Can classical music survive in a world where orchestras fail and concert attendance dwindles?
Two dismaying things happened to me this weekend. The first came in a casual conversation, in which two people attempted to persuade me that classical music and attending concerts is a high-brow, elite and upper class thing. Every fiber of my being resists this idea, but the nagging fact persists that classical music is not widely embraced in our society.
The second dismaying thing was the news that both of Minnesota’s orchestras are now locked out in labor disputes. On Sunday, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra joined the Minnesota Orchestra, which has been locked out since October 1 after the players’ union rejected what management termed their “final offer.” For at least the next two weeks, there will be no concerts from either of these world-class ensembles.
And this is far from an isolated incident. This “orchestra graveyard” in Donaueschingen, Germany is part of a protest against funding cutbacks there that have resulted in the mergers of several orchestras.
What is the future for orchestras? Is the music not relevant? Do people not want to go to concerts?
I believe in the power of music and particularly in the power of classical music. Whether you call it classical music, or art music, or concert music, it has always moved the human spirit and spoken to the soul.
Yet in a culture where only 6.9% of 18-24 year olds and 14% of all adults attended any classical music event in a year (according to this NEA report), how can we musicians prove that our art form is powerful, vital and meaningful?
I have no solutions for the orchestra crisis, beyond the vague idea that the business model for an orchestra must become leaner, lighter and more responsive.
But I know our music moves and inspires people wherever we play. It communicates and invites the listener into a world where pictures and words fail. And I know how we will keep our art alive.
How? One musician at a time.
Where will you share your music today?