Alan Yaffe Retirement Party

May 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

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A Gay Themed Performance

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Art Songs by Schubert, Poulenc, Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saëns – some of the world’s best composers, and gay.

On November 17, an encore performance of the New York Festival of Song’s (NYFOS) brilliant program, “Manning the Canon: Songs of Gay Life,” took place. The concert was originally presented at the LGBT Center on 13th Street and was given, in a revised version, at Merkin Hall last season. The performance featured art songs from current and past gay composers.

According to Q on Stage, it was a triumph.

I think that, whether or not the audience thought the performance was a triumph, the fact that we have these kinds of performances is a triumph in and of itself. Gay people have real lives, with real emotions and experiences. They experience pain and joy just like everyone else. These composers have captured what it means to live with pain, love, and joy.

I’m getting really tired of constantly defending myself as a gay man, and fighting for rights that other people don’t have to fight for. Being judged and ridiculed gets tiring. Just yesterday I experienced a professor, in class, say that gay sex ‘wasn’t legitimate sex.’ I’m not exactly sure if that’s what he meant, but by the rest of the class’ reaction, I would guess that most everyone else thought he meant that as well. At first I didn’t think much of his comment, but then I actually started getting angry. I wonder if he sensed that by the way I started to stare at him with a slight scowl?

Well, that guy’s a part of the problem for sure. Maybe I should buy him a ticket to the next ‘Manning the Cannon’ concert?

David Walker


Charlotte Church alleges trade-off to win favorable coverage in Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers

November 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

This is gross in so many ways.

According to the Wall Street Journal, at a U.K. inquiry into press ethics, Welsh singer Charlotte Church alleged that she waived a fee of £100,000, or more than $154,000, to perform at the 1999 wedding of News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch because she was told that it would win her favorable coverage in the company’s newspapers.

Ms. Church, a prodigy who was 13 at the time of the wedding, told the inquiry that she wanted the money but her management convinced her that waiving the fee would be looked on favorably by Mr. Murdoch’s newspapers, a move that would be good for her fledgling career.

She added that the alleged arrangement to secure favorable press coverage backfired. “This strategy failed,” Ms. Church said in a witness statement submitted to the inquiry. “In fact Mr. Murdoch’s newspapers have since been some of the worst offenders, so much so that I have sometimes felt that there has actually been a deliberate agenda.” Ms. Church also said police have informed her that her voicemails, and those of people close to her, were hacked by a private investigator on the payroll of the News of the World tabloid.

First of all, this is gross because Charlotte Church was considered a prodigy, and good at singing classical operatic repertoire. It is amazing that those without any talent, or skill for understanding talent, promote the wrong person because that person happens to be at the right place, at the right time. As a professional, classical vocalist, there were so many things wrong with the whole Charlotte Church thing – mostly that they were going to destroy her voice by having her sing repertoire that was way beyond her capabilities, which were exceedingly limited in the first place. Enough on that.

Secondly, this whole Charlotte Church/Rupert Murdoch scena is gross, but I can’t help but sit back and say “Well, I guess you get what you deserve.” Is that too harsh?

David Walker

Genre, Technology and Art: The Great Threat/Opportunity in the 21st Century

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the 20th Century, there was an Explosion.

…Ok, there were actually a ton of explosions (both literal and metaphorical) in the 20th Century, but I’m really only interested in one. Being a former music theorist, I am personally captivated by the classification of popular music. If you talk to a true fanatic of a sub-genre of music, they will likely know the etymology of that sub-genre and how to distinctly hear a difference between that sub-genre and some bordering sub-genre that would seem from the outside to be the exact same thing. I’m thinking of something along the lines of Hardcore Punk and Oi!, To the ear, they may sound similar to the layman, but to a fan of the subgenre it might be an insult to consider one of them to be the other. The explosion that I’m referring to is what I like to call the “Genre Explosion”. If you do a quick search for all of the sub-genres of Metal, for instance, it is likely that you will laugh at the many ridiculously specific terms people have coined to describe what a band with the name Cephalic Carnage sounds like (to which there is some discrepancy as CC says they are “rocky mountain hydro grind” where as others consider them a derivative of death metal known as, technical death metal….yeah). This obviously isn’t exclusive to rock genres. What is considered “techno”, “country”, “pop”, even “alternative” has evolved and split into factions. And it isn’t just exclusive to music either.

