TAFTO 2007 Contribution – Jesse Rosen

If you’re an orchestra manager and haven’t heard of the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Jesse Rosen before then it is likely that you haven’t been in the business for very long. All the same, much like many of the managers in this business, the name Jesse Rosen is less likely to be on the tips of patrons tongues.

Fortunately, you’re about to be introduced to Jesse through his fantastic TAFTO contribution where he takes you on a personalized tour through the orchestral experience. And by the way, leave your reading glasses at home, you don’t have to worry about reading the program notes…

Take A Friend To Orchestra
By: Jesse Rosen

When I took my seat at a recent performance of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia my friend seated next to me immediately said “you better read the program if you want to understand what’s going on.” At intermission I ran into another friend whose fist words were “I downloaded all the information about the 19th century Russian socialists from the website before coming – did you?” This was starting to feel an awful like the frantic comments exchanged between students before a lecture or an exam – not a pleasant feeling.

As it happened I hadn’t done any preparation, and did not heed my friend’s advice before the curtain went up. And was I glad. As the house lights dimmed I experienced 90 seconds of what felt like pure theater — the house went completely dark, wisps of horizontal, midnight blues strands gradually appeared across the space, sea sounds emerged from all around, and a resolute Alexander Herzen (the principle figure in the play) gradually came into focus suspended halfway between the proscenium and the thrust stage, and then faded, and though the scrim the Russian people came into view.

In these 90 seconds, I was completely transported, leaving Broadway, my friend, my world, my time, and began a journey, approaching a shore and a distant, but perhaps not too distant world. Theater’s elements worked their magic — lighting, sound, stage direction, acting (even without a word yet spoken) did their job of telling me all I needed to know be ready for the performance that was to come. I thought to my self “God, I love going to plays.”

So when I take a friend to a concert I almost never suggest reading the program notes. If I suggest anything at all it’s simply to notice what you see and hear. The seeing part is very important – there’s a lot going on and it’s all part of the experience. I had a theory teacher at the Manhattan School of Music who, when seeking our analysis of some thorny work whose only organizing principle seemed to be the elimination of any organizing principle, would simply ask, “Tell me what you hear, what does it sound like?” Our answers would lead to more probing questions, and eventually we would unlock the work’s secrets. But the key to the puzzle always began with simply noticing what we were hearing. The engagement with sound, as shaped by composers and performers, is after all what music, uniquely has to offer.

These observations are not intended as an argument against audience education. I’m all for it, always have been. I attended the Chicago Symphony’s “Beyond the Score” program at Carnegie Hall last December. It was an elaborate, multi-media, contextualization of Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin, weaving together spoken text, video, art, and music. It overflows with information about Bartók, his time, his contemporaries, and the general state of world. I left the performance with a far richer knowledge of Bartók’s work. I couldn’t help notice however that what made the presentation work as an experience that really changed my perception of the work was the high degree of artistry applied to the presentation. It wasn’t the information that got to me, it was the art.

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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2 thoughts on “TAFTO 2007 Contribution – Jesse Rosen”

  1. I really enjoyed reading Mr. Rosen’s contribution. I usually follow the pattern he described, without an in-depth look at program notes or history books, when I visit other cities, museums or classical music performances. At first I take the art in just as it comes, creating a first impression; then I want to find out more about the art, so that I gain new perspectives.

    One of the last times I went to a museum (Rembrandt-Caravaggio exhibition in Amsterdam) I used the audio guide. That was the first time I had ever used an audio guide in a museum and I was really impressed. It was really well done and provoked a lot of thought. Before the exhibit I preferred Caravaggio’s works, but after gaining these new perspectives I had a newfound respect for Rembrandt.

    I think I experienced the CSO’s Beyond the Score series in a similar way. The first concert of the CSO I attended after I started working there was the first Beyond the Score program, Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. Now, that piece is one of my favorite works.

    I was happy to see Mr. Rosen mentioned Beyond the Score and because he did so, I wanted to point out that the Miraculous Mandarin program he mentioned is available as a video download on the CSO’s Web site (the Orchestra Hall performance, not Carnegie Hall).


    And I point this out, of course as someone who is working at the CSO, but more importantly as a newbie in classical music and a big fan of Beyond the Score.

  2. Experiencing the art first, researching afterwards, then re-visiting the art, going back and forth is the way to go. One simply has to have that initial aha! moment which a fine work of art (in any discipline) gives us. Jesse Rosen is right on about this. Experience the mystery and then talk about your wonderment, afterwards.

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