This blog has spent a great deal of time and space and generated considerable commentary and debate on the subject of the future of Orchestras in this country. The current situation is well-documented – orchestras going out of business completely (Honolulu, New Mexico, Syracuse), filing for Chapter 11 (Philadelphia, Louisville) or experiencing internecine warfare through strikes (Detroit, Cleveland). It was heartening therefore to see the League of American Orchestras revise the agenda of its Annual Conference, which ended in Minneapolis last week, to discuss “the issues.”
The League’s role has never been to lead the charge, since it represents, serves, and reflects its members. However, the ground swell of concern and discussion had reached such a critical mass that the League’s President Jesse Rosen felt it imperative to add a “Red Alert” 90-minute plenary session. This was, in itself, a brave and courageous move because the field has been in denial for a long time. Previously, discussion of this sort was relegated to whispered conversation outside the formal program. But, then, Rosen went for the jugular: “It is time to face our brutal truths,” he asserted. And he pretty much laid it out as it really is:
• Declining revenues and rising costs
• Donor fatigue
• Performance excellence is not enough and orchestras “must find new ways to relate to and serve their communities.”
• Stagnant product delivery systems. This is what the Knight Foundation described as the “vehicle of delivery” requiring much more creativity and diversity.
• Lack of overall diversity meaning that an orchestral organization really does not reflect the contemporary world in which it tries to survive
He goes on to talk about some possible solutions. You can hear his complete address on YouTube.
Personally I would like to have seen a major mention about the changing role of musicians and how they need to be brought into the discussion and have full ownership of this new way forward. It is implicit in the above but I feel it needs to be explicit and central.
But I have to say “Bravo, Jesse.” Thank you for having the mettle to put it out there. Just this simple act will breathe oxygen into a system starved of debate, because it “provides permission and encouragement for people to openly engage.” I find the word “permission” in this context to be startling, but there you have it.
Maybe this isn’t the Arab Spring, or the Berlin Wall of 1989, but, my word, it is a start. There are 12 long months before the next League conference and so much work and reinvention that needs to happen in that period of time. Let us hope that in June 2012 we will hear about some new models, based on rejuvenation and the widest reaches of musicians’ creativity that will start to empower the whole field.