Why has this happened? My guess has to do with the evolutions across communication over the last century. Television, radio, records, tapes, cds and, most importantly, the internet have given more people wider access to culture that would’ve stayed in the fringe. Look at television. Broadcast television networks used to have huge market shares because you only had 4 or 5 options, but the rise of cable television has allowed quirkier things to be available to more people and taken a huge chunk out of broadcast market share.

Now, what about arts organizations? One of the interesting thing to me about performing arts is how well it can get away with doing the same thing for…years. It would be very easy to name five composers that will be featured this year by any major orchestra without looking at a single program. It is a guarantee that Carmen will be produced somewhere by a group that has already done Carmen at least once before. There are theaters all around the country that literally only produce works in iambic pentameter written by one dude. Luckily for those of us looking for jobs at one of these places, there are enough people in the world right now willing to buy tickets and donate money so that this niche can exist.

But my fear is essentially how long can this last. For profit entertainment is pretty fickle and though nostalgia for older bands, tv shows and movies can get it by for a while, it can’t really survive forever. I wonder if the rise in communication, while great for the spread of new ideas, will level out arts organizations because of a lack of interest. Certainly broadcast television is worried about advertisers jumping ship and arts organizations are noticing a strong fall in subscription sales across the board, but I’m wondering if a great change in what is produced is going to be essential for many of our performing arts to survive in the long run.

Or, I suppose, more Shakespeare.


Fundraising lessons from Occupy Wall Street

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

What can we learn from the money raised by the various Occupy movements around the country? While the headline number is some 350-450 thousand raised by Occupy Wall Street in New York, the other occupations around the country have raised, by my estimate, somewhere between one and three million dollars. They’ve managed this without doing a mailing, or an email campaign, and certainly without approaching major donors (Most major donors are a little too close to the 1% to be comfortable with this movement, I would guess). They just hang out a WePay button on their website and the money came in. They themselves don’t even control the financial apparatus, typically leaving the administration of that to an allied group like the Alliance for Global Justice.

In short, there has been nothing like a traditional effort at “development” or “fundraising.” OWS has raised a decent amount of money, seemingly by accident. Why?

Well, being in the news doesn’t hurt, nor does capturing the popular imagination or the national political mood. But then again you might have guessed that.

They have a strong commitment to transparency on their donation page, even if the execution is a bit sloppy. No surprise there.

They’ve made their ask on the internet, which is the best way to reach a core part of the Occupy demographic – young, connected, creative types. Obvious conclusion – use the right channel to communicate to your donors.

I think that the real lesson to be drawn from Occupy Wall Street, though, returns to the idea of capturing the national mood – and you can implement it for your donors. We live in the age of the 30 minute news cycle – the 24 hour news cycle doesn’t begin to describe the pace at which events unfold nowadays.

Development can learn from OWS by learning to act with speed when fundraising opportunities present themselves. Your PR department shouldn’t be the only ones responding to news related to your organization or art form – your development department should respond with equal alacrity. Imagine if development departments began to develop campaigns not months in advance, but days in advance. This is not to deprecate the value of long term planning, of course, which is still valuable, but more to suggest that Messaging be composed on the new digital timeline, and communications schedules be tweaked on the fly to react to current events.

We know that giving comes more from an emotional response than anything else – so why not integrate PR into your campaigns to maximize that emotional response? Maybe OWS can revolutionize fundraising too.


The Vinyl Comeback

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

As Charles discussed in his earlier blog post, more online purchases of digital music have led to increased sales for the recording industry, albeit at the expense of record stores, many of which have been driven out of business. In fact, just last week, Louisville’s independent record store Ear-X-Tacy closed after a long period of business difficulties. However, there is an additional trend that is quite fascinating: the recent dramatic increase in the sales of vinyl records.

According to an August article in The Economist, vinyl record sales in the U.S. increased by 39% over the previous year, and have more than doubled over the last decade. Vinyl wasn’t exactly dead, as it has long been a favorite format among audiophiles and rock music connoisseurs, but it is somewhat surprising to see sales increasing by so much during a time when an increasing number of consumers have been abandoning CDs for the improved convenience and lower cost of digital music. So, why is this occurring? The Economist article cites the fact that many new vinyl records come with a code that allows the buyer to download the album for free, enabling music fans to have both the physical object of the vinyl record and the convenience of the digital version for one price. I would be interested to know, however, if purchasers simply want the vinyl form as a item for their physical collection of music, or if there has actually been an increased interest in listening to music on vinyl records.

