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?”

Quick news bite and thoughts about binaries

il Troubadore at the Greek Islands Hafla on 17 March 2011 (photo by Kat Hill)

Just got back home from the show–the Indianapolis gigs are a good two hours drive (give or take 30 minutes for stops for coffee).  So many interesting things to share/talk about but don’t have the time as I head to Bloomington, Indiana (home to the renowned Jacobs School of Music) to play another show with my Balkan group.  Still deciding if I have time to get to this month’s GLMTA (Greater Louisville Music Teacher’s Association) meeting in the morning (urm–later this morning) but also have to go pick up a part for Hello Dolly which I’ll be playing in the pit for in April.

Still been having tons of thoughts about the economics of underserved audiences, and a recent discussion at Greg Sandow’s blog really had me thinking aloud on the drive up to the show last night.  Fortunately the wife is finishing her MBA so I got to bounce some ideas about the economics of music(s) off of her.  See, the discussion–as you can tell from the post and responses–frames the issue of Classical Music versus Pop music as a classical binary opposition that gets collapsed into a false dichotomy.  Basically, that’s the problem with binary oppositions in that they often get treated as binary distinctions, which are a different kind of logical animal altogether.

Continue reading “Quick news bite and thoughts about binaries”

“Wither the Audience for Classical Music?”

I was going to post something else, but had come across this piece, “Wither the Audience for Classical Music?,” by Douglas Dempster (while he was Dean of the Eastman School or Music) in the Harmony: Forum of the Symphony Orchestra Institute yesterday.  I had posted some snippets in the cello chat thread I started (that I mentioned in a previous post), but have also had a discussion exploding after I posted a link to Michael Kaiser‘s (President of the Kennedy Center) piece, “The Orchestra Conundrum,” on my facebook page where I mentioned some of Dempster’s analysis. 

Rather than bog this down with my own poor prose, I’ll just quote some of the more interesting bits and let you peruse the links to discussions above if you want more of my thoughts on the issues. 

Also of note, and relevant to this issue.  The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has cancelled the rest of their season.

A careful review of this research suggests a less startling conclusion. It is true that younger generations of Americans, especially the baby boomers, are not attending classical music concerts with the frequency of older generations. However, every generation considered in this study increased very significantly its listening to classical music through radio and recorded media over the 10-year period between 1982 and 1992. Americans born between 1916 and 1945 listened to classical music on the radio with greater frequency than younger generations. But growth in radio-listening habits was the very greatest in the baby-boom generation. Continue reading ““Wither the Audience for Classical Music?””