Didn’t work

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has pulled the plug on its attempt to emulate the Metropolitan Opera’s successful series of live broadcasts to movie theaters:

When the Los Angeles Philharmonic launched its series of live broadcasts to cinemas in 2011, the organization touted it as an innovative program intended to broaden the popular reach of the orchestra and its star conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.

But two seasons later, the orchestra has had to pull the plug on the series due to a difficult economic environment.

Deborah Borda, president of the orchestra, said in a statement that the L.A. Phil Live series “was not able to garner the sponsorship required to move forward,” despite corporate support from Rolex, the luxury watchmaker that was the official sponsor of the cinema series.

Borda said that the broadcasts required “intensive financial and staff resources” and that the orchestra was considering “future presentations on a one-off basis.”

…A company spokeswoman said the L.A. Phil Live series reached as many as 460 movie theaters in the U.S. (The Metropolitan Opera is broadcasting to about 750 cinemas nationwide this season.) In Canada, the orchestra reached approximately 47 cinemas, according to a spokeswoman for Cineplex Entertainment, a Canadian exhibitor.

Both the L.A. Philharmonic and Fathom declined to provide U.S. attendance figures. Cineplex could not provide attendance figures for Canada, but the spokeswoman said, “We didn’t get the attendance in our locations that we had hoped for with these events.”

I was skeptical about this venture when it first appeared on the radar screen, but I’m glad it was tried. It may be that a different version of it will be attempted, either in LA or somewhere else, with more success, and the lessons learned in LA will be useful to that attempt.

The problem with innovation is that innovations often don’t pan out. One major problem with our industry is that there is neither the money to try experiments like this nor the mindset that is willing to take the risk even when the resources are available. As I wrote in the earlier post, the LA Phil deserves a great deal of credit for taking the risk; learning what doesn’t work is every bit as valuable for learning what does. It’s hypocritical to praise innovation while reserving the right to criticize innovators for failure; frequent failure is the fate of the smartest and most savvy pioneers. Arrows in the back should not be.

LA also deserve credit for pulling the plug and not stubbornly continuing to pour money into something that isn’t working out instead of pretending that it really is working, or should work, or is morally or spiritually entitled to do so, or some other excuse for not facing facts. That’s another bad habit that our industry has, although we’re hardly alone in that.


About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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