1.) Clean off my desk: Those nasty loose leaf papers, all of which represent uneasily solved problems, won’t sort or solve themselves. An hour a day, perhaps before or after regularly scheduled work hours, should do the trick. After a week, I might just have a clean desk.
2.) Deal with my phone call list: Start at the top (calls received longest ago) rather than the end.
3.) Sort through the reams of artist materials I receive weekly: Regularly scheduled listening and score reading sessions should help whittle down the stacks considerably.
4.) Hang those framed photos and posters I’ve had stacked against my office walls since we moved into our Jay Pritzker Pavilion offices in May 2004. I think it’s finally time.
5.) Organize my office CD collection and bookshelves. A simple visit to the container store to buy some organizers should help me get going. Remember, the longest journey starts with but one step, so…it’s one shelf at a time.
Happy New Year!
By now you’ve noticed that our chicagoclassicalmusic.org website has been revitalized and re-launched. By now you’ll be registering, hungrily downloading free product, passionately looking for Hot Deals and hopefully saving the site to your “Favorites” list.
But I wonder how many of you realize the significance of this project as a collaboration. Imagine, 14 Chicago area classical music organizations representing chamber music, opera, chamber orchestra, full sized symphonies, Festivals, new music and voice banding together to further the art form, donating product to the cause and just plain being good corporate citizens.
Imagine the countless hours volunteers have spent on the site, meeting, working together, thinking globally about the art form of classical music and its place in society. Imagine the time spent by the dedicated participating organizations that put aside their own immediate self interests to make work something of real social significance. My hat is off to my colleagues, all of them.
Special thanks to Jim Hirsch from the Chicago Sinfonietta for being a fearless leader and a visionary. Thanks to the Illinois Arts Council, the Prince Charitable Trusts, The MacArthur Foundation, the Silverman Group and Patron Technology for putting dollars and time behind this worthwhile endeavor. But, ultimately we have to thank to you, the classical music lovers of Chicago and beyond who will make this site successful. Keep reading, keep commenting, and keep supporting the music we love.
I recently spent a few days in New York combining business with pleasure. On the business side I attended a meeting at the League of American Orchestras (formerly known as the American Symphony Orchestra League) with colleagues from across the country to discuss issues related to our field. I also spent the better part of three days meeting with artist managers to get caught up on artist happenings and discuss upcoming projects for the Grant Park Music Festival. These meetings are important because direct face to face contact always makes doing business so much easier the next time one finds himself haggling about fees over the phone or email.
Over the weekend I caught the New York City Opera’s production of Samuel Barber’s rarely performed opera Vanessa. I’ve heard the opera on disc and of course know the famous arias well, but never have heard it live, so I jumped at the chance. The New York State Theater isn’t the best acoustic, but my friend and I had decent seats on the second balcony and enjoyed the performance. The real stand out vocally was mezzo soprano Katharine Goeldner as Vanessa’s young niece Erika. Very cool was the fact that the original Erika from the 1958 premiere, Rosalind Elias, was in the current cast, this time as the old Baroness. The conducting and orchestral playing left a lot to be desired, a fact I found ironic as across the plaza performs one of the great orchestras of the world under one of our most famous conductors – the Met Orchestra and James Levine.
My friends dragged me to Christie’s at Rockefeller Center in advance of a contemporary art auction to check out the sale items - sale items that go for $40-60,000,000, that is. It was a surreal experience, seeing the high rollers being themselves - so fabulous and oh so chic - while checking out the Rothkos. A few days later the Times headline reviewing the auction read, “One Million Dollars is the New 10 Grand.” I couldn’t fake being in that league in my Old Navy sweater and jeans, but hey, it was a fun diversion nonetheless.
We left there for a more pointillistic experience at MOMA to see the Georges Seurat exhibit. Known to many as the creator of one of the Art Institute of Chicago's great treasures, La Grande Jatte, this exhibition focused on the master’s more intimate drawings on hand made paper. It’s on through the beginning of January and a must see if you’re in the neighborhood.
One of the trip highlights was dinner at Miriam’s in Brooklyn with my dear friend and former Chicago of Department of Cultural Affairs colleague Peter McDowell, who is now director of programs at Opera America. I miss Peter but am thrilled for him as he now holds an important position in New York helping to promote opera for all Americans.
I recently read a fascinating article on Polyphonic.org about “growing” audiences. The marketing consultant Christopher Stager was on a conference audience development panel in London and had some practical advice about how audiences “behave.” He outlined 8 fundamental beliefs he says we should consider when trying to get people into our concert halls.
How many of us think or care about how audiences respond when we plan our seasons? How many of us ask our artistic or music directors for programs with no thought of the marketing and attendance implications?
I am on a list serve discussion group of managers who are members of the League of American Orchestras (formerly known as the American Symphony Orchestra League.) The topic we are currently debating is how music directors, marketing staff and managers should interact and eventually agree on concert programs. The practice in our field varies widely. Gone are the days when music directors turned over programs and said, “Here, go sell it.” Today market pressures require a more collaborative approach.
In my own experience, staying true to one’s institutional priorities, matching those fundamental guiding principles to artistic personnel who share them, and of course employing the art of compromise, all combine in helping achieve those objectives.
The good news as reported by Stager is that overall, repertory is more important than guest artists. That’s good news because guest artist fees, especially for the big names, have skyrocketed past our ability to recoup them at the box office. Stager says the best selling concerts are those that match a big name with a mega popular piece. Yes, Perlman playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto will pack ‘em in.
I always wonder at badly attended concerts why the marketing didn’t work. Then, I realize at all Mozart concerts or when people cram the aisles to hear Boleró that audiences are shrewd, selective consumers. People know what they like and act accordingly. Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience.
Here’s also what I find hopeful: Stager says that “an institution’s unwavering will to present interesting programs – not simply popular ones” builds audiences over time. Great, so we can have our cake and eat it, too, that is, if we do everything else right.
But, since audiences tend to select the familiar and since ticket prices are accelerating beyond inflation, “audiences are less willing to risk the investment in what they don’t know. As ticket prices increase, their trust declines.”
Stager goes on to discuss “where” and “when” we program concerts, with interesting anecdotes to support his opinions. But the most compelling thing he cites as fact is that a solid music education is the main predictor of attendance.
Ta da! Or should I say, “Duh?”
How many of us have asked that question of our audiences? And how many of us are actively marketing to community music schools, conservatory students, or collaborating with those organizations on audience development programs? I don’t do enough of that yet for my organization, certainly at the level the evidence suggests I should.
Stager’s presentation closes on a hopeful note: that Classical music is in transition, not decline. I agree and feel that while our business model may be antiquated and not yet fluid enough to respond to our audiences’ needs, there is a large and loyal market share for our music. The way to reach audiences, the solution, whatever that is, has to be found by each of us on the local level.