When Rice University's Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra played their first-ever East Coast tour earlier this month, their Top Ten quality was on full display. I talked to the coach, Larry Rachleff, before the Owls embarked on their trail-blazing tour.
I have grown increasingly nervous about the future of diverse arts institutions in the United States. So many have disappeared, others are facing huge cash problems and most are watching as donors shift their priorities to other interests.
Yes, some will say, the Symphony was 'lucky' to attract a major endowment gift. And luck is always part of the equation. But I prefer to view this as an instance where an organization does so many things correctly that donors are willing, indeed happy, to support its work.
It has been said that though the "educational" kids' concert is merely a symptom of the general malaise in programming and concert presentation in the main orchestral season. It seems to be down to asking what audience and audience development do we want?
Classical music participation rates have held steady for the last five years, stopping a steady decline through 2008. Orchestras have been keeping their feet to the pedals as they innovate at unprecedented rates to develop audiences.
Orchestras have some choices ahead. They can observe these developments as interesting and positive but ultimately not relevant to their futures. Or they might want to find ways to affiliate and partner with these ensembles, leveraging their respective assets.
The current media agreement in force in the United States has severely limited the amount of orchestral music (and opera performances) on public television, radio and the Internet. Most orchestras cannot afford to do any broadcasting anymore.
The situation facing the Nashville Symphony is sad and frustrating. Unfortunately, it is also not atypical. Symphony officials recently announced that it would default on the bonds for its performance hall -- the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
So much great art is dependent on the need for ensemble. The great orchestras and dance companies are great not simply because of the agglomeration of talented artists but also because of the amount of time these artists have worked together to create an aesthetic.
It is not uncommon to read about huge deficits and cancelled seasons. Not surprisingly, orchestras are suffering the most. This has left many suggesting that we need new models for running arts organizations and others looking for draconian cuts.
Meet the 21st Century American Orchestra: Sweeping labor cuts, lockouts, strikes, and a management culture with declining human values. Unfortunately, musicians in Spokane, Washington have found themselves next in line.
The symphony was funded, to a remarkable extent, by one individual. When this philanthropist was killed in a car crash last year, the major source of funds for the symphony was cut off. No arts organization can rely on simply one donor, no matter how generous.
If your organization is suffering, try planning! You may find that things seem a lot brighter. And when we are happier with our prospects, this radiates to our ticket buyers, donors, board members and the press.
Those arts patrons, corporations and foundations that care passionately about the future of the arts in America must encourage members of arts boards to seek the training they need and must invest in the training programs required.