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Imagine A World Without Symphony Orchestras

 It's no secret that symphony orchestras all over America are threatened with non-existence today, or at least to the unenviable fate of being forced to play fewer concerts per year at much lower salaries for both the musicians and those who work on administration . The renowned Detroit Symphony orchestra could be destroyed by both its current extended strike and economic woes, and the Honolulu Symphony has declared bankruptcy ,to name only a couple of sad examples of what is going wrong in the orchestral world currently.

  Even in Europe ,where generous government subsidies for orchestras have long been taken for granted , economic woes have created difficulties for some orchestras there.  But what would it be like in a worst case scenario ,if the centuries old symphony orchestra as an institution were to go the way of the dinosaur ?  It wouldn't be pretty . 

  The symphony orchestra has been in existence since around the middle of the 18th century . But it isn't a dinosaur, as many wrongly claim today , but a vital and constantly evolving organism . In the beginnning , European aristocrats supported it and composers, but there was no such thing as an independent orchestra resident all year in one concert hall playing a different program every week with a music director , guest conductors and soloists engaged to performwith it.

  The great Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) worked for many years as music director for a music-loving Hungarian count at his estate ; he directed the count's own private small orchestra,hired the musicians,and wrote much music for the count and his aristocratic guests ,some of which is still performed today. He had to wear a servant's uniform and suck up to the count all the time, but he had a secure job and gained enormous fame all over Europe as a composer . He was a feather in the count's cap .

  Mozart,in the last ten years of his life (1781-1791) had moved to cosmopolitan Vienna from nearby provincial Salzburg,where he had worked as more or less a hack church composer for the archbishop of Salzburg, whom he detested for his philistine attitudes, and attempted to make a career as a free lance composer and pianist, hiring musicians for concerts which he put on as an entrepreneur in order to perform his piano concertos ,symphonies and other works. 

  It was a much less stable life and more uncertain, but at least he had his creative freedom . Later,the orchestras of many European opera companies started  their own independent life as concert orchestras, the most famous example of this being the Vienna Philhamonic, which spends most of its time playing in the pit of what used to be called the IMperial Vienna Opera,now the Vienna State opera .

  In America , the New York Philharmonic was founded in 1842,the same year as the Vienna Philharmonic, but solely for concerts . At first it only played a handful of concerts a year ,and the musicians were free lancers who came together for a few concerts .Now it plays a different program every week in Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center from September until June.

  Later, orchestra proliferated in America and elsewhere ,not only Europe, but in Israel, South America and most recently, in Asian countries such as Japan,China , and Korea . The orchestra has become an established thing worldwide, and has provided a life-enhancing experience for people all over the world, as well as gainful employment for so many talented musicians, conductors and composers .

  But imagine a world without orchestras, given the fact that they are threatened in so many places,especially America . I think the world would be a sadder and more dreary place. Yes, there are so many wonderful recordings of orchestras playing such a wide variety of repertoire, and now DVDs. But there is simply  no substitute  for the experience of actually hearing an orchestra play live; the festive atmosphere ,the electricity of a live performance .

  And composers would no longer have an opportunity to write orchestral works . The magnificent tradition of composers  such as Haydn,Mozart,Beethoven,Brahms,Schumann, Tchaikovsky,Dvorak, Bruckner,Mahler,Sibelius and Prokofiev etc would come to a dismal end . Fortunately, there are still composers writing for the symphony orchestras , and more than you might imagine , but the prospect of this  great tradition ending is too painful to imagine . 

  This is why we must not take the symphony orchestra for granted in America and elsewhere . We cannot afford to allow current economic woes to threaten the existence of the symphony orchestra in America any more than we can afford to allow are great museums,libraries, national monuments and other national tresures to be destroyed .   

Posted: Dec 13 2010, 06:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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