The act of listening to a vinyl record seems to be, in some ways, a reaction against the instant gratification culture that has developed as a negative consequence of the ease of accessing different forms of media quickly over the Internet. The availability of so much media is both a blessing and something of a curse, because on one hand, people are exposed to so much more music and art than they otherwise would be, but on the other, the medium encourages users to jump ahead to the next YouTube video or music track as soon as possible. With vinyl, however, you can’t just skip ahead at the click of a mouse; you have to walk over to the turntable and move the arm. The format compels listeners to listen to great albums straight through, the way they are typically meant to be experienced, and I think the increasing popularity of vinyl records is a very positive development for lovers of great music.


Going, Going, Gone

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

It is traditionally observed that the art market closely follows the rise and fall of the stock exchange prices. Well, American newspapers have not failed to notice an exception to this trend lately, as sales for contemporary art in New York have generated $635 million turnover in only 3 days. With the major contemporary art sale at Sotheby’s and the Impressionists one, both held in early November, this amount exceeds a century of acquisitions budget of the Centre Pompidou! Nicolai Frahm, a London-based contemporary art-adviser, noticed that “it was one of the best auctions ever seen in [his] life – and in the middle of a recession.”

Outside the great excitement of the auction house, however, contrasted the cries of “Shame on you” from the Sotheby’s warehousemen on strike for a pay rise since July. The fall of 3% of Wall Street on that same day did not undermine the spirit of buyers and sellers – especially for the lucky man who sold a Joan Mitchell for $9.3 million bought for $3.2 million four years ago. Let’s appreciate this unashamed health in the middle of a crisis…


Where Do We Go From Here: Pushing the Boundaries of Popular Art

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

During my drive home for the Thanksgiving holiday, I took the time to finally listen to the cast recording of The Book of Mormon I’ve had on my iPod for some time. I wasn’t going in completely blind, I’ve been a loyal South Park viewer for years, and I had already heard “Turn It Off” during the early buzz about the show.

So I went in expecting a very funny show that poked fun at everything in its path and included an absolutely no holds barred attitude towards language. Given that, I was actually still amazed by how entertaining the show was, and how far it was willing to push the limits of good taste. My favorite moment came during the show’s fourth tune, “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” which made me laugh so hard that I nearly wrecked my car and left me amazed that I haven’t heard more complaints and protests about the language used in the show.

I remember growing up during the olden days of the early 90s when people were horrified by the language used on The Simpsons and Married with Children. The shows from that time are tame when compared to what is on television today, and one can only assume that the producers of a musical that used profanity as freely as Trey Parker would have been run out of town by an angry mob of housewives carrying torches.

I’m not trying to criticize the language used in The Book of Mormon, because I personally find it hilarious. What I am impressed by is how far we have come in the last two decades in terms of the language and themes that can be used by popular art forms which are now celebrated rather than condemned. This does raise the question of how much further we can push the boundaries of public taste. Will it be possible to offend audiences twenty years from now, or will we have pushed the boundaries so far literally anything goes? Perhaps only time will tell.


The Singing Spider

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

The producers of the musical, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark don’t stop engaging actions to make profit in vain with one of the most expensive shows of the history of Broadway.

It is a secret for nobody – this play is a flop. According to the New York Times, it generates $1 million in expenses every week, because of its technical complexity, while tickets bring only 100 – 300 000 dollars. Debt-ridden, the play would need five additional years to mop them according to the calculations of the New York Times.

With 75 million dollars invested in the play, the producers do not hope to make any more profit but at least not to loose too much.

Then, rather than going into a tour, they decided to remain in New York, giving time for the play to reach its maturity.

Among others, new scenes will be added every year in the show to incite the public to return.

The producers also launched a radio campaign in 50 states with the opportunity of winning tickets. In exchange for their price, the happy winners will have to return to the radio to make a critique of the show – a way to put satisfied people in the front row.

