Sunday, October 18, 2009

Opening Nights, Opening Minds

As I was reading the Boston Globe this morning, I came across an article by Jeremy Eichler entitled “Opening nights, opening minds”. Eichler discusses the bold opening seasons of both the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, and how this challenges this Boston Symphony to do more.

New York and Los Angeles both have new, young conductors with fresh ideas and motivation. Alan Gilbert’s opening program showed this by bringing in Renee Fleming to sing a Messiaen song cycle and also by premiering a new commission by Magnus Lindberg. In addition to this contemporary programming, Gilbert also chose to add a classic masterpiece of the orchestral repertoire, Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique. Los Angeles’ opening night was just as exciting. Gustavo Dudamel programmed a concert at the Hollywood Bowl which included an audience of 18,000 people. The program included Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which demanded an encore. The opening concert at Disney Hall included a John Adams premiere. Both orchestras have an exciting season of programs planned, which include a number of commissions. The new energies these conductors are bringing to the podium are attracting a much-needed new audience.

The BSO has some wonderful programs this season, but nothing as bold and fresh as those of the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics. Eichler suggests that BSO continue its “historic tradition of commissioning new works…..take the next step and bring on board its own composer-in-residence, to write music, of course, but also to help oversee its new-music programming, engage the community, and bolster the organization’s overall creative vision from deep within its ranks”. I agree that this could be a positive step forward for the BSO, and may help attract a new audience.

Eichler also says, “It’s also time to push further beyond the rigid structure of the Symphony Hall subscription season. As I’ve urged before, the BSO needs a proper off-sight new music series where adventurous works can be played for niche audiences; it also needs its very own mid-season festivals that bring a more diverse audience more deeply inside the music”.

The BSO needs to follow in the footsteps of the NY and LA Philharmonics, and find some new and fresh ways to attract an audience. NY and LA both have new, young conductors, but Levine and the BSO can still rejuvenate the audience in many other ways. When Levine began his tenure in Boston in 2004, there was an excitement about that season that he brought as the new music director. What can we do in 2009 to bring that excitement back to Symphony Hall?

1 comment:

Grace Allendorf said...

My initial thought: Should it be new works or new marketing?

It brings us back to the discussion of what or who attracts the audience. Is is the specific music itself? The conductor? A particular soloist?
Speaking from a choral perspective, the group I sing with in the city (Coro Allegro) prides itself of doing works that tend to be underrepresented, as well as doing many pieces by female composers. We have just as much trouble growing our audience. In fact, conversations in board meetings past have gone in reverse of what you are suggesting the BSO do. We talked about throwing in a popular chestnut in order to gain some revenue.

I dont necessarily disagree with you, or the article, but it is interesting to see it from the other end of the spectrum. Is it actually the content that is the problem?