Notes Toward Reinventing the American Orchestra

Notes Toward Reinventing the American Orchestra

Just imagine how heavy it would be to see this fall on the New York Philharmonic stage at Lincoln Center – when we hope, it returns after an 18-month absence. The coronovirus epidemic has taught us that we should never take live music.

Yet there will not be a return to normalcy in the world of music. The closure of the concert hall and opera house has shown how fragile the funding system for classical music actually is. Freelance artists have lost most of their work. Major institutions are grappling not only with survival, but also with questions of mission, relevance and inclusion, which became even more serious during nationwide demonstrations for racial justice last year.

These questions are negotiated and planned in all American performing arts institutions. But I’m especially thinking of our orchestra, which, for all their admirable yet scattered efforts in innovation and outreach, remain reluctant to make fundamental changes in how their seasons are presented. It is 2021, and we are still debating how to strengthen the orchestra for the 21st century.

“For the next season, we should question ourselves,” Philharmonic’s chief executive, Deborah Borda, said in an interview. “In light of our nation’s internal and external journey, how have we changed?”

Now is the moment for the orchestra to think big and take chances – yes, even many players have agreed to pay cuts and administrators are faced with crushing losses. It is not so difficult ideologically. Approval of programming with exciting new ideas; Promoting music by live musicians; Finding relaxed ways to organize a season; Educating audiences in the halls and in both communities – all being kicked around for decades.

It starts with creative programming, which is not just important; It is everything. I have long argued that the American orchestra thinks highly of how they play, and not what they play and why they are playing it. The programming of the orchestra season is usually presented as a balancing act between maintaining standard performances while promoting contemporary music. But it seems that old and new music exist in different regions. Music is music; Old and new music should be part of a unified approach.

The most dynamic American orchestra has understood this for years. The San Francisco Symphony, under conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, brought “American Mavericks” renegades such as Ives, Cage, Ruggles, and Harrison to the orchestra’s bloodstream. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is more or less alone in giving contemporary work a similar platform. I was delighted by the pluck shown by the New York Philharmonic in taking a pass on a major celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary last year. Instead, the orchestra chose to focus on another milestone, the 19th year of the 19th Amendment, by inaugurating Project 19, a multi-venture venture from 19 women creators to commission work.

And after last year’s demonstrations of Black Lives Matter and protests against police brutality, American art institutions felt, including – in particular – the white dominated field of classical music. There were calls to immediately grapple with art as a legacy of neglect. It is the responsibility of the orchestra to commission the compositions of composers, to work by such composers from earlier times, and to employ Black and Latino conductors and soloists and empower them to leave their mark on programming.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle to creative programming and fresh thinking – including widespread racial representation – is the membership-series schedule that prevailed over all major American orchestras and loaded them with standard-issue, classics week-after-week Closed and sprinkled in programs with the best, unusual or new options. This structure continues even further as the number of customers has fallen. Most people, and not only the youth, have become accustomed to greater flexibility in planning their entertainment. The idea of ​​committing yourself to a regularly scheduled night in your local concert hall feels awkward and constrained.

In 2014, Philharmonic’s music director Alan Gilbert tried Keep an expectation On this change. “It’s motivating and forcing our plan,” he said. “We have to sell individual events. It is hard, but a big part of it. “He said that when membership programs are scheduled in advance, they should contend with rigorous orchestras.”

He said, “I can tell you many times that we have torn our hair during meetings, saying, ‘If only we could be agile on our feet, we could change a schedule.”

Why can’t an orchestra be agile and respond to sudden inspiration, or current events? If the Pittsburgh Symphony is a hit with a premiere, why should audiences in other cities wait to hear it? When a lead composer dies, imagine if an orchestra was able to organize, on short notice, a small festival of its score. If the halls are open during Black Lives Matter performances, I believe that some of the scheduled shows could be changed to feature recent and long-ignored pieces presented by black musicians .

There is no need to completely abandon the membership model. Parts of a season could be planned in advance and sold as a series. Imagine a survey of six Tchaikovsky symphonies on six consecutive shows, each with a mid-20th century Russian score or a new piece composed in response to Tchaikovsky. But this series, to my mind, will not be given for more than six weeks, but for a week or two.

Most membership programs are repeated three, sometimes four times. But some programs can actually last longer, if not for the tyranny of membership determination. I bet Ricardo Muti can sell 10 performances while conducting the Chicago Symphony at a Verdi Opera concert. On the other hand, the Boston Symphony can offer a focused celebration of Boston musicians with 10 shows in two weeks, each performed just once, pairing musicians who once came to the big loom in the city – Leon Kirchner, Gunther Shuler, Donald Martino – Emerging composer from the field with Misc.

When the imaging orchestra can succeed in the future, the venues in which they perform are important. Los Angeles Philharmonic, “The Most Important Orchestra in America – Period”, as my collaborator Zachary Wolf argued In 2017, of course, a Frank Gehry-designed masterpiece as its home would have undoubtedly been less successful in fulfilling its mission for education and social justice without the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In addition to its luxurious, luxurious auditorium, Disney Hall has all kinds of small spaces, even nooks and cranes in the curved lobby, where visitors can be joined by conversation and intimate displays.

Borda, who oversees the construction of the Disney Hall, is now working on a major renovation of the New York Philharmonic’s David Geffen Hall. When the epidemic ended the music festivals, it seemed that the Geffen Project might be halted. But clearly accepting the challenges of seeing the renovation through, Borda doubled, Cursing some day to day operations To colleagues so that he can focus on leading Geffen’s efforts.

The project’s larger goals are more important than ever, she emphasizes. “How can we grow, employ, and design a space so that it is truly a gateway, a welcoming port for the community?” She said in a recent interview. In the new Geffen Hall, she said, “a new flexibility will allow us to produce events we have not yet dreamed of.”

There will be a reception center and expanded lobby; A sidewalk studio where passers-by will be able to watch demonstrations and activities. Best of all, the extended front lobby will have a wall dedicated to screening performances. And it would be possible to open the three sides of the lobby to allow people to move in and out.

I go further. Why are the rehearsals of the orchestra not broadcast on the day to show the public what the musicians’ work is? The lobby can also be a venue where orchestra players, musicians, and conductors perform short performances and conversations during the day.

Any increased programming flexibility will not matter if Borda emphasizes that the Philharmonic does not transform its hall into an acoustically vibrant, intimate-feeling and engaging space. Give a concert, what is an orchestra?



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