Karl Miller responded to Rick Mabry:
>>Maybe the subject line should be, "Amoral music" ...
> I also wonder what it would be like trying be the orchestra marketing
> person who has to write the advance for the next performance of a standard
> rep Concerto. They hype the outrageously overpriced soloist...and no, I
> do not think Yo Yo Ma is worth $40,000 per performance.
By the way, I was told by someone who should know, that Yo Yo was being
paid not $40,000, as I had originally been told, but $80,000 for the
performance plus one rehearsal...
>That figure, for one night's performing, is more than the yearly salary
>of many symphony musicians.
Unless you are in one of the top orchestras, you are indeed correct.
>The big bucks go to at least some of the executives on the board, and
>of course to the conductor.
Board members of a tax exempt organization cannot, by law, be paid.
>I fantasize that the musicians break free of the business model they
>are trapped in, that they could manage themselves somehow without the
>need of boards and fatcats and overpriced conductors. A pipe dream, I
>am sure. I talked to a nonprofit exec who assures me they do need deep
>tentacles into the wealthier parts of the society. Fat lot of good it
>does them now.
Many orchestras started out as cooperatives. I believe the London
Symphony Orchestra is still run, to some extent, by that model.
I share your fantasy. Boards are required to maintain tax exempt status.
Board members are supposedly there to do much of the fundraising. As
for the paid management, I can only wonder if management has not grown
to be too much of a financial drain. I believe an ailing, if not unworkable
business model has evolved.
Our local orchestra was given a lump sum endowment to hire soloists.
A wealthy individual contributes to a tax exempt organization to pay
the salary of some high priced soloist. Is that soloist worth it? Not
as far as I am concerned. Will they fill the hall...maybe. But even
if they fill the hall you won't make a profit. Does it make an artistic
contribution? I can live without Yo Yo Ma. Of course he is a fine
musician, but...I wouldn't pay that much to hear Casals...and as writers
like Lebrecht have pointed out, even Heifetz didn't get salaries (adjusted
for inflation) like a Yo Yo Ma makes. And, as I pointed out, when Yo
Yo Ma comes to town, the only people who will be able to afford to attend
will be those who can pay for the tickets...I doubt there will be a
student in the house. Should a donor buy some tickets so a few students
can attend? And then, what does the soloist do with all of that money.
Some of them, like Stern, used to help young musicians.
Not to get on Yo Yo Ma's case, but he won a $1M Dan David Prize, a $50,000
Glenn Gould Foundation prize. From what I have read, he has given away
huge sums of money to musicians and Foundations. Yet, it seems to me
to be an odd way of doing things. So, he makes tons of money, and gives
a bunch of it away...but as he sees fit. Perhaps he figures that some
donor is willing to pay to have Yo Yo play with their orchestra, but
might not be willing to spend the money to support an emerging artist.
>My favorite conductor of this symphony in recent years was actually
>the concertmaster. He was interim conductor for a year or so while
>they looked for a big name to take over. How must THAT feel? He still
>fills in as conductor from time to time while the "real" conductor is
>off on some gig or soiree with another orchestra.
When Szell died, the orchestra petitioned to have Louis Lane take over.
Instead they got Maazel...I believe that the selection of conductors is
based on a variety of considerations and that musicianship is not always
the primary concern. (I have never been much of a fan of Maazel...in
my mind a superb technician but a boring interpreter). Having read the
histories of several orchestras, one finds that Board members often
choose the conductors. Board members are usually wealthy individuals
who have been either successful in business or have inherited money...how
that qualifies them to make such decisions is beyond me. Sometimes
management will poll the orchestra. Some orchestras will vote against
an individual who might be likely to exert strong leadership...not
helpful. However, even if the orchestra votes against a candidate...an
example being the recent situation in Baltimore...the Board didn't pay
any attention. Indeed, an odd way of doing things.
>Meanwhile, the board and/or conductor (aka, "Musical Director" -- does
>this mean two salaries?) have had their own fantasies.
Musical Director usually means the conductor, who also calls the shots
on artistic decisions. However, many of the larger orchestras have their
"artistic administrators" who have, over the years, assumed more of that
responsibility. Increasingly, Executive Directors have not only exerted
veto power, but have been choosing repertoire and soloists...same for
the heads of the Board. As one retired Executive Director told me, if
a Board member wanted to hear a particular soloist perform with the
orchestra, and paid for it, they would likely get their way..."unless,
of course, if the soloist was their 10 year old grand daughter."
As for the personnel choices, one can look back at the days when an
Arthur Judson could be both the Manager of an orchestra (actually at one
time, the manager of two major orchestras) and the owner of a firm that
managed artists. Sounds outrageous, but that's the way it was. These
days, if your conductor is managed by one company, it is not uncommon
that you will see the soloists coming from the pool of people managed
by the same company.
