Does Music Have a One-Percent Problem?

2014 was the year in which the real world finally caught up with Classical Music. As the New Year dawns, we find ourselves all deep in the belly of a whale that looks a lot like society-at-large

In earlier blog posts this year, we looked at how the classical music world has been lulled into adopting the mind-set and business practices of junk culture, and we’ve looked at how changes in the social media landscape have made it harder to disseminate new ideas and new music.

For most of us, the expression “the one percent” first became part of our national dialogue during the Occupy movement a few years ago (remember how that one changed the world?). I suppose there has always been an element of one-percent-ish-ness in classical music because of its elite and competitive nature. Every time someone wins a major orchestra job in the USA, we’re reminded that “over a hundred violinists from top music schools and orchestras across the country came together to audition for this single position.” Classical music has always had a complex relationship with the “real” one-percent crowd, who are often among our most influential funders. The arts can offer the very rich a chance to really contribute to the welfare of society at large- for instance, the Oregon East Symphony was occasionally supported by the Paul Allen (he of Microsoft fame) Foundation. Big money foundation supports small town orchestra doing good work for the win! On the other hand, tobacco and petroleum companies have long used philanthropy to try to whitewash public perceptions of their business practices. More recently, we’ve seen labor negotiations in Philadelphia, Minnesota and other major orchestras in which the power to give transformative sums was used as a bargaining tool by board members to extract painful concessions from the musicians, sometimes at significant artistic expense. Sometimes a symbolic gift proves to be a rather empty gesture- such as the renovation of New York State Theatre which left the New York City Opera homeless long enough that the company never recovered. There was money for naming rights of a building, but not for the art to fill it and bring it to life.

I believe the last few years have brought us a new, more pernicious kind of one-percentism in classical music. A one-percentism that’s far more about internal economics than artistic competition or fund-raising from external sources. It should surprise nobody that our story as an industry has mirrored that of our larger society. During this economic downturn, small and medium-sized business and artistic institutions were first to falter and last to recover, and that the modest recovery in the arts has seen most benefit flow to our own one-percent crowd.

For instance- the post-2008 economic downturn caused a significant contraction in the field of artist management (spoiler alert- this blogpost is not a rant about managers). Without casting aspersions, one might well describe artist management companies as the bankers of the arts world- they don’t make music, sell tickets or put on concerts, any more than a bank builds or sells cars. Like banks, they facilitate the business of others by being gatekeepers, connectors and transaction managers. They’ve historically been in the business of connecting talent with opportunity. Like banks, they also are the largely spared the risks, both financial and artistic, felt by their clients: artists and organizations.

However, since 2008, artist management companies have reportedly seen a sharp downturn in revenue. Many companies have folded, shrunk or wound up, while others have had to make difficult changes. Anecdotal reports from across an industry that takes secrecy seriously indicate that major changes have taken place that have serious implications for everyone in the industry, including our audiences.

What hasn’t changed since 2008 is that top artist management companies still hold a virtual monopoly on who gets booked at elite orchestras, festivals and opera companies. Unless you are Lorin Maazel or Kurt Masur (both of whom famously looked after their own business affairs), self-management will only get you so far in this business. More and more artists- not just newbies, but established and respected pros with a proven track record- struggle to find management that open doors for them with top presenters. Why?

Again and again, I hear reports from across the US and Europe that management companies are focusing 99.9% of their energy on promoting 0.1% of artists. Rosters at the big firms are reportedly getting smaller, and a shrinking number of superstar artists are now doing a huge amount of work. The impact of this has been most keenly felt among singers, where the dangers of overwork are most apparent.

Top level singers these days report singing not only an insane number of performances per year, but doing so in a crazed range of Fachs (voice types). Again and again, I hear of singers being pressured into roles for which they are ill-suited, and having to sing them while fatigued or ill, or risk losing representation. They’re certainly singing scared. Artists dare not take time off for injury or illness. One singer I spoke to recently said “I know I’m shortening my career, but the choice between a shortened career and no career is not really a choice.” Management companies, whose attitude to risk is in some ways similar to bankers (“never play games with your own money if you can avoid it”) are said to be bringing in more retainers and fees, and one major company is said to be considering a system whereby if an artist does not meet their annual minimum in commissions, they owe the management company the balance. I’ve not yet been able to confirm the truth of it, but it does seem of a piece with the larger trends. Finance long ago saw a shift from working on commission to working on fee + commission, and I think the same thing is happening in music.

