Category Archives: Orchestras

New York Philharmonic, 1/9/2014

More on our DePauw WT (Winter Term) trip (I’m working backwards from today, Friday.)

My colleague Chris Lynch and I want the students to see a broad array of the arts in NY. Last night, we went to the New. York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. A terrific concert, which I’ll discuss below. First though, the experience.

We gathered near the fountain (since it wasn’t too cold), and asked the students to look at the architecture and get a sense of the Lincoln Center complex, this set of majestic, grand, clean, modernistic temples of high art. To me, Lincoln Center represents one 1960s ideal of a great urban arts center. It is set back and removed from the surrounding area, an effect that must have been much more pronounced when it opened than it is today.

We wanted the students to take it in, and then after the concert look at the new Alice Tully lobby in the redesigned Juilliard building, for a one example of a very contrasting 21st-century ideal. We asked the students to give us one adjective. “Awesome, grand, exciting, overwhelming,” were some of them (I wish I’d made a video!). Then we went in to what I find to be the coldly modern, boringly beige space. These main lobby spaces have always felt dully antiseptic and slightly intimidating to me. When I was a Juilliard student, I had this sense I ought to like this place but I never really did.

We attended Victoria Bond’s enthusiastic pre-concert talk. It’s always wonderful to hear a composer talk with animated appreciation about the brilliant construction of a Beethoven work; she discussed the First Symphony at length. It’s such an ingenious piece, such a fantastic way to announce to the world, “I am Beethoven.” She covered the rest of the program (Fidelio Overture, Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, and Gershwin’s An American in Paris) as well, but it was the symphony she seemed most excited about.

Chris Lynch is a musicologist, very interested, as am I, in how the spaces in which we experience music shape that experience. He pointed out later how appropriate it seemed to him that we had the students listen to a talk that focused on the formal structure of the music we were about to hear in such a formal and structured place.

We found our third-teer center seats. I didn’t mind the distance from the stage, and I thought the sound was excellent (it is often the case that the best place to listen in a large concert hall is in the highest and least expensive seats). I kept trying to remember the excitement of my first concert in this auditorium, and the excitement of hearing a truly great orchestra for the first time, as I sat with these 13 students having their first NY Phil experience.

Our usher, a genuinely warm and friendly lady, was so happy to learn what we were doing. “What a great concert for their first symphony experience!” She had heard that the dress rehearsal that morning was spectacular.

It was about the most unusual program order, and collection of pieces, I could have imagined. a Beethoven overture, followed by an emotionally wrenching Shostakovich concerto. After intermission, the witty and light Beethoven first symphony followed by George Gershwin’s tone poem An American in Paris. I’m a champion of shuffle concerts, and pairing Beethoven pieces with 20th-century works on each half had a bit of a shuffle quality to it.

I still haven’t figured it out. I said to Chris and some of the students that I didn’t get what the emotional progression was supposed to be; Chris, who loves to argue (in a delightful way that playfully challenges my middle-aged tendency towards pompous pronouncements), asked, “why does there needto be an emotional progression?” So there.

The Philharmonic, which has long been my favorite American orchestra, was in top form for the entire concert. the precision of the strings was a joy. Fidelio was suitably dramatic, and the Shostakovich, more a symphony for violin and orchestra than a typical concerto, was played with richness and depth,

Somehow. I’d never heard of the extraordinary violinist Lisa Batiashvili before last night. From her first note, I knew that I was hearing a great player, and soon I recognized that she is a great artist as well. She’s in her mid-thirties; from our distant seats she looked to be in her late teens or early twenties. I felt the same excitement I did one night in the hall in, I think, 1978, when I was at a Philharmonic concert in which Yefim Bronfman, Schlomo Mintz, and Yo-Yo Ma made their collective NY Philharmonic debuts performing the Beethoven Triple Concerto.

The lively wittiness of the Beethoven First Symphony was captured delightfully, as well as you can with modern instruments. Some of the violin runs didn’t seem as precise as in the first half; others were dazzling. In the second movement, there was a slight accent on the second beat of the main motive. As string geeks like me know, the upbeat is slurred to the downbeat, two notes in a down bow. Then there’s a single, short note on an up bow, followed again by two slurred notes. I like to hear (and when I have the rare chance to, play) that second beat lighter than the first. The Philharmonic strings played it with a slight accent. To me, it seemed inadvertent–it’s a notoriously tricky thing. After the concert, I mentioned it to Chris, saying I was a touch disappointed. He said he liked it, finding it a Haydnesque misplaced accent. We argued about it all the way down to the Brooklyn Diner on 57th St., where we had an amazingly expensive post-concert snack.

