Fabio Luisi on maestros, madness and sudden exits

Fabio Luisi on maestros, madness and sudden exits


norman lebrecht

September 24, 2014

We have received these reflections from the music director of Zurich Opera on the changes that are taking place in his profession, as outlined earlier today on Slipped Disc.


Dear Norman,

I don’t think that Maestros (sic!) have gone mad.

But like any other artist, and probably more than other artists, they are looking for serenity and stability.

From my personal experience (I have been music director of five orchestras and two opera houses – in one of them, the Zurich Opera, I still am) I can say that the role of a music director is a delicate one, unique in the music business, trying to balance artistic ambition (not necessarily personal ambition, but ambition for the institution) and contingency.

Accepting this function is always a challenge and the primary objective should be a perspective for the institution itself. What can I do in order to artistically develop the institution, giving new impulses, strengthening the role of the orchestra in my (our) artistic concept, opening to new ideas. This can only be achieved in a teamwork. The projection of the music director alone can provide musical “high points” – which can be wonderful, as in Dresden with Thielemann right now, but without a strong and like-minded team you will not achieve any of those goals.

If you are faced with the impossibility to have perspectives, for many of us the job becomes frustrating: the problems of contingency become overwhelming and eventually we would miss the serenity (as Maestro Muti points out with sincere simplicity) to do our job well.


The situation in Italy is right now far from serene: all musical institutions (except perhaps La Scala and Santa Cecilia) have heavy structural and financial problems, orchestras and choruses are stuck in a 1970s-forma mentis, not only in terms of work rules, but in terms of flexibility and openness to  new ideas. General managers are often not well prepared to face this situation, although many of them try very hard and honestly to convince everybody of the necessity to change direction.

I don’t blame Maestros Muti, Noseda and Luisotti for their decision, at the contrary, I can sense and understand their sadness and frustration (although I don’t know the background of Luisotti’s resignation): the balance between own work and contingency was broken, and contingency was not acceptable anymore.

What we want is to make music and to enable our theater or our orchestra to shine. We help to develop ideas and we can mediate between orchestras and management if there are problems (or, let’s say, we should do this – not all music directors do that in times of trouble; I always did it in Lepizig, Geneva, Dresden and Vienna), but we also need good conditions of work, clear artistic direction, which we only can have if the team around us works properly. I am very fortunate to be part of a fantastic, ideal team in Zurich and an orchestra which is musically involved during rehearsals and concerts.

If we don’t get this, we’d better go.

Best regards



  • william osborne says:

    Hide bound work rules and some administrative traditions do indeed limit the classical music life of Italy. I think one of the most problematic is that the employment practices are too parochial and ethnocentric. I’m not certain about the details, but during the Mussolini era laws were passed that reserved positions in orchestras and the conservatories solely for Italians. These laws stayed on the books until new EU treaties obligated orchestras and conservatories to open positions to all EU members.

    Even with these new treaties, the traditions of cronyism and excessively nationalistic hiring continue, and create an atmosphere or parochialism that makes it difficult for Italian conservatories to reach international standards. (And it is very rare for non-EU members to work in Italian conservatories at all. I’m not sure, but I suspect they can still be legally excluded.) While German, British, and French conservatories remain international destinations for students and teachers, Italian conservatories, with the exception of a few good departments, remain largely parochial and unrecognized.

    I’ve noticed over the last couple decades that many young Italians have solved this problem by studying abroad or participating in festivals and master classes with foreign teachers that take place in Italy mostly in the summer. This sort of study has been very beneficial especially for Italian brass players whose standards have risen dramatically since the 1980s. My wife has taught some of these classes. She observed that you don’t really teach Italians music. It’s more like showing the ducks where the water is. It’s unfortunate that a country with such rich musical traditions and gifts has mired itself in bureaucratic practices that limit its musical expression.

  • Fabio Luisi says:

    Dear Mr. Osborne,
    Mussolini’s time is over – fortunately – and italian orchestras have become very international. At the contrary, I agree about your judgement of the “Conservatori”, they are stuck in bureaucracy and this is killing them. Nevertheless there are outstanding teachers there – even if most of them are italians…
    What I don’t really understand is what your wife means about teaching music to italians: there are plenty of outstanding italian musicians around, and I mean not only good instrumentalists, but “real” musicians, they must have been taught properly somewhere…

    • william osborne says:

      Thank you for your response Mr. Luisi. When I look at the roster for Orchestras like Santa Cecilia and the National Orchestra in Turin, I do not see many foreigners at all. Here’s the Santa Cecilia roster. There are typically a small number of foreigners in the strings, but virtually none in the winds:


      There are, of course, countless excellent Italian musicians, and many are excellent teachers. And I catch the meaning of your comment about “real” musicians. There is something about Italian music-making that is incomparable. All the more reason to make sure that pedagogical standards in Italy reach the highest international standards.

      • william osborne says:

        BTW, I would like to add that Santa Cecilia is a vastly under recognized orchestra. It is one of the world’s best, but often over-looked in the international community. This lack of recognition of Santa Ceclia is yet one more curious aspect of the Italian classical music world difficult to explain.

        • newyorker says:

          Many of the finest orchestras in the world frequently prove that world-class results can be had, even when the musicians are more locally sourced and trained. Boston is an example of an orchestra with several family legacies, and a kind of “school” of orchestra training that is rooted at Harvard, NEC, and Tanglewood to excellent effect. Most US orchestras are predominantly US trained. I think there was once a time, not long ago, when the assumption about internationalism or “diversity” equaling higher quality would have been thought quite strange.

          • william osborne says:

            The USA is an unusual case because it has a population of 320 million and relatively few year-round orchestras (about 17). Little countries like Switzerland (7 million) or Austria (8million) with a much higher per capita ratio of orchestras have more need for foreigners to fill their ranks. Even the VPO has a lot of foreigners– though unusually none from Asia. Germany, with 85 million people and 133 full time orchestras, also has to hire a lot of foreigners.

            About 20 years ago the Berlusconi government in Italy eliminated all of the radio orchestras. This created a surplus of experienced players for a country that already had a low ratio of symphony orchestras per capita. This is another reason Italy has not imported foreign players.

            US orchestras once used a lot of immigrants, but they trained generations of Americans at high standards so that the supply of good musicians eventually became domestic.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            William – The Orchestra sinfonica nazionale della RAI is still around.

            NewYorker – Harvard doesn’t train orchestral musicians. They have a music department, but offer no instrumental performance degrees. But in addition to NEC, there is also Boston College and Boston University which do have musical performance departments.

          • newyorker says:

            Michael Schaffer, I’m fully aware of that. Nevertheless the Boston Symphony has a number of internal connections to the institutions and several players are excellent conservatory trained players who studied at Harvard.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            You mean they studied at a conservatory, but also at Harvard in addition to that? That could well be, many musicians have wider interests than “just” music, but it still doesn’t mean that there is a BSO school of orchestra playing that is “rooted” at Harvard, among other schools. So that really plays next to no role in the maintaining of the playing standards and orchestra culture of the BSO.

