Saturday, July 02, 2005

More On New York Times Cultural Myopia!

On June 24th, I commented on a New York Times article about the threatened death of the classical music audience and I most gently (by LA Cowboy standards, anyway, as I left the writer's entrails mostly intact) chided it for not looking at examples that contradicted its thesis, particularly when it came to looking at non-New York examples. It turns out I am not the only one to take exception with this article, even though they did it from a slightly different - but just as valid - perspective.

Drew McManus, whose superb BLOG on symphony orchestras ( , I just discovered thanks to a vigilant reader of LA COWBOY, has the following (in part) to say:

Case in point, the recent article by Anne Midgette in the 06/26/05 edition of the New York Times. Overall, it is a well written, thoughtful article which examines some of the trends for large orchestra in major metropolitan areas across the U.S. Unfortunately, it also makes it very easy for readers to draw universal associations between what's happening at some the largest budget orchestras in the country (Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston) and every other orchestra in the business as though what's happening in those groups is what’s happening everywhere.

Granted, this is the NYT and it makes perfect sense to focus their articles on what’s happening in New York, but I wish thier editors wouldn't approve articles which draw universal connections between what may be happening in New York and the rest of the country (at least with orchestras anyway). Everyone would be better served if they took more of a local approach or made the distinction between any connection between trends for the New York Philharmonic and say, the Nashville Symphony.

For example, the article examines classical music from a “supply and demand” viewpoint almost always an unadvisable idea in my opinion),

“All over the Western world, the alarm is sounding that classical music is in trouble. Orchestra subscription sales are dropping widely, in some cases by as much as two percentage points a year. Ensembles are not balancing their budgets. Audiences are getting older; young people are turned off by classical music.

Is it true that people don't want classical music anymore? Or is it just a question of how to give it to them? And is it even possible - heresy of heresies - that they are being given too much of it?

By their very nature, orchestras cannot follow the laws of supply and demand. Major orchestras give their musicians contracts for 52 weeks a year, then have to figure out how to occupy them. This is one reason orchestras have summer festivals in the first place: to give the musicians something to do.”

Unfortunately, this is an over simplistic view of how the orchestral side of classical music functions. Furthermore, it completely disregards what’s happening in other orchestras which demonstrate trends which are opposite of some of those which are detailed in the article.

It also assumes the current “demand” for what a few of the big budget orchestras deliver is representative of the rest of the country. Fortunately, there are some real examples of organizations where they are more concerned with expanding the demand for classical music rather than sit back and bemoan 60% capacity rates with the scrutiny applied in the NYT article.

Here’s a series of examples using three orchestras of varying budget size:

In Los Angeles, the Philharmonic has expanded their number of primary venue concerts from 98 in the 2002-2003 season to 165 in the 2004-2005 season. Within that same period, they’ve experienced a 16% increase in overall ticket sales. Granted, they did move into the luxurious new Disney Hall, but keep in mind that it was built in the same neighborhood as their old venue. This fact indicates they didn’t have to go foraging for new patrons in neighboring communities, attend summer festivals, or carpetbag their way into a community where an orchestra recently collapsed just to give their musicians something to do; the audience was there all along.

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