Robert Freeman

Saving American Orchestras from Themselves

Filling seats


Filling seats and making orchestras economically sustainable are not new challenges. This article is meant to open up discussion about possible modern-day solutions.

The Community of Musicians Proposition

It was May 1987 when Ernest Fleischmann, the champion executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, gave a famous commencement address at the Cleveland Institute entitled “The Orchestra is Dead—Long Live the Community of Musicians,” a speech that long roiled the musical world. Its principal argument was that orchestral musicians, especially those without inspired musical direction, grew easily embittered, disgruntled, and bored by their too often under-rehearsed work.

Twenty-one months later there followed a symposium entitled “The Symphony Orchestra: Death or Transfiguration?”, in which Richard Clark (president of Affiliate Artists), Robert Finn (Chief Music Critic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer), Ernest Fleischmann, Samuel Lipman (pianist, critic, and publisher of The New Criterion), John Mack (principal oboe of the Cleveland Orchestra), Kurt Masur (Music Director of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra), Tom Morris (Executive Director of the Cleveland Orchestra), and Jack Renner (Chairman and CEO of Telarc International Corporation), all participated. That session, also held at the Cleveland Institute of Music, came to several important conclusions:

Music Directors as Advocates

The need for strong, committed music directors who lead the cause of music each in his or her own community, spending many fewer weeks than at present on the road with other orchestras

New Work

A continuing quest for strong, new work that will be attractive to a still relatively untrained audience

New Audiences

An improved effort to recruit a younger audience

New Funding

A search for new sources of funding

Recent Trials

More than a quarter century has passed in the meantime. The seasons 2010-13 brought a sense of budgetary crisis for many American orchestras, with extended lock-outs for the orchestras of Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Minnesota, and extended strikes for the orchestras of Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Paul, and Fort Worth, while the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the New York City Opera, founded in 1943, went out of business altogether.

The Detroit strike, ending in April 2011, concluded with the Orchestra $53 million in debt, with endowment a little more than a third of the $60 million it had been, and with salary cuts of 25% for the players. In Atlanta the number of musicians was reduced from 95 to 88, with a 17% salary cut for the musicians in the first year of a two-year contract, and an additional 14% cut in the second. One can imagine the bitterness that resulted in Atlanta when the CEO’s salary, three times that of one of the players, was visited with but a 6% cut.

After a 15-month lockout the Minnesota Orchestra was obliged to cut its number of players from 95 to 84 while each of the musicians’ salaries was reduced by 15%, as were the salaries of the players of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Salaries for the members the Fort Worth Symphony were reduced by 15%, while in Indianapolis the combined cuts amounted to 32%. One can easily imagine the pain of players saddled with home mortgages, credit card balances, and college indebtedness, trapped in too many cases by very narrow educations that make it next to impossible for many of them to find employment in other parts of the economy.

Update March 12, 2019: Today’s New York Times indicates that the members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, whose minimum salary amounts to $159,000/year, are now on strike because they do not want their pensions moved from the present fixed benefit model to a fixed contribution plan. The world of post-secondary education agreed two generations ago on the latter, where the professoriate became convinced that each member could look out for his or her fiscal welfare by investing contributed funds in a manner that best fits his own needs. The board and administration of the CSO believe—rightly in my view—that the present arrangement is not sustainable.

Some Solutions for the Present Day

In what follows I have tried to list a number of changes in American orchestras that would mitigate at least some of the fiscal pressure that now impacts all of them, the result of economic forces well described by Baumol and Bowen in their 1966 book, Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma, and by Robert J. Flanagan in his more recent The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras: Artistic Triumphs and Economic Challenges (Yale, 2012).

  1. Stipulate Director Advocacy Formally

Write contracts for music directors that oblige them to live in the city of their orchestra, requiring that the conductors spend 75% (85%?) of their working sessions in the city of their orchestra while encouraging them to own a home there. Such conductors would play a role not unlike that of university presidents in fund-raising and in representing the orchestra in the community.

Sir Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic’s former longtime chief conductor, plays bass drum on this raucous march. During his sixteen-year tenure with the Philharmonic, he launched ambitious educational initiatives and nurtured a sense of community around the orchestra.

