What is the value of local and regional orchestras?

Posted on: June 15, 2010

In Saturday’s (6/12) Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout writes, “The Pasadena Symphony is in serious trouble. Depending on whom you believe, Jorge Mester, the music director, either quit or was fired in May, leaving the orchestra leaderless and $1.2 million in debt. Meanwhile, the board of directors has been hacking away at rehearsal time and administrative staff in a frantic attempt to balance the budget. … The bad news in Pasadena, alas, is old news there and elsewhere.” Most regional orchestras, Teachout asserts, “offer a predictable mix of ultrafamiliar classics and soufflé-light pops programs. If I lived in a city with such an orchestra, would I attend its concerts? A century ago I would have said yes, because live performances were the only way to hear music you didn’t make yourself. But downloading and the iPod have made it possible to hear great music whenever and wherever you want. … Orchestras that hope to survive must therefore redefine their missions—and they must do so without watering down their programming beyond recognition. If the only way for them to stay alive is by switching to slickly packaged schlock, they’d be better off dead. I’m not saying schlock is the only alternative. Nor am I calling for the disbanding of the Pasadena Symphony or any other regional orchestra. This is a ‘thought experiment,’ an attempt to cast new light on an old problem by changing the terms of discussion.”

Posted June 15, 2010