The upshot for audiences is that more and more, one hears superstar singers singing the wrong roles. It makes the singer look bad and gives an incomplete picture of the music. We’re literally wearing out our stars, shrinking our repertoire and skipping most of a generation of performers. We miss out on great Siegfried’s and Wotan’s because those roles are being sung by Pinkerton’s and Escamillo’s.

However, it’s not fair to place all the blame on artist management companies.  Historically, many agents have made huge, long-term strategic investment in developing artists. The post 2008 economic troubles have meant they have far fewer resources to invest in building new artists, and the shifting of risk to the musicians is surely an indicator of the existential pressures they’re feeling. Twenty years ago, an agency might use revenue from say the top 5% of their clients, the upper class, of artists to subsidize the development of more “middle class” artists. Now, they have income from only the top 1%, barely enough to keep the lights on. Investment in the middle class, or even the rest of the old top 5% is just not there. It’s no longer enough to be a star, just as being a millionaire in New York won’t get you very far in the property market. Stars are falling off the books of management companies left and right- the age of the one-percent, the age of the billionaire is also the age of the superstar.

One solution might be for major orchestras, festivals and opera companies to become less dependent on artist managers and agents. Self-management has already transformed much of the music world.  Twenty years ago, nobody outside of academia really dealt directly with artists- even regional and community orchestras dealt mainly with management companies, and big management companies were actively engaged with small venues. Community Concerts, once the bastion of great music in small towns, was originally a project of CAMI. Nowadays, the national umbrella organization that ran Community Concerts is gone, and the infrastructure built in collaboration with CAMI lives on in small towns across the country where local societies now deal direct with artists. (The value of companies like CAMI can be seen in the huge falloff in quality at many of these series, which focus more on novelty acts and pop).

However, as non- “A” orchestras have started dealing direct with artists, fees have fallen (one wise agent said to me that “no artist should ever have to negotiate his or her own fee”). Artists miss the support of professional advocates in the negotiation process, but, frankly, there’s just a lot less money around at D, E, F or G orchestras.  There’s not even much spare cash to be found at B orchestras. Artists may now be able to engage directly with decision makers in smaller organizations, but those decision makers have far less flexibility to spend on artistic product than they did a few years back. The same shift of prosperity we’ve seen among artists has been mirrored among institutions- we’ve lost much of the musical middle class.

However, it’s not fair to place all the blame on artist management companies, festivals, opera companies and orchestras. Orchestras, festivals and opera companies these days need cash like never before. Cash follows audience, and audience follow superstars. Mere stars are no longer enough to sell tickets. In the end, that B orchestra now speaking directly to that self-managed pianist isn’t going to pay them enough to do much more than cover their costs. However, they might drop $100k on a gala with a superstar in hope that it pulls in enough revenue and audience interest to subsidize the rest of the year. A concert series in my home town this year recently brought on a spirited debate about fees when they reportedly paid a great musician nearly $100,000 for a recital. That’s enough to run a decent community orchestra for a year. Does it make sense? Well, it does if that musician can fill the hall- if they’re the only superstar who can get 1200 people in that market to come out for a recital any more. Even the next most famous cellist in the country would probably have only sold 200 seats.  The presenter who books a one-percent superstar knows they’re likely to break even. Booking a two-percenter, for one twentieth the fee, would probably still lose money, even if the concert with a less famous player was musically superior (I’m not saying it would or wouldn’t be).