Considered as one of the most expensive shows of the history of Broadway, confronted with a series of accidents on stage during the rehearsals, reviled by the critics even before the official launch ceaselessly delayed, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark accumulated problems. And I’m not even talking about the trial between the producers and the former director of the musical.

Qualified “disappointing” by Hollywood Reporter, even songs written by Bono and The Edge hardly found grace with the critics.

Nevertheless, the future is not so dark for the super-hero; the rumors aroused by its setbacks attract spectators. Last week, which included the fruitful weekend of Thanksgiving, Spider Man achieved near 2.1million dollars in receipts, a record at the moment.

Sometimes bad publicity can turn out to be a good advertisement…


Why not more NFP support for jazz?

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

There are hundreds of major non-for-profit organizations devoted to classical music, but there are not nearly as many organizations devoted to supporting jazz, a uniquely American art form which is just as deserving of support. Jazz at Lincoln Center, headed by Wynton Marsalis, has done an admirable job in advocating for jazz, and the Chicago Symphony runs an excellent jazz series at Symphony Center, but for the most part, jazz musicians have to fend for themselves, relying on jazz clubs (if they are fortunate enough to live in a city that has one) or other venues to perform their art. There are many smaller NFPs devoted to jazz, particularly in the realm of education, but few of them are able provide the resources needed to sustain high quality performances.

I would love to see more organizations like SF Jazz, a not-for-profit in San Francisco that has supported jazz performances for 30 years and is currently in the process of building a new concert hall specifically intended for jazz. There are many cities across the country that have good jazz scenes that struggle to find audiences, often due to for-profit venues that struggle to find a business model that will provide enough revenue to sustain their operations. Perhaps the development of more performance-focused jazz NFPs across the country might help focus and develop more widespread support for the art form. Of course, one would need to have a large enough base of passionate supporters to get started, but I think it is certainly an avenue worth exploring.


Music on a Card

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the growing battle for digital music, France took a step further in the beginning of the year with the creation of the Music Card by the government. The crisis in the CD industry is no breaking news, but figures make it sharper. Local artists’ album releases have dropped from 60 percent between 2003 and 2009 and figures show that one-third of French Internet users illegally download music.

In response to that, the Music Card allows French residents between 12 and 25 to purchase a 50€ worth of credit for 25€ – the government paying the other half – in order to legally download music on the Internet through the main music platforms. The plan is supposed to last for two years with the possibility of buying one subsidized card per year. A year after it started, the Ministry of Culture however had to admit his disappointment. With only around 50,000 cards sold, we are far from the million expected.

Beyond the inner critics – there is no check for the age of the customer, not all music platforms are accessible – the issue obviously lies deeper than just practicality. It is clear to the creators of the project that there is a huge step in asking for people to pay for something they currently get for free. Unlike the Minister claims, I do not think most of us realize – especially among young people – the impact of illegal download on artistic creation. But maybe the attempts on making it clear are taking a wrong direction by using threats and fees? In that respect, the project does appear as a nice tentative but will need to be refined and improved to become a successful alternative to piracy.


WHAT? An opera company with record ticket sales?

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have to admit-in this age of doom and gloom, it’s so nice to read that an opera company is doing well.

According to the Sarasota Patch, ‘Madama Butterfly’ gave Sarasota Opera its highest ticket sales ever for a fall opera at the Sarasota Opera House. The opera company announced last week that its fall production of Giacomo Puccini’s wildly overperformed opera grossed about half a million dollars in ticket sales for the fall season, which set the bar for the highest selling show since 2008 when the venue started fall operas.

Additionally, the opera company noticed more returning subscribers and first-time subscribers in the fall. Ten percent of the audience at each performance were new to Sarasota Opera, and 290 new subscribers signed up for the winter season, and the company is $300,000 ahead of where it was last year. OH YEAH!

Even though it’s a touch sad that this success comes by producing one of the most constantly performed top five operas-ever, this great news is music to my ears! I’m also very, very glad for the company because I have a vested interest in their success having worked there for a spell (in Development). (It was one of my most rewarding administrative experiences to date, and Susan Danis is an insanely great Executive Director.)

Ah, there is hope.
People are still going to the opera!

