Blogging the 2011 League Conference: What Repertoire Sells Tickets?

Lots and lots of meetings today—this is good for an artist manager. But also tiring for anyone, especially a composer who was out late drinking at a tune-up party last night, who then stayed up later blogging! I did have some interesting meetings, however, and also attended a cool session.

The session was led by Raj Patel of ARUP, a well-known acoustical architectural firm that has a strong presence at the conference and has for some years. The topic was 3-D sound. Raj is a dry speaker, I must admit, but he is quite smart and he presents his material very clearly. Basically, he was discussing a new technology being added to an old one. The new one is the DSF-2 3D microphone, which they are using in both concert halls and in art-sound projects. This mic is used along-side a 3D sound processor and a binaural microphone, which is basically a mannequin of a head with microphones in the ears. This binaural concept has been around for a long time. The brand-new 3D mic is a microphone with membranes on various axes and, along with the binaural mics, can recreate the total sound from a particular perspective in a concert hall. The company proposes using this technology in two ways: The first is to make laboratory spaces where they can recreate the sound in specific concert halls, by first sampling sounds in them. This has the advantage of allowing potential clients to compare the sound in various famous halls one after the other, and to help in making decisions about sound design. The other is recording concerts in new ways, both for broadcast and potentially for new kinds of recordings. Raj gave examples of artists that they have worked with, including Marina Rosenfeld’s Teenage Lotano at the Park Avenue Armory. They have also worked with WQXR for 3D broadcasts and with Lou Reed.

The 3D concept allows one to present the sound from a particular space in a concert hall, e.g. the sound the lead singer in a band hears when he is performing, or maybe the sound the drummer hears, or the bass player in an orchestra. It’s an interesting concept that can be experienced on headphones. I haven’t yet listened myself, but will as soon as I have a moment. Once the presentation was over, predictably the first question was: “How can I afford this technology and how will it help my bottom line?” Don’t forget that this conference is first and foremost about orchestras. And orchestras—well most of them anyway—are going through a crisis and making themselves financially viable is a huge issue and one the the League is trying to address.

I asked some of the orchestra managers I met with today about their relationship to new music and how doing new music affected their bottom line. I have a couple of video clips that might prove interesting. Alan Jordan, of the Vermont Symphony—which does a decent amount of new music and who has a composer in residence, David Ludwig of Curtis—spoke to me about a session he attended where they talked about what repertoire is the most frequently programmed and most likely to sell tickets.

I also spoke with Christina Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Arkansas Symphony. They also have a commitment to new music and are bringing composers for short residencies. Her feeling is that by connecting with the community, the composer can help make his or her music become much more present and pertinent for the audience and for the local student population. Unfortunately, she does not feel that this issue is being addressed particularly well by the League, especially this year.

My feeling is that in this year where everyone—or at least the majority—is trying simply to survive, the commitment to new music has largely gone out the window. Yet it is exactly at this moment, when we need to say that the time is now to present new and innovative programming rather than to look to the old model of safe war horses to sell tickets.

I’d love to hear other’s thoughts on this issue, but for now, I just wish this was being confronted more in the conference. In all fairness, it has been talked about much more in previous years. But the current ‘survival mode’ attitude, seems to have all but eliminated the pertinent discussion of new music in our concert halls today.

One thought on “Blogging the 2011 League Conference: What Repertoire Sells Tickets?

  1. Jon Silpayamanant

    Drew, I had just responded to one Rob’s recent posts just about this issue. I’ll just re-quote what I said there.

    David, I’ve been thinking about this alot lately, especially as the Orchestra in my hometown (Louisville Orchestra) is facing bankruptcy while it also has a history of being internationally acclaimed for pioneering new music. I think it’s difficult for composers to get excited about composing for an Orchestra when the chances of an Orchestra playing his or her work is slim.

    Ralph Kendrick’s blog about the Waterloo-Cedar Rapids Orchestra in Iowa is such a rare exception these days and even conductor, Jason Weinberger, bemoans the fact that his group gets so little recognition in the orchestral world.

    But if a WPA Orchestra like the Illinois Symphony can actually make a profit while championing new music during the Great Depression, what’s to say it couldn’t happened in today’s economic climate? Trick is to convince Orchestras that those old warhorses that they constantly program aren’t worth nearly as much as they think!

    I think you may be right–now is precisely the time to do this and switch focus. We’ll just have to see if anyone has the courage to do so!

    Reply

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