Orchestra saved from collapse is apparently not interesting news

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 our industry, especially given some of the bad news of the past year – the Twin Lockouts, the troubles in Memphis, the continuing drumbeat of stories that Classical Music Is Dead. Both the fact that Milwaukee succeeded in doing something almost unprecedented, and how we did so, should be of deep interest to our business and to those who care at all about it. But, unlike the recent saga of the Great Strad Robbery, interest in this story appears exclusively local – even the blogs that cover our industry have ignored it.

This absence of coverage says a lot about the news business, none of it good. But the most important lesson is for those who care about orchestras, and it’s this: most of what you read about orchestras is crap. At the very best, it’s one-sided – bad news is sexier than good news, and weird news is more interesting than important news.

So the next time you read about orchestras being doomed, or classical music being dead, or, in fact, pretty much anything that the media might cover – remember than those who cover the news have a very, very deep bias. And, unless you just bit a dog, it’s not one in favor of covering what really matters.

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.

One Comment

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  • Hi Robert:

    Thanks for all of your posts.

    The first question I would have to ask, is who decides “what really matters?”

    Secondly, if audiences do not attend orchestra or classical concert nor donate money to them, does that reflect a “very, very deep bias” on the part of the press? Perhaps they are merely choosing not to report on what people don’t find of interest.

    I’m really not sure what is the point of your post. You mention that your orchestra “succeeded in doing something almost unprecedented” then don’t explain what that is, and then blame the press for not publicizing what you want them to report. I don’t see this mysterious success formula listed in your other posts, either. I’d love to hear about it.



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