  • Tom says:

    I have come to the conclusion that if conductors and administrative directors are to have a mutually respectful and productive relationship, they should – in would never say always, but generally – form teams with similar artistic vs. pragmatic viewpoints, as well as a mutual interest in what kind of special projects they wish to pursue. If the Artistic Director and General Manager come as a package, chances are that one or the other won’t walk out or start internecine power struggles which makes life living heck for just about everyone. Maybe someday…

  • Nick says:

    A nice suggestion. Recent history is full of examples of extremely fruitful partnerships between Music Directors and General Managers where teamwork has taken precedence over individual egos and agendas. But surely it is impractical in today’s world. If a conductor moves to an orchestra very far from his present base, the administrator/manager may have a very valid reason for not wishing to do so – e.g. uprooting a family. And then what do you do with those many conductors who have two orchestras on different continents?

    Two more points

    1. In the “old days”, it was not unusual for managers to assume considerable artistic input in terms of programming and selection of artists. In that sense, they were an essential part of the artistic team. Nowadays, with Artistic Administrators assuming most if not all of this responsibility, the manager is often left out in the cold in helping to meet artistic goals. I for one do not consider it a healthy trend for a manager to be so relatively isolated. That presupposes, though, that managers actually have the knowledge and passion to contribute artistically.

    2. So I wonder how much time Search Committees, Recruitment Consultants and those responsible for making senior appointments consider the issue of personalities and relationships. Too often, I feel, conducting appointments are made on the basis of the individual conductors and what their ‘names’ and qualities can bring to the orchestras. Conversely, far too many managers are appointed with a distinct lack of the required knowledge of orchestras and repertoire, people skills, tact and passion, alongside personalities that are not be conducive to teamwork.

    If there is a redefinition of roles going on, shouldn’t fingers be pointed more at Boards and Managers (as well as agents) and less on conductors?

    • Tom says:

      Nick, I don’t think it’s as impracticable as you conjecture. I see your point about having to move together, but if a conductor and general manager work together very well, the tenure of both is likely to increase in length.

      As for conductors having more than one orchestra; well again it’s not impossible that a general manager could be involved in both jobs. The latest trend in non-profit management is the establishment of a “central office” which provides staff services for multiple arts organizations. Obviously, that would save a great deal of money, and/or you could hire more qualified staff, especially in development, where salaries tend to be quite high for people with a solid track record.

      Why should a general manager not have input about the repertoire? I disagree with you that “isolating” the general manager and relegating him/her to purely administrative duties is a good thing. First, many people who through graduate arts management programs are former musicians themselves, and happen to know quite a bit about repertoire. I’m an example of that, and – without tooting my own horn, which is pointless here considering that I’m anonymous – I’ve worked with quite a few conductors who didn’t know as much repertoire as I do. In European orchestras, the conductor, general manager and musician reps typically sit in a “programming committee,” whose task it is to select future repertoire through consensus. I have experienced this system, and have found that if the conductor, general manager and musician reps are reasonably sane people, the process can work very well.

      Your second point I generally agree with, though with the caveat outlined above: Some general managers know quite a bit about orchestras and have even played in them before “switching sides.” Today, in fact, I would never recommend that an orchestra hire a general manager who does not have a instrumental background and a masters degree from one of the reputable programs at a university.

      By hiring management “teams,” a search committee would have a much better idea about where the orchestra would be headed in the future and know that there wouldn’t be personality conflicts between the conductor and general manager. Frankly, a typical search process for a conductor is a crap shoot unless we’re talking about the 10-15 top names in the industry. The conductors below that ranking would benefit greatly from having a partner in whom they could place their trust, making the conductor a more efficient one by virtue of his/her and the general manager knowing what the conductor’s repertoire strengths and weaknesses are. This would mean more sensible programming, and a better rehearsal process for the orchestra.

      Finally, if you’ve tried working with a volunteer board of directors (or a politically appointed one), you’ll know that most board members are pretty clueless when it comes to the ins and outs of the classical music business and what running an orchestra entails. It is the general managers duty to do his/her best to educate them so they can make more informed decisions, but that takes time and requires a lot of work.

      I have seen numerous examples of conductors running their orchestras into the ground. In particular those, whose tenure with the orchestra has been too long or those who think they’re the cat’s last meow and that anything they program should, can and will bring in audiences (which doesn’t happen too often without the right kind of programming and community relations development. Yes, sure, there are lots of incompetent orchestra managers out there who destroy their orchestras, but there are no more of them than conductors or boards who do so as well, even if the general manager is kicking and screaming warnings about the state the orchestra is in.

      It’s all about a collaborative process with an atmosphere of trust among all the parties involved, including the orchestra musicians. Point me to an orchestra that has these inherent qualities, and I will show you a successful orchestra with an interested audience and happy orchestra musicians who don’t need to go on strike to get respect.

  • Nick says:

    Thanks Tom. Just for clarity, I was not suggesting it is a good thing GMs are left out in the cold – in fact, just the opposite. I was an orchestra GM myself once, and the interaction and discussions with the MD were a large part of the enjoyment of the job at that time. Like you, I believe a background in music, an understanding of orchestras and the complex issues and personalities that go into making them successful are essential. Sadly in my view, in today’s much more specialised world, Boards seem to want their GMs to be much more business-oriented.

    I am well aware of how basically clueless many Boards are. And yes, it then becomes the GM’s job to guide them. (Of course the MD must also be part of that process although he will not be there much of the time.) But in proposing the adoption of conductor/management teams, I think you miss out on one key point. Orchestras cater to the needs and wants of particular communities. There will also be a huge number of different operational and personnel issues to deal with – even working practices. Plus in each community there has to be a figurehead for the orchestra. If the MD is only there for 10 – 12 weeks a year, then the GM becomes de facto head (with occasional and hopefully infrequent appearances by the Board Chairperson). So, whilst the idea might work with smaller, shorter-season orchestras, I just cannot see it working with those on full year schedules.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Nick. I wish it were not so, but in today’s world, GM’s HAVE to be more business-minded. What I would not have given to have been the GM of a symphony orchestra 50-100 years ago rather than today!

      The balance between purely artistic and purely business decisions is a very difficult one, I agree, as you obviously are well aware of as a GM. Life’s a little easier in Europe where you get your money from the state, so you have more leeway to lean towards purely artistic decisions, though even there you can’t avoid business pragmatism except in a few, lucky, orchestras.

      Your point about community presence is a good one. One of the issues with that I’ve come across in the past in the US is that a MD of a smaller to mid-size regional orchestra who has 2-3 other orchestras or a teaching position in higher education devotes far too little to community relations. Conductors who’ve run such orchestras for ~20 years or more tend to behave the same way because they take the community for granted. In today’s environment, that simply does not work anymore because you have to work very, very hard to maintain your audiences, which, again, I’m sure you know as well as I do.

      I think there’s a fairly simple rule of thumb by which one can judge how well a conductor is doing with a given orchestra, which is too often ignored by boards and orchestra musicians: Audience numbers.