  1. Let Musicians Multi-Task

Encourage professional music schools to see to it that each graduate take at least a one-semester coarse in elementary business practices, including accounting, fund-raising, public relations, and marketing, thereby reducing the number of full-time staff members normally required these days in an orchestra. Further, the curriculum should be revamped with a focus on helping the musicians become articulate, informed advocates for the music they are performing. Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership is a wonderful example for other professional music schools to emulate.

  1. Value Good Team Players

Prospective orchestra members should not only be auditioned but interviewed as well. Wonderful performers who insist on sleeping with their colleagues or adding several members of their immediate families to the ensemble do as much harm as good, as has recently been demonstrated, with great pain, at the orchestras of Cleveland and New York, and by the Metropolitan Opera. Young people with excellent interpersonal skills who are fine players are worth their weight in gold.

  1. Incentivize Advocacy Among the Musicians

All of the players need to be advocates of the orchestra. Imagine an ensemble in which each of 100 players were tasked with selling even two annual subscriptions or with making half a dozen unpaid appearances on behalf of the orchestra in area schools and colleges! Music faculties whose salary increases are tied in part to their entrepreneurial activities on a college’s behalf bring new life blood to any institution. The fact that orchestral musicians have so minimal a role in deciding who will lead them, and where and what they will perform, does a great deal to deaden the joy they might otherwise bring to their work.

  1. Research the Audience. What Makes Them Tick?

Working with the students of a business school in the home city of an orchestra on researching who the audience is and why it is motivated to attend is the sort of market research which any organization selling cars, airplane seats, or toothpaste will routinely undertake in order to succeed in a competitive marketplace. Orchestras have marketed themselves to this point only by implying that symphonic experience is morally and socially good for them, introducing them at intermission to other leading members of the community. Imagine how many ticket buyers we could lure to a baseball game if the only attraction there were the greenness of the grass or the taste of the hotdogs.

  1. Ease the Scheduling Burden

Develop a more flexible orchestral schedule so that soloists and chamber ensembles of orchestral players might perform in local colleges, churches, retirement homes, and private residences of the affluent, all in the name of the orchestra. Have a look at the video below of a concert conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi as a tribute to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and relatives of Maestro Von Dohnanyi who participated in the July 1944 effort to assassinate Adolf Hitler and were executed as a result. The very moving film was narrated by Bill Moyers and co-produced by Joseph Robinson, distinguished principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic. Imagine the result if it were a regular mission for each interested member of an orchestra to be encouraged to develop such a program of his or her own! This project came into being during the period when Robinson was a board member of New York’s Union Theological Seminary. Obviously, Robinson’s value to the Philharmonic greatly exceeded his ability to make hundreds of excellent oboe reeds, a process that the great Marcel Tabuteau understood was necessary but abhorred.

  1. Enlist Players in Governance

Add two or three members of the orchestra to the board.

  1. Teach and Engage with the Audience

Those who supported music before the French Revolution were almost always members of the aristocracy and the Church, and were trained themselves as amateur musicians. When their numbers and power began to wane in the 19th century, Beethoven wrote that his Pastorale Symphony did not depict life the country but made one feel as though he were in the country. When Berlioz printed 2000 copies of his original program for his “Symphonie Fantastique,” he did so in order to provide his audience with a point of departure for a work of art quite unlike anything any of them had ever heard before. Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss went further still with program music, no matter that Mendelssohn had once written to a lady admirer that there were no words for his “Songs without Words,” because music is a self-referential language. While we are now training young musicians to play and sing at higher technical and artistic levels than ever before in the history of music, the “music appreciation” courses taught in most of our colleges and universities are woefully inadequate in helping our would-be audience to find its own ways to the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from living within a piece of music.

This brief essay is meant as a medium through which other music lovers can agree with or dispute what I have written above, aimed towards the preservation in the economically difficult times ahead of one of humanity’s greatest treasures.

As a little bonus treat, here is one of my favorite orchestral performances of all time. The adagio that begins Mahler 10 is all that he finished before dying in 1911. It alone is reason to fight for the preservation of this priceless art form.

