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Digital Dvorak? New ways to build orchestra audience

To hear Sharon Litwin’s interview on WWNO, click here

The continuing drumbeat (pardon the pun) of American symphony orchestras for more than a decade has been a funereal one. Over and over we have heard how desperate the orchestras’ financial situations are; how their audiences are graying and diminishing; to say nothing of the complaint that all they play is the music of dead, white men.

But, says Jesse Rosen, President and Chief Executive Officer of the League of American Orchestras, the times they are a-changing.

Jesse Rosen

Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of League of American Orchestras

Full disclosure here: As a former executive director of our own Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, I have a more than passing interest in what is going on in today’s orchestra world. And I have long considered Jesse Rosen, whose organization now has more than 800 member orchestras, to be one of the heroes in the field. A musician,himself, and a former orchestra CEO, he has been a friend of New Orleans and our symphony for a long time. So it’s not surprising that, while here recently to attend a performing arts convention, he took time to chat with a few of the LPO’s musicians.

“I’ve been here three or four times before,” Rosen recalls. “This time when I met with some of the LPO musicians I asked them, ‘If you were to start this organization from scratch, would you create the orchestra the way it is now?’ Well, there was a lot of discussion about that. But one of the things that came up that most people seemed to agree on was that the transparency and how the organization was run was something everyone uniformly valued.”

For an orchestra reconstituted from an earlier one closed down in 1991, the LPO’s innovative model of a musician-owned, collaboratively managed organization initially made it the Rodney Dangerfield of the symphony world. As he would say: “It didn’t get no respect.” But now more than 20 years on, in a new world of digital technology, with new generations both in players and audience, the LPO’s odd administrative and artistic structure has gained national recognition.

But there are still abounding challenges about fiscal stability, repertoire, and how to get audiences into the concert halls. The internet and mobile phones, among other devices, are requiring new kinds of creative innovation for all of the arts. So it’s interesting to learn how musical organizations, in particular, are adapting to today’s withering competition for audiences without dumbing down the music.

“What comes to mind is the YouTube Symphony, which was just a gas,” Rosen says. “This was an invention that came out of Google — the idea to have an internet orchestra. The orchestra was recruited online and anyone in the world could download the audition repertoire and video[record] themselves and upload the audition tape. And then anyone in the world could watch it.”

“I judged the trombone audition. And I had so much fun. To me this was a great marriage by creating a portal for engagement and a sense of being part of a community. To me that was kind of a fascinating use of digital technology that’s not fundamentally rooted in the concert hall. And that’s where I think there is tremendous opportunity. That YouTube concert, when it was streamed live, had 33 million views around the world.”

It’s the kind of event Rosen thinks will beckon entire new audiences into the concert hall. It is, he says, a whole new way of learning about classical music.

To see the internet concert, go to You Tube Symphony Orchestra 2011 Live Stream from Sidney.









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