      If the GM is able to keep donated funding constant or even increase it while audience numbers go down, there’s a serious problem with the decisions the MD is making. A GM has a great deal of control over donations (though MD involvement is a great help if it is available), but s/he can not control whether an orchestra’s audiences are growing or diminishing. Yes, I know there’s a marketing department that’s supposed to take care of that, but it can’t perform miracles if it doesn’t have a magic wand to wave around. If one is generally self-confident and intelligent as a GM and has managed to keep donations stable and know that your marketing department is doing as well as it possibly can to promote the orchestra while audience numbers are falling then it’s the MD’s fault. Then the MD either needs to leave or submit to “business decisions,” because s/he won’t have an orchestra soon anyway.

      If audience numbers go south, donation levels will eventually follow regardless of how good at fundraising the GM and the development department are. Even if ticket sales are only 30%-40% of an orchestra’s total income, they’re the numbers that ultimately drive the 60%-70% of donated income in the medium to long term.

      I’ll grant you that many orchestras from small to large have bad GM’s and boards who can’t tell the difference between good marketing and bad who are to blame for audience declines. We agree that such GM’s need to be purged.

      But let’s return to the important point you made about the community. I don’t think the old model where the MD is in the community for 6-10 weeks a year works anymore. If you want good attendance at your concerts and the ability to make a higher proportion of artistic decisions relative to business decisions – at least here in the US – you better build and maintain your community contacts and outreach 24/7, 365/365. And that includes the MD. There are good examples of regional orchestras which have presented a surprisingly “difficult” seasons, artistically speaking. Invariably, they have only been able to do that because of a high level of community confidence in and contact with the MD and GM, built up over time.

      That’s why it’s sheer idiocy for orchestras in the B class and below to hire conductors who live across the country or even in another country. A new model needs to be developed, I believe, or we’ll keep seeing American orchestras crash and burn. The most sensible model would be one where the MD has a position at a local – hopefully major – university while conducting the local orchestra (if they need/want a bigger salary). Yet, for some reason, American orchestras are extremely averse to hiring “academic” conductors because, for some weird reason, they’re looked down upon by the “professional” musicians and management (not always, but too often – just compare the names of conducting professors at major music schools and the names of professional orchestra conductors). If the MD then spends 2/3 of his/her time in the community, then it’ll make a difference.

      If we see a change like that among US orchestras, we may approach a sustainable model. There are also orchestras which have started developing a “satellite” season model, like, e.g., the Cleveland Orchestra. It seems to be working quite well for them and their community/ies, so that may be another model to look at.

      There are no easy answers, but it’s clear that the old model with two captains of the Titanic, one running the programming, the other the business side, one shouting “hard to starboard” and the other “hard to port” after seeing an iceberg dead ahead is no longer feasible. With recent conductor resignations in Europe, it may not even work anymore over there either, government funding or not. Greater collaboration on a local level is needed, that much is certain.

      Ultimately, it’s the buyer who dictates the terms, even if the seller can influence the buyers purchasing decision to a certain degree. “Business” conditions apply to orchestras as much as to any other vendor of a product. Our buyers are not just the “bums in seats” but local or national politicians, business leaders and philanthropists. If there is enough understanding among all the “buyers” (yes, I know, I’m rewriting More’s “Utopia” in a symphony orchestra setting), then perhaps the buyers of conducting services can design jobs, which keep MD’s more involved in the community for longer, and support something like a MD/GM team management model.

      When that happens, we may see a real resurgence in audience numbers and general financial support for symphony orchestras everywhere. What we do not need are MD’s like Barenboim, who despise everything except themselves on a stage conducting. Or Management/boards such as we’ve seen in Detroit, Minnesota-St. Paul or Atlanta.

      • John Borstlap says:

        This exchange between Nick and Tom should be framed and hung in every orchestra office in the Western world.

        But an orchestra is not a business, however it is treated as such in the USA:

        “Ultimately, it’s the buyer who dictates the terms, even if the seller can influence the buyers purchasing decision to a certain degree. ‘Business’ conditions apply to orchestras as much as to any other vendor of a product.”

        An orchestra does not exist to make profit, as businesses do; they contribute to the community in a way which cannot be expressed in dollars. An orchestra is not ‘selling a product’ because music is not a product, like any other commodity. However, the relationship between an orchestra and the community it serves, is a mutually-dependent one, and the business model is merely the outward form of this relationship which is in itself not a business relationship. This is the reason that in Europe orchestras are seen as cultural institutions to be protected, and thus subsidized by the state: they belong to the community as a whole who then has to pay for it through the tax system.

        Either way, this discussion underlines the interrelatedness of players, conductors, repertoire, managers, programmers and audiences as a holistic context. Only if all parties work together for a greater goal than personal gain, the orchestral performance culture can survive. There are enough reasons to assume that this is increasingly being understood.

        • Tom says:


          I wasn’t implying that even if an orchestra has to be run according to empirical business theory and common sense that that means it should exist to “make money” for anyone.

          Good business management of an orchestra is to maximize income from all relevant sources to ensure enough money for artistic improvement and experimentation to provide the best musical experiences feasible for as large an audience as possible, and decent living wages for all of its employees, from the MD/GM to the staff and musicians and those who otherwise work with the orchestra.

          This is a highly delicate balancing act which few people get right all the time. It requires a lot of trust in the abilities of others as well as forgiveness of their errors, the way any successful human relationships have to do to function well. Inherently, this equilibrium doesn’t differ from Europe to the US or an orchestra’s financial model. What is required hither or tither across the Pond is the common belief that everyone’s working for a goal beyond themselves and their own, selfish interests. And then that belief needs to be verified in reality by results and achievements on a consistent basis among all parties. I know…I’m dreaming again. As Oscar Wilde once put it with his usual wit: “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Indeed, the punishment lies in deed.

          Having been a performing artist myself, I don’t equate a symphonic concert with a box of cheerios. Yet because I value music for its intangible value doesn’t mean I can ignore that there’s a price for everything. Pecunia non olet, as they used to say in Rome once. Money is there as a means of facilitating exchange; of the spiritually, intellectually and emotionally stimulating quality of concerts for obtaining the funds to provide a lot of people with their livelihood. An orchestra musician may well love their job – I certainly hope they do – but they need to make enough money from their work to provide for themselves and their families while having enough time to practice their art in general and their part in particular.

          It is this transaction that both a MD and GM do well to bear in mind as one of their most important responsibilities. Practically speaking, this includes making decisions which benefit the audiences, musicians and lower administrative staff, and not just the MD, GM and some soloists. Especially in an industry where a few people at the top of the business make obscene amounts of money while most musicians and staff are given the least possible. That is “making money” for someone’s profit and why I often refer to classical music as an “industry” and a “business.” It is what it is and regardless of one’s level of idealism, it’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

          I’m not advocating communism here; lord knows that even if communism produced some incredible artists, it brought happiness to few, even of the great artists it produced. All I advocate is the use of common sense and decency while realizing that their use won’t happen very often. At least I can’t be accused of being a hypocrite, since I fortunately do not run any orchestras or pay anyone a salary any more.

          If more MD/GM “teams” thought that way and educated their boards to do so as well, we wouldn’t be seeing as many orchestra closures, lockouts and strikes taking place. Most of these situations have come about because of crazy, bad decisions made by lousy MDs/GMs/Boards in the past – sometimes recently, sometimes endemically over time – whether individually or in groups. Yet I retain my faith in all that orchestras entail, despite having seen many reasons not to, and hope that they will exist forever.

