Here’s a crazy idea, why not apply the for-profit business practice of franchises to orchestras? Specifically, I’m thinking about a chamber orchestra that has the flexibility to perform chamber music as well as ballet and opera productions that offer a high quality artistic product for a lower than normal user fee (ticket price). You could either build on a successful established program or start a program that can be easily reproduced. From a bottom line standpoint, you can save a considerable amount of money on expenditures that relate to education, outreach, marketing, artistic operations, insurance, and accounting costs. Additionally, you can lower expenses by contracting guest artists, composers, and conductors for multiple dates and locations at one time.
The trick is designing a flexible approach to managing an organization without arriving at an ensemble that comes across like some kind of “McOrchestra”. What you want is an ensemble that is as comfortable playing in smaller venues such as museums, churches, and synagogues as it is with playing in 2000 seat concert halls. This type of organization is also attractive to soloists that want to hire an ensemble with irrefutable artistic credentials for recordings but can’t afford a big, conventional symphony orchestra.It’s certainly a funky idea, but one I’ve put quite a bit of thought into for some time now. I imagine an orchestra with much greater musician authority and an administrative structure that operates on no more than 15% of the total operating budget.
Just think, you could have an Academy of St. Martin’s in the Field in Boston, Detroit, and San Francisco. Or how about an Orchestra of St. Luke’s in Washington D.C., Denver, and St. Louis. It would be a good way for many of the recently failed orchestra’s to get back up and running again, not to mention finding a place for the hundred’s of high quality players graduating from conservatories each year. These talented musicians need to go somewhere but right now there isn’t room for everybody in the pool.
One thing is certain however; this idea certainly wouldn’t work following the standard operating procedures followed by the majority of American orchestras. It would definitely require a new approach.
So what do you think, a harebrained idea or something worth discussing?