These days the classical music world is filled with half-baked concepts and vague ideas regarding “community engagement”, a “new model”, “special projects”, and lots of other windy catchphrases. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a series at Carnegie Hall that has proven these concepts are not only possible, but on a grand scale. Spring for Music was a home run.
The Milwaukee Symphony was one of six orchestras selected to perform on the series, which ran from May 7-12. The concept is simple, yet innovative in a variety of ways: different orchestras are selected every year based primarily on programming, and tickets are priced to make the series easily accessible.
Here are three reasons this series is so successful:
– The music is the focus, not star power or clever PR. Orchestras are challenged to create compelling programming that is unique, but still a showcase for the group. The MSO triumphed in this area (in my humble opinion), thanks to our Music Director Edo de Waart. We played a program centered around a French-Asian theme, suffused with an ever-present relationship between student and teacher. Works of Messiaen, Debussy, and Qigang Chen were performed (Chen was Messiaen’s last student), each relating to one another in countless ways. It was a stunning concert (if I do say so), and immensely satisfying to play it in such a great hall. And it isn’t every day I get a dressing room that has a letter from Brahms on the wall.
– The series is affordable. All tickets are $25, no matter where you sit. When’s the last time you got a box at Carnegie for $25?
– Orchestras are given the opportunity to engage their own communities in virtually every way possible. The trip to Carnegie becomes not only a matter of civic pride, but also an opportunity for fundraising and focusing on the orchestra’s unique contributions to a particular city. For us the runup was over a year or so- we played to a huge crowd, supplemented by about 600 people who made the trip from Milwaukee.
Special thanks to everyone at SFM- it was truly an honor to participate. Congratulations to next year’s orchestras- you’ll have a great time.
Were you at SFM this year? Leave a comment below.