Most parents have dealt with at least one child who was a picky eater. It’s frustrating enough when your dear one only eats pizza, pasta and chicken, but what really hurts is when they then announce that chicken is off the list. Audiences that would have once come out for any of the top 10 violinists in the world will have been dumping mere stars like five-year-olds dump chicken. The same thing is happening with repertoire. There was a time at orchestras when subscription sales were so strong you could mostly play what you wanted- if someone wanted to come to hear a marquee programme, they had to subscribe. I still remember the woman in the box office laughing and laughing when I called the Chicago Symphony to ask if I could buy a ticket to see Kubelik conduct Mahler there in his later years. It had sold out completely on subscription even before the season was announced. One or two marquee events drove subscriptions in which you could program some pretty adventurous stuff.  Gradually, it has become less about “the concert that sells the series” and more about “the piece that sells the program.” More to the point, the list of pieces that sell has withered. Just as the 7th most famous pianist in the world will no longer do for most listeners, neither will the fourth most popular Beethoven symphony, or the second most beloved Mozart concerto. Imagine that five-year-old telling you pasta is also off the “will eat” list along with chicken, and you’ll know how the conductor feels when his marketing director tells him “I’m sorry, but Brahms just isn’t good for box office these days. You need a more popular piece on this concert.” Is the message for concert planners in the 20th c. that we have to treat our audience like five-year-olds? Has the junk culture mentality and the star system so permeated our musical world that our diet will soon literally be limited to musical French fries and soda?

However, it’s not fair to place all the blame on artist management companies, festivals, opera companies, orchestras and audience members.

One-percentism is an economic construct, and as one, it’s highly inefficient. Look in the “real world.” A one-percent company like Wal-Mart makes a huge, huge, huge amount of money in small towns- towns that are poorly served by its presence. In places like Pendleton, where I worked happily for many years, one-percent companies drive local businesses of all kinds out of business. Wages go down, quality of goods sold goes down, customer service goes down and investment in the community goes way, way down. A small town orchestra or Community Concerts series used to be able to count on the annual support of all the local businesses- the local bank, hardware store, sporting goods store and department store. Where capitalism once sustained culture, one-percentism guts it. In most small towns, all of those businesses have been taken over by national chains and mega companies that give little, if anything, back to local schools and charitable organizations and do all they can to avoid even paying local taxes. It’s not inherently a problem that Wal-Mart is making mountains of money in a place like Pendleton. The problem is that they’re doing it at the expense of the welfare of the community- they’re making a profit on the misery of others. Similarly, it’s not a problem that a superstar singer is getting paid a fortune to sing Beethoven 9. The problem is that it’s wrong for their voice- they sound bad, the piece sounds bad, we lose audience, we wear out a superstar and end up with one less piece and one less performer for which or whom a huge audience will turn out. Perhaps one-percentism is feeding the “five-year-old” mentality among our audience. If you pay $200 a ticket to see the nation’s fourth-most-famous soprano and you can’t hear her in the hall (I remember hearing dozens and dozens of audience members saying “never again” after spending huge sums to hear a famously small-voiced soprano, made famous over a microphone on TV, in a huge hall in Cincinnati back in the day), you’re not going to risk another $180 on the fifth-most-famous.

A local furniture store in the age of Wal-Mart photo c. Brian Brown

I’m no economist, but it seems manifestly obvious that we’ve reached a crisis point in our society, our whole society, where we’ve become insanely delusional about the efficacy of markets in distributing resources.  I remember a newspaper article about 7 or 8 years ago about a hugely successful and respected elementary teacher who gave up the classroom to become a stripper after a couple of years because she could make something like five times the money.  Does a tobacco company lawyer really contribute more to the welfare of society than an emergency room nurse as the salaries would seem to indicate?

What can be done to restore a healthier economic ecosystem which can sustain our art form? Given that our internal problems as an industry so clearly and painfully mirror those of our society, is it realistic to hope that we can survive by making internal changes and reforms? Can we be a model for structural economic reform that inspires business and political leaders to try to build a more just and cohesive society?

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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22 comments on “Does Music Have a One-Percent Problem?”