David Walker

Participative is popular

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here is an article about one big trend in arts, which is also one of the biggest challenges of Art Administration according to me:

For example, we know that a person who practiced an instrument when he was young will be more likely to enjoy and attend to symphonies or other types of concerts. People who danced will be more likely to appreciate ballet. These kinds of facts get more and more obvious in cultural managers’ spirits, but may not be enough. One of the biggest issues of “high culture” artistic events is their lack of audience involvement. This article develops some examples of participatory programs that have been established mostly in museums. I find it very clever for it underlines how participative art is not only a way to access art, but is also a way to access your own creativity through art. Thus, we can say that participative art fulfills two fundamental missions of art administration organizations: it brings people to the art and it is educational.


The social revolution in Art

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here is an interesting article I found about a now famous phenomenon: the social revolution. It more precisely focuses on its impact on art:

I always find it fascinating how many new opportunities for arts are invented on the web every day thanks to the bold initiative of some artists or organizations. To be perfectly honest, it also makes me a little dizzy. As democratic, and clever, and cheap as these solutions are, the whole social revolution looks like a gigantic “terra incognita” moving forward so fast that you do not have the time to invent a new solution and that this solution is already disappearing into a new one. How long was Myspace effective? How long will Facebook last? It feels like it is harder and harder for artists and art organizations to stay “in the trend,” which also means that it is harder to master communication and to build a name in a long-term view. Indeed, multiplicity can become chaotic, and it does even more when you add the speed factor to it. So it is a tricky time for artists: easy to become known and born, but easy to vanish quickly…


Creating an environment for the Arts

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Check this out:

And here is one of the most interesting extracts of this article: “I think what these artists are after is not making a sculpture but making an environment,” says Yasmil Raymond, summing up her experience with olfactory art. “The work, when it smells, enters the realm of a human being, the living. This life component enters into it—which is very different from looking at a Monet.”

We always want to improve the “total audience experience” when organizing an art event. We always want to make the experience more participative, so that the audience gets implicated in the art. Marcel Proust already told us about the impressive power of taste for human being with his “madeleine:” eating a little cake could make him remember perfectly a long forgotten feeling which was related to a very specific moment. Basic food or clothing shops have already started to diffuse smell to attract the client with their most basic senses. Let’s consider the feeling of the environment of the moment. Let’s imagine that memory is sense related. Considering what makes the experience intense and unforgettable is feeling should not be so hard from an artistic point of view, since art performances always conveys visual or listening feelings. Why not using the smell or the taste to make the experience more total? Why not diffusing a very nice and characteristic smell in a symphony? Why not partner with great cooks for interludes? The principle is simple: it is called polysemy. A sense answers to (and reminds of) another sense which finally reminds the moment in which you had the feeling, making your memory so personal, intense, and complete, that it becomes harder to forget. Also, it’s a good way to develop loyalty in your audience…


The Time Machine of Art

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here is one article I found really interesting:

First, it underlines how fashion can drive and influence the arts in a given time. It helps remind us about this little but crucial “thing in the air,” that the bright cultural manager will pay attention to when the narrow-minded one will not even consider it. To put it in a nutshell, fashion is part of the artistic world because it reflects mentalities. So, it is not surprising if “fashion” is one basic tools of any marketing guy in every business, except some reluctant areas (like “high culture”). Indeed, this “thing in the air” represents a “royal road to the unconscious”… to use Sigmund Freud’s famous words.

The second reason for which I found this paper interesting were the arguments that led the author to link art in the seventies to nowadays’ art: some nostalgia which hides a fundamental bond. The first argument is a taste for what is new, conceptual, and unashamed. The second argument relies on the structure of artistic creativity: multiple and personal in the same time. When the seventies achieved this very personal and multiple artistic productions in an intuitive way, we notice now that digital revolution hurled us into this same kind of artistic creativity. That is why some current trend in the arts are trying to take their inspiration from this period. Fashion is not a fantasy or a whim, it tells us about not only the evolution of mentalities but also about the deepest changes in the society’s structure.


Connoisseurs wanted

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Something unusual is happening on the art market in France at the moment: 6,000 artworks are desperately looking for their owners. Following the scandal of their robbery by warehousemen from the famous Drouot auction house revealed in December 2009, searches have been led to find more than 250 tons of objects now sealed, most of them still unidentified at the moment. Among this priceless catalog are paintings from Matisse, Chagall, Gauguin or Picasso but also sculptures and silverware. In order to identify the victims of this traffic, a website has been put together under the direction of the judge displaying pictures of the stolen artworks. The method is quite unusual as victims would normally come to enquire directly about their loss, but it meets the scale of this robbery that covers all France. How come owners didn’t claim for their works earlier? That is because they were entrusted to the auction house, often as part of a succession, which makes the attribution much harder. Still it seems hard to believe that so many little marvels are not asked for. In any case, there are three more months to go for the owners to find back their lost treasure.


