Sunday, February 13, 2011

Artistic Strides Across the Pond

Before too much time passes, I wanted to document my experience traveling back to the States for the first time since moving to South Africa. With a five week vacation, we were fortunate to have an ample amount of time to visit friends and family but more significantly, we also had a first-hand look at the speed and momentum at which music organizations and ensembles seem to be moving in the States. With so many talented musicians and so little funding to go around, competition for public attention is fierce. Despite a horrific economy for the arts, many artists seemed to be truly pushing forward and I wanted to share some of these inspiring achievements.

One of the first nights back I was flipping through the channels and low and behold, there was Gustavo Dudamel on Jay Leno along side Queen Latifaht! Having lived in Los Angeles for four years, I was struck by the major marketing campaign that the LA Phil created for their new conductor. Suddenly, Dudamel was not only gracing the newspapers and the Internet in the form of reviews, but his image was plastered on buses and tv commercials. This orchestra truly wants Dudamel to reach celebrity status and not just amongst music lovers. This is a unique approach and in the end, if it results in exposing new people to classical music without resorting to watered-down programming, I am all for it.

I spent a good deal of time surfing the Internet simply because I could (you can see my earlier posts about Internet usage in South Africa...). The level of expertise when it comes to website attributes continues to astound me. Carnegie Hall employs a beautiful, interactive and very user-friendly digital season brochure that truly captures the spirit and style of the organization. Check out the digital brochure here

I'll admit that I discovered this next feature this summer and not while on break. Listening to the classical station in Los Angeles, I discovered that I was really enjoying whomever was leading the broadcast of the New York Philharmonic during their residency at the Aspen Music Festival, though I could not quite put my finger on it. And suddenly it hit me; that charming voice was actor Alec Baldwin.  It turns out that he has been the host for the weekly symphony broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic since 2009. I tend to be one who prefers to hear more music and less commentary by the radio hosts anyway, but this combination just worked perfectly. I do not associate such actors with the classical world but because of that, there was no elitist air or over-the-top personal opinions about the music.  There was something delightful about hearing this familiar voice in a totally unlikely setting.

Over all, it was encouraging to see arts organizations employing new tactics to maintain their place in the world without resorting to endless “pops concerts” or similar approaches. In the latest issue of Opera Magazine, Tim O’Leary, the general director of the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, wisely gives this advice to struggling organizations;

The biggest mistake in response to a challenging economy is to play it safe and scale back. You don’t have to be irresponsible, but you have to keep pushing forward. You have to produce work that makes your institution as indispensable in order to attract support from funders and audiences.