By Dennis Bubert, Trombonist of the Fort Worth Symphony, March 3, 2016.
Why the arts? Or, more specifically, given all of the ink spilled over our ongoing contract negotiations, why do the arts matter, here, now, in Fort Worth, Texas?
After all, the arts are expensive, unwieldy to manage, and unlike the whimsies of popular culture, demand discernment and aesthetic engagement from the audience. We’re repeatedly told that audiences for symphonic music are disappearing, there’s an insurmountable competition from other entertainments, and that our increasingly visual society is staying home from the concert hall.
As someone who has practiced the art of orchestral playing as a livelihood for close to four decades, I can attest that none of these claims are new, and some of them simply may not be true.
In some ways, the state of the arts has never been stronger. This February, some 28,000 Texas music students and educators convened in San Antonio for the Texas Music Educators Association’s annual conference. In the coming weeks, several thousands of those students will audition for entrance into music programs at Texas colleges and universities, where the arts are alive and well, if not thriving. On the campus where I teach, some two thousand of the 35,000 students enrolled are pursuing degrees in the fine arts. Often despite their parents’ wishes, their friends’ advice, economic realities, and all common sense, these young people are investing their time, money, and lives in the pursuit of communicating the human condition through their individual disciplines. Whether they express themselves through sound, movement, letters, the dramatic portrayal of human emotion or the visual arrangement of line, color and spatial weight, they are committing their efforts and resources to immersing themselves in the interpretation of what it truly means to be human, to think and to feel. In so doing, their awareness becomes sensitized to subtleties, to nuance, and to the ambiguity of life. They learn to see life in subtly different shades of grays rather than the black and whites the absolutists of this world propose as the only possible choices. Through the travails of their education, they see life as a process, an opportunity for growth, awareness and acceptance.
Ultimately, they gradually come to believe that learning is a process that is never completed, and that their own growth is dependent on their continued pursuit of their art, whatever their endeavor. How could I hope to surround myself with better people?
And it’s not just the performers and practitioners who hear the siren call of a personal muse. I’ve met hundreds of our FWSO patrons in recent years, and their stories have been a remarkable accounting of how much the orchestra means to them, and the extraordinary degree to which symphonic music matters in their lives.I met a couple that have been season ticket holders since 1981, and during that time have not missed a single subscription concert.
Another couple, which described themselves as “faithful Fort Worth Symphony concert goers,” routinely drive from their home in Kansas City to attend concerts.
And perhaps my favorite encounter: a woman who had been a life long season ticket holder to the Boston Symphony before her move to Fort Worth several years ago told me that she was worried about what kind of offerings she might find on the classical music front upon her arrival in Texas, a concern shared aloud by her friends and family in Boston. “Now,” she told me, “I can’t wait for them to visit me so that I can take them to hear my orchestra!”
These remarks, and the hundreds heard by my colleagues during our exchanges with FWSO patrons, as well as countless supportive letters,
e-mails, and Facebook postings, have been not only a much needed boost for the orchestra, but a real dose of a reality that is all too often ignored, refuted, or otherwise denied. And that is this: what we do matters, it matters to a great many people, and it apparently matters a great deal to them.
That the arts in general have always struggled with funding is old news; the current message seems to be that there is a new reality in which the arts have declining value and perhaps less validity, and that as musicians we are not only somehow to blame, but must be first in line to pay the price for what some clearly want us to see as the inevitable decline and subsequent failure of the American symphony orchestra.
Don’t believe it. And don’t try to sell that idea to the thousands of patrons who have expressed their support for the orchestra over the past several months, or those who filled Bass Hall last week to hear Joshua Bell at the Symphony’s gala. Or the 40,000 school children we play for each season, or their teachers, or the couple who drive from Kansas City to hear concerts, or the woman from Boston who has found a new orchestra of which to be a proud patron.
I know that the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will, in the coming months, continue to do that to which they have given their lives and dedicated their careers: bring great scores to life, and create transcendent moments for our audiences, who both appreciate and need those experiences in their own lives.
Read this article and more on the Newsletter of the Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony.