El Sistema in England?

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

The announcement of a National Music Plan in England is exciting, but the sustainability of the program is worrisome. Currently the England Department of Education allocates 77.5 million pounds for music education, but this figure is scheduled to decline to a meager 58 million by 2014-15. The plan calls for the formation of "Hubs" of music education accessible to all throughout England, to which organizations will have to apply for participation. I am excited that the idea of El Sistema is spreading and other governments are at least attempting to implement the democratization of music education. It will be interesting to see if England can bear the financial burden of such a program as their funding gets slashed. If they are able to successfully pull this off, I can only hope that its cultural revitalization and social benefits will be contagious and spread to other countries!


Copyright? or…

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Another attempt by congress to solve the problem of piracy of intellectual property.

This newest bill aims to stop piracy with yet more draconian measures, some of which have real implications for a free and open internet and the future of free speech on the internet. Previous hardline attempts to crackdown on piracy, such as the DMCA or the RIAA’s campaign of punitive lawsuits under the DMCA, have proven essentially ineffective at curbing the growth of illegal filesharing, and at a real cost to freedom. This law is likely to be no different, except that it will continue to erode any moral high ground we might have when it comes to foreign governments that control their citizens’ internet access.

The solution to this mess, though, is not more punitive measures and restriction of information that “wants to be free,” as the saying goes. No, the real solution would be to figure out how we can adequately compensate creative workers for their work in a society where the cost of a digital copy is practically zero. There are many solutions for this, but they all boil down to some kind of government or third sector social funding mechanism for the arts. This doesn’t necessarily involve the creation of a government art bureaucracy that decides what art gets funded and what does not. The solution could be participatory and egalitarian, such as a voucher allocation system where each citizen can indicate on their tax return some particular artist or artmaking entity that they would like their share of social support for the arts to go towards. All artists and artmaking entities would be eligible to register for such a system. The exact functioning of such a system is unimportant – it can be done, and many people have proposed such things before.

The classical music world has an opportunity to work towards such a system in a radical way: do away with copyright for our recordings.

It was always foolish to suggest that a particular recording of Beethoven was so much different from the others that it constituted an original work, worth the protection of copyright as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution:
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

I don’t believe anyone thinks that the 100th recording of the 7th symphony promotes the progress of the useful arts.

If we do away with copyright for our recordings, we accomplish two things towards such a system: 1) we create an immense source of public wealth in the arts. 2) we prefigure the type of free information world that could exist.

And, it costs us very little – recordings long ago ceased to be a major revenue stream for all but a few orchestras, and orchestras that produce many quality recordings should see marketing benefits from those recordings. The major orchestras in this country that are regarded as excellent in some ways came to that title not because they were so much more excellent than the others, but because they were the orchestras that recorded for major record companies.

So, who’s up for a little radical change in the copyright world?


The benefits of thinking small

November 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

I saw this article in ArtsJournal last week, and it seems to me that the more flexible model used by these ensembles may be a more realistic and effective avenue for bringing new classical music to more people than the traditional large orchestral model. The big orchestras are faced with the challenge of attempting to satisfy a wide variety of patrons: those who want to hear only the classics, those who only come to hear the big soloists, and the smaller number of patrons who crave either new or underplayed works. It is rather difficult for these organizations to be overly adventurous in their programming, lest they alienate long term subscribers and donors who provide the revenue on which they depend. This is not to say that the large orchestras haven’t been making an effort; the Chicago Symphony currently has two young composers-in-residence, and the New York Philharmonic has been doing a good job of balancing crowd-pleasing classical concerts with more contemporary concerts, such as their recent screening of Koyaanisqatsi with a live performance of Philip Glass’s score.