          • John Borstlap says:

            OK… point taken, I couldn’t agree more. And this should be framed as well and hung next to the former text. GM’s and any staff hired by orchestras should be tested on having read and digested all this.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Maestro Luisi’s sympathetic plea seems to suggest that conductors have plenty of new ideas, if not hindered by circumstantial limitations. Yet, most conductors – also when apparently working within a good team – seem to be very happy to restrict themselves to repertoire that everybody knows, every orchestra knows thoroughly, on which every music education is based, so that rehearsing can be focussed upon personal interpretation, cementing the character of a museum culture. New music is merely treated as an obligation and most of the time thoughtlessly chosen from composers, more or less established in a performing practice so different from orchestral practice: the ‘new music scenes’ who in almost every Western country lead an artificial life, meant for a very limited audience that is quite different from the regular audience that attends orchestral concerts. I.e. music from a very different performance culture.

    The impression one gets from Luisi’s comment is of conductors wishing to continue routine repertoire preparation undisturbed by the problems of ‘the world’. Meanwhile, there is a new classical music around that could rejuvinate orchestral practice and widen the repertoire (instead of one-off obligatory premieres), and reaffirm orchestral culture as a living part of contemporary culture, thus contributing to solutions of problems that ripples classical music life.

    When there were really serious probolems in the orchestral world, say at the beginning of the 20th century: funding, employment, war, nationalism, it was kept alive through continuous new impulses (Debussy, Ravel, Stravinksy, Prokofiev, etc. etc.) which kept audiences curious and excited – it helped orchestras survive. Nowadays, in working conditions much better than ever, great new classical music like that by Nicolas Bacri and David Matthews, is not noticed by most ‘great conductors’, having apparently decided that new impulses can be nothing more than a side kick, so that real exploration can be kept at bay. ‘Leave me alone with my Beethoven score.’

    Apart from some noticeable exceptions…

    • Fabio Luisi says:

      Dear John
      I am sorry to have given a wrong impression to you.
      At the contrary, a good team is the conditio sine qua non new ideas can be born. I don’t need to speak about myself in terms of new music, or niche repertoire that I have conducted, created and I am going to conduct. But look around and see what my colleagues Salonen, Rattle, Noseda, Cambreling, Welser-Möst and many others conduct in their programs: a lot of interesting discoveries.
      But a part of what I call contingency is the answer we get when suggesting interesting programs for e.g. tours: the promoters want always the same 15-20 classical “immortal” symphonies, and very often GMs (it happened to me too often, especially in Leipzig at the end of my tenue) “convince” you not to do interesting choices in terms of repertoire because they fear a poor response of the audience.
      So please don’t blame us conductors, we always fight for music we are convinced to be worth to be played, we don’t achieve that goal very often.
      The attitude “leave me alone with my Beethoven score”, although it might be true in some rare cases, is not common at all among conductors: we are artists, and artists are “per definitione” curious and need and want new challenges.

      • Fabio Luisi says:

        Dear Mr. Borstlap,
        sorry if I addressed my answer to you as “Dear John”, here in New York everybody calls with first names, difficult for me to switch…..

        • Martin Malmgren says:

          Indeed, the fear of doing unknown repertoire rarely comes from conductors, but GMs, and perhaps program committees and so forth. Whenever the chance pops up to suggest a piano concerto that I consider unjustly neglected, conductors always seem happy to dig into less-explored territory, while GMs and others within the institution most likely will be more cautious. Thankfully, it is actually possible at this time and age to take a bit of an initiative by yourself – during this year, I’ve managed to get three performances of Prokofiev’s rarely-played 5th concerto, some with Hindemith’s Kammermusik (‘Klavierkonzert’) op 36 nr 1, lesser-played works by Schumann (op 92) and Carter (Dialogues 2), and when offered a tour with Ravel G-major concerto I immediately suggested the less-performed left hand concerto instead, though the GM wasn’t sure…for some of those concerts, I gathered the orchestras myself, via friends and so on, without intrusion of any GMs. And each time with a very willing conductor! “I have done the Ravel G major I don’t know how many times, but FINALLY I’ve gotten my first chance to do the left hand concerto!” etc etc. As of yet, I have not once met a conductor who “seems to be very happy to restrict themselves to repertoire that everybody knows, every orchestra knows thoroughly”.

          • John Borstlap says:

            That’s incredible… the Ravel left hand belonging to the top concertos of the entire repertoire. It seems that the people with most of the financial repsonsibilities underestimate artistic possibilities and vice versa.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I am perfectly happy with ‘Dear John’, so….

    Thank you for your reaction, I hope you are right.

    The reason GM’s are so over-cautious with audiences’ expectations, isn’t that because of postwar musical developments? Of new music that no longer sees ‘the audience’ as an organic part of musical culture, the ‘other’ with whom musical ideas are to be shared? Or new music which wants to steep down to pop culture, which belongs to another sphere altogether?

    “So please don’t blame us conductors, we always fight for music we are convinced to be worth to be played, we don’t achieve that goal very often.” I did not really want to blame conductors as a whole, but where there is complacency on one side and a lack of music that conductors feel worthwhile, it is understandable that orchestras lock themselves up in routine.

    Isn’t it regrettable that the art of effective orchestral writing has become so rare? Nice sound scapes, yes, but expression… musical depth… no longer aims in the modern scene and these factors are exactly the thing that keeps orchestral practice alive. When you see (hear?) Barenboim performing and advocating Boulez, whose work has no inner relationship with orchestral performance culture, you feel that he is undermining his own profession. And such misunderstandings abound, alas.

  • Nick says:

    International touring makes up only a small part of any major orchestra’s annual schedule but I can vouch totally for Maestro Luisi’s comments. In one part of the world, most Asian touring has to include Japan as the anchor because it can usually offer anything from 4 to 8 concerts. Invariably that means standard repertoire. Any suggestion of including a contemporary or non-standard work will be met with silence, eyes lowered, sharp intakes of breath and a gentle shaking of heads. The most one can usually achieve is a short new work as a prelude.

    Going back more than two decades, when Abbado visited Japan on his first Asian tour with the Berlin Phil, the repertoire was – a Brahms cycle with Brendel and Mullova as soloists! No doubt DGG had also had their input ‘recorded’. But the Berlin Phil is the one orchestra that will always sell in Japan at high ticket prices. So why standard repertoire yet again?

    Two years ago I attended a sumptuous sold-out concert with the Dresden Staatskapelle under Thielemann performing Wagner Preludes and Brahms First in Taipei’s acoustically superb concert hall (following a Japan/China tour). A dozen years earlier in the same venue I had heard the same orchestra under Sinopoli in excerpts from The Ring. To the best of my knowledge none of the Ring operas has ever been presented in Taiwan. Another magnificent performance – but not sold out! The balance between art, Music Directors’ wishes, finance, stubborn promoters and equally stubborn sponsors is a fine one. Sadly, finance usually wins.