By Anne Midgette Classical music critic/The Classical Beat
Months before it was expected, the National Symphony Orchestra has named Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda, 51, as its seventh music director, taking over at the start of the 2017-2018 season. He will succeed Christoph Eschenbach, whose contract expires in 2017.
It’s a coup for the NSO. Noseda is a star at the world’s leading orchestra and opera houses, including the Mariinsky Theatre, where he became the company’s first foreign-born principal guest conductor at the start of his career; the Israel Philharmonic, where he is principal guest conductor; and the Metropolitan Opera, where he opened the new production of Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” on New Year’s Eve to considerable acclaim. Musical America named him its 2015 Conductor of the Year.
Even better for the orchestra, he — unlike some of the NSO’s previous music directors — combines international prestige with solid conducting technique. In his previous two music directorships — the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, England, and the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, a post he still holds — he has patiently brought mid-level ensembles to new heights of artistry and recognition. Teatro Regio made its first North American tour in 2014; critics in New York and Chicago counted its performances of Rossini’s “William Tell” as a highlight of the year.
He has worked well with the NSO, an orchestra he first conducted in 2011, and to which he returned in November. “I found a fantastic attitude. . . . I felt very naturally committed with them, in a normal sort of way,” Noseda said Saturday in a hotel lobby in New York. “What really impressed me is the development we got together, from the first rehearsal to the first concert, and how much the quality was increasing in the next two performances.”
He added, “You see in the eyes of the players, the wish. ‘We can do it, we have just to be asked to do it, we want to deliver.’ ”
Deborah Rutter, the Kennedy Center’s president, said, “I knew he was a great musician and a really generous, warm man. I didn’t know what the chemistry would be like.” After the first rehearsals, she said, speaking by phone Sunday evening, “people were calling me saying, ‘The musicians are going crazy down here.’ We didn’t want to miss out on anything. We wanted to strike while the iron was hot.”
The swift move may be perceived as a victory for Rutter, who arrived in Washington in 2014 bearing the weight of high expectations for the music director search based on her track record of securing Riccardo Muti as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she was that orchestra’s president. Noseda doesn’t yet have Muti’s stature, but he is also an Italian conductor with a significant international career who specializes in both orchestral conducting and opera.
The search committee included NSO musicians, board members and members of the administration, and Rutter was only one voice at the table. “This has been a group process,” she said. And the committee, which began convening a few weeks after February’s announcement that Christoph Eschenbach would not extend his contract as music director beyond 2017, identified Noseda as a person of interest early on, without, participants say, more input from Rutter than anyone else.
Read the full story at washingtonpost.com
By Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer, December 11, 2015
CLEVELAND, Ohio -– Union musicians and Cleveland Orchestra managers have struck a new labor agreement.
The two sides announced Friday the ratification of a new contract retroactive to Aug. 31, when the previous contract, signed in 2012, expired. The new deal is valid through the 2017-18 season.
"There's a lot of momentum going right now, and nobody wanted to disrupt that," said James Menger, the orchestra's chief financial officer and lead negotiator. "This allows that momentum to keep going."
The new contract is between roughly 100 members of Local 4 of the American Federation of Musicians and the Musical Arts Association, the governing body of the orchestra, led by Dennis LaBarre.
The agreement marks a smooth end to a lengthy so-called 'play and talk' period, and extends the peace that has reigned at Severance Hall since 2010, when orchestra members waged a brief strike.
Bassoonist Jonathan Sherwin, chair of the musicians committee, described this round of negotiations as "somewhat more contentious" than in 2012, but also said the orchestra "responded well" to the concerns of the musicians.
In particular, Sherwin said, the contract -– ratified by a 72-percent majority –- narrows what he called a growing gulf between musician salaries at the Cleveland Orchestra and other major ensembles.
"We have been keenly aware of a widening gap between our compensation and those of our peer orchestras," he said. "We were successful in stopping that widening."
Both Sherwin and Menger declined to discuss specific financial terms of the new contract. However, both parties confirmed that the deal calls for annual increases in weekly compensation and retirement benefits, along with improvements in working conditions when touring. Base pay, according to the most recent figures available to the public, is approximately $120,000.
In return, both parties said, the musicians agreed to certain recording and broadcast provisions, to higher shared healthcare premiums, and to donate 12 services over the contract's duration. These can be concerts or other appearances, at home or on tour, from which the orchestra can earn revenue.
