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Category: Arts Advocacy

Update on Ivory Ban

0 Ann Drinan

Last Thursday, May 15, 2014, the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced changes intended to ease international travel with musical instruments under the new enforcement of the ban on bringing African ivory into the States. The recent policy decree banning the importation of African ivory caused great unintended consequences for traveling musicians whose instruments contain small

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The Ever-present Past

0 Tony Woodcock

No matter how far removed we might be in time and technological distance from, say, Homer or Thucydides, Shakespeare, Holbein, or Beethoven, they speak to us of a human condition we recognize.

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Millennial America

2 Peter Sachon

Orchestras need to offer compelling reasons for millennials to make live symphonic music a part of their lives.  After all, millennials are the largest generation in human history, and at nearly 90 million people they will very soon make up the vast majority of our orchestras’ stakeholders, constituents, audience, staff members and supporters – and

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The League and Minnesota

1 Robert Levine

Drew McManus created a bit of controversy last week when he wrote: There’s a fascinating article by Lee Rosenbaum in the 3/27/2014 edition of her CultureGrrl column where she discusses the decision by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) to denounce one of their members for selling off key items from their collection in order

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Orchestra saved from collapse is apparently not interesting news

1 Robert Levine

As many of you know, the Milwaukee Symphony needed to raise a boatload of new money in order to make it through the winter, much less the rest of our season. Contrary to the expectations of many, both within and without the organization, the $5 million campaign succeeded. This is a very significant story for

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Us as a sitcom

0 Robert Levine

Most readers of this blog will remember the furor over Mozart in the Jungle, oboist and journalist Blair Tindall’s memoir of her days as a New York freelancer. I quite enjoyed it, but some didn’t (especially those who believed that they were featured in the story in an uncomplimentary way) I went onto the Amazon

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Michael Kaiser’s Arts in Crisis Symposium

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Michael Kaiser has been called “the turnaround king” because of his success with several arts organizations, including the Kansas City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, and London’s Royal Opera House. Indeed, his 2008 book is titled The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations. In this article from

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Something you should read

0 Robert Levine

Once a year or so I read something online that stops me in my tracks; not because it tells me something I didn’t know (which happens every 2 minutes or so), but because it forces me to think uncomfortable thoughts. This year’s winner was a post by Emily Hogstad, who has consistently provided, on her

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Alias: A New Kind of Ensemble

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In 2007 we posted an article entitled, Alias: A New Kind of Ensemble.  Looking back with 20/20 hindsight it can easily seen that Alias was, and still is, part of a trend—a movement among musicians to form “alternative ensembles.” In an effort to understand more about this trend, the Eastman School of Music recently inaugurated

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Being in Tune

0 Tony Woodcock

Peter Renshaw calls for a new paradigm to address the key issues confronting learning and development in the arts.

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Serenade For Sixty Strings – A Tribute to Lawrence Leighton Smith

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In 1989, during his tenure as music director of the Louisville Orchestra, Lawrence Leighton Smith wrote an essay stating his personal view concerning the link between the number of players and quality of sound in orchestras. Smith’s “Serenade for Sixty Strings,” published in the March/April 1989 issue of Symphony, the magazine of the American Symphony

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Misconduct in and out of the workplace

1 Robert Levine

Many years ago a colleague of mine was pressured by management to retire after allegations of sexual misconduct against him became public. I remember being bothered about that at the time, as the specific allegations were about conduct that had happened in his home and had nothing to do with the workplace. Management’s reasoning was

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Corelli and the Elevator

0 Gerald Elias

Go for it. What would you say has been the most important invention over the past five hundred years or so?  The automobile? Nuclear power?  The microchip?  Sliced bread? My vote…(drum roll)…the elevator!  You scoff, but think about it.  Before the elevator, cities could only expand as far as their geographical limits, hoist themselves four

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Bringing Down the Sky: From Great to Good in Minnesota

3 Michael Manley

I. The Tornado and the Plow Horse I recently plugged the words “Salieri” and “Festival” into Google, which limped back with a meager Salieri Opera Festival of 2010, presented by Fondazione Fioroni in Verona, Italy. Curious, I added “2013” to the search, and Google came back with only three results, none of which led to

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MacArthur Foundation strikes out again

0 Robert Levine

Those who’ve followed my various blogs over the years (at least I’m hoping it’s “those” and not “him or her”) know that the MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program (aka the “Genius Awards”) is a hot button for me. They recently pushed it again with the selection of pianist Jeremy Denk. To quote from the MacArthur Foundation

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About that New Republic article

0 Robert Levine

It’s not surprising that a recent article by Philip Kennicott in the New Republic by the title of “America’s Orchestras are in Crisis” got some favorable play in the musician community. The writer, who is Art and Architecture critic for the Washington Post, focused very heavily on what he believed was the League of American