    • Tom says:

      Nick, permit me one observation on your comment. When “national” orchestras tour, they often do so with their national repertoire. In the case of the German and Austrian orchestras…well, Brahms, Beethoven, etc. is just their “bad luck.” In cases like Danish, Finnish, Czech, etc. orchestras… well, Carl Nielsen, Sibelius, Smetana, Dvorak, Janacek, etc. is just their “good luck.”

      American orchestras which tour usually do not have American music on the program because they’ve hired predominantly European conductors over the past 130 years, and those conductors haven’t pushed American composers abroad as hard as they pushed European composers in the US (which is where most of the money was, historically speaking). Bad luck – albeit of their own making – for American orchestras, because Europeans and Asians are generally not familiar with American repertoire or tend to sneer at it due to the US’ past cultural mistakes.

      The thing is; if you want to hear “adventurous” programming, you, and not an orchestra, have to go on a tour. In Europe, national repertoire never heard outside the borders of that country is regularly presented by domestic orchestras. In most cases it’s due to national pride in one’s “own” composers, in some requirements imposed by governments to force orchestras to program the music of its compatriot composers.

      You’re simply not going to get a lot of repertoire variation from orchestras on tour. First, there is the financial risk for presenters. Second, however, audiences seem to like “comparison shopping” when it comes to famous orchestras from abroad. They want to be able to say “I heard Brahms’ 4th with the Berlin Phil last week. The Vienna Phil did it at a concert I went to last year, and they were SOOOOO much better than the Berlin Phil” (or the other way around). Orchestras from other countries can get away with playing sidestream music like Dvorak’s 6th or 7th symphonies, a Nielsen symphony or concerto or a Sibelius symphony or tone poem because the orchestras themselves are perceived to be as “exotic” as their music. It’s partially audience snobbishness so they can show off their “knowledge” (or “international sophistication” in the case of the “exotic” orchestras) partly the high ticket prices touring orchestras command/require.

      Would you – as an average concert-goer, not as a connoisseur – pay $250 a ticket to hear an Italian orchestra play Berio, Dallapiccola and Nono or would you prefer to go to a concert where it performs Verdi’s Requiem? (I know… bad example, since Italian orchestras don’t tour much, and the way Italian culture has gone, you’d probably not hear those composers even in Italy)? You might get a full house in NYC, but in Atlanta, Chicago, or LA? I think not.

      Let’s be grateful that recording companies have recorded all the repertoire we never get to hear and continue to do so! Check out cpo’s or BIS or NAXOS’ future recording plans and schedule your personal orchestra tour accordingly. Usually, the orchestra which performs what they record will also perform it live on stage – at least once.

  • Andrew Patner says:

    Sincere thanks to Fabio Luisi for his reflections and engagement here which have inspired a serious exchange with many thoughtful and insightful comments from all participants. Having first seen Mr Luisi working in good conditions (Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2000 “Rigoletto” and his 2008 U.S. tour with the Dresden SK) and having first had a lengthy in-person interview with him in 2008, this is the conductor and music director I observed on and off the podium, free of the many unserene circumstances of subsequent years. I am glad that Mr Luisi has found a good artistic and musical home in Zurich and hope that with this platform he can continue to share such candid insights on the field and profession.

  • Milka says:

    If conductors are looking for serenity
    and stability- might one suggest a
    rest home or a nursing home .Conductors are mad only if they think
    what they do matters .Yes ! yes ! it
    does to a small few die hards but the
    bell is tolling .To point at a few sold out houses here and there means nothing when you look at the over all
    picture , the art -craft at present is on
    life support systems and vital signs
    are failing almost day by day .Turning
    it into community work as some conductors do to help survive is laughable but the pretense is there that they work hard for the cause .
    Conductors , soloists , would be virtuosos , have turned the art into a museum show case where one has the choice of 100 works if that
    much , these are played over
    and over ad nauseam and why a conductor does not go mad would
    make a good research study .The question one could put to Mr. Luisi is
    how to get the art off life support systems without nonsense of out
    reach and all the other feel good
    programmes.I remember reading Shaw where some 100 years ago he
    wrote “not another Lucia !” and here we are in 2014 and Lucia is a main
    attraction for some opera houses just
    for the so called top note of the mad scene..then the house empties ..and back to life support . How do we Mr. Luisi bring contemporary life to the art
    without dumbing it down to the lowest
    common denominator?Just curious .

    • Tom says:

      My purely personal prediction for the future of classical music is that it will become institutionalized in national or city classical music museums which will combine Rock and Roll Hall of Fame memorabilia floor with an interactive program floor and a concert hall + chamber music hall for live performances by in-house professional musicians, and a a conservatory as well as music school for educating musicians and for youth and civic orchestra/chamber music/chorus activities. Not too different from Cité de la Musique in Paris.

      Opera houses just might survive independently.

  • newyorker says:

    Well, your wording is a little histrionic – but I would say I tend to agree that conductors ought to know better than go seeking serenity. It comes soon enough when the agent stops calling. The profession is nasty and nightmarishly contentious. Only a few will have the stomach or wits to endure.

    In my experience, conductors learn early that their talent is what matters, and they imitate older maestros who are at the top of their game, with lots of strong opinions and blunt manner. But then they imitate them, and find the hard way that success depends on being emotionally and temperamentally smart, conflict-averse, and shrewdly professional. I wish there was a camp we could send them to learn this. And then we could send the managers and agents, too.

  • Andrew Patner says:

    Let’s not be silly here about wording. Mr Muti wrote a letter in Italian with the word “serenità.” This could have been translated as “peace,” in this context “stability,” or even “reliable structural conditions,” but, for various reasons, perhaps enjoyment of the sound, many of us writing about this in English chose to use the literal translation, “serenity.” Muti was not asking for a meditation chamber on a Zauberberg. He meant that a conductor/music director requires a *lack of constant turmoil* on matters of funding, management, and labour. The rest of the roller coaster . . . sure, they must learn to endure.

  • Tom says:

    Having dealt with quite a few internationally famous conductors (and soloists, for that matter), those with big egos use them to hide their inferiority complex or performance anxiety. Those who feel psychologically secure are the nicest people you could ever wish to meet.

    • John Borstlap says:

      How true this is…. I met a couple of top conductors and some of them are really nasty. The great talents always feel dedicated in the first place to the music, not to themselves – they are the instruments.

  • Milka says:

    It is all too easy to blame the likes of Boulez for the disconnect , the symphony orchestra now serves a small segment of any community and carries little interest for the general
    population .It is not a “cultural” necessity as it once was thought to be.It has always been on some sort of life support be it by a prince , a duke
    anyone with enough money to show
    they were not complete barbarians.
    To deny music was or is not a business
    is to be naive .The reason it is state
    supported in Europe has little to do
    with “community ” as much as it has
    to do with a continuing tradition in
    “state ” display . Where do you take
    a visiting head of state after the grand dinners but to the opera , who builds the opera house ,the state . European
    politicians can attend the opera and not fear repercussions as to being called “elitist” or worse .While it is true
    “all” must work together to keep this going but how, if the main party the audience is musically brain dead to
    their own times .