Update April 16, 2019: On what in Boston we still call Patriots’ Day, I ran on the web into material about Aubrey Bergauer. At Rice she attained a BM degree in music performance and a BA in business, was initiated into music management at the Seattle Opera, and has now been executive director of the California Symphony in Walnut Creek for five years. She is truly a breath of fresh air. Since her arrival in Walnut Creek, ticket sales are up 70%, and new concerts have had to be added as the result of increased demand. The orchestra’s number of donors has quadrupled.

Bergauer makes full use of modern technology. She has her own blog and her own twitter account. Her principal discovery is that the orchestral problem is not the recruitment of new audiences but rather the retention of listeners who, though introduced to a symphony orchestra, in other venues return in very small numbers. Her audiences are encouraged to bring drinks with them into the auditorium if they wish, and to come to a performance garbed as they wish to be seen. Donato Cabrera, her music director, gives pre-concert talks that encourage an interest in the lives of the composers performed. She stresses the fun of the educational experience in concert attendance, encouraging her audience to applaud between movements if they wish. The audience she has recruited is a multi-racial one of all ages, and she has diversified the racial make up of her orchestra’s board, staff, and performing personnel. (Latinos now comprise 25% of her audience.) Fully 20% of the repertory performed is by living composers.

Hats off to the West Coast!

Update April 26, 2019: I have just finished reading for the first time a book published in 1940 by W.W. Norton, America’s Symphony Orchestras, by Margaret Grant and Herman Henniger. It describes a world of orchestral music in the United States wherein ticket income nearly equals expense, where endowment draw, when there is one, is held under 5%/year, and where an orchestra’s staff is very limited in number. Philip Hart’s Orpheus in the New World, published in 1973, paints a yet more optimistic picture, in which orchestras have increased in number and where minimum salaries have notably increased, the result no doubt of the establishment in 1965 of NEA and the nearly simultaneous gift by the Ford Foundation of $85 million to American orchestras. But Robert Flanagan’s The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras, published in 2012, describes a much grimmer present: one in which earned income from ticket sales has suffered marked decreases, where endowment draws now amount to 7% or more, and where the number of staff members normally equals the number of performing musicians.

The change just outlined results from several causes, among them women’s greatly increased place in the work force, greatly increased competition from other aspects of the entertainment world, the greatly increased availability of all sorts of music on the net, increasing concern about downtown safety, and the gradual disappearance of music as a vital force in our public schools.

Some of my own suggested changes in the way orchestras do business have already been outlined by myself and others in the blog at hand. To those I would add the broad imitation by America’s professional music schools of Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership, in which more than 50% of Eastman students are voluntarily enrolled, and the willingness of some of our music historians to focus, as Joseph Horowitz has been doing for some time now, on the history of musical institutions as well as on the work of composers.


  • Amy responds:

February 10, 2019 at 12:17 pm

Excellent article! I have often thought so many time, sitting in the orchestra as a musician myself, that if musicians simply used their comp tickets every time, we would at least be doing a little something to further our own promotion in the community. For whatever reason, this very simple act is rarely encouraged. We need to be our own most passionate advocates in the arts! Thank you for writing and sharing this very insightful article.

  • Michael Drapkin [performing clarinetist, educator, technology executive] responds:

February 11, 2019 at 1:27 am

Hi Bob:

Excellent essay as expected! I thoroughly agree with all of your points.

From my experiences being on the orchestra side as a member of the Honolulu Symphony and the management side as a Board Member of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, I concluded that the single greatest challenge is to change the minds of symphony orchestra musicians that their role really needs to extend beyond the music stand if their orchestra is to survive and flourish and …. raise their incomes.

When I was a student at the Eastman School of Music (we had a fantastic Dean when I was there, by the way) everyone had this almost unobtainable fantasy about becoming a member of some symphony orchestra, and our curriculum and teachers encouraged that. We had the impression that once we landed that job, then life would be good, everyone happy, and their world would become the Shangri-La in Hilton’s Lost Horizon.