  1. Kevin

    I think that now more than ever, the 99% need to start taking the business into their own hands. There is a hugely untapped population out there that do not care about the “superstars” in our industry. Aside from Renee Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell, the “average” American could not care less about our art form. Instead of trying to sell out civic centers, coliseums and 2000 seat theaters, maybe it’s time to start over, small. The pop music industry sucks too, but what they have is an outside demographic, an independent circuit that I believe classical music is sorely lacking. A group of passionate musicians working together to change the industry. Small ensembles and theater companies that will be vital to the future of our industry and our art form! If we continue to hide behind our pride and our 1% we won’t get anywhere and we can leave it all to the one percent until every audience member in the world is so disenchanted and tired of hearing that same old Beethoven’s 9 or Carmen that Classical Music fizzles out entirely. Then all of those promising young composers, performers and conductors (and they are out there) can continue their lives of coffee baristas, restaurant managers and computer programmers that we have become so accustomed to. I don’t blame it on the 1%, I blame it on the academic institutions, one track minded professionals and managers for telling us that we NEED to be part of the 1%. That there is only ONE path to success in this business. I blame it on the musicians out there sitting on their butts, MYSELF INCLUDED, that are passionate but blaming it on everyone else and doing nothing about it. This industry is broken and it’s time for THE MAJORITY to do something about it.

  2. Timothy Judd

    Your point that “we’ve become insanely delusional about the efficacy of markets in distributing resources” is interesting and spot on. But I think there’s a bigger game at play which most of society misses. When tax payers are bailing out wealthy corporations engaged in criminal activity, such as international global finance that’s no longer free market capitalism, its corporate socialism and extortion.

    One of the biggest problems for classical music is the corporate controlled media culture which not only floods the society with mindless pop culture, but also reinforces a sense of individualism that isolates people and degrades the idea of the collective. The ideas that classical music is for everyone and that society as a whole is enriched by the arts are rooted in democratic values which seem to be under threat these days.

    We need to reinvest in high quality arts education starting with the youngest children and break up the homogeny of corporate media’s control.

  3. Joseph

    Hi Ken, Happy New Year. I just finished reading your blog post on musical 1%ism–and yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes! You wrote what I’ve been thinking the last few years (especially as I’ve gained experience in self-producing concerts and trying to raise money) and learned more about the business side of our great profession.
    And it leads me to wonder–what will happen to repertoire? As a conductor (and a musician in general, really) I’ve become all too aware of the prevalence of our 1% repertoire. When the box office hits are limited to Beethoven, Wagner and Mahler (or, uh, Gershwin) and suddenly Brahms–Brahms!–becomes a hard sell, what are we, as artists, to do? Brahms, Mendelssohn, von Weber, Haydn–they seem to be pushed aside. How can one love the symphony and not be outraged and dismayed at the lack of Haydn on concert programs? And then there are the ‘others,’ composers regarded fairly well by luminary contemporaries who are all but unacknowledged today. What are we to do with Bruch, Spohr, von Bulow, Gluck and Meyerbeer? Not to mention the ‘problem’ composers such as Bruckner! And then there are the hidden gems–Fibich, Suk, Myaskovsky, Chausson, Roussel, Magnard, Bridge–composers that ought to be the Vuillume to last century’s Stradivari–that don’t even show up on the radar. Isn’t it our duty to learn their music, become acquainted with the lives and times of the men, teach our students and colleagues, bring them to audiences? The idea of ‘adventurous programming’ seems to win awards–why can’t marketing professionals find a way to sell it to audiences? Is the orchestra musically and socially no longer a platform for education, growth, progress? And what of new music–it seems one must be a famous composer even to be able to approach an orchestra about sharing his or her music, let alone getting it programmed! When do composers get to take risks or present music which might be good rather than ‘great’ (because greatness is often a matter of time and experience) or, shudder, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘innovative’? What happened to writing music with heart, writing for our time, writing to say something, not merely to say something cleverly? And where is the opportunity for true collaboration and a real relationship between composers, orchestras and communities? We need to fix it, Ken, we really do! We’ve not lost so much of our humanity that we cannot make progress!

