Yes, You Can Change The Concert Experience

I recently had the pleasure this week to attend a chamber music concert here at the Grand Teton Music Festival which featured, among other ensembles, several selections for bassoon quartet and solo contrabassoon. The selections were all wonderful but what really made the performance something special was the dialog being delivered by master bassoonist, Chuck Ullery.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed all of the performances on that concert, the bassoon quartet stood out due to Chuck’s discourse. He took a brief amount of time to clearly describe the world of bassoonists and to talk about the instruments themselves. To me, this wasn’t new information, however, I found myself becoming much more engaged in the performance because Chuck brought me into his world for 20 minutes.

Apparently, everyone else around me felt the same way based on the amount of applause and cheers the quartet received after each selection.

But here’s the real secret to the quartet’s success (beyond their fantastic artistic ability); it wasn’t just because Chuck took a few moments to talk before each selection, it was because what he said was interesting and added to the moment.

Obviously, Chuck lives and breathes the world of bassoon. Having that sort of intimate knowledge and understanding places him in a singular position to be uniquely equipped to convey what’s interesting about the instrument, its music, and those who have mastered its intricacies. Chuck didn’t drone on and on as though he were giving an academic lecture (as so many people do when trying to talk to the audience before performing), he was simply talking to everyone in the audience as though they were just friends.

So why doesn’t the orchestra world do this more often? There’s no universal answer, however, much of it has to do with the fact that many organizations are using the wrong people for the right job. Your typical marketing or artistic administrators simply don’t have enough understanding or expertise about what constitutes their orchestras to create marketing material that really engages the audience. Instead, their well intentioned efforts usually end up coming across as timid and dull.

Instead, orchestras should be looking inward toward their own players. Every orchestra out there has at least a few Chuck’s of their own (I wonder if Chuck’s orchestra utilizes his special non artistic talents?) and they should be working better at giving these musicians the tools and compensation they deserve to help make their ensemble a better organization.

For those interested, the bassoon selections included

  • In a Deep Funk: Twist Variations by Daniel Dorff and performed by Juan de Gomar, solo contrabassoon
  • Four Brazilian Pieces: No. 4 by Francisco Mignone
  • Blues Set, No. 2 by Peter Schickele
  • An encore of Patriotic selections (in honor of the recent 4th of July concert)

  • The quartet consisted of Chuck Ullery, Brian Petkovitch, Shawn Jones, and Juan de Gomar.

    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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