Monday, August 22, 2011

More survival techniques for orchestras

News of worldwide economic distress continues to pepper the media, with fears about the U.S. possibly heading into another recession making it ever more imperative that orchestra boards and managements carefully consider whether or not they are doing everything possible to place their orchestra in a position of relevance in the community.

I have already written posts on this topic, such as "Some orchestras' secrets of success , "April is the cruelest month" , "Connecting with the audience" , "Connecting, part II" and "Orchestral relevance".  I apologize for sounding like a broken record, but the problems plaguing U.S.orchestras have not gone away.   There is hope; I keep hearing of solutions which some orchestras have implemented.

The very latest news from U.S. orchestras, though, has been grim.   A stream of musician departures from the troubled Philadelphia Orchestra potentially threatens the orchestra's famous sound. The San Antonio Symphony is looking at a "significant" financial loss for the 2010-11 season - a loss which comes despite a 6% musician pay cut in 2011 and a 14% pay cut in 2009.  Donations (especially corporate gifts) in San Antonio are down, while costs are higher.  Unfortunately, many orchestras are all too familiar with that trend.

As I've said previously, the orchestras which survive the next few years will be the ones which figure out how to become not just relevant, but indispensable to the communities they serve.  The same old approach to predictable programs in familiar venues and time slots is simply not working anymore, as the older patrons who do cling to tradition are gradually becoming less mobile.  Younger potential audience members are being wooed by countless providers of culture and entertainment, both virtual and live.

Donations (a major source of orchestra revenue) are harder to come by in times of economic distress, as corporate and individual giving tends to be focused on social charities such as homeless shelters, food banks and hospitals rather than on perpetually struggling orchestras.  (Orchestra managements sometimes refer to this phenomenon as "donor fatigue".)  Orchestras' endowments are shriveling, and orchestras lacking collateral are at risk of collapse.  With resources so limited, orchestra managements must choose their outreach and innovative projects very carefully - yet outreach and innovation are essential.

The orchestras experiencing positive changes are the ones which have changed venues, formats, lengths and starting times of concerts.  They have made tickets easy to obtain and available singly (as opposed to subscription only).  They have lowered ticket prices.  They have introduced food and beverages to the concert experience.  They have figured out what appeals to today's audience.

Furthermore, they have built connections between the musicians (including the music director) and the audience by having the conductor and musicians speak from the stage, by creating video and audio content to share online, and by hosting post-concert receptions or mixers.

Equally important is the connection between the orchestra and the community at large.  As far as I know, the only way to establish this critical connection is to constantly present the orchestra at important community events such as city-wide festivals (particularly arts festivals), New Years' Eve celebrations, downtown July 4th fireworks, sporting events, etc.  Any event, festival or sports team which is important to the city is the perfect (and necessary!) venue for the orchestra. 

There are many examples of orchestras which are implementing these changes. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians have the option of participating in community outreach (through teaching, coaching and chamber music) throughout the year for additional compensation.  The DSO recently presented a number of free, standing-room only community engagement concerts, along with open-air residencies at Greenfield Village and at the Ford House in Grosse Pointe.  The DSO is taking the orchestra to the people, in churches, synagogues, community halls and suburbs.

One of the most striking examples of integrating the orchestra into the community is found on the website of the Seattle Mariners:
Safeco crowd cheering
Seattle Symphony Night
Blue Jays vs. Mariners
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - 7:10 p.m.
Round up your friends and family members and join the Seattle Symphony at Safeco Field on Tuesday, August 16! Special group seating has been reserved and is available for you to purchase online. A portion of the tickets sold through this offer will benefit the Seattle Symphony.
Be sure to arrive early- new Music Director Ludovic Morlot will be throwing out the evening's first pitch and a group of Seattle Symphony musicians will be performing the National Anthem!
  • DEADLINE TO PURCHASE: Monday, August 15 at NOON
  • Game Date: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - 7:10 p.m.
  • Pricing:
    • $15 View Reserved (normally $20)
    • $32 Field Level (normally $40)
    • $37 Terrace Club Outfield (normally $47)
    • $7 from each ticket sold will benefit the Seattle Symphony!
Bravo to the Seattle Symphony for figuring out how to connect to the community by collaborating this way with the city's beloved baseball team! 