  4. Edward Farmer

    Fantastic Article. Very well written and researched and full of passion. Let’s hope someone is listening.
    Best wishes from London, UK
    Edward Farmer

  5. Peter

    Well said Ken, and highlighting that the problems of musical culture are part of a wider social problem is just right. Capitalism overtime leads to extremes of wealth and poverty, accumulations of power and powerlessness, haves and have-nots. Those who can accumulate enough capital to work the system with a potent PR and marketing machine, by lobbying and buying influence – they gather more and more power to manipulate the mass market to their own favour. That which is small, vulnerable and isolated shrinks by being starved of funds and influence. I see much of this as a problem of marketing. To market anything successfully now needs a level of funding, media savvy and relentless effort which a single concert for a few hundred people would never justify. Success comes to those artists able to develop strong brand identity and able to maintain a high media profile on engaging guests on chat shows, as fashion icons and beautiful people.

    We cannot blame the public for their unwillingness to search beneath the surface of all this. The public appetite for celebrity is insatiable, and in more favourable times, we would all have happily gone along with it, when it suited us. But it is distorting reality and narrowing who and what people will listen to, for sure.

    The usual market corrections – subsidy and philanthropic funding are drying up – and the arts are not perceived to be a special case. The hair-shirt has been brought out, even though the benefits if the arts outweigh their costs. Doubtless there are some notable exceptions. the internet has allowed a few to get around the media manipulation. Localism could also be a solution, if we can give up our addiction to celebrities. However, I fear that the corporatisation of audiences into musical consumers rather than bands of cultural explorers is continuing apace. While there remains a sizeable audience which likes classical music, they see it as a niche brand within all musics and consume it that way, and they want the glamour and reassurance of familiarity as a bulwark against all the uncertainty of our times.

    Perhaps we have to admit that in a post-modern context, classical music no longer had deep roots in the social fabric, but is just another brand to be marketed and developed. If we are honest enough to admit that, we might just find that David can still slay Goliath now and again, where Goliath is the corporate interest and the increasing wilful ignorance of the media.

    The debate about extreme inequality will continue. But in the current atmosphere, playing safe, cutting back and de-risking seem the only viable choices for survival. The wider social problem needs a wider social solution, although part of me wonders if the cultural community should raise the questions more vociferously and offer some visionary solutions. Anyone got an idea?

  6. Michael H

    Via FB
    I’ve just read a fascinating interview with Günter Grass who makes the obvious point that social society – or social democracy, is by its nature local and community oriented and with a global economy, it is now virtually impossible to maintain. It’s not a comfortable situation to be in, and explains the Walmart example in your article. The question is how to push back the tsunami of global monopolism without losing the advantages of jobs, wealth and inter-connectivity. Let’s face it, people in rural America enjoy having the same mountainous choice of cosmetic goods as they have in Chicago and New York. We really can’t carry on as tiny, isolated nation states, but does this mean losing community and everything that goes with it? The fine arts, music and humanities, whether local orchestras or museums, depend on localism. As you rightly point out, they are now the domain of a narrow elite that demands what it perceives as ‘the best’. In our global environment, the arts in general are no longer seen as ‘the best’ of anything. If you’re a business person in London you are under more pressure to entertain clients with tickets to Wimbledon or a Chelsea football match than an evening at the Royal Opera House or an orchestral concert. Mass media has marginalised the arts to the point that it is no longer seen as ‘the best’. When it is, it’s relegated to which ever rare classical artist makes it to the couch of a popular television talk show. I’m afraid that the aspirational nature of the arts has now yielded to sporting events and pop concerts. But at the same time, I’m not too worried as great artistic achievement will always find a market in the end. Until we find the balance between local and global, it will, however, be tough.

  7. Teresa

    Via FB
    Thank you for your thoughtful article. I’m very encouraged and intrigued by what the Toronto Symphony has been doing recently – hiring local artists, that is, from within Canada. It seems they are thriving. Perhaps a practice that can be adapted, to varying degrees, elsewhere? Maybe then the talented, deserving artists who are getting passed over for the 1%-ers will find their niche, orchestras will balance their budgets, and communities will support their own.

  8. Richard B

    True, and troubling, about the repertoire question – can confirm this at first hand.

  9. Barney

    Via FB
    Really thoughtful and informative piece – thanks, Ken!

  10. Ed C

    Via FB
    The wolves are certainly and totally in charge of the hen house. Scary!

  11. Joshua C

    A LOT here to digest and discuss. You analysis is spot on – and of course you can back it up with field experrience. Wioll definitely be sharing this one! Thanks for posting.