    • John Borstlap says:

      New music that ignores the delicate balance which should exist between performers, audience, and repertoire, does not belong in the central performance culture where so much money is needed to keep it running and so much effort is necessary to justify its expenses. Rejection of works that don’t belong in that culture is not exposing ‘brain death’ but in contrary, showing understanding of what this culture is and what it means. Postwar contemporary music has been one of the strongest factors in turning orchestral practice into something of a museum culture. The contempt you find in writings by people like Boulez, Xenakis et al for ‘the past’ and all it stood for, says it all. Before modernism, contemporary works were a normal part of the repertoire and invoked curiosity with audiences….. If ‘our own time’ can mostly produce works which turn-off audiences, and negatively influence programme decisions, we better stick to the old repertoire. The word ‘contemporary’ does NOT always mean ‘good’. In times of decline, one better be not contemporary…

      As clearly defined by Tom and Nick elsewhere on this thread, audiences can be ‘lured’ into ‘unusual’ repertoire if a bond of trust has been developed with them. Underestimating audience’s appetites seems to be part of ignorance and lazyness of incompetent staff rather than unwillingness of audiences. Music is for audiences and by looking down upon them in advance, is undermining any chance of such bond.

  • Nick says:

    It seems this tread is developing several sub-threads! I was on the point of responding to Tom’s post of Sept. 26 at 3:16 am when I saw Milka’s of 4:44 am. Since this refers to both, I will merely add it as a new post rather than a reply.

    I agree with Tom’s views on “business” as with those on programming for overseas touring outlined in a later post. Having earlier cited Japan, I looked at recent tour programmes for a dozen European and US orchestras visiting that country. The number of times Dvořák 9 and the Brahms symphonies were performed is almost frightening!

    Re managing an orchestra, of course it is a business in the sense that it employs a largish number of people, has to “market” its “product” and pay attention to its annual “profit and loss” figures. But equally it is an “art” in that there are more important issues than merely the business ones. When asked to address meetings and conferences, I always used to say that the art of running a non-profit performing company is a very delicate balancing act. It is not just looking after the business side. As crucial is creating the conditions in which the artist can give of his/her best (and in this case the artist can be the conductor, musicians, soloists, singers, dancers, choristers, technicians – all those who create a performance). We have all been at performances where artists have for whatever reason failed to give of their best. And we know that this devalues the concert/opera going experience not only for the others involved, but also for the audience. Far from an original idea, but one that many seem to forget.

    The orchestra I managed had the benefit of very substantial public funding. The politicians, though, wanted to ensure not only that it played to those who enjoyed classical music. They wanted it to appeal to a greater cross-section of the community and for the community as a whole to feel proud of it – no doubt similar objectives of most public funding bodies. We were fortunate in having several easily reached out of town venues where we started building satellite audiences. We also raised the funding for international touring, in one case to a festival where we played alongside the Vienna Phil with Maazel and the National Symphony with Rostropovich. That brought acres and acres of very positive local PR.

    Initially our repertoire was very conservative. But as audiences grew, they began to trust us to provide interesting new works in some programmes. We spent one season programming a lot of relatively contemporary European music that had not been performed before. We even brought Thea Musgrave from the US to conduct her horn concerto (a work written a dozen years earlier) with Barry Tuckwell. With the four horns placed at four of the auditorium exits and the soloist wandering through the orchestra, whatever the audience thought of the work, it was utterly fascinated by the performance. One-week workshops at which local composers could have the opportunity of hearing their works read may not have attracted a large audience, but they were important in consolidating a relationship with the local music community.

    I accept that public funding makes this far more feasible. The point is, though, that it requires a detailed understanding of and a relationship with the funders and a community to judge when and how to develop and how to introduce such programming. If both the MD and GM are part-time, then they would have to depend on those lower down the administration to provide such input. That would involve a group decision – never an ideal solution. (For similar reasons I am totally against the idea of programme committees). So, whilst seeing some of the benefits of MD/GM ‘packaging’, I respectfully stick to my view that ‘packages’ are not an ideal solution for a full-time orchestra.

    • Tom says:


      Generally speaking, I couldn’t agree with you more. We’ll just have to split the difference on the “packaging” issue. I’m flexible, so whatever works the best for all involved is fine with me! Thanks for a good, spirited debate!

      Best wishes….


      • Nick says:

        I’ll happily agree to differ! As you suggest, there are horses for courses and all have differences. I am sure there will be more issues here for future interesting discussions.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “If both the MD and GM are part-time, then they would have to depend on those lower down the administration to provide such input. That would involve a group decision – never an ideal solution. (For similar reasons I am totally against the idea of programme committees).”

      Committees of any kind – in music life – are sure to produce mediocre and unsatisfactory results. Programme committees trying to shape an interesting season are like ten people trying to play a Bach invention on one piano together.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Maestro Luisi has unleashed a discussion worthy of a conference and showing the need for such a debate, that would address the current problems classical music as an art form is struggling with nowadays. How could we interest an institution housing such event? People like Luisi, Tom and Nick, and surely some other experts on the subject could be found and mobilized, including agents, GM’s and some other well-known conductors, to discuss these pressing matters which are rippling classical music as a whole. In fact, some years ago I have been trying to interest some universities (in Europe) but they prefer the quiet study of their own reflections to the burning problems of concert life. But given the meagre funding possibilities in music practice where everything has to be spent on performance and running the place, an academic context seems to be better. The contributions of such conference could be published and find their way into performing practice and contribute to solutions, strongly needed there.

    One of the recent books on programming classical music and music education is Holger Noltze’s “Die Leichtigkeitslüge” (The Lie of Easiness), which objected to the way classical music is packaged to potential younger audiences as being hip and cool and really easy. This book caused quite a stirr in German-speaking lands, showing the awareness of classical music being under pressure. The time seems ripe for such initiatives.

    • Nick says:

      Thank you for the suggestion. Sadly, though, this whole issue has been conferenced to death over the last few decades! There are annual orchestra management-related Conferences in many countries and all continents. American orchestra managers have their own, as do their UK, German and other European counterparts. There is a pan-Asian one, others in Japan, Australia, Asia-Pacific and goodness knows where else.

      Having attended a good many over a long period of time, I have heard some excellent speeches and stimulating discussions, but rarely have I come away from any with a feeling that I have learned anything new that will specifically apply to the management of organisation/s I direct.

      The problem as suggested earlier is that almost no orchestra/opera company is the same as any other. Sure they all present performances and certain issues will aways be on the agenda when dealing with highly trained professional artists. Apart from that, though, almost everything about their management and direction is different.

      I wish I could be more enthusiastic!

  • Milka says:

    Mr. Borstlap seems to have decided to take on the job of
    cultural police in deciding what the new
    music should or should not be..
    and how it should fit in with the standard performance culture, or if it does not
    belong in the central performance culture , since the “standard ” culture is having enough trouble surviving
    on its own merits . If I remember correctly some years back an odious little man with a moustache decided along with his friends what was good or bad art ,we certainly don’t want
    to go down that road “.Rejection of
    works that don’t belong in that culture”
    cm’on you’re joking . Good grief, over
    90% of the classics you are hearing to-day were at their first hearings
    considered an assault to the ear and
    in bad taste and should never appear on programmes with the “good music”
    Name the composer any composer
    and one can name “watch dogs ” who
    considered the composer a threat to
    good taste etc. One can view the
    comments of Tom and Nick as a
    transparent mutual admiration
    society . The ship has hit an ice berg
    and instead of how to save it time is spent in taking the temperature of the water .

