Why Do We Never Truly Engage In This Debate About Australian Orchestral Music ?

Copland-Barber-MenottiI rather like this little Op Ed piece from By Naomi Lewin : WQXR Host / Brian Wise seen on the WQXR website in the USA from April 10 this year – check it out here.  It’s entitled,

Are American Orchestras ‘Blatantly Ignoring’ American Music?

It reminds me how little we are engaged in debate about the appalling lack of Australian composed music performed  live by the professional symphony orchestras in Australia.  I need to make the distinction here that I am talking about live performances, as opposed to the recording of music by Australian composers, which is an entirely different matter – and quite positive in the grander scheme of things.

The American interested parties in this debate might think “Well, things aren’t so bad afterall,” if they knew the statistics and realities for the multiple forgotten generations of Australian composers who are uniformly disregarded, and collectively generally denied any performance opportunities, by our orchestras.

There is no excuse for any Australian State-based orchestra in not advocating vociferously for appropriate balance in the exploitation of Australian compositions in their flagship presentation seasons.  The Boards of these orchestras should be insisting staff be making this one of their highest ongoing operational and audience-growth priorities and initiatives.  This, too, should have been the legacy and the pointy-end of the business for the Australian Music Centre, but this institution has been the walking dead now for several years, so no help to be found there.

It’s an interesting time right now, as an example, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in search of a new Artistic Adminstrator; the previous incumbent notorious for his lack of support in the presentation of Australian composers, with the possible exceptions in over-playing Brett Dean, Percy Grainger (ad nauseum) and acknowledging the rightful presence and contribution of Broadstock.  But there are significant other composers who live and work in Melbourne not appropriately represented year-upon-year in the MSO’s main-game activitities (S. Greenbaum, K. Abbott, A. Pertout and others readily come to mind) all of whom have a distinctive and important compositional voice needing to be heard – REGULARLY.

I do wonder (from afar) whether I will see in my lifetime the fundamental sea-change in Australian orchestras actually coming to the realisation that their future is wholly dependent upon the support and performance of contemporary Australian orchestral music and the nurturing of, in real terms, its own creative capital (notwithstanding the major contribution made by the musicians who are the conduit to the music’s realisation).  In truth, I don’t think I will – not unless we have the requisite cultural shift in how we engage and evaluate the priorities and achievements of orchestral management and orchestral artistic adminstration in this fair country.  Actually, now there’s a thought!

So here’s a challenge:  Why can’t the Australian orchestras come up with a season where the main work on the concert (if they must continue this rather out-moded, ho-hum, concert design format) is a seminal Australian compostion and put it out for public comment to see what support it might engender?

Here’s my bet:  I’ll bet the orchestras that if they did that – and made distinctive and savvy use of social media to execute this ‘bold and cunning plan’ (sic) – that their subscription numbers would go up, and their per-concert attendance would rise significantly?

Are they afraid, and/or incapable of trying this strategy?  You bet!

Why?

There are several reasons I could go into at length, but the one that really gets me is – because they don’t know the Australian music repertoire in depth, across the board, over a (let’s say) 90-year span to even come close to pulling this off!

Good excuse, huh!

Err!  Wrong – we have great Australian musicologists (not me) in this country who could tell them; all they have to do is ask!

OK, OK – so, all of the above won’t work, I know – but maybe, just maybe, we could either give bonuses to, or release (as in terminate) as the case may be, orchestral management and artistic adminstrators on their statistical record of programming Australian music year-upon-year?  No, that’s crazy too…..but…..

Take care,

Kevin

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