American orchestras: in crisis?

Posted on: September 4, 2013

In the August 25 edition of The New Republic, Philip Kennicott writes an essay stating that orchestras’ work “to popularize classical music undermines what makes orchestras great.” Kennicott, the Washington Post’s art and architecture critic, writes, “It has been a dark few years for this country’s orchestras.… Since the economic crisis of 2008, bankruptcies have afflicted orchestras around the country.… The problems are financial and cultural, and the two are intertwined. For decades, orchestras operated on a subscription model … [that] failed to keep up with rapidly changing demographic patterns, with the blandishments of the emerging entertainment economy, and with younger audiences.… Orchestras no longer offer just classical and pops nights but have become presenters of all kinds of music, with and without orchestra backup.… almost none of this is of any interest to serious listeners.… As they scramble to maintain audience share, orchestras lose goodwill among their traditional audiences.”

Rosen responds:

On August 31, League of American Orchestras President and CEO Jesse Rosen responded: “I will happily agree that orchestras are re-examining practices in order to reach a broader audience, but am unwilling to concede that, by doing so, the quality of orchestral music is in decline. As nonprofit organizations, the more than 1,800 orchestras in the U.S. have added to their unfaltering commitment to artistic excellence a resolve to broaden audiences and address civic needs.… Kennicott’s caricature of audiences and U.S. orchestras smacks more of ideology than analysis, and underestimates the capacity of complex orchestral music to engage a diverse array of listeners. The challenges for orchestras, as with most institutions in this century, are serious. I’ll place my bets on the wide variety of innovative solutions being advanced by our musical leaders, musicians, and managements.”

Posted September 4, 2013