    • John Borstlap says:

      A very unsophisticated reaction…. a quite understandable one, but some reflection would reveal the obvious common sense that critique upon art, whatever art, does not automatically mean sympathy for the Nazis. Hitler was a vegetarian and a non-smoker. Should I now eat steaks every day and get addicted to havanna’s to prove that I am not a nazi? Also, Hitler loved dogs and hated Jews. Must I now hate dogs and love every person that professes Jewish descent?

      And then, we were talking about the orchestral performance culture, i.e. classical music culture, not about Donaueschingen.

      There are good arguments to show that a cultural tradition has some binding context, which functions as a receptive framework for both producers (artists), mediators (performers) and receivers (audiences). This framework changes over time as anything else, but cannot overstep the boundaries which holds this framework together. For instance, a painting is a piece of canvas or wood, depicting an artist’s vision or fantasy, relating to the real world and human experience thereof. Going beyond the frame, extending the work to live theatricals, etc. etc., can be nice but the genre of ‘painting’ is then no longer an appropriate definition. So it is with music.

      It is a postwar clichée that critique upon new music is the expresison of a bourgeois, conservative audience which does not want to get to know something new. It can easily be confused by a sophisticated understanding of something that is indeed a misfit. A protest against a piece of music is not automatically a scream against ‘progress’. The conservative audience which protested against Debussy, Stravinsky, Schönberg et al has since long disappeared. No new piece is ever met with boo’s nowadays: ANYTHING is being accepted as ‘interesting’. But in reality, much new repertoire created indifference and contempt in the central performance culture which still runs along the above-mentioned receptive framework. Remove the framework and you destroy the culture it represents.

      New, postwar modernist music is performed sufficiently in the ‘new music scene’ with its specialized ensembles, technically brilliant soloists, and festivals, where the beauties of the modern world can be experienced without any harm done to progressive awareness. A good example is this impression of the sophisticated and progressive type of new music which has been performed with great succes at the recent Darmstadt summer course:


      Mr Milka can thus be reassured that no policeman is calling this ‘entartete Kunst’.

  • Nick says:

    “While it is true
    ‘all’ must work together to keep this going but how, if the main party the audience is musically brain dead to
    their own times”

    Mika’s comments are increasingly somewhat pathetic. Not because there is no grain of truth in them, for there is. It’s the way he/she puts them in its idiotic blank verse-like format barren of much punctuation and frequently going so way over the top resulting in the argument falling flat.

    The earlier statement –
    “Conductors , soloists , would be virtuosos , have turned the art into a museum show case where one has the choice of 100 works if that
    much , these are played over”
    – is one example, It’s way more than that. But again there is more than a grain of truth here.

    The reference to a museum is interesting. Yes, it’s true. An orchestra concert is very often like going to a museum precisely because the public comes in contact with works created centuries ago. Yet what is wrong with that? Museums around the world contain most of mankind’s greatest works of art that masses of people wish to see. Many are quite regular visitors. People go to the Louvre to see Leonardo’s Mona Lisa or to the National Gallery in London for Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus. Whilst there, they may happen upon Piero della Francesca’s The Baptism of Christ, an exquisite painter still unknown to many. That might then prompt them to explore more. If they find themselves in Italy, they might even visit the tiny Museo Civico di San Sepolcro to see more of Piero’s works or the French Church in Rome with its stunning side chapel containing no less than three of Caravaggio’s masterpieces.

    It is fact that works of great art are increasingly popular. Witness the hundreds of thousands who also visit the specially mounted exhibitions of Rembrandt, Monet, the artefacts of Fabergé etc., many booking well in advance for tickets, some overnight.

    So I have absolutely no problem with the museum analogy. To a large extent, though, many museums have reinvented themselves. Today they appeal to a much larger public than was the case, say, 50 years ago and are hives of activity. It is in this respect, less so in repertoire, that I believe orchestras have fallen way behind the times.

    • Tom says:


      Having been to Arezzo and environs often, I have been fortunate to appreciate the work of Piero della Francesca in person.

      You are quite right. There is nothing wrong with turning classical music into a museum experience. I have been to the Academy in Bologna, and their exhibits are quite exciting (even in they spell the name of one their laureates “Metha” on their marble plaque).

      Yes, an ‘”integrated” museum of classical music may very well be the model for the future. The visitors could experience memorabilia of great artists of the past along with interactive experiences and live concerts (carefully curated to show the development of what we call “classical” music). I do not see any shame in that whatsoever if the experience audiences receive is a holistic musical experience.

      I have often advocated the performance of classical music in its original circumstances. Fortunately, we’re able to attend concerts in the Hall of Mirrors in the Versailles, the palace in Mantua, where Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo was premiered, as well as the “secret” chambers where Monteverdi composed and perfected his art in front of a select few.

      Ambience is another critical pillar of experiencing classical music. I have been fortunate enough to attend medieval passion plays in the Cloisters in NYC and performances of the Czech Phil. in the Rudolfiinum and other venues which bring home the original impact of first performances of musical works of art in their original surroundings. It is a priceless experience for which I would gladly have paid substantial amounts of money to attend. Fortunately for me, I was always able to get comps.

      One can only truly understand classical music by understanding the zeitgeist of the era in which it was composed. This includes understanding the visual and literary arts of the times, as well as understanding the underlying currents which allowed artists like Monteverdi or Brahms to flourish and innovate in their own time. Most music students don’t understand the importance of such ambience, and audiences only appreciate it at specialized summer festivals, like the one in Ambronnay. Ambronnay has established its own recording label, and their selection of artists and repertoire from the early baroque period is both amazing and exemplary. this has helped immensely in developing audiences and fans across the world who return again and again to the festival’s concerts and recordings, because they know they’ll witness or hear something extraordinary. That is why the surroundings and historical ambience of a concert are extremely important.

      Today, that involves the collaboration and understanding of the “musical ambience” of Versailles, Cothen or Vienna. If one can establish such an ambience, an intelligent audience will be completely bowled over by the music and the performers of the context of their work going back for centuries. As you put it, there’s nothing wrong with a “museum model” which I, too, can advocate. If this model can create greater community involvement in their orchestras, then that is highly to be desired.

      As you put it so well, there is need for “self reinvention.” I firmly believe that will happen once the financial crises – and thus cultural crises – are understood by orchestra ADs, GM’s, Boards, musicians and audiences. Today, we’re still dealing with people who are clapping machines who can’t tell a good performance from a bad. Their better judgement of art is as societally significant as mine or anyone else’s. The sooner everyone from the AD/GM/Board and musicians, as well as their audiences, and stakeholders are drawn into musical creativity, the sooner we’ll be rid of ridiculous orchestra lock-outs, strikes and orchestra shut-downs.

      A museum can be a great way to achieve this if the curators and musicians understand what the essence of their work happens to be. This requires a new way of thinking. I’ll keep pushing my ideas while hoping that orchestra musicians realize how much their dedication is part of the future of classical music, and what the burden they carry on their shoulders is. I think that most AD’s/GM’s and Boards inherently know what we need to do to avoid an awful future for classical music. The world of yesterday is gone, and we need to intelligently about building a new relationship with our communities. this entails that we think of orchestras not as “museum pieces” but as extraordinary arts explorers and seekers of beauty, which can be presented in museums and other spaces next to the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel as part of the world’s cultural heritage.

      Today, most cities or countries can’t afford to buy a Van Gogh painting for their museums so their countrymen can appreciate artistic greatness. In comparison, orchestras can present artistic genius at a fraction of the cost.

      • Nick says:

        I was at the bi-centennial Creation at Eisenstadt in 2009. Here many Haydn works were premiered (although not The Creation) and surely there is no more gorgeous venue for marrying the beauty of the surroundings with glorious music.

        But we have to accept that concert halls generally offer little visually. When I mentioned experience, I referred to the whole business of attending concerts. The fact is that masses of people have no desire to go near a concert hall for fear that “it is not for them”. When I was growing up, the same was true of the local art gallery. It was a place where those in their 60s went less to see the exhibits than to have coffee and a chat with their friends. That has changed dramatically in many countries. Galleries and museums are far more ‘trendy’ attracting people of all ages and from all sectors of society.

        We know that audiences for orchestras and opera companies largely resemble those of the museums/galleries of old. Do managements really bother to make comparisons? What have those repositories of the great art of older times exhibited alongside the Hockneys, Pollocks, Laramees and Kusamas done that brings in new and younger visitors whilst orchestras largely fail?

        Whilst on the subject, isn’t it true that many concert halls around the world are too much like temples to art, virtually isolated from their surroundings and communities. I find it interesting that some of the newer concert halls in Tokyo, for example, (the Bunkamura, Tokyo Opera City) are set in much larger complexes that include cinemas,theatres, a major department store, museums and galleries, a plethora of cafes and restaurants of all types. These certainly help reinforce the perception that a concert hall is an integrated part of the community. Instead of an isolated Schermerhorn Center in Nashville, for example, surely that orchestra would have been far better served working with a commercial developer to incorporate the orchestra hall into a much larger multi-function building where the commercial elements might also help offset some of the running costs?

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Not sure I understand what you mean. I have driven by the Schermerhorn Center, just by coincidence, when I passed through Nashville a few years ago, and I didn’t have the impression that it was “isolated” from the rest of the community, it’s in the center of the city.

          • Nick says:

            Yes it’s in the centre of the city, but how many people actually go inside each day? The point I was making is that some new concert halls are incorporated into much larger complexes that draw many thousands into the building each day for many reasons, some related to other art forms, other than just going to a concert. So the venues are alive with all manner of people of all ages. It may be little more than perception, but the concert hall is thus seen to be an integral part of every day life, not merely an isolated single building where virtually the only reason for entering will be buying a ticket or attending a concert.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            I think I get that point now, and I think it’s nice if cultural institutions are kind of integrated in that way, forming cultural landscapes, but does it really make a big difference for how many people are attracted to different forms of culture? Will there really be that many people who find their way to, say, classical music because they just happen to wander into the lobby of a concert hall which happens to be integrated into a culture center of sorts, and will it deter anyone from attending a classical concert if the concert hall is in a separate building, maybe by itself, with no other cultural institution directly attached to it or in its immediate vicinity?

  • milka says:

    In comparing the two
    art forms (painting and music )
    as both gentlemen do, is to not understand either discipline and
    leads one to believe they are speaking from a common ignorance .

    Music is basically an aural experience and painting a visual .

    Those going to see the Mona Lisa etc.
    for the first time are there for a reason
    quite different from those
    hearing the Beethoven 9th. for the
    umpteenth time.
    I suppose hearing music in their
    original surroundings would include playing in or as close to the style
    of the times .The sliding from note to note,no vibrato ,gut strings , etc .

    Considering one does view the Mona Lisa
    pretty much in its original state
    orchestras to-day are no where near what the Mozart , Beethoven, Wagner audience heard in their time .
    It is interesting to note how much the “classical ” world of music is laden
    with pretension to serving the art .

    • Nick says:

      “Music is basically an aural experience and painting a visual”

      We’ll, Milka adds another dazzling element to the discussion! But frankly I do not agree there is all that much difference between those going to see a specific painting and those going to hear a specific work. You seem to forget that vast numbers hear Beethoven’s 9th ‘live’ for the first time and some people go to see the Mona Lisa several times. I have been in the French Church in Rome at least eight times to see the Caravaggios, and will continue to do so on every future visit.

      You also forget that seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre is nothing like seeing it in its original surroundings. In fact, hung as it is not much higher than eye level and with banks of tourists trying to see and photograph it at the same time, the visitor gets little more from the experience of looking at this rather dark painting than being able to say “I saw it!” Besides, no-one seems to know where it was originally exhibited. It found its way to the Louvre about 300 years after it was painted!

      But your point, of course, is that it was painted at a specific time in history and does not change. How full of interesting facts you are! Music, on the other hand, evolves as the orchestra and performance practise have evolved over the centuries.

      And you fail to go anywhere near my main point which is that orchestras and opera companies might be more successful in drawing in new audiences if their concert halls and opera houses were part of much larger multi-use complexes as in the two examples I listed in Tokyo. You will no doubt poo-poo that suggestion. But then you might wish to tell us when you visited them? I have lost count of the number of times I have!

      Bark away, Milka! Nothing like spreading a bit of venom from time to time to ginger things up.

  • milka says:

    You must try to be more coherent ,
    my observation while it may be dazzling to you is a given for those who understand both “painting” and “music”,and what
    makes the
    difference between the disciplines.

    It is not venom but an effort to bring
    you into the age of enlightenment which alas it seems more difficult than
    one could have imagined

  • Andrew Patner says:

    Milka, whoever you might be: You have a jolly and open interlocutor in Nick, someone with long experience in they arts. No need to call his intelligence or knowledge of history into question, is there?

  • milka says:

    It is pleasant to note that Nick has
    a “champion ” .
    I have been in the “arts ” field for many years and have indeed come across brilliant people who”have long experience in the arts ” and are a
    great pleasure to be with and learn from,also been with people who” have
    a long experience with the arts ” who
    are quite stupid in spite of their so called knowledge of history. Sadly, many hold responsible positions,
    nothing new here .

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Milka – as a highly cultured person, you are probably familiar with the common English expression “duh!”.
      A lot of the stuff you have contributed here which you seem to see as a brilliant and challenging insights is really just duh! stuff.
      Yes, of course the visual arts and music are different, the former are, well, visual in nature, and the latter is aural in nature – well, I think we all knew that – duh!
      That doesn’t change anything about the fact that all arts face fundamentally similar challenges in how they should be presented to the public, and in fact, a fairly common approach to find new ways for how to present the arts to the public a more engaging ways is to combine them – not despite, but because they engage the audience in different ways – which, however, are not necessarily contradicting or mutually exclusive ways, but which can complement each other and add up to a bigger sum