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The Difficult And Thankless Art Of Planning An Orchestra's Concert Season

   How does an orchestra plan what it will play in the course of any given season ? And who plans it?  Good question .  Every year , top U.S. orchestras in New York,Chicago , Boston, Philadelphia, Boston ,Los Angeles and  other cities reveal their plans for the next season ,usually some months before they begin in September .  Classical music fans await these eagerly to see what
their local orchestra and others will have to offer .

   Basically , the orchestra's chief conductor ,known as the music director ,along with the orchestra's administrative staff , decide what will be played and when, as well  as which  famous or not so famous  pianists,  violinists,cellists , and other solo performers will appear with the orchestra as guests , and  singers in addition , as  it's not uncommon for vocal works such as operas and oratorios etc to be scheduled .

   This is anything but an easy  task .  It's absolutely impossible to please every one,  audiences ,
   critics ,  board members etc with  the selection of repertoire .  No matter what a conductor decides , some one will complain bitterly .  You're samned if you do, and damned i you don't .

   Seasons need to be planned  quite a long time before  they begin ;  there are so many things to coordinate ;  who will be available to play  what piano,violin, or cello concerto etc ?   How much will  these soloists have to be paid ? What if  one of them is  unable to appear because of illness  etc ?   The music director has to  contact guest conductors to  make sure that  they  are not  planning to play  a work  which he or she has already scheduled .
Which guest cnductors will be invited to appear with the orchestra ?  If the orchestra  could not stand  one who  recently appeared  for the first time with them ,it's not a good idea to  invite  that conductor back . 

   In some cases ,  the orchestra's  board of directors or the general manager might not want the conductor to do a particular work , such as something by  a contemporary composer who  writes  thorny and complex music which might  upset certain subscribers and  potentially cause  a  loss of ticket sales .  Sometimes there are conflicts .

   It's  important to  provide  a judicious balance between new music , old music ,  established audience favorites and  interesting rarities , and this is  extremely difficult .
If the conductor  concentrates too much on  the same old same old ,  the music critics in the papers will  complain that  new music  is being neglected  , and grumble about having to hear their umpteenth  performance of the same old symphonies and concertos by  the old masters Beethoven ,Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov ,  Mozart , Schubert, Mendelssohn , Schumann  etc . 

   But  many  people in the audience are very conservative in their tastes , and  want to hear those same olf familiar works over and over again ;  the thought of trying a work by a living or recently deceased composer is  threatening to them . They need their  beloved repertoire  staples  the way some children need their security blankets . 

   They would rather be waterboarded than hear something by that  awful Arnold Schoenberg  ,the boogey man of modern music ,despite the fact  that  this "awful modern
music "  was written  in the first half of the 20th century as is not even really "modern" any more !   And there  are more recent composers , such as Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, 
Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen ,  and others whose music is even more daunting . 

   There are also  contemporary composers  who write in a more conservative idiom , and aim to please audiences .  But if a conductor  programs music by these  composers ,
some critics  will blast him or her  for pandering to the audience with "easy listening ".
You're damned if you do ,and damned if you don't.   It's not uncommon for some conservative concert subscribers to write angry letters to an orchestra's music director after a concert  where a new or recent work  was performed  saying how awful the piece was  and threatening to cancel their subscriptions .

   But some one has to  do the job  of programming .  It's an endless challenge and not for the faint-hearted .


Posted: May 25 2011, 05:37 PM by the horn | with no comments
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