Who Says Orchestras Don’t Compete?

A recent article in the 1/17/06 Philadelphia Inquirer by Peter Dobrin reports that the Philadelphia Orchestra will become a resident orchestra for the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival starting in 2007, bumping the Dallas Symphony from its roster…

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s move to Vail signals the increased competition among orchestras for performance revenue and exposure along with their increased willingness to travel across the country to find it.

For the past several seasons, Vail has maintained three orchestras as resident ensembles. The New York Philharmonic arrived a few season back and now another “Big 5” ensemble joins them. Vail isn’t the only location which multiple big budget orchestras are slugging it out over a piece of the pie; in Miami, both the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras are spending time as resident ensembles in the soon-to-be-completed (hopefully) Miami Performing Arts Center.

Of course, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra isn’t likely to be pleased about being bumped from the roster but they aren’t the only organization feeling the sting of Philadelphia’s arrival. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra used to be a resident ensemble at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival but lost that position shortly before New York Arrived on scene.

I know from some inside sources at Colorado that the loss of being a resident ensemble at one of the larger summer music festivals, which is in their own backyard, was a serious blow to the organization’s administrative and artistic morale (not to mention their bottom line). They’ve been attempting to find a way back in ever since and Philadelphia’s arrival in 2007 makes that job even more difficult.

Don’t expect this competition to end any time soon, the larger budget ensembles have shied away from regional touring over the recent decades but the ongoing financial trouble at these ensembles is compelling them to return to these endeavors. From an overall business perspective, it’s a good thing; increased competition will serve as a catalyst for increased opportunities to cultivate a better audience base.

Naturally, some groups will get a bloody nose in the struggle but they’ll adapt and identify (or create) other opportunities for themselves and prosper. After all, the alternatives to that scenario aren’t very pleasant.

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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