric says, struggling as freelancers much less in this economy) who haven’t matured in the Union environment, few are going to have as much sympathy as those musicians who rely on collective bargaining to sustain their livelihood.

On the other hand, a question I’ve been exploring–or rather, I could reframe the title of this blog post in a different way–is, “Are Western Orchestras Replaceable?”

Continue reading “Are Orchestra Musicians Replaceable?”

Orchestra News

Dixon of Who's Minding the Score has this to say about the Philly Orchestra situation

Officially, the Louisville Orchestra currently employs no musicians.  Yesterday was the deadline for the bankruptcy reorganization plan to be submitted by the orchestra (which was actually filed on Monday), and midnight Tuesday is when the musicians current contract expires.  There was no new CBA agreed upon, hence no employed musicians.

Earlier last week, the concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Emmanuelle Boisvert, leaves for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra after 23 years in that position with the Detroit SO.  Drew McManus has linked some interesting pieces regarding her departure which happens, of course, after the Orchestra and Musicians finally settle a months long dispute which resulted in a strike by the musicians.

And similarly like the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra earlier this year, the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra has risen from the ashes as the New Mexico Philharmonic.


In Ethnic Orchestra News

The Liverpool Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra recently got more funding.  There are a handful of Chinese Youth Symphonies in the US, many of which are feeders into the adult Chinese Orchestras in their respective regions.

I’m continuing to find even more Ethnic Orchestras in the US, a massive updating of my Ethnic Orchestras in North American Page is imminent.  At some point I will create a more useful database to correlate the growth of ethnic populations with the ethnic orchestras to give a better picture of the nature of the growth of these non-Western Orchestras throughout [especially] the US.


International Orchestra News

I found a recent blog about orchestra management that has a bit of an international focus that has some good reporting on some general issues as well as specific events reportage (such as the recent FIM International Orchestra Conference in Amsterdam).  The blog is simply titled, orchestramanament: Develop the Orchestra World.


Orchestra news

New York Arabic Orchestra performing as part of Carnegie Hall Presents Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Muslim World Music DayNeihborhood Concert

Orchestra news is a bit bittersweet, while the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has resolve their differences with the musicians, and the Honolulu Symphony has been bought and is currently being reconstituted, both orgs are doing so at significant financial cost.

But recently the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra has filed for Chapter 11 and has suspended its season, and it looks like the Philadelphia Orchestra (one of the “Big 5” in the US) is going to do so soon as well.

In Non-Western Orchestral News, the New York Arabic Orchestra is doing a year long residency with FIAF (French Institute: Alliance Francais) which just sounds like a fantastic program:

FIAF is pleased to announce its first year-long artist residency!

Led by Lebanese musician Bassam Saba, FIAF audiences first became familiar with the New York Arabic Orchestra in May 2010 through their sold-out, opening night concert in Florence Gould Hall as part of World Nomads Lebanon.

As an extension of this World Nomads partnership, Saba and his orchestra now bring to FIAF a wealth of musical exploration and performance, ranging from Arabic music to western classical method. Featured programming includes summer classes for kids and teens as part of FIAF’s summer camp program, a Fall 2011 concert/presentation as part of FIAF’s Young Audience Program, and the Arabic Music Semester Intensive (AMSI), a year-long program of beginner-through-advanced monthly workshops in theory, rhythm, and improvisation for adults and teens, starting on February 26. See spring schedule below.

Formed in 2007, the Orchestra is a 30-piece ensemble specializing in the performance of classical, contemporary, and popular vocal Arabic music. Its members, hailing from multiple music-professional and cultural backgrounds, form sections of oud (Arabic lute), nay (Arabic reed flute), the qanun (Arabic zither), Arabic percussion, Western strings, woodwinds, and chorus. Bassam Saba, known throughout the U.S. and abroad as one of Arabic music’s finest conductors, has led the NYAO via strict, intense training to an authentic sound and quality regarded highly around the world.

EDIT:  David Beem writes a humorous take on the Orchestra and funding issue in his recent post, Classical Musicians Eat their Young.

Linkblogging news

I know I haven’t been posting here the past few days as I’ve been hella busy, but wanted to post some recent news in the Classical music world.

The Louisville Bach Society will cease operations at the end of this season:

After 47 years of performance in the Louisville, area, the Louisville Bach Society has decided to cease operations at the close of the 2011 season. The season will culminate with a performance of Bach’s magnificent Mass in B minor, a work which was one of Bach’s last works.

The decision was prompted by the retirement of the founders, Melvin and Margaret
Dickinson, compounded by a difficult economy facing the arts community. The Mass in
B minor will be performed on May 1st at 3 p.m. at Harvey Browne Presbyterian Church.

The Syracuse Orchestra board has officially suspended the rest of its season after having difficulty reaching their fundraising goals to get the organization out of the red.  Drew McManus brings up the issue of the non-refundable tickets and donations in his recent blog post.

The Syracuse Symphony Orchestra‘s board of trustees has voted to suspend operations on Sunday amid financial woes.

There were more than 20 concerts remaining in the orchestra’s season, including an April 27 concert by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The orchestra’s 18 full- and part-time staffers and 61 core and 14 contract musicians will be laid off Monday.

The Festival of Orchestras in Orlando, Florida, will close down.

After a recent near sell-out spectacular performance of the world famous Boston Pops, the 27-year-old organization announced it must cease operations at the end of the month due to waning finances directly related to the struggling economy, the organization’s Board of Directors announced.

As responsible stewards of the non-profit organization, the board recently announced to patrons that the Festival’s 27th season for presenting world-class orchestra performances would be its finale.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra may now shut down its summer season as well.

The Louisville Orchestra has been granted two more months for filing its reorganization.

EDIT: David Beem has some great things to say about Music Educators and symphonic organizations (especially about the Syracuse Symphony) in a recent post: