Red Tape: The Difficulties Orchestra Composers Have Obtaining Recordings of their Works

“There’s an increase in individuals interested in commissioning works,” says Heather Hitchens. “A lot of times they’ll pay for a commission and then never get to hear the work. They’ll get to hear the performance, but they’ll never be able to say to their friends, ‘Hey I commissioned this work, wanna hear it?’ … But when they commission visual art, they can say to their friends, ‘Look I commissioned this. See it, experience it.'”

“Ultimately what an orchestra commissions a piece for is the prestige,” says Jessica Lustig. “A piece can’t become important unless people hear it. They should be spreading recordings around, not worrying about the remote possibility that they will be broadcast—which is one in a million.”

“Can you image being able to hear the first performance of the Brahms Fourth Symphony or of the BartÛk Concerto for Orchestra?” asks Tom Broido.

Through all of the stories, perspectives, and insights shared by the many who contributed to the research for this article (both on and off the record), there was often a discernable sense of fear. Perhaps, for composers and publishers, that comes from a sense of guilt over questionable uses of recordings, or from an apprehension at appearing to bite the hand that commissions you. On the part of orchestras, it might be a reluctance to acknowledge the skeletons in the contracts and that values other than music often drive an orchestra’s activities.

There is certainly a broad-based dread that a bad situation might get worse. Given the predominance of fear among those who did take time to respond to inquiries, fear must be the likely motivation for the many others who never answered emails or returned phone calls—orchestra managers, composers, noted new music advocates. In our niche of the music world, where press coverage of any kind is always in short supply, that some egos are unwilling to talk is just further confirmation that getting concert recordings of orchestra performances remains a vitally charged issue. It’s enough to make one think that this isn’t an industry at all, but rather a big dysfunctional family, like Broido alluded to at the beginning of this article. Some steps toward a better situation would be more honesty and mutual trust, greater dialogue and sharing of goals, and finding the ability to act in the best long-term interests of music.

“One way or another I always get that thing eventually,” commented Tobias Picker via email. “But it is really just another pain-in-the-ass type of thing that composers really shouldn’t have to be put through.”

from Red Tape: The Difficulties Orchestra Composers Have Obtaining Recordings of their Works
By Joseph Dalton
© 2003 NewMusicBox

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