The League of American Orchestra’s annual conference opened on Wednesday, June 16. Musicians, conductors, artist administrators, and music publishers were invited to an open rehearsal of the Atlanta Symphony 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.
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 the 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 OrchestraRevolution.org 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%
From an email I received today from the League:
A majority of the 1000 delegates … believe that orchestras need to significantly change in the 21st century. Asked at yesterday’s Opening Session for a show of hands on the need for change using a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 meaning no change is needed and 5 calling for immediate, radical change), the majority responded at level 4. Several industry observers at the event noted that this marked a significant shift from the sentiment at conferences four and five years ago.
The Conference delegates were joined by an online audience of nearly 800 who participated via live video stream, a first for a League conference. Input from a Twitter feed was shared with the delegates during the discussion.
“For an experiment, this was a pretty big success,” noted journalist and Arts Journal.com founder Douglas McLennan, who curated online participation for the event. “Not only did they use crowd sourcing to decide the agenda, but in my experience it is pretty amazing to have 800 people watching an event like this from the outside. If you count the number of people who are likely to watch over the next month or so, you’ve basically doubled your audience.”
The Opening Session is available for immediate video streaming at orchestrarevolution.org.