"We think it's a fair agreement," Sherwin said. "We're very pleased that they were willing to address the professional concerns that we had."
The momentum Menger described is seen in the orchestra's latest annual report, which revealed a string of institutional successes including record philanthropy, higher attendance, endowment growth and a small budgetary surplus.
Having a new contract in place, Menger said, frees the organization to focus anew on those matters, to push forward with artistic planning, with ongoing strategies for attracting new listeners, and increased fundraising efforts.
"Both parties wanted that from the beginning," he said. "There was a shared belief that we all have a stake in this."
Read the article on cleveland.com.
By Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
Maybe it was booking appearances by such international sensations as pianist Lang Lang, who visited in October. But the Cleveland Orchestra under music director Franz Welser-Most, shown conducting, attracted more youthful concertgoers in its last fiscal year, according to its annual report, which was released Tuesday. (Roger Mastroianni)
Like a Bruckner symphony or Wagner opera, the good news from the Cleveland Orchestra's latest annual report just goes on and on.
For the second year in a row, the group Tuesday released a document revealing almost nothing but positive developments. In fiscal 2014, the orchestra posted a sizable surplus, a vastly larger endowment, record fundraising and some of its healthiest attendance figures ever.
"We had an extraordinary season, and not just financially," said outgoing executive director Gary Hanson, noting that his goal of leaving the orchestra in better shape than he found it when he retires next year is now "within reach."
Hold on to your jaw. It's about to drop. The main number of interest in the 31-page report is $941,000, the amount the institution recorded as surplus.
That's right. After years of fighting to balance its books, at a time when some orchestras are struggling simply to survive, Cleveland this year came out with nearly $1 million extra. The last year that happened was 2001.
Against the orchestra's budget of $48.7 million, $941,000 may seem a trifling amount. Less than 2 percent. In light of its recent shortfalls, however, and those of other ensembles, the figure is hugely significant.
Perhaps even more notable: the surplus came despite a wave of free and discounted tickets. Pushing ahead with its popular "Under 18s Free" and Student Advantage deals, the orchestra in 2014 hosted its 100,000th youngster.
Paid attendance by college-age students rose 50 percent, Hanson said, while some 22,000 listeners under age 18 – twice as many as last year – attended for free with older, paying customers.
Financial stability is one thing, Hanson said, but "It's even greater to have real indications of a bright future, both for the institution and the art form."
The endowment also grew by leaps and bounds. As of June 30, the orchestra's reserve was worth just over $172 million, an all-time record and over $22 million more than last year.
No longer, in other words, does the orchestra's unofficial goal of a $300 million endowment, on which a small draw would cover the standard gap between revenue and expenses, seem overly ambitious. The previous record, in fiscal 2000, was $159 million.
"For me, this represents a lot of progress," said Dennis LaBarre, president of the Musical Arts Association, the orchestra's governing body. "I'm as pleased as I can be with what we've achieved to date."
Along with these came growth in overall attendance. While the average audience at Severance Hall increased slightly to about 1,600, the figure at Blossom Music Center jumped a dramatic 11 percent to a record 7,050, fueled in part by a Beatles tribute, an appearance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and a free night led by music director Franz Welser-Most, courtesy of the Cleveland Foundation.
Read the entire story at cleveland.com.
From the blog: Mask of the Flower Prince
The nonsensical ravings of a singing archaeologist. Really.
by Scott Chamberlain
I’ve seen a lot in my time as a classical music writer/blogger. I’ve covered a number of labor disputes involving orchestras and opera companies, and have seen a number of bone-headed, tone-deaf actions as a result. As this point, I assume I’ve pretty much seen it all.
And yet, I continue to be surprised. It seems that there are still plenty of labor disputes plaguing the world of classical music, and they continue to generate breathtakingly bad ideas.
Let me share the most recent—one that unfortunately has transpired in Philadelphia, the home of one of the United States’ most celebrated, venerated orchestras. This one is a whopper.
* * *
First a few words of context.