However, the smaller chamber orchestras have an advantage due to their flexibility; these ensembles rely on a small staff, are able to perform in many different venues and, with fewer different stakeholders to satisfy, might be better positioned to target audiences that are interested in new music. Furthermore, the musicians in these orchestras, mostly freelancers, are all committed to and involved with the artistic mission and sometimes (in the case of A Far Cry) even handle administrative tasks and contribute to programming decisions. The modern, rapidly changing economy will likely favor arts organizations that are adaptable, and it will be interesting to see how the groups mentioned in this article progress over the long term. The future direction of classical music is, of course, difficult/impossible to predict, but I wonder if smaller, more independent ensembles will eventually become the norm?


Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: The Vicious Spiral of Classical Music Snobbery

November 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Given that an inordinate number of my friends are music theorists who seem to have a natural predisposition towards new music, I have found that my Facebook news feed has recently been overrun with this image:


The irony I find with this, however is that I know the people posting this (yes, I actually know who my Facebook friends are), and I know that few if any of them has paid to attend an orchestral performance in years. Whenever the question of why they so rarely attend professional orchestras is raised, the answer seems to inevitably be related to the lack of new music programming. Clearly we have reached an impasse.

While I understand the feeling that orchestras do not play enough new music, and I suspect that most orchestra managers understand that sentiment as well, it is exceedingly difficult to get that point across by not being an audience member. Orchestras actually do pay attention to feedback from audience members and donors, and it is a truly unfortunate reality that some of the most fervent supporters of new music don’t fall into either of these groups. Unfortunately the constantly perilous state of the American orchestra does not afford the luxury of basing programming decisions on the opinions of those who do not currently provide some kind of support. Perhaps the only solution, then, is for new music fans to become regular audience members at their local orchestra, suffer through a few Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, and start filling out audience surveys in favor of more programming variety.


Experiments with Ticket Sales: Filament Theatre in Chicago

November 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Remember that idea about a theatre that doesn’t sell tickets? Ok, well, this isn’t exactly that, but it is very interesting. The Filament Theatre in Chicago is changing the way it sells tickets this year based off of Community Supported Agriculture. Instead of selling tickets outright, the theatre is posting their production budget online and allowing patrons to sponsor a specific item in the budget. You can pay anywhere from $5-$35 on the rent, costumes, pieces of the set and then see that same show you sponsored. Tickets are general admission, so paying more or less won’t get you a better seat. Filament is attempting to keep all of their numbers transparent and connect more with the community. It’s not revolutionary, but it sounds interesting. Attaching a physical piece of the production with your dollar might make people feel more connected to the show. You can literally point to a costume and say, "I paid for that button!" or something along those lines. The website (which is not up at the time of writing) is supposedly set up like a wedding registry. This might also create some urgency since the cheaper items will likely go first and buying a "rush ticket" will likely mean paying $35 dollars for 1/80th of the rent (I’m assuming).

What I would like to see is a theatre expand on this idea even more. When Radiohead released their album "In Rainbows" a couple years ago, they allowed people to pay whatever they want to download it. Sure, many many people paid less than a buck, but Radiohead still saw profits on the experiment. People paid what they thought was fair, or paid on the basis of their insane fandom. A nonprofit theatre probably wouldn’t have the same insane fans that Radiohead has, but it might be interesting to see how much people would pay when given the chance to choose themselves from an unlimited range of prices.


Orchestras and new music

November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

A friend recently suggested that I listen to some of the music of James MacMillan, a contemporary Scottish composer whose name I had heard, but with whose work I was unfamiliar. So, I visited Spotify, which has become my new favorite online diversion, and listened to a recording of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, an orchestral work by MacMillan that was premiered at the BBC Proms in 1990. The piece vividly depicts the confession of a Scottish woman accused of witchcraft, and is one of the most gripping and evocative modern orchestral works I have heard recently. I was somewhat surprised that I had not heard of this piece before (although it might be more well-known in Europe, for obvious reasons), and it got me thinking: what exactly are the modern orchestral classics?

It certainly seems to me–although I could be wrong–that there are very few pieces written over the last 50 years or so that orchestra aficionados (or orchestral musicians, for that matter) talk about in the same way that they talk about works from the 19th century or even the first half of the twentieth century, such as The Rite of Spring or the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. Is it merely because the pieces haven’t been around long enough, as one friend of mine opined in a conversation we had along these lines over the summer, or is there something about the way that modern orchestral music is presented that prevents these pieces from “sticking?” Other arts organizations, such as theater and opera companies, seem to have a more established canon of newer works. Not only do they premiere new works, many of these works have staying power and are performed frequently.