We don’t have to be overly restrained by compositional intent, he insisted. I agree; by the time we got to the restaurant I was imagining it with a fun accent on that second beat. He thought Alan Gilbert was conducting an accent–I hadn’t noticed that. To me the issue was whether it was intentional or not. I’d been in an orchestra in which the conductor insisted that second beat be lighter than the first, and for decades I’ve heard it that way in my imagination. So it didn’t even occur to me in the concert that it might be intentional. Still, it didn’t seem to be enough of an accent to truly work as a playful syncopation.

The students enjoyed our debate for the time we were still in the hall. And. I must say it’s been a long time since I spent 30 minutes arguing over minutiae of a classical music performance, and it was absolutely wonderful.

Finally, if ever there was an orchestra meant to play American in Paris, it’s the Ny Phil. What a thrill to experience.

And then we found our third-teer

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Filed under New York Philharmonic, WT 2014

ISO: Some Great Steps and Opportunities to Build Momentum

Good news: the ISO website donation page now has information on the matching-grant challenge (for the current ISO contract to remain in effect, $5 million from new donors must be raised by February 3, 2003; an anonymous donor will match up to $500,000, so those of us potential small donors can have the impact of our gifts doubled).

That information went up yesterday afternoon, and it’s a great step.  The Musicians of the ISO are actively promoting the $500,000 matching opportunity via email and their Facebook page and Twitter feed, and many of us are posting the links on our own pages.

Some friendly suggestions to build momentum:

  • The ISO could publicize the campaign on its own Facebook page and its Twitter feed.  (As of this writing, there has been nothing about it either place.)
  • The ISO Musicians could publicize the campaign on their website. (As of this writing, there is nothing about it there, either.  You could start with a simple link if you are waiting for something fancier from the ISO.)
  • The ISO and/or their fundraising firm could make sure they’ve actually contacted everyone they think they already have contacted. An ISO musician forwarded me an internal ISO email, responding to my original blog post, which says that all single-ticket buyers have been mailed to and are being called.  I’ve bought tickets twice in 2012, and still haven’t been contacted by the ISO itself.  A colleague who is a pretty high-profile person in the regional arts world thanked me today for my “cranky guy” post and said, “I’ve bought tickets, and I haven’t heard anything from them, either!”

It’s December 12. It’s that time of the year to really sell new donors on charitable tax deductions for 2012.  There are lots of opportunities for us to work with the ISO and the musicians (who to so many of us are the ISO) to meet these fund-raising goals.

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Filed under Fund Raising, Indianapolis Symphony, ISO Musicians, marketing

More on the Indianapolis Symphony’s Non-Fundraising

I ran into a lot of people at the really terrific Why Arts? Why Indy? event with Michael Kaiser and various local arts leaders at the University of Indianapolis this evening, and everyone seemed to have read my cranky-guy post from earlier in the day.  Or at least part of it.  (It is pretty long.)

And they had stories to share.

Jay Harvey mentioned his friend, an ISO subscriber, who received a fund-raising letter.  Except the letter in her envelope was addressed to someone else, obviously a major contributor.  Which leads us to wonder who got the letter meant for her? And whose letter did the big donor get? (Jay had already tweeted about this.)

A local freelance musician and teacher who like me has bought tickets from the ISO, and even played in the orchestra as a sub, so they definitely have her address, said she, too, is mystified–and a bit insulted–as to why she hasn’t been asked for a donation.

To top it off, an ISO player who teaches at DePauw part-time told me that he’d suggested to the someone in the development office that they send fund-raising solicitation to our music faculty.

Nope. That would be a lot of work, and probably wouldn’t yield much, was the explanation.

So it’s not that it didn’t occur to them to ask music faculty–they just didn’t bother, even when someone suggested it.  Meanwhile, the donation I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me to make would have paid for a mailing campaign several times over.

I understand there are limited resources and the ISO  staff need to focus their efforts where they anticipate there will be good results.  But as someone who retweeted the link my earlier post wrote, “#1 rule of FR: if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Exactly.

 

 

 

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Filed under Fund Raising, Indianapolis Symphony

Cranky Would-Be Donor to ISO: Just Ask for the Money!

Dear ISO management,

“WE NEED YOUR HELP,” you proclaim in a full-page ad in yesterday’s Indianapolis Star.

I think you’re right.

Your ad explains,

In order to activate the contract the musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony and symphony management agreed to this fall, we need to raise $5 million in pledges from new donors by February 3 to help stabilize our organization.  Luckily, a very generous new donor has agreed to match up to $500,000 in new gifts. . . .

That matching offer is great.

But I think you need help not just with money, but in running your fundraising campaign.  I’ll publicize it here, and on Facebook, and on Twitter, and talk it up.

But first, I’m going to blow off a little steam.

I first heard about this matching program in an email on Saturday from a musician in the symphony, and wrote him back that it’s fantastic that some of the ISO musicians are partnering with the management in this fund-raising effort.  Given the challenges facing full-time, benefits-paying symphony orchestras, the “we play, you raise the money” division of labor isn’t the best path forward. Working together is.

But, hey, ISO management: why haven’t I heard from you?

There are so many demographic, economic, cultural, and sociological factors at play when it comes to symphony orchestras that when players say many or most of an institution’s financial challenges are the result of poor work on the part of management, I often think they are just not looking at the wider picture. When it comes to the ISO, however, I’ve beginning to think that my very frustrated musician friends have a point.

Decades ago, I heard the head of a not-for-profit organization say that the first rule of fundraising is, “ASK FOR THE MONEY!”

Ever since the deal contingent on raising $5 million was made in October, I’ve been planning on making a donation to the ISO.  And I decided I’d make one that would be a stretch for me.

I’ve just been waiting for you,  ISO management, to ask me for the money. And I’ve been more than a little surprised (and dismayed and bewildered) that I haven’t heard from you.

You must know who I am.

I’ve bought tickets at least twice in the past year, including for a small Winter Term class.  When I bought a pair for the October “Happy Hour” concert over the phone, my name and address was in the database, and I confirmed the information and gave a credit card number.  As a music professor in Indiana, I get occasional emails at my work address from the Education Department, and have served as a judge at ISO-sponsored competitions.  The DePauw School of Music, where I teach, has engaged the ISO for two performances this year. I’m sure our Dean would have forwarded a fundraising email had he been he asked, and that our office staff would put flyers in faculty mailboxes if they received a set of them.

Hello?

Don’t you want my money? Aren’t you going to ask for it?

Luckily for the campaign, I’ve heard from the musicians.  S0 now I’ll make a donation.

I am deeply concerned that my donation will genuinely help this $5 million goal get met, because if you haven’t asked people like me in your ticket-buyer database, or music faculty in nearby programs, who else haven’t you asked?

How much money are you leaving on the table?

I’ve heard more than one ISO supporter say they are concerned about donating directly to the ISO, because of perceived issued with management competence, and would be more comfortable donating directly to the musicians.  Except that to make this new contract happen, we need to donate to the official campaign.

So, ISO fundraisers, we are behind you on this.  Here are a few suggestions, from your cranky donor-to-be:

  • Contact everyone in your existing database. Like me.
  • Get lists from other arts organizations and use them.  The Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra sends mailings to my parents, who donated to public radio, and I assume that’s how the ICO got their information. My parents don’t hear from you.  (OK, one of my parents is dead, but the ICO doesn’t know that. But better to mail one dead person too many than thousands of live potential donors too few.)
  • Put a full explanation of the matching program on the website, and explain its importance.
    • The home page at present has a small little item that says, “A generous donor has offered to match individual gifts dollar-for-dollar, up to $500,000. So every dollar you give today will turn into two, just like that!” Great, but there’s nothing about the February deadline for the $5 million goal, which if not reached means there’s no contract with the players.  How does that create urgency or inspire people to donate?
    • And when I follow the “donate today” link, there’s no information on the matching program at all, how to make sure my gift will count towards it, or whether or not there’s an option to make a pledge (I could pledge a much larger amount towards this campaign than I can just give today).  Yes, there’s a phone number to call, but I don’t want to talk to someone, I just want to handle this easily online.
  • Send out a press release!
    • You’ve taken out at least one full-page newspaper ad for this matching campaign, but there’s nothing (!) about it on the News Releases page of “Press” section of the website.

Maybe I’m too cranky, but I have to say that if the Symphony Society wanted to not-so-subtly sabotage it’s new-donor campaign, it couldn’t do a better job of it. If there were a plan to say, “Look, we did a new-donor campaign but the community didn’t support it, so we have to pay you even less,” I think it would look something like what I’m seeing. Surely this cannot be the case. I assume you’ve been focused on landing big donors.  A groundswell of smaller donations could really help (which is what I’m sure your $500,000 matching donor wants to encourage), and inspire big donors,

but if you don’t even ask the ticket buyers in your database for donations, what are you doing?

And to my ISO musician friends:

You need this $5 million goal to be met.  Obviously the ISO development office doesn’t have the resources to pull this off on their own.

You’re going to have to do even more to help.  A lot more.  You can start by putting the information about this campaign on your own website.

To everybody concerned:

There are a lot of us who will give if we’re invited to, and invited often enough.

Just ask for the money.

Sincerely,

Your cranky friend,

Eric

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Filed under Fund Raising, Indianapolis Symphony, marketing, orchestra websites

Toronto Symphony: 35% of Its Audience Under 35

As I’ve said before, “the question” for classical music (and its genre-melding young offspring) is how do we bring in a younger audience without compromising artistic standards? By younger, I mean under 40.  Whether or not you believe there’s a classical-music attendance crisis, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have some people with full heads of non-gray hair joining the rest of us.

Indefatigable super-publicist Gail Wein sent me news of this story about the Toronto Symphony‘s success. Through the success of the orchestra’s tsoundcheck program for young adults, 35% of the TSO audience is now under 35.

35% under 35! Fantastic news.  And how have they done it?

  • concert schedules that work for young professional audiences
  • low-priced tickets for not just students but also those aged 18-35 (23,000 this past season,good seats that can be selected in advance)
  • lobby parties after shortened Saturday-night concerts

The entire article is well worth reading–it sure brightened my day.  Doesn’t the following sound good?

[G]oing to the symphony has become a normal thing to do for under 35s in Toronto, and has even become a popular date-night activity. Trina Senechal Klinck, 32, began attending the TSO when she started dating her husband, Ben, in 2006.

“It’s the same prices as the movies and it’s more of an outing and it’s cultural. I’m always up for trying new things and the symphony offers things that are compelling to go to — you don’t feel like it’s from the bottom of the barrel. We’ve introduced a lot of our friends to [the TSO].”

I know not everyone (especially among some of my orchestral musician friends)  is happy with the idea of post-concert lobby parties.  But low-priced ticket programs and a fun atmosphere can obviously help to build a younger audience, and it doesn’t mean you have to dumb down the music.

Doesn’t the younger set want laser light shows and film scores? As it turns out, they don’t.

“If you listen to current bands like Radiohead, Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom,” said longtime tsoundchecker Dustin Cohen, 26, “you will see that … young people today continue to crave big-picture themes like love, loss, death and revolution. There’s a unique quality to live classical music. When I’m in the concert hall, watching the orchestra, I’m thinking: ‘I’m going to download this second movement when I get home!’”

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Gail Wein, Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Typo of the Day: NY Phil and Eating Capacity

A piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (which I noticed when the guy next to me at lunch today had that section of the paper open between us) reports that with the New York City Opera leaving the David H. Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater) at Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic is considering a a temporary move in, if and when money is raised to renovate Avery Fisher Hall.

There are other possibilities in town. “The Koch, however, tops the list, say people familiar with the matter, in part because its eating capacity is close to that of Avery Fisher . . .”

Neither place seems to have that much of an eating capacity to me.  Seating capacity, that may be similar.

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Filed under and everything, Avery Fisher Hall, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York Philharmonic

Oregeon Symphony Springs, with Passion, for Music

Wow, I just had a blast at the Oregon Symphony Spring for Music concert.  Lots of Oregonians in the audience, of course, cheering on their standard bearers.

Ives, Adams, Britten, and Vaughn-Williams.  The Britten Sinfonia da Requiem and the Vaughn Williams Symphony No. 4 were especially effective. The playing was not only on an amazingly high technical level, but also was genuinely passionate.  Musicians actually moving in their seats–maybe not as much as I hear the Berlin Philharmonic does, but still quite something.  This was the sort of concert you could drag your college-age kid to and he or she would be glad you did.  (So I wish I’d dragged mine.)

I’d arrived at the concert tired, thinking I might leave at intermission.  By then, I’d been so energized by the Britten performance, which concluded the first half, that there was no way I was going to miss the Vaughn Williams.  This was classical music-making at its best.  And the prolonged standing ovation, which went on seemingly forever, wasn’t fueled just by the home-town fans happy to be in NY.  This was the real thing, a celebration of a genuinely extraordinary shared experience.

Everyone I spoke to after was raving about it.  A publicist friend and I ran met another music writer on 57th Street after the concert.  He was blown away (although he put it in a much more dignified way).  With perhaps a touch of old-school east-coast snobbery, he was in a state of delighted shock.  “If the Monteral Symphony on Saturday measures up to even half of what this group did tonight, I’ll be delighted.”

Many congratulations to music director Carlos Kalmar, the members of the magnificent orchestra (including fellow blogger Charles Noble), and to all who support this fine organization.  People should leave a concert on a more-alive-then-when-they-got-there high.  An overwhelming number of us did.  I’m so glad I went!

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Filed under Carnegie Hall, Oregon Symphony, Spring for Music, Stern Auditorium