The Philadelphia Orchestra stunned the world in 2011 by announcing bankruptcy, during a time of tremendous upheaval at the orchestra. The decision drew harsh criticism, in part because the Orchestra’s financial endowment was one of the largest in the country. Many suggested the Orchestra filed bankruptcy simply as a maneuver to get out of its pension obligations to its musicians, as well as to force a 20% pay cut on them. A later report detailing all the luxurious perks in CEO Allison Vulgamore’s compensation package only reinforced the idea that the bankruptcy proceedings were a sham. Nevertheless, it went through.
Read the entire article at Maskoftheflowerprince.com
A Positive Note-Things Aren’t as bad as you think! An interview with Bruce Ridge, Chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)
by Melissa Trier Kirk, Lyric Opera Orchestra violist. As published in the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra Newsletter and Website.
I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Bruce Ridge, Chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). Bruce, a bassist with the North Carolina Symphony and tireless advocate for the arts, has been travelling the country this summer, talking with musicians and spreading the positive news that charitable giving to the arts is at an all time high, and that many orchestras have emerged from the economic downturn of 2008 stronger than ever. This news runs counter to conventional wisdom, since what we often hear in the press is that U.S. orchestras are floundering and classical music is dying. Bruce’s message is that symphony and opera orchestras are more relevant than ever. Every year about this time he creates a list of positive developments for orchestras.
What inspired you to become an arts advocate?
Music fundamentally changed my life. My mother had a vinyl record collection that wasn’t so large but huge in variety including many classical recordings. As a child I had a terrible speech impediment and found school difficult. I loved the Beatles tune, “I Am the Walrus” which begins with classically hypnotic cello and bass lines, and Rachmaninoff ‘s “Variations on a Theme by Paganini”. In training my ear to replicate the music I was hearing I was able to overcome my speech impediment. Studies show that studying music as a child keeps students in school and improves mental health for folks well into their 80’s. My personal experience made me realize how critically important the arts are and that music is a force for good and beauty.
Why do you say that orchestras are more relevant than ever?
Symphony Orchestras build communities. Imagine the number of school children that the musicians of ICSOM reach on a daily basis. What I am seeing is that symphony orchestras are more necessary than ever. It is the nature of the press to write a negative story because that’s what sells. In 1970, UPI published a piece which predicted that 25 American orchestras were doomed to die. Today they are all still in business. The story that needs to be told especially coming out of the recession is how resilient American Orchestras are and how well they have survived. We rarely study our successes. Yes, some orchestras fail. According to American Express, 90% of new restaurants fail in their first year of business but that doesn’t mean we don’t like to eat! The fact is that charitable giving to the arts is at an all time high. In 2014, charitable giving to the arts was the fastest growing category of giving in America.
Talk more about the resilience you are seeing.
Many orchestras are thriving and advancing. The Cincinnati Symphony added $26 million to the endowment and will add 14 new musicians to the roster in the next few years. The simple fact is that people will give to organizations that inspire them and they don’t give to organizations that question their own sustainability. Orchestras that are putting out a positive message about what they mean to their community are seeing tremendous growth. People say that our audiences are aging, but the Cleveland Orchestra has doubled the number of students attending concerts in the past couple of years. They’ve done this by reaching out, inviting them in and creating a more appealing atmosphere. An organization that says it’s going to be around for along time serving its community into the future is far more likely to attract donations and audience members. No arts organization or business has ever solved its financial problems by offering an inferior product. Cutting and lowering our presence in the community doesn’t help.
Click here to read the entire interview at Chicagolyricoperaorchestra.com
At concerts by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, audience members see just a handful of African-American and Latino musicians playing in the orchestra. In New York last year, the sensational clarinetist Anthony McGill – whose first orchestra post was in Cincinnati – became the first African-American principal player to be appointed in the New York Philharmonic’s 173-year history.
For decades, orchestras and conservatories of music across the country have struggled to recruit ethnic minorities to their ranks.
Now, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $900,000 grant to the Cincinnati Symphony and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music to help address that problem. A new initiative will establish a groundbreaking fellowship program aimed at providing opportunities for under-served musicians at the graduate level. The intent is to help prepare them for the exceedingly competitive world of professional orchestras.
The pilot program will start in the fall of 2016. It is the first program of its kind and could become a model for classical music organizations around the country.
