Consultant Suggests Oregon Symphony May Play Too Much Classical Music

Classic Arts News   Consultant Suggests Oregon Symphony May Play Too Much Classical Music
 
Canadian arts consultant Elaine Calder, hired by the Oregon Symphony to evaluate its weaknesses, has suggested that one problem is that the orchestra plays too much classical music, reports the Portland newspaper The Oregonian.

"We do a lot of classical programming. At the beginning of the 21st century, you can no longer look at any market as homogenous. You've got to find niche markets, and I don't see too much of that here," she told the paper.

As an example, Calder, who spent the past five years resuscitating the Edmonton Symphony as the orchestra's managing director before being hired in October as a "strategic consultant" to the Oregon Symphony, points out that when the Edmonton orchestra played with Christian soft-rock singer Michael W. Smith, $250,000 worth of tickets were sold, mostly to symphony newcomers.

She also advocates performing in other locations, like churches, according to The Oregonian. "The orchestra should get out more. Is it filling the mandate in our name? Should we? I don't know. It's not as if we have the world's best concert hall."

Calder also wants a conductor who resides in Portland; Carlos Kalmar, the current music director, makes his home in Vienna. "Orchestras are the only organizations that get excited about hiring a leader who lives on another continent. That's not an anti-Carlos statement," she told the paper.

She is also trying to deal with the orchestra's financial problems; in August, in the wake of a $1 million deficit, ten staff positions were cut. (The orchestra had reported a deficit of $1.2 million the previous year. )

Calder, who has an MBA and two decades' experience managing Canadian arts institutions such as the Canadian Opera Company, the National Arts Centre and the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, told the paper that the biggest issue is that "the balance of power has shifted to the consumer." She quotes from a recent survey that says 38% of respondents said they liked classical music, but only 4% hear it live in a concert hall.

Calder's ideas can only be implemented if changes are made to the musicians' contract. Next year's schedule is already set, "so it makes sense to have a two-year contract, but not longer," she told The Oregonian. "We need freedom beyond that." Calder will present the board with her ideas in several months' time.


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