Another orchestra which seems to have figured out multiple ways to connect to the community is the Buffalo Philharmonic.  Free concerts, from birthday bashes to outdoor rock concerts (with orchestra) have been presented recently.  Like the Detroit Symphony, the BPO does not sit still - it performs in various neighborhoods and venues, bringing the music to the people, often free of charge.  The upcoming Season Sampler sounds enticing:

The free concert offers samples and  highlights of the BPO 2011-2012 season at Kleinhans Music Hall, featuring a pre-concert happy hour with drinks and appetizers from the BPO's restaurant partners. 

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra reports that 35% of its audience is younger than 35. How did that happen?  The formula is simple:
  • shorter concerts
  • cheaper tickets
  • more partying
The TSO has gone out of its way to adjust the orchestra's schedule to its audience's schedule and desires, rather than vice versa.  Three innovative series: Afterworks, Casual and tsoundcheck have resulted from that effort, and this is how they are described on the TSO's website::

Skip rush hour and recharge at the end of your work day with light hors d’oevres and magnificent orchestral music! Host Tom Allen of the CBC will introduce the pieces that will linger in your mind as you arrive home for an early night.

Casual Concerts are performed without an intermission and are followed by a party for the whole audience in Roy Thomson Hall’s North Lobby. After the concert, mingle with TSO musicians and guest artists in a relaxed setting and enjoy live music by local bands.

tsoundcheck is an easy way to buy inexpensive concert tickets to the TSO. It lets young people take in some live classical music without spending a bundle.
You don't even have to be a student - if you're between the ages of 15 to 35, you're eligible for tsoundcheck.
And tsoundcheck tickets for TSO concerts are only $14!
For more information about tsoundcheck,

The tsoundcheck series has been so successful that it has its own website.  Ticket sales have quadrupled since the series was implemented 9 years ago, proving that the TSO's determination to build a young audience paid off.  The TSO could have easily given up after the first year and cancelled their new series, since they couldn't have predicted that sales would quadruple in 9 years.  It takes time, patience and determination to build an audience and to firmly integrate an orchestra into the community.  But it could save the orchestra.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

K. David Van Hoesen's lengthy tenure with Lake Placid Sinfonietta

K. David Van Hoesen
Cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht reported on his blog that legendary bassoonist K.David Van Hoesen just retired from playing in the Lake Placid Sinfonietta.  Mr. Van Hoesen (fondly called "KD" by his students) is professor emeritus of bassoon at the Eastman School of Music and former principal bassoon of the Rochester Philharmonic.  His lifelong affiliation with the Lake Placid Sinfonietta began in 1947.

Mr. Van Hoesen's students populate the bassoon sections of orchestras nationwide, including but not limited to the New York Philharmonic, The Cleveland Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the National Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the Honolulu Symphony, the Orlando Symphony, the Columbus Symphony, the Chautauqua Symphony.  His students pass along his wisdom to their private students and to their bassoon students at Juilliard, Oberlin, the Cleveland Institute, the New England Conservatory, the San Fransisco Conservatory.

As a bit of a tribute to KD, I've pasted below a performance of KD's former student Stephen Paulson (principal bassoon of the San Fransisco Symphony) performing Mozart Adagio K. 261 transcribed for bassoon and piano by K. David Van Hoesen:

Undoubtedly, Mr.Van Hoesen will find plenty of ways to keep busy during this new phase of his retirement.  We wish him the very best.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Verdi Bassoon Concerto (really??)

File:Giuseppe Verdi00.jpg

Just a few years ago, an unpublished piece for bassoon and orchestra by Giuseppe Verdi surfaced.near Verdi's hometown of Busseto (near Parma)  Although historians had long believed that Verdi had written concertos for solo instruments early in his career, this was the first actual discovery of one of those pieces.  Musicologist Fausto Pedretti found the Cappriccio for Bassoon and Orchestra, as it is called, in the archive of a small church in Busseto.  It's easy to hear in Cappriccio for Bassoon and Orchestra the influence of Rossini, who also wrote a bassoon concerto.  Isn't it interesting that such masters of Italian opera considered the bassoon to be an instrument worthy of solo concerto composition?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A cautionary tale (tail)

Kolbl microfiber swab for wing joint
Hopefully, each of your bassoon swabs looks like this, with a tail on the end in case, heaven forbid, the swab gets stuck. A few years ago I experienced the unspeakable horror of getting a swab stuck....REALLY stuck, inside the wing joint of my bassoon.  It took Chris Weait's swab extractor, the physical strength of 2 adults, and long distance coaching by repairman Carl Sawicki via speaker phone to extract that swab.  It was not done without superficial damage to the interior wall of my wing joint, unfortunately.  The bassoon still played after that, but I strongly advise all bassoonists to avoid the trauma of emergency swab extraction at all costs.  I learned my lesson.  I will never again insert a tail-less swab into my bassoon, nor will I insert a swab which is not 100% free of knots.  

