Friday, October 16, 2009

The Rise Of The Peoples' Orchestra

It's been interesting to find messages alerting Talvi Studio of new, exciting community orchestra opportunities in our Inbox, requesting advanced students. These community orchestras are mushrooming throughout the Seattle region. Perhaps this is the direction future ensembles will take, if one speculates on how "unsustainable" the professional arts business model has become. If you're like me, you're probably sick and tired of the term "unsustainable business model" which is frequently tossed about by vapid, arrogant executives, but without innovative or cogent solutions for viability. Hence, these creative enterprises. Take, for example, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra. What happens when you invite young, enthusiastic instrumentalists to become active participants in the creation process? What if you present solo and chamber music opportunities as a means to entice and keep capable string players? What if you offer remuneration for conductor and musicians alike based on audience interest and support?

The best instrumentalists have at least one thing in common: they need to maintain their skill level before atrophy sets in. I think one of the worst things a talented player can do is mope around and bemoan the fact that gigs are drying up. Seek and you shall find, and be creative. But FYI, I'll bet you're making the pros nervous, as you might just stumble into sustainability.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a rehearsal for Lake Union Civic Orchestra. There, two of our phenomenal students were hard at work, delving into the Brahms Violin Concerto in a spirited atmosphere of congeniality and open-mindedness. I didn't spot any musicians glancing at their watches, or kvetching during the half-time about labor contracts. Because, you see, there aren't collective bargaining agreements to kvetch about. The players participating are there because they wish to be there, honing their skills, learning through volunteerism, like any other craft. And, not surprising, given their training and enthusiasm, these young people offer their professional counterparts competition due to their consistent, high level. Sometimes, in a community setting, you find more seasoned players who have been beleaguered, under-valued, and rejected by their so-called peers. Thus, a fine community orchestra might provide a second chance, like Rainier Symphony does for me. (By the way, you have no idea what a difference it makes to perform Stravinsky's Firebird Suite without a Thumper.)

It'll be interesting to observe how these community orchestras develop. As more well-trained individuals emerge from conservatories and universities with skills superior to their "professional" counterparts who are often in their declining years, and plagued by delusions of grandeur, paranoia, and entitlement (we won't mention any names here, but let's just say, they've got tenure and if on leave can return to work at any time), these burgeoning groups might just take over and hopefully, thrive. To top it off, the once feared, full-of-himself music critic has practically vanished like the phonograph. We have now the peoples' reviews.

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