Continue reading the article at cincinnati.com
July 17, 2015
Indianapolis Business Journal
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has scored a molto festivamente surge in ticket sales for its 2014-15 indoor concert season, as the number of patrons jumped 15 percent, the ISO announced Friday.
The ISO sold 127,835 tickets for the 142 concerts in its latest indoor season, which ended last month. That was up from 110,770 tickets for the 2013-14 season. Of the 127,835 tickets sold for the latest season, 59,765 were from subscription packages, up from 48,782 the previous season.
Accordingly, the group recorded a jump in the number of subscription packages sold. The figure rose 24 percent, to 8,589, compared with a year earlier.
The ISO’s subscription series include classical, pops, Happy Hour and family programs. In the most recent season, the orchestra also added a six-concert series of classical music at Carmel’s Palladium, as well as the seven-concert 317 Series in Hendricks County and the Greenwood area.
The two new series contributed to a 52-percent rise in the number of new subscribers for the indoor season—2,969 compared with 1,941 the previous season.
“The strong sales and attendance results confirm that we continue to reach more people in our community and that there is a real buzz about the ISO’s performances,” said Gary Ginstling, CEO of the ISO.
The indoor season does not include ISO's Symphony on the Prairie series.
The results for the 2014-2015 indoor season built on sales growth during the previous year. The 110,770 tickets sold in 2013-14 were up 19 percent from the 2012-13 season, and the 45,500 subscriber tickets represented a 30-percent rise.
The group declined to release revenue from ticket sales during the indoor season. It reports overall revenue for the fiscal year at its annual meeting in December.
Continue reading the article at Indianapolisbusinessjournal.com
Atlanta Journal Constitution
July 16, 2015
After bruising negotiations that led to a nine-week lockout of musicians, delaying the launch of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s 70th anniversary season by nearly two months, finally there is a pleasing coda.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned that the ASO finished the 2014-15 season with a surplus, reversing a slide of 11 consecutive years of deficits that caused management to take a hard line on the mounting debt.
Though final fiscal 2015 figures will not be known until later this summer when financial records are complete for the Woodruff Arts Center — the nonprofit entity over the ASO, Alliance Theatre and High Museum of Art — Woodruff spokesman Randy Donaldson said early numbers show revenues exceeding expenses by a “solid six figures.”
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Spano conducts the national anthem on the opening night of the delayed 70th anniversary season. CONTRIBUTED BY JEFF ROFFMAN
ASO musicians, who went nine weeks without pay during the lockout, will share 22 percent of the surplus, per the four-year collective bargaining agreement that was hammered out in November with the help of federal mediators. That is a small, if welcome, bit of business, however, compared to another big development regarding the ASO.
The Woodruff also is revealing in Thursday’s AJC exclusive report that $13.3 million has been raised in the ASO’s Musicians’ Endowment Campaign in just seven months toward its $25 million goal.
Continue reading the article at Atlantajournalconstitution.com
Bolstered by a successful fundraising campaign and a new contract with its musicians, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will be hiring fourteen additional musicians over the next four years, the New York Times reports.
Unlike many performing arts organizations that have spent heavily from their endowments in the face of mounting deficits, labor strife, and dwindling audiences, the orchestra has managed in recent years to maintain a 5 percent spending rate and expects to reduce that to 4.5 percent by 2020. It's a significant turnaround for an organization that had seen its endowment shrink from $92.7 million in 1999 to $56 million a decade later. "We didn't have enough cash to make the next payroll," Trey Devey, who became the orchestra's president in 2009, told the Times.
While the orchestra has sold out many more shows in recent seasons and attendance has grown, it is still projected to average only 69 percent of capacity this season at its home, the Music Hall, which seats 3,417. A $125 million renovation of the hall planned for the 2016-17 season poses its own challenges. But orchestra officials believe the steps they have taken in recent years, such as reducing personnel costs by 15 percent in 2009, helped attract philanthropic support that has put the organization on a more solid footing. Despite an $85 million fund established in late 2009 by Louise Nippert to assist local performing arts organizations, the symphony still faced a large unfunded pension liability, which it addressed through a negotiated delay on a promised raise for musicians.
Continue reading the article at Philanthropynewsdigest.org