Is All Of This Really Interesting

A few days ago, Greg Sandow presented a scenario and posed a good question regarding whether or not the average patron would be interested in all of the non artistic issues within their local orchestra.  In particular, he was wondering if a concert review of a last minute change in repertoire (which as a result increased the cost of the performance) should be worth mentioning in a concert review,

I’ve been told that this is “inside information,” and that the classical music audience isn’t interested in such things. But is that true?

I don’t think it’s true at all.  My own experience leads me to believe that the average audience member is interested in the business behind an orchestra.  For Greg’s particular example, the New York Philharmonic had to demonstrate just how flexible an orchestra needs to be.

Due to the substitution in their regularly scheduled program, the orchestra had a number of challenges to overcome; artistic and administrative alike.  Here are just a few examples:

  1. The new piece had a higher production cost; such as the additional musicians required by the score.  They can’t just “make do” with the orchestra’s core musicians because most orchestras have contracts with the musicians which stipulate that all works must use enough musicians to cover the composer’s instrumentation (this prevents any potential penny pinching manager from artistically diluting any given work). Those extra funds have to come from somewhere.
  2. The marketing department has to prepare new press releases and notify existing ticket holders about the change in programming. 
  3. Marketing may have to spend additional funds to create new advertisements and purchase extra media time.
  4. The box office staff has to prepare for the extra work associated with any ticket holders wishing to cancel or ask for exchanges.
  5. If the concert has a sponsor, the marketing department needs to make certain that the original piece wasn’t a particular favorite of the sponsor or that they were only sponsoring the concert for the old conductor, etc.
  6. The personnel manager has to make dozens of phone calls to locate and hire adequate substitute and/or extra players.
  7. The artistic department must secure travel and room accommodations for the visiting guest conductor (quite likely at an additional expense to the organization).
  8. The operations department may need to rent additional instruments or equipment if the new music requires it.
  9. Your music librarians will go nuts preparing the new parts (while simultaneously gnashing their teeth over the fact that the work they put into the old parts is now unnecessary). 
  10. Principal string players need to bow the new parts or review the bowings sent in by the new conductor.
  11. All of the musicians have to spend extra practice time to prepare the new parts.

If the audience members know something about these issues in advance, they can appreciate an artistically exciting performance to an even higher level.

Unfortunately, I know plenty of people inside orchestra organizations who believe that the audience shouldn’t know about these issues or that the audience simply won’t be interested in them.  Granted, there will always be a percentage of the audience who simply won’t care (but those people usually don’t care about much of anything anyway), but why not present to your community the entire organization and what it’s capable of accomplishing?

Keeping the inside of an orchestra hidden only gives the audience one more reason to not care as much about what the organization does. This business needs that about as much as it needs another hole in the head.  Anything that can generate more excitement and interest in orchestras is a good thing, especially if it doesn’t take very much effort.

In the end, I do believe the average patron will find what goes on behind the scenes interesting; first hand experience has proven that point to me time and time again.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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