Ann Drinan  

League of American Orchestras Conference 2010

Ann Drinan
February 2, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

The 2011 League of American Orchestra's conference is fast approaching, and I'd like to get the word out that any musician in a member orchestra can attend the conference for free. This year's conference is in Minnesota from June 6 - 9; here's a link to information about the conference.

League Conference 2011

In preparation for the upcoming conference, it seems appropriate to publish all the blog posts I wrote from the 2010 conference here as an article, so symphony musicians can get a sense of what sorts of sessions are available to musicians, and what they might learn and experience through attending and networking.

- Ann Drinan

The League of American Orchestras’ annual conference opened on Wednesday, June 16. Musicians, conductors, artist administrators, and music publishers were invited to an open rehearsal of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) at Woodruff Arts Center for the Atlanta School of Composers concert to be held on Friday, followed by a luncheon with comments by Music Director Robert Spano. He spoke briefly about the importance of new music in the life of an orchestra, but also about the importance of introducing the audience to new composers gradually. The ASO has gradually introduced its audience to the music of several composers over the past 8 years, particularly Jennifer Higdon, Michael Gandolfi, Osvaldo Golijov, and Christopher Theofanidis. “I’m delighted to see audience members mob Jennifer Higdon in the lobby after a performance, and not because they’re mad at her,” he quipped.

Opening Session

The official opening session, which was streamed live, began with an impressive performance of Ney Rosauro’s marimba concerto by the Greenville Young Artist Orchestra, Gary Robinson music director, featuring Wesley Strasser on marimba. League president and CEO Jesse Rosen then gave a tribute to the late Ernest Fleischmann, former Executive Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic who passed away the previous Sunday. Jesse recalled Fleischmann’s 1987 speech titled, “The Orchestra is Dead. Long Live the Community of Musicians."

Remarks followed from Stanley Romanstein, president of the ASO, and Joseph Bankoff, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, which is named for the leader of Coca-Cola. It was built as a memorial in 1968 to arts patrons of Atlanta who died in a plane crash in Europe while on an arts tour. The Center caused a multi-billion dollar renovation of that part of Atlanta; in addition to the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus, it is also home to the Alliance Theater, the High Museum of Art, and Young Audiences.

Jesse then introduced the four questions that were under consideration for the “town meeting” to follow. Hundreds of people had participated in discussions on the website over the past month, deciding what questions should be discussed at this session. The four finalists had been posted and hundreds of people had been voting. The questions were posted on jumbotron screens, and people in the room and watching the live stream were urged to vote for the most important question. More than 750 online votes were cast.

PURPOSE: What makes an orchestra matter in the 21st century? 26%

CHANGE: If we “let go of the past” and “embrace the future,” what should we retain, release, and go for? 20%

STRUCTURE: How should an orchestra be structured, organized, and behave to be successful? 11%

RELEVANCE: What does the artistically vibrant orchestra need to look like to be essential for its community? 43%

Keynote Speaker

The keynote speaker at the conference opening session on Wednesday, June 16, was Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Fund. He is the former executive director of Theatre Communications Group. A summary of his address follows:

According to Bill Moyers, there are four parts on the road to creativity: showing up, listening deeply, speaking the truth, and letting go of pre-determined results. The responses of orchestras to the current climate are short-sighted at best, similar to fire sales. The biggest challenge facing orchestras is not financial.

In 2006, I convened 700 artists to help understand the challenges facing the arts. I was amazed at the level of stress and uncertainty I heard. The artists talked about under-capitalization, under-compensation, and a generational transfer of leadership – but where would the new leaders come from?

Two key things are of major concern: audiences and technology. Audience impact: there are dramatic demographic changes happening in age, race, gender, and culture; there’s an erosion of audiences in every field, with declining subscriptions, increased churn, and a collapse of the window of social planning (i.e., people now buy tickets the day of the show, which is a disorienting shift that plagues box offices). So audiences are dwindling yet fixed costs (facilities, etc.) are escalating.

Technology impact: the arts must now compete with 3,000 to 5,000 different marketing messages that the average American sees every day. Americans spend 27 hours a week online or watching TV. The Internet is changing our conceptions of consumption, and the performing arts can’t compete because we have a set venue, a fixed starting time, parking needs, etc., etc. These are huge issues.

But we’re not alone. There’s a fundamental realignment of culture and communications going on, which is decimating the newspaper industry, shaking the book and magazine industry, and especially impacting the recording industry.

When asked about his key to success, Wayne Gretsky, the hockey player said, “I skate to where the puck will be.” How can the arts do the same?

I have four basic questions:

    1) What is the value of symphonic music to my community?

    2) What is the value that symphonic music brings better than anyone else?

    3) How would my community be damaged if it were deprived of symphonic music tomorrow?

    4) How can my organization be structured to be the optimal conduit of symphonic music? We need to expand our vision to embrace possibilities we’ve not yet seen.

He talked about Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (2006) as addressing the unleashing of a tsunami of creativity with technology. The means of artistic production have been democratized – anyone can now create a movie or CD, as well as the means of artistic distribution – think iTunes.

There’s been a massive redefinition of the cultural market; it’s now defined by participation, such as American Idol, You’ve Got Talent, etc. Even the iPod consists of personally-created play lists.

Audiences for traditional venues are diminishing, but audience participation is growing. The emergence of the pro-ams is expanding our steady vocabulary and assaulting our assumptions of cultural participation.

How do we embrace the new arts education? The kids are into be-bop, making films, writing poetry; they’re teaching and mentoring one another, and they’re doing this outside the concert halls and classrooms, etc.

Everything must be on the table – the entire business model.

There’s a 3-fold approach: Essentialize – know the core; Sacrifice – give up what falls outside that core; Innovate – incrementally and boldly. We should see this time as a renaissance – to reach a thrilling new reality.

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