There was an intriguing article by Mark Stryker in the 12/3/2016 edition of the Detroit Free Press that examines the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s community orchestra program. The article focuses primarily on the benefits related to buzzwords like outreach and relevancy but the really interesting aspect of these programs that doesn’t garner as much attention is the revenue potential.
For the past decade, professional orchestras have discovered the financial benefits of running branded youth ensemble programs. For some, the revenue stream is large enough to make the effort a fundamental element of their annual operations.
As a result, it isn’t unusual to see professional organizations absorb established youth orchestras using a process where even though the lion’s share may be rooted in genuine partnership motivation, that doesn’t mean the financial benefit was a “surprise.”
Nonetheless, it is still comparatively rare to see professional orchestras adopt a similar approach toward community orchestras.
Granted, the very definition of what constitutes a community orchestra is murky, and that makes apples to apples comparisons with youth ensemble programs tricky, but Detroit is the latest group to begin moving into this territory so there’s clearly momentum. It will be interesting to see how these programs develop and whether more groups continue to follow suit.
What do you think, when does it make sense for a professional orchestra to branch out into this territory?