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A Dance of Contradictions Celebrated by Bernstein

0 Jeffrey Johnson

Jeffrey Johnson is Professor of Music and Director of the Music Program at the University of Bridgeport, and the author of several books. He also serves as the classical music critic for the Hartford Courant and the Stamford Advocate. He recently sent Polyphonic this thoughtful post. – Ann Drinan, Senior Editor Instances of extended 5/4

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NEA Under Attack Yet Again

0 Ann Drinan

I received an email today from Americans for the Arts about pending huge cuts to the NEA budget. Today, the U.S House of Representatives Interior Appropriations Subcommittee approved its initial FY 2014 funding legislation, which includes a proposed cut of $71 million to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This would bring funding of

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League Conference: Elizabeth Merritt’s Keynote Address

0 Ann Drinan

Elizabeth Merritt, the Founding Director of the Center for the Future of Museums, gave the keynote address at the League’s 2013 Conference. You can watch a video of her address on the League’s website. Futurists – what do we do? We are at the collision of two fields: future studies and museum studies. The fertile

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ICSOM: The First Fifty Years

0 Stephen Danyew

ICSOM (the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which represents over 4,000 musicians from 51 major symphony orchestras throughout the United States) recently released a documentary titled “ICSOM: The First Fifty Years.” Filmed during the 50th anniversary conference in Chicago, the 38-minute film contains numerous interviews on the founding of ICSOM, telling the fascinating

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Working Together: Orchestra Musicians, Boards and Management

3 Bill Cahn

The Wall Street Journal for Friday, June 7, 2013 carries an article in the “D” Section, “After Orchestras Strike: A Tale of Two Cities” by Terry Teachout. The article compares the ways in which two orchestras – The Minnesota Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony – are dealing with their financial problems.   In Minnesota there is

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What Were They Thinking?

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What Were They Thinking? For most music students the transition to the professional world does not usually happen abruptly. A switch is not thrown and voila, you’re a pro. The normal course of events involves a period of time when some gigs are well paid , some not-so-well and some not-at-all. It’s these not-so-well and

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Jazz Fights For Justice

0 Stephen Danyew

Classical music organizations and musicians are not the only ones facing labor disputes, contract negotiations, and pension issues.  This recent article from the AFM‘s International Musician tells the story of New York City jazz musicians who are trying to convince jazz clubs to pay into pensions for their retirement.  Click here to read the article.

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Baltimore Symphony’s OrchKids 2013 Spring Bash!

0 Ann Drinan

I traveled down to Baltimore last week to spend some time with the Baltimore Symphony’s OrchKids program and experience their final concert for this academic year — their Spring Bash. I first observed the OrchKids program, the BSO’s after-school intensive El Sistema program, in 2010 when they were in their second year at the Lockerman-Bundy

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Symphony Magazine, Spring 2013 Issue

0 Ann Drinan

The spring issue of Symphony magazine is now available online. As usual, the magazine contains a variety of interesting articles. Chester Lane, Senior Editor at Symphony magazine, presents a fascinating article about the health and wellness programs springing up in orchestras. Many of these programs have been funded by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation

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Improving the Orchestra’s Revenue Position: Practical Tactics and General Strategies

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My Editor’s Choice for this go-round is from 1997—sixteen years ago. Here’s a little background just to put it in context. Our website, Polyphonic.org is part of the Orchestra Musician Forum, that was created in 2004 when Paul R. Judy made a gift of the financial and intellectual assets of the Symphony Orchestra Institute to

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Yo-Yo Ma’s Address to the Americans for the Arts Summit

0 Ann Drinan

On Monday, April 8, 2013, Yo-Yo Ma, along with former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum and Damian Woetzel, former principal dancer at New York City Ballet and the director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program, participated in the Americans for the Arts Summit in Washington DC, discussing the need to develop strong public policies

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A Violinist’s Voyage

0 Ann Drinan

Local 802 has again published a fascinating interview of one of its older members by a younger colleague in their monthly magazine, Allegro. Kuan Cheng Lu, who joined the orchestra in 2004, interviewed Newton Mansfield, who joined the orchestra in 1961.

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The Riot Stuff

0 Peter Sachon

  Orchestras should raise their voices to be heard amid the din of noisy modern culture and promote themselves as socially conscious public institutions. They need to embrace a more inclusive posture in society, and demonstrate an identity more nuanced than silent anonymous conservative tuxedo-clad white male.  While the price of participating in American culture

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New York Times Sunday Dialogue: Is Classical Music Dying?

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About ten days ago, Les Dreyer, a retired violinist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, had his letter to the editor published in the New York Times. Evidently his writing generated some interest—in fact, enough interest to be featured, along with 12 or so others in “Reader’s Reactions.” Mr. Dreyer’s letter is the focus of this

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Cooking the books

11 Robert Levine

This is a pretty amazing story: For four years, the Minnesota Orchestra board has walked a tightrope between managing public perceptions about its financial health and making its case to cut musicians’ salaries. As early as 2009, board officers were discussing how much money to draw from investments, and the advantage of reporting balanced budgets

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Beyond Prestige

1 Peter Sachon

In the American system, the arts are funded mostly through indirect subsidies.  Our government’s tax policies toward charitable giving elicit billions of dollars in contributions annually.  The beauty of this system is that it not only allows the citizens to determine which not-for-profits benefit a civil society, but also it does not require the government

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Osmo joins the party

0 Robert Levine

It’s been a bad week for the management of the Minnesota Orchestra, and this very public letter from their Music Director was was likely the cherry on the cake: Dear Members of the Minnesota Orchestra Board and the Musicians of the Orchestra: In the last few years, the Minnesota Orchestra has truly established itself as

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What the election tells us about the press

0 Robert Levine

William Goldman, a remarkably prolific screen writer who wrote the screenplays for, among other movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, and The Princess Bride (which was based on a novel he wrote), began his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade with a three-word opening sentence. He wrote:  “Nobody knows anything”

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Headline of the year

0 Robert Levine

“US composer’s secretary suffers near-fatal beating October 25, 2012 by Norman Lebrecht.” That’s how it showed up in my email. I don’t think that came out quite the way Norman meant it too, though.

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Another day, another conspiracy theory

0 Robert Levine

Except that, of course, it’s the same conspiracy theory, only this time in the hallowed web pages of the Huffington Post: It’s the voodoo. That horrible, Kuru-inducing zombie voodoo. These are heady times for the League of American Orchestras (LAO) and their ilk. True, their suits have grown a tad more maggot-ridden since their early

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My kingdom for a decent news article

0 Robert Levine

ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge has joined the ranks of those writing about the underlying causes of the current situation in our industry, although of course he is hardly new to the party, having written extensively about the problems in the orchestra business for Senza Sordino over the years. It’s an interesting piece in many respects;

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One Wow and One Uh-Oh

1 Robert Levine

This letter appeared in Saturday’s Minneapolis StarTribune: As former music directors of the Minnesota Orchestra, we came to the state because we believe that it wants and deserves to have a world-class orchestra. We are proud of the cultural gem we have built, with the musicians, for more than half a century. It required long

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Peter Dobrin says it all

0 Robert Levine

This article by Peter Dobrin of the Philadelphia Inquirer is the best reporting on the current crisis yet to appear. Go read the whole thing: …What someone is willing to pay for orchestral musicians in this country has changed radically in recent weeks. Yes, a brief strike last month by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra resulted

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Guest Bloggers: Quartetutopia by Nicholas Kitchen

0 Tony Woodcock

[Nick Kitchen is the founding first violinist of the Borromeo Quartet, ensemble in residence at NEC. In addition to receiving the Artist Diploma from NEC, the quartet has gone on to win the 2007 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Lincoln Center's … Continue reading

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American Orchestras: Yes, it's a crisis

2 Tony Woodcock

“I am convinced that if the rate of change within an organization is less than the rate of change outside, the end is near.” – Jack Welch  In the last twelve months the Honolulu, Syracuse, and New Mexico Symphonies have … Continue reading

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Was it worth it?

0 Robert Levine

There is a famous (although possibly apocryphal) story about Richard Nixon’s visit to China. Reportedly, Kissinger told Nixon that Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai was a student of the French Revolution. So Nixon asked him, during their first informal meeting, what he thought the impact of the French Revolution on the course of history had

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What Professional Orchestras Should Learn From YouTube

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These days, when symphony orchestras make national news, the topic is usually not a happy one.  Yet one group has received a very different kind of coverage: the YouTube Symphony Orchestra (YTSO).  Culminating in a performance at Australia’s Sydney…

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Twilight in Syracuse

2 Robert Levine

The Syracuse Symphony is shutting down after musicians refused to accept $1.3 million in concessions: The decision will bring the 50th anniversary season of the orchestra to an unceremonious end. There were more than 20 Syracuse and regional concerts remaining in the 2010-11 season. The orchestra’s 18 full- and part-time staffers and 61 core and

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More about community engagement

0 Robert Levine

The most important benefit to our field from the Detroit strike will be the ever-necessary reminder that strikes are a sub-optimal method of resolving labor-management disputes. The next most important benefit will be the jump-starting of the discussion about what’s come to be known as “community engagement.” Whether either of those will be worth the

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Arts Entrepreneurship — Policy Opportunity?

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I don’t think anyone would argue that we’re in a period of policy transition in the arts and culture sector.  I would even characterize it as the most significant period of policy reexamination since the 1960′s.  The difference is huge, of co…

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Orchestras and the union movement

1 Robert Levine

Milwaukee is not quite equidistant from Madison and Detroit, but it does sit precisely on the line between them that a crow (or a Boeing) would fly. So it’s fitting that events in Detroit and Madison resonate so loudly with this member of the Milwaukee Symphony – an orchestra in the Rust Belt that’s had

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The worst is yet to come

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If you think that the Detroit Symphony labor dispute has been hard to watch, steel yourselves because the worst is yet to come. If the parties can’t find their way to a settlement in very short order, it will be even harder to watch the orchestra disintegrate. The recent “farewell” posting by the entire DSO

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A substitute orchestra in Detroit?

0 Robert Levine

In a front-page article in the Detroit News, Michael H. Hodges is pessimistic about the future of the DSO: …outsiders warn that suspending the season involves a leap into the unknown, one that not only threatens the orchestra’s current hold on audiences and donors, but could put the 2011-2012 season and the orchestra’s entire future

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Why conductors should STFU

1 Robert Levine

Because otherwise they’re going to say things as dumb as what Leonard Slatkin said today about the DSO strike: …A settlement now would serve both parties well since the DSO’s popular, high-profile music director is the scheduled conductor for next weekend’s concerts. “What’s really cool is that we would be doing Michel Camilo’s Second Piano

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How not to make audiences feel

2 Robert Levine

I know that audiences can be annoying, and clueless, and distracting, and all the rest – but come on, folks: I just have to write a letter concerning the recent performance of the Abilene Philharmonic. Abilenians are a welcoming group who are quick to applaud, and even provide a standing ovation. Yet a beautiful performance

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Tea leaves in Detroit

0 Robert Levine

Two items in Detroit’s newspapers yesterday make me think that things are not going well there. The first was in the Detroit Free Press: Management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra reiterated today that it would make a new contract offer to its striking musicians this week and would request a response by Feb. 11. Citing

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Cry me a river

1 Robert Levine

It must be that overwhelming wave of affection that greets them when they come to work every day: The sudden death of Jean-Marc Cochereau, the French conductor, has prompted the very readable music writer Norman Lebrecht to issue a warning about the health hazards of conducting. M Cochereau collapsed and died from cardiac arrest on

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Detroit Update 1/23/2011

0 Robert Levine

According to the Detroit Free Press, there were negotiations today: The musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra returned to the bargaining table this afternoon to try to settle the contentious strike that enters its 17th week on Monday. DSO board members received an e-mail from management today saying that talks had resumed, said

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More Detroit

0 Robert Levine

The war of words heated up during the time I was writing the previous post: Musicians’ spokesman Greg Bowens disputed the $40.1 million figure, saying, “That must be another example of the fuzzy math that got the orchestra into the deficits it’s in now.”… Bowens declined to address most other issues in management’s Saturday morning

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Are we figments of Mahler's imagination?

0 Robert Levine

Norman thinks that Mahler invented the American symphony orchestra. He makes a good case: Mahler split the Carnegie season into four subscription blocs, each with a thematic base, something no conductor had tried before. As well as a Regular Series, he put in a Beethoven cycle “for the education of lovers of classical music, for

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An orchestra of 300 million

1 Robert Levine

Last Saturday I was on my way to New York, which in practice is pretty much an all-day business. So I saw almost nothing about the Tucson shootings until I heard about them during the League seminar I was helping out with on Sunday. What I heard then caught me off-guard; apparently one of the

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Movement in Detroit?

0 Robert Levine

Maybe: The striking musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra traded barbs and accusations on today while a settlement to the 15-week-old strike remained elusive — even as management appeared to sweeten its offer for the first time since November. The musicians called a news conference to accuse management of threatening to cancel the

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The kid stays on the podium

1 Robert Levine

There’s something about conducting this kid really gets, although he really should have turned the last page of the score before he thought the piece was over: Wouldn’t it be nice if more kids this age thought Beethoven was this much fun? And why don’t they, anyway? I wonder what would happen if kids treated

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Why orchestra management is hard

1 Robert Levine

Joseph Horowitz doubled down on his remarks about musician compensation in a later blog post (analyzed by Drew McManus here): If I sound unsympathetic to the musicians, it’s because I’ve heard one too many times the strident union litany blaming ignorant boards and incompetent managers. Running an orchestra is a thankless task. I’ve done it.

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The moralistic approach to orchestra scheduling

2 Robert Levine

Interlochen Public Radio did a piece yesterday on the DSO strike; in particular the service conversion proposals that management has put on the table. The whole thing is worth reading. But I was particularly struck by comments made by Joseph Horowitz: …there are those in the industry who argue this discussion is way overdue. Joe

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The price was right

0 Robert Levine

One of the most damaging misconceptions about orchestras is that we raise money because we don’t make enough on ticket sales to cover the total expense of the concerts. The reality is very little of the fixed expenses of orchestras is covered by ticket sales, which typically cover, at most, the marginal expenses of putting

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