Anyone attending the League of American Orchestra’s recent conference in Atlanta was surely struck by the industry’s determination to adapt and change. At the opening “Orchestra R/Evolution” session, attendees were polled and not a single vote supported the status quo. Russell Willis Taylor general session keynote the next day, “There Are No Crises, Only Tough Decisions,” took the reverse approach, lecturing attendees ironically on the best strategies for going out of business and fast.
Sunday’s Charleston Post and Courier quotes a former board member of the Charleston Symphony as saying “The current business model has proven over 10 years not to be viable.” The recent travails and controversy at the Pasadena Symphony provoked a considerable amount of national discussion, including Terry Teachout asking, in The Wall Street Journal, “What, if anything, justifies the existence of a regional symphony orchestra in the 21st century?”
Yesterday I took a stab at describing the traditional concept of the “model” orchestra and today I ask whether this model still has validity in 2010; in doing so, I am going to make some sweeping generalizations. Please remember that, to a large extent, all orchestras are local—your orchestra is affected by and responds to the unique challenges and opportunities created by what is going on in your community. Also keep in mind that the orchestras I gave gotten to know well tend to be neither huge nor tiny; it may well be that trends are different on either extreme.
Recently it has felt like there are plenty of people out there suggesting that “the model” for how orchestras operate should be taken off life support and declared dead. This is followed by a call for orchestras to reinvent themselves as radically different (and often radically smaller) organizations. I don’t know that that this is a new phenomenon (remember “The orchestra is dead, long live the community of musicians”?).
Throughout my almost 23 years as a negotiator for the American Federation of Musicians Symphonic Services Division, I have listened to accusations by symphony managements and others that what we engage in is pattern bargaining. That is, if Orchestra A achieves something new in their contract, then B through Z orchestras must do likewise. Not true…