  12. Melvyn

    Via Twitter:
    Junk culture mentality” does lie at heart of problem. None of the 100 people I work with has an interest in classical music.

  13. M

    It seems that we have to keep -on promoting ourselves and putting the music out there anyway that we can. As a freelance musician, i.e. a classical musician without a chair in an orchestra, I am finding the times so tough that I have considered leaving it altogether..but I cannot bear to leave the music that I love so much. I am working to find new ways to perform and contact people more directly than ever before. Early days but it is working..a little bit.

    We live in hope…our music is worth striving for, and fighting for…

  14. anita

    Thought provoking and thank you for it.

    Your repertoire is a bit 1%-ish. Or is your repertoire a reflection of the pieces you are made to master to serve the 1% audience who wants to hear the same old “warhorses” to quote my mother’s term for the same old Beethoven, Brahams, Mahler, and Mozart. Our Detroit Symphony Orchestra is fine, probably in the 1%, or at least top 10% in the country. We don’t frequent them. Why? The repertoire. Staid.

    Missi Missouli (sp) wrote an article about the restrictive definition of classical music. Why not add some Missy Missouli, David Lang, John Adams, Nico Muhly, Steve Reich, to orchestral repertoire? Who is making the decisions about program choices?

    Or should I direct my comments to our own orchestra?

  15. Elaine

    Thank you for writing this. Having experienced just about everything, including the “walmarking” of a town, that you mention in this article, I believe that you are right on the money (or lack thereof) with everything. I particularly appreciate your picky-eater analogy.

  16. Kenneth Woods

    Dear Anita-

    Thank you very much for your comment.

    I’m surprised to read what you say about the DSO. Both they and their music director, Leonard Slatkin, are known for doing a particularly diverse range of repertoire. Looking at their next few concerts, I see a new work by Hosokawa, the Ginastera Variaciones Concertantes (a work I’ve never heard live in thousands of concerts), Mozart’s 30th Symphony which is almost never played by big orchestras. Next month, the DSO are doing a Tchaikovsky festival- plenty of warhorses there, but also a chance to hear the Third Symphony (I’ve never had a chance to conduct it nor to attend a live performance) and the epic Piano Concerto no. 2, which is also almost never heard in concert,

    I didn’t know the music of Missy Mazzoli. It’s great stuff- thank you for bringing her to my attention. She’s doing very well- regular performances by Emanuel Ax, maybe the most famous American pianist, extensive mentions in the NYT and WSJ, subject of a “composer portrait” at Columbia University and performances by the Minnesota Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic. She strikes me as a real star on the edge of becoming a superstar.

    I’m adding more John Adams to my repertoire this year as a feel like I’ve made a personal breakthrough in understanding his language recently, but I can’t imagine anyone making a credible case that he, Nico Muhly or Steve Reich are not getting their music heard often enough or in good enough performances. A quick check of Reich’s website shows that his music gets played somewhere every couple of days this year. Muhly just had an opera jointly commissioned by English National Opera and the Met. All three of them have powerful publishers and strong PR profiles and their music gets played by the best and most celebrated groups in the world. They all get regular commissions from the best festivals and orchestras in the world. A piece like Adam’s Violin Concerto, which I love, probably gets played 50 times more often then Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto. They may be good composers, but they’re definitely in the top .1% of the most often performed and well known living composers, and their music is far better represented on the programs of American orchestras than earlier composers like Cherubini, Bruch, Franck, Glazunov, Zemlinsky, Korngold, Hindemith, Piston, David Diamond, William Schuman, Andrew Imrbie or countless others. None of the symphonies of Hans Gal have ever been played by a major orchestra in the USA. Gunnar Johansen’s three excellent piano concertos were never performed again after their premieres. I met with a fine composer last year who has written 10 symphonies, only one of which has ever been performed (once, by an amateur orchestra). Much as I admire Adams, there are hundreds of equally gifted composers out there who will probably never get a single one of their works played by a major orchestra in their lifetimes. You’d be amazed how few American orchestras ever play a Haydn symphony, certainly beyond the 3 or 4 most famous ones of his 104. Likewise, as often as one hears the Brahms 1st or 2nd Symphony, the 3rd is played less than half as often as they are, and the D major Serenade is almost never played. Mahler’s music may be overplayed now, but it was banned in Germany by the Nazis. His Third Symphony, written in 1893, wasn’t premiered in the UK until the 1930’s. I don’t think you’ll find John Adams waiting 40 years to have any of his works played in the UK- and that’s wonderful.

    I think it’s great that you’re passionate about this kind of contemporary music- by all means you should continue to advocate for it with local and national groups, but I think the case for all of these composers is to be made on how much you like their music, not on the basis of them somehow not getting heard often enough.

    Thanks again for your comment


  17. Susan Scheid

    You’ve inspired some good conversations, including among a group of us on Facebook. Just following on your exchange with my friend Anita, a couple thoughts. I do think there are significant problems in terms of programming that I wish could be addressed more inventively, in programming “new music” as well as music new, or at least less familiar, to many of us. In line with your response to Anita, why do we so often hear Sibelius’s Fifth so much more than 7th? The same for Shostakovich—whose finest symphonies go so far beyond the ubiquitous 5th and 7th?

    In a desperate attempt to seize the opportunity to hear less performed Shostakovich symphonies live, I’ve recently attended 3 concerts that pair Mozart work with a Shostakovich symphony (the 4th, 15th, and 8th). In every case, the audience seemed schizophrenic to me, with many among those present primarily for the Mozart becoming restive, the cough-o-meter going wild, shuffling programs, whispering to neighbors throughout the Shostakovich. In contrast, I attended a concert programmed by Vladimir Jurowski (conducting the Juilliard Orchestra) that paired Shostakovich’s First with The New Babylon and Hypothetically Murdered. It was thrilling! The audience was rapt! I’d never heard any of these works live, and the program offered, among other things, a wonderful basis for understanding the variety of Shostakovich’s musical language and how it informed his more “serious” work (and how very porous the barrier is between the two).

    Another set of examples: the NY Phil has embarked on a Nielsen Project, and what a pleasure to be introduced to Nielsen’s 5th & 6th in the context of an all-Nielsen program! In contrast, the NY Phil is sandwiching the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto, which I’d be delighted to hear live, between Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales and Tchaikovsky Selections from Swan Lake. Now, don’t get me wrong, I happen to love (and own CDs of) both of the latter works, but I will not be making the trek down to NYC for this concert just to hear the Nielsen. Why not pair it with works that are either influences on or influenced by the Nielsen? Say a trio including one older than the Nielsen and one late 20th-21st C? I do think the demise of Spring for Music (NY Carnegie Hall), which showcased smaller, regional orchestras that programmed inventively, was tragic. And I thank goodness for wonderful grass-roots initiatives like wildUP on the west coast and Contemporaneous (both chamber orchestras) on the east coast, as well as innovative festivals like the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music and the Marin Alsop’s Cabrillo Festival.

  18. Richard

    I was once reprimanded – properly, told off – by my manager for programming Alban Berg. More recently I was actually shouted at by the finance boss for commissioning and premiering a new orchestral work. Whatever: I’d do it again. Just saddens me that there are people like this in the business.

  19. Robert B

    I spend more time justifying repertoire selection than I ever thought I would need to at this point in my career. And sometimes the justification is simply an outstanding performance where the board, audience and, yes, even musicians say, “Wow, I never knew how remarkable this piece was…”

  20. Nicole Warner

    You make wonderful points and I think the other comment-makers have made thoughtful additions to this. It really comes down to awareness and, really, doing things locally.

    Many smaller orchestras are building audiences and creative, strategic partnerships though multi-media–granted, much of the work takes place through volunteers, however they are thinking of the short-, mid-, and long-term *growth*. It’s about relationships and quality, not superstar-ism.

    So switch to a credit union for your money needs and get on the (free) mailing lists for local ensembles. Feed the local musicians, it affects great change.

  21. Bradley rigg

    Classical artists must master delivering online content. Collaborate online and deliver streaming content along with vblogs and online concerts. Take in revenue from crowd sourcing and advertising.

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