>Just shoot the symphony.
Or let it die with dignity...
A point I have raised with classical radio. When I was let go by our
local station for my interest in supporting music over the pleasure of
the audience...indeed, those were the words that were used, many who
valued my programming stopped supporting the station. Some years later,
many of them resumed their support. They told me, "it was the only show
in town." The question that comes to my mind is, at what point does mind
dulling programming cease to support the artistic/educational goals...and
the rationale for tax exempt status...no doubt that can be subjective,
but I believe one can make some reasonable evaluations.
A friend of mine has had a radio program for over 20 years. He plays
an eclectic mix of things and I believe he captures what it means to
have programming designed for listening. While I was never as eclectic,
He sends me his listings...a sample below:
April 13th and seldom is heard. Unmatched classical Variety
since February 1982 88.1 FM KNTU www.kntu.fm
Mozart:Quintet for Piano & Winds (Brain)
Hameenniemi; Heinenen: Choral Music
Nardini:Sonata in C
A. Lanza:eKtenes III; aXents
P. Eben:Hommage a Buxtehude (organ)
C. Ore:Cirrus (SQ)
Debussy:Estampes (& 4 other short Pcs)
April 20th and seldom is heard. Unmatched classical Variety since
February 1982 88.1 FM KNTU www.kntu.fm (* denotes centennial selection)
Lassus:Missa Tous Les Regretza
Liszt:Tran. Etude #11
Messiaen*:Colors of the Celestial City
Raymond Scott*:Powerhouse (arr. SQ)
Sammartini:Recorder Sonata #21
Sibelius;Swan of Tuonela
Carter*:8 Pieces for 4 Tympani
Yun:Cbr Sym #1
Shostakovich:K Ismailova St (Xcpts)
K. Olofsson:Corde (Guitarist & Orch)
A. Mellnas:Rendez-vous II (Flt & Perc)
His programming is for listening, and not to be used as background music
at your local upscale furniture store. Happily, he has an audience, and
if his program is going to die, I would guess he will let it go with
>I complained to our (lone) music professor at my university. She
>correctly pointed out that the symphony is struggling and trying
>desparately to find ways to fill the seats. I know, I know. But
>this? She also noted that she had not seen my name on the donors list.
I sincerely believe that the orchestra needs to reinvent itself in terms
of its product and marketing. As one who has spent a fair amount of
time raising funds for organizations devoted to classical music, I have
found that it becomes difficult to raise money when you sell yourself
as being entertainment.
For me, there is no point in supporting an arts organization because it
might be the only one in town. Perhaps it must die before it can see
the need to reinvent itself...or maybe, the economies of scale will price
it out of existence. Maybe, indeed, it should be allowed to die with
dignity...and perhaps be reborn with integrity...and a workable business
>Another raffle of a Mercedes? (I understand from one of my spies that
>they do not break even on this gimmick, but someone else disputes that.)
As that recent Stanford University study points out, on average, every
$1.00 spent by orchestras on fund raising has, in the last two years or
so, returned 50 cents in donations.
>And I add it makes no moral sense, either.
I guess you might believe as I do, that art is not just a business.
That is not to say that that there should not be sound business practices
to take care of the money, do the marketing, arrange for the ushers,
stage hands, recording engineers, concession people, security, people
who arrange the chairs, pay the utility bills, handle the payroll, etc.
I also keep hearing that publishers are charging such high rental
fees that some orchestras feel they can't afford to program certain
pieces...however, it would seem that orchestras would be more likely to
pay for an expensive soloist than pay for the rental of something published
I wish I knew the whole story, but it just seems to me that the notions
of art and human expression are being lost. It has almost always been
a compromise, but I cannot help but wonder if the balances are changing
to the point where human expression is not just taking a back seat, but
riding in the trunk...with the trunk latched shut. I remember reading
that someone had proposed a television show, like "American Idol," where
the contest was to be a conductor...the more I read about how promotion
is being done, the more it sounds like a circus...actually, it seems
that the promotion of a circus has more dignity. When I think of some
of the marketing for the arts I am reminded of Norma Desmond...a faded
star with delusions of making her way, in the old way...and with all of
her wrinkles, great for character parts, but not if she wanted to play
an ingenue. There are times when I wonder how much more outrageous it
will get...will symphony orchestras resort to the tactics of radio station
give aways...two weeks in the caribbean with the musician of your
My guess is that if you were to market an orchestra for the music it
plays, and the quality of its playing, you would likely lose more than
just a few of your audience. However, I would like to think that you
might find that you could fill those empty seats with those who appreciate
the music for what it is. No doubt it would take a great deal of marketing
and publicity for an orchestra to reinvent itself in the minds of a
potential audience, but I still wonder if it wouldn't be worth a try.
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