It's fortunate that I learned my lesson, because yesterday I experienced another swab incident.  This time it was a bocal swab, which I have found to be the safest and most effective tool for weekly bocal cleaning.  The swab simply broke, as you can see in the photo below, as I was pulling it through the bocal!

Thank heavens it had a tail, and I just pulled the swab back out by pulling the tail.  If there had been no tail on that swab (many swabs lack tails!) I suspect that my bocal would have been ruined. 

This reminds me of quip from the late legendary bassoonist Norman Herzberg.  Whenever a panicked student with a swab situation contacted him for advice, he replied that the best response to a stuck swab was "dinner and a movie"  followed, of course, by renewed effort with a fresh perspective!   (Back in those days, I don't think swabs had tails....)


Sunday, August 7, 2011

In case you missed Archie Carey's Evening of Bassoonery

Many of us bassoonists were disappointed that the live stream of Archie Carey's "An Evening of Bassoonery" apparently malfunctioned last night!  That's OK - it happens.  Meanwhile, here's a sampling of Archie Carey's work:

The Organism from Archie C on Vimeo.     
Autumn Moon Phase Cover Art

Friday, August 5, 2011

An Evening of Bassoonery live streaming here Saturday night!

Tomorrow night Los Angeles-based  Machine Project  is presenting An Evening of Bassoonery featuring Archie Carey in a performance of brand new music for bassoon.  The audience will be treated to microtonal bassoon, electric bassoon, prepared bassoon and more.  And guess what - you're invited!  The performance will be live streaming via, and the live feed is embedded right here on bassoon blog, in the right-hand  margin.  Just visit  this blog tomorrow (Saturday) at 8pm PDT (11pm EDT) and enjoy the concert!  Thank you, Machine Project, for offering the live feed to bassoon blog.

a sign which says about machine project
What exactly is Machine Project, anyway?  According to its website, Machine Project is:

1) a storefront space in the echo park neighborhood of Los Angeles that hosts events about all kinds of things we find interesting – scientific talks, poetry readings, musical performances, competitions, group naps, cheese tastings and so forth. We usually do about two events a week, open to the general public and free of charge. Usually at 8pm. Information on upcoming events can be found on our future page.

2) an informal educational institution located in the the same storefront space as mentioned above. We teach all kinds of things we find interesting – electronics, sewing, pickling, computer programming, car theft and so forth. We usually have one or two class going a week, open to the public for a fee by pre-registration. Information on upcoming classes can be found on our classes page.

3) a loose group of artist/performer collaborators, who do projects together when invited by other people and institutions, usually museums. We’re currently working on something with the Walker Museum in Minneapolis for July of 2011. Information on special projects can be found on our projects page.

Intriguing, no?  Here are the specifics of tomorrow's concert:

An Evening of Bassoonery

Saturday, August 6th, 2011
8pm PST   (Find out what time in your zone = 8pm PST using this link )

Performer/Composer Archie Carey presents an evening of brand new music for the bassoon. There will be works by LA composer/vocalist Odeya Nini, NY composer/bassoonist Katherine Young, and Archie Carey himself. Look forward to hearing microtonal bassoon, electric bassoon, prepared bassoon and more. Prepare yourself, or come unprepared for double reed debauchery!

Archie Carey is a musician based in the Los Angeles area who enjoys performing music from baroque to free jazz to folk to metal and everything in between. As a bassoonist/sound artist he has had the opportunity to play in many great places and spaces throughout the world including Symphony Space, Pieter PASD, Carnegie Hall, REDCAT, Zipper Hall and beyond. As a composer Archie aims to magnify sound, pitch, timbre, and environment to make the subtlest details a point of focus, achieved by using long durations, minimal pitch content, and contrasts between extremely high volumes and silence. In solo work and in collaboration with dance and film he has been experimenting with field recording, analog electronics, aspects of performance art and often times combinations of all three. (usually with a bassoon in at least one hand).

Bassoon blog supports innovation, and here you have it, in spades!   Enjoy the stream!