This is not to suggest that there are no contemporary orchestral works that are replayed–certainly there are, but they are usually not the main attraction of an orchestral program. Rather, they are combined with a violin/piano concerto and a Beethoven/Brahms/Tchaikovsky symphony, while a performance of an established modern opera or play (partly due to the nature of these art forms) is always an event in itself. So, I guess my concern is this: if the best of the new pieces don’t become part of the standard repertoire and become something that patrons look forward to hearing rather than something they sit through while they wait to hear Beethoven’s Fifth for the 25th time, what is going to sustain orchestral music as a relevant art form and not simply a living museum for music written over a century ago?


NY City Opera-Unusual Season Opener

November 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

City Opera began its season with some songs, and a song cyle, by the incomparable Rufus Wainwright.

I can’t help it-I get so insanely emotional about NY City Opera and Rufus Wainwright. NYCO is the one opera company with which I have performed the most over my entire career (8 times), and I have LOVED everything that Rufus Wainwright has done since the release of his first album, aptley titled Rufus Wainwright. But nothing will ever be able to compare to his third album titled Want One. That album fills a singularly personal space in both my heart and soul. It is the #1 album I will take to that deserted island, closely followed by Steely Dan’s Aja.

I have purposefully stayed out of the NYCO debate over the past few years-it is such a hotly contested issue, with an amazing amount of emotional intensity fueling the fire. I am incredibly emotional about it myself-how could I not be? It was one of my opera ‘homes’. It was an opera ‘home’ to so many incredible performers, and I personally understand why it’s so difficult to watch it struggle.

But what I can’t seem to support, and I will most likely get lambasted for this, is dramatically responding to every little piece of information the public finds out about NYCO. Not many people are privy to all the important information as to why its recent leaders have made the decisions it has made. Sure many of those decisions seem insanely wrong, but I can’t respond with a knee jerk reaction every time a little piece of news comes out in the public. The recent leaders say they can’t afford performing at Lincoln Center anymore, and everyone seems to be completely freaking out about that. I am certainly upset about that, but I’m also extremely aware that many arts organizations are struggling while the world struggles to rebuild its economy. And from personal experience I can say that not every manager leading an arts organization has the business acumen to weather such difficulties. Frankly, that fact has certainly been a partial catalyst to my desire to work in artistic administration. So when some companies claim that they are acting with fiscal responsibility, I can’t help but give it the time and space it deserves to prove itself.

If NYCO is trying to act with fiscal responsibility, shouldn’t we be applauding that? We have seen so many arts organizations collapse because of a lack of fiscal management. What’s wrong with the board upholding their fiduciary, and legal, responsibility?

Why hasn’t everyone been freaking out about the Brooklyn Philharmonic leaving its home? Because instead of freaking out, praise has been heaped on to the Philharmonic for leaving BAM-people understand they are trying to be fiscally responsible. People aren’t happy they’ve left BAM, but they are understanding why they need to leave, and supporting that initiative.

I’m glad that, finally, someone has had the courage to say something like this in the NY Times. Anthony Tommasini, although not completely convinced yet of NYCO’s current leader and the company’s future, brings this thought to light.

Who knows NYCO’s future? While we all wonder, we at least know that this unusual season opener delivered on its first promise…

David Walker

Tosca: the video game

November 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Seriously, English National Opera (ENO), you’ve got to stop doing so much cool stuff. You’re making the rest of us look bad.

ENO has been known in the opera world for doing really intriguing marketing campaigns in the past several years. But now, they’ve outdone themselves. For their upcoming of production of Tosca, they have created a video game based on the age-old pun marketers have used for years to promote the classic opera. In the opera, (SPOILER ALERT!) the title character hurls herself off of a building in the final act in order to avoid being caught for murdering her enemy, the evil Police Chief Scarpia. Now, people that visit the video game site can literally "catch" falling Toscas, while avoiding falling Scarpias. What’s more, emailing the page to friends automatically enters the player into a drawing for box seats to see the opera and a bottle of champagne.

I love the creativity of this campaign, I love how quickly it could (and probably will) go viral, and I love that now, there’s an opera video game. I just wish I had thought of it first!