The End of Season Opera Company Projections of Doom

Metropolitan_OperaI read an interesting approach to the annual “Let’s predict the death of Opera” reviews we get about this time each year.  This is a good piece of journalism by Weston Williams from The Christian Science Monitor.  You can read it here.

However, when you read visual sound-bytes contained therein from Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager such as, “The struggle for opera has to do with the transition from an aging audience to a new one” (you think?) or, my absolute favourite, “This is a public art form … and as long as we have the public, the art form will survive and thrive,” (hmm?) says Gelb, you need to wonder whether there is any critical risk assessment going on inside that man’s head?

Notwithstanding, both he and Douglas Clayton, general director of Chicago Opera Theater (COT) concur that “… what is essential for any opera company, whether it’s small, medium, or large, is to find cultural relevance … and connections in the community to inspire audiences to want to participate.”

So the very simple question arises: why doesn’t the Met do exactly that? Continue Reading →

Orchestra Musicians Never Fail To Amaze Me

Kevin PurcellThis is a duplicate post I wrote for the Australian Discovery Orchestra website about a recent experience.

I had the great pleasure last weekend of working with an essentially ‘scratch’ orchestra comprised predominantly of musicians teaching instrumental music in Schools in Melbourne and regional areas; including some musicians from the ADO roster, all of whom gave so generously of their time.

The ADO, through Managing Director, Janine Hanrahan, and Artistic Administrator, Briony Buys, was asked to curate this concert for the inaugural Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) Arts Learning Festival. I was delighted to return to Melbourne to work with the orchestra on a program of music specifically composed for Children.

We really need to celebrate the capacity of orchestra musicians who live in Australia: their willingness to tackle difficult music – with far too little rehearsal time; an undaunted enthusiasm for the task of finding their musical way through a barrage of notes, rhythms, dynamics and endlessly shifting tempi and, ultimately, their conviction that they can “pull it off” when the moment really counts – the concert!

We underestimate and under-appreciate orchestra musicians generally.  I believe this is true in most places in the world with very few exceptions. What is asked of them – in terms of the minutely exacting technical and artistic expectations  – is a continuing feat of human dexterity and skill-level that belies any general understanding of what they individually and collectively accomplish in the process of making music. Continue Reading →

Why No Symphony Orchestras Make Money

An interesting article from April 4 on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) web site by Alex McClintock recently caught my attention.

McClintock cites Robert Flanagan, a professor of Economics at Stanford University from his in-depth analyses of the economics of symphony orchestras entitled, ‘The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras’.  The book has been in print for several years.

The problem, although admittedly oblique, is that the author’s assertion that “….no symphony orchestra in the world would be financially viable on its own” is deduced primarily from business models that have been the mainstay of Orchestra administrative and governance policies for over a century – and largely focussed on U.S. orchestras to boot.

That is not to say that Flanagan’s book does not do a serviceable job at distilling many of the primary problems facing orchestras around the world as not-for-profit entities. It does it, in fact, very well.

My suspicion is that the conclusions drawn, not only by Flanagan but by many other commentators interested in this field, are all a little too neat and cosy; too tidy in reducing the reasons for the financial peril facing many of orchestra ensembles around the world.

The unpalatable fact is that many of these organizations have been so badly governed for so many years that the horse has not just proverbially bolted, but has aged and died of natural causes long after the gate was left unbolted. Continue Reading →

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