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Another Story – Classical Music Sorry State of Affairs
April 5th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

Bad News!

Another symphony orchestra appears to be heading into oblivion. According to a March 28th article on the Post & Courier web site at www.postandcourier.com, The Charleston, South Carolina, Symphony is suspending operations.

“The remaining Masterworks concert, scheduled for April 17, is canceled. Ticket holders either will be reimbursed or asked to donate the cost of tickets to the organization, [Board President Ted Legasey], said”.

Average salaries hovered around $20,000, evidently too much in today’s economy.

Comments from the local community on the Post & Courier site seem to devolve to discussions about politically conservative approaches to saving the orchestra (make the concerts more relevant, don’t rely on just a few donors, don’t take any government money) to liberal ones which involve government support and a complaint that $2M is going to be spent out of city monies to construct… a skate board park.

Sigh.

Commentary among musicians on Facebook are also polarized with the Young(er) Turks and their sympathizers pointing to orchestras as “museums” and the (presumably) older folks lamenting the loss of the museums.

Sigh.

There’s even criticism of the notion that “pops” concerts are worth anything or matter much. On that one, I beg to differ. Pop concerts where I soloed with the Mantovani Orchestra were extremely well received… in China. When I asked management why there hadn’t been a USA tour in some years, the answer was simple: “We lost money the last time. The economics don’t support it”.

So it appears that this malaise regarding the symphony orchestra might be a local phenomenon, local to the USA. I have personal experience that pops orchestras and concerts are well received in China; the same is true of Germany, and I’m told, other European countries.

So what can we conclude?

I’m not sure. There seems to be a real renaissance of interest among the young (and their proud parents) in playing in and listening to orchestral music. Competition is stiff for admission to local youth orchestras like PVYO and MCYO. This makes me hopeful that the orchestra, as an institution, but more importantly as an instrument of musical expression, will continue to survive.

It’s a complicated issue. As a working musician, I usually can’t afford to attend a concert by a major symphony unless I happen to be playing with them. The costs have gone too high.

Sorry not to have any answers today, just a lament about the continuing pressures on classical music in these difficult economic times.


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