The fantasy was further from the truth than I ever realized – when I landed in my Nirvana-like full time orchestra job, the musicians were cranky and mostly thought just of themselves, the management incompetent and lurched from financial crisis to financial crisis and an orchestra director that was totally uninspiring and unengaged in making his art interesting and compelling to the audience. The fact that they folded a number of years later was no surprise. But what was the most interesting was how that fantasy we had when we were at Eastman was still prevalent – musicians showed up to work, did the bare minimum and expected to be catered to on their throne of musical glory. They were constantly at odds with management, who did little to instill a sense of team. Remember the adage that there is no “I” in the word “team?”

Being on the Brooklyn Board was fascinating from the opposite perspective, but the problem was the same. We had some orchestra musicians on our board, and they added absolutely nothing beyond griping that they weren’t making enough money. Same thing on the NYC freelance side – I got to play in the professional Goldman Memorial Band right before they folded, and again the musicians were more concerned about their seating positions than the fact that the group was running out of money.

A dear friend of mine that plays in the Chicago Symphony made a very telling comment, and he was serious too! I once asked him what was the role of the Chicago Symphony, and he replied, “To raise more money so that they can pay the musicians of the orchestra more. The organization exists for the benefit of the musicians.” I was stunned, and there was no point in discussing this.

So, many of the proposals above are really good – especially numbers 4, 5 and 6. My experience is that having musicians part of governance is a waste (many orchestras do have members of the orchestra on their boards) unless they have something of value to add. In my professional experiences, they haven’t, nor have they shown any interest except to be there to watch the flow of money to their paychecks.

The other heretical idea that I ponder is the fact that symphony orchestras are so incredibly financially inefficient, suffering from the Baumol Cost Disease. It begs the question of why we care about rescuing them from their self-afflicted financial ruin? Can we achieve the same goal of sharing classical music with the public via chamber musicians rather than stuffing 96 expensive musician/laborers on stage? Even further, if it is so much more efficient to put a string quartet on stage rather the an orchestra, how come there are so few chamber musicians that earn salaries that approach what symphony orchestra musicians get, and instead have to fund themselves by residing at a university where they spend most of their time coaching student quartets? It reminds me of the joke: “Why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways?”

I love orchestra music, but why do they financially dominate the arts/music dollars in a city given how ridiculously expensive they are? And beyond that, how do we motivate orchestra musicians to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. Don’t forget that the Ford Foundation, which was responsible for funding and helping create many of the professional orchestras in the US, eventually stopped funding orchestras because they found the musicians too difficult to work with.


  • Andrew Balio [principal trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony] responds:

April 3, 2019 at 6:22 am

Its hard to argue with these recommendations because they are so practical in nature and could really only help. What I like about this short article that sets it apart from many in the genre of “what ails classical music”, is that it doesn’t claim any one thing will move the needle. Also, it doesn’t seek to chastise the art form as so many do nowadays. Classical music, as such, is an intrinsic good, something that persisted through the ages because it engenders so much love and admiration.

To add a point, as a musician on the inside of one of the major orchestras, I would dissent from adding any other criteria to the audition process other than one’s playing ability. Such broad requirements under the guise of “good team player” or “good citizens” actually opens the door to a pandora’s box of political agendas and blatant bias. Believe me, there are people who would make that mean absolutely anything they want to, while getting to claim there’s a halo over their heads.

I can assure the readers, and Mr. Freeman, that a person’s character on the job and how they make others feel does get into the mix during their probationary period of a year or more before becoming tenured. While we do get some surprises later, overall, we just figure out a way to get along. We must remain a craftsmanship skills-based workplace, not one that favors schmoozing or shallow “personality ethic,” as famed author Stephen Covey points out.

The thing that made orchestras a truly open, meritocratic, and fair place to work has been audition screens, a simple yet ingenious way of protecting everyone involved.

My last point is that Ernst Fleishman’s famous “the sky is falling” prediction speech turned out to be rather nonsense. It was as if he wanted it to be true and wanted to be the first guy to say it. Perhaps he helped light a fire under everyone’s butts to get on with the next phase of keeping the music playing. Every industry, after all, must renew its means and methods, or it will perish. That’s just business.


  • Robert Freeman says:

April 3, 2019 at 7:59 am

My point is that, if music schools were to add a one-semester undergraduate course in basic business practices – fund-raising, accounting, and marketing, for example – orchestral musicians would come to their professional positions with a much more complete set of skills in support of the institution they serve. This is certainly the case with chamber ensembles in the last generation or two. It is not simply a matter of the players getting along with one another but of acquiring the extra-musical skills they need to represent the orchestra in the broader community we serve.

While I certainly agree that the music performed by orchestras is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity, I also believe that its continuing longevity – like democracy or clean air! – is by no means guaranteed. To listen to a piece of Brahms requires the ability to pay attention and to remember, an ability that many of us think is ebbing away. Just as everything in society changes on a continuing basis, an orchestra’s necessary ability to compete for philanthropical support comes into inevitable conflict with other evolving societal needs – like poverty, health care, religion, and education, for example.


  • Paul Buttenwieser [President of the Board of Trustees, Boston Symphony] responds:

April 4, 2019 at 4:01 pm

I appreciated this thoughtful essay by Bob Freeman. The Boston Symphony Orchestra Board of Trustees has been addressing, with management, virtually all of these issues. I’m proud to say that the musicians of the BSO have been tremendous partners in implementing many of the suggestions Bob makes. We are particularly interested in lowering the average age of the audience, the orchestra members and the Boards, and are succeeding in all three areas.


  • David Scudder [multi-instrument string player, pianist, retired music teacher] responds:

April 7, 2019 at 8:52 am

I like very much your comments re American orchestras. Let me comment, however, on what I see to be among the more serious fundraising challenges. First, there is a very real generation gap between what people of my and your generation, and the one just under us, assume about non-profits, and what today’s generation wants from them. Particularly in the Northeast, but not limited to that area, people from the age of their mid 50s on up come from an accepted tradition of what used to be called noblesse oblige. You had a duty to assist in your area’s governance and funding of key non-profit institutions. It was just an understood tradition. No longer. There has been a meaningful change in the attitudes and expectations of the young people of economic wealth. They are much more interested in what is termed venture philanthropy—support of new ventures or institutions, rather than the old, and support designated for the donor’s own beliefs and preferences. Support for unrestricted funds for established institutions has shrunk, while that for new, untried, highly specific ventures has risen. This accompanies the equally substantial change in ticket buying habits. No longer do young people buy season tickets to virtually anything; they make up their minds often at the last minute and then, influenced by social media, just show up.

Every arts institution in the US is in the process of grappling with this societal change. How do you get the young interested, especially in what could be termed budget relief (i.e., unrestricted funds) vs. targeted gifts for new and possibly unwanted ventures? How do you get them to accept it as a duty to become active governors of non-profit institutions in the arts, whether those are museums, musical or dance or theatrical organizations? It’s a very big challenge. It’s not as if there are insufficient donors, or insufficient funds, out there. The money is definitely there and the number of interested donors is still high. But every institution is grappling with this challenge—can we get the young people with money to back us, not just for what are thought to be “exciting” or “new” ventures but for the long-time work that remains the fundamental purpose of every arts non-profit.


  • Ayden Adler ​​​​​​​​​​[Assistant Professor of Arts Administration at University of Houston-Downtown, instructor in the MA in Nonprofit Management]:

April 8, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Bob, terrific ideas here. I appreciate your recognition of strikes as a costly and disruptive cycle in orchestral life. As dean of New World Symphony I had the great fortune to work with Robert Mnookin, Samuel Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, the Chair of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, and the Director of the Harvard Negotiation Research Project. Bob graciously agreed to work with my students in Miami to help them understand the basics of interest-based bargaining. While over 95% of New World alums go on to find employment in orchestras, this was the first time any of them had been taught anything about collective bargaining in an academic environment. This is a subject that, while part of the curriculum for lawyers, business students, and students studying organizational behavior and economics, doesn’t get taught at schools of music or conservatories. Yet is vital to the healthy functioning of the institutions that will employ them! (When music students do encounter information about union negotiations and collective bargaining it is often through antagonistic anecdotes shared by their primary applied teachers.) In his book, , Bob presents a case study of his work with the San Francisco Symphony, which had been caught in a destructive cycle of bitter labor disputes in the 1990s. The case study illustrates how, when the orchestra leadership–musicians, board, and administrators–found a way to jointly commit to working with Bob to educate themselves and build their negotiation skills (I believe the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation played an influential role in bringing the stakeholders together), they experienced a number of years when collective bargaining agreements were reached on time, relatively quickly, and without strikes or lock outs.


  • David Louis Effron [American conductor and educator] says:

April 8, 2019 at 7:04 pm

Bob Freeman is one of the most active people examining the future of music in America. As he comes from a musicians’ household, as he has played oboe in orchestras and as he has been the leader of three major music schools, all with strong orchestra programs, his words are extremely important. In the 40 years that I have known Bob, I have learned much and have always respected his stance. Not to my surprise, I agree with all of the points he has made in his recent article concerning the path of American orchestras in the future.

In today’s culture, the orchestra (and classical music) is close to the bottom of citizen activities. It will take decades of constant work and evaluation to turn this around. Bob addresses the lack of good music appreciation courses in conservatories. While music appreciation courses can be valuable, we need a new model. I suggest that all classes be led by a performing orchestra musician, who can not only speak about repertoire in a very personal way but can also spice up presentations by sharing stories from the orchestra-beyond music making. I have never heard of an orchestra musician teaching a music appreciation course While the non performing teacher may be extremely knowledgeable, there is no substitute for one who has lived the orchestra life. It is similar to having Kobe Bryant teach a course in basketball appreciation as opposed to the Timekeeper for the Lakers.

Although with minor exceptions such as Maestro Dudamel who not only has raised the level of the Los Angeles Philharmonic but has participated in the “selling” of the orchestra, there is little chance that music directors who live in large urban areas would be willing to spend 75-80% of their time in the
city where they work. In order to maintain their status in the music world, it is necessary to perform in many venues. However a number of my students now holding positions in smaller orchestras do spend a majority of time at their home base participating in many activities beyond conducting. This has resulted in growing audiences as well as positive and proud feelings from the orchestra members.

Exposure to the Arts must start at an early age. I note the experience of my wife Arlene who at age 6 began to attend youth concerts of the Cincinnati Symphony. Because the moderator (the Music Director himself) had planned very appropriate music and because his love of the orchestra repertoire was presented in a charismatic manner appropriate to the audience, Arlene was soon mesmerized by the experience. She is today a lover of music and avid concert goer who is certain that her exposure at an early age to an exciting presentation was the biggest factor in her love of symphony opera and chamber music.

Finally, orchestras in conservatories should be led by conductors who are passionate and are well-acquainted with the repertoire they are conducting. They should have the personality which can inspire all students. They should not be learning the repertoire on the podium and they must leave their ego at the door in order to be effective. The proof is that today, many, if not most successful candidates for a professional orchestra position come from university orchestras with strong leaders at the helm.

Can we change the mindset of some players? Can we change the mindset of the majority of most communities? I believe that with continual hard work by those of us who believe in the symphony orchestra and with the willingness to explore new ways, a better model will be invented and will make the symphony orchestra an integral part of the American scene.


  • James Freeman [pianist, double bassist, oboist; Prof. Emeritus of Music, Swarthmore College; artistic director/conductor of Orchestra 2001; brother of Robert Freeman] says:

April 10, 2019 at 10:02 am

Two thoughts struck me on reading the New York Times this morning.

1) The article about the Philharmonic giving $5 tickets to firefighters and other city workers to expand the audience. It’s a good idea and worth trying, though I thought the program they presented ought to reflect more accurately a normal Philharmonic program, not something that is clearly dumbing down for the great unwashed. But it seems to me that the audience they and other orchestras should be seeking to attract are all the college, university, and conservatory kids in that city. Also the music professors at all those places. If there were special concerts for such groups, perhaps with $5 signups, or even free, so that all the kids in the college orchestras and music courses were invited, and the concerts were just the orchestra’s normal repertoire. Or maybe not even special concerts – just some kind of signups sent to all these groups – the first ones to sign up receive the seats for any one concert that are unlikely to be filled otherwise. The actual mechanics for this could be figured and arranged with each school, with Philharmonic representatives working with the schools. That’s an enormous body of people who could easily be attracted and who really represent the orchestra and classical music’s future.

2) I always read the weekend Times Book Review, especially the section at the end where the 15 Best Sellers from Fiction and Non-Fiction are listed in order. I’ve often gone straight to Amazon to order books from that list.

What if every two weeks or every month there were three lists in some newspapers and/or magazines: 1) what the critics considered the Best contemporary pieces they’d heard in the meantime, 2) the best current recordings of contemporary music, 3) the best classical performances they’d heard. Simple lists are so much easier to see, pore through, and grasp than lengthy reviews. Especially for people who are somewhat but not devotedly interested. The Times’s lists cover only the most recent books published. I assume they do not include older books because older books don’t sell as much as contemporary literature. Maybe it’s also because you can get those at the library, or you already have copies of Anna Karenina, Huckleberry Finn, King Lear, and Great Expectations from high school/college. Anyway, the difference between the general popularity and dissemination of contemporary literature and contemporary music is an interesting one.


  • Joseph Schwantner [Pulitzer-Prize winning composer, longtime Professor of Composition at the Eastman School of Music] says:

April 16, 2019 at 3:58 pm

Bob’s blog post introduces an important conversation to the members of the orchestral community and offers thoughtful and common sense proposals that can help provide a creative road-map for orchestras and their future. Today, all arts face an uphill struggle for the public’s attention given the global reach of a commercial pop culture that so thoroughly saturates and influences the world’s mass media.

Also, meaningful arts funding remains a serious issue and concern that goes as far back as the Regan administration’s pernicious attacks to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. We see these appalling assaults even more unrelenting with the efforts of the current administration to defund our country’s cultural agencies entirely. The conversation about the health of our orchestras is a part of a larger ongoing discussion of the critical and essential role the arts can and should play in our contemporary life.


  • Paul R. Judy [entrepreneur; Life trustee, Chicago Symphony; co-founder of the innovative Chicago Philharmonic; founder of the Paul R. Judy Center for Innovation and Research at the Eastman School of Music] says:

April 18, 2019 at 12:10 pm

I am glad you feel more education of young musicians about the economics of orchestra organizations would lead to better organizational processes. I spent a number of years with that hope, but am doubtful of it happening unless/until some orchestral musicians actually exercise their beliefs and vote to change the attitude the AFM and its historic position that orchestra organizations as employers are adversarial to orchestra musician employees. It’s as if orchestras are somehow separate and apart entities from the organization of which they are a part and on which they depend for their livelihood which in turn depends on community support via tickets and contributions. Unfortunately musicians who can see this are ostracized by the traditional committees so strongly influenced by the local AFM and the attitude of the national AFM. Those musicians with more constructive and informed views are ostracized and insulated – and after a while they lose interest in the functioning of the organization. They become defeated and just throw up their hands. One can hardly blame them.

The traditional orchestra organization is fundamentally defective and it is a systemic problem. Sticking to that system, many of these organizations around the country will disappear as economics and technology prevail. Sitting in your living room and watching/listening to a premier orchestra on a large-scale digital TV with excellent sound will be much more satisfying than taking twice that time and with substantial expense fighting the traffic and finding parking in order to be at and see a live performance by musicians who in many cases exude an entitlement and only reluctantly turn to the audience with any kind of warmth and appreciation. Unless there is a sharp change in attitudes, and actions, the “competition” will prevail, and there will be substantially less orchestras and musician jobs.


  • Henry Fogel [CEO of the League of American Orchestras] says:

April 21, 2019 at 3:24 pm

I agree with most of the ideas/suggestions that Robert Freeman makes – in fact many of them are ideas I too have been talking about for many years. I do think that the idea of requiring music directors to spend 75% of their time in the city where they are Music Director is on the one hand unrealistic for the large orchestras (although certainly desirable), but unrealistic and even unfair for the smaller orchestras’ music directors. It would be unfair small orchestras that give five or perhaps six concerts a year to require their conductors to reside in their cities for 3/4 of a year. Conductors need to conduct to grow, and 6 concerts a year is not sufficient opportunity. However, the idea that music directors and musicians must become better advocates for the art and for their organizations is viable and important.

The Crisis of Classical Music in America - Lessons from a Life in the Education of Musicians - Robert Freeman

Signed copies of Robert Freeman’s recent book The Crisis of Classical Music in America are available for purchase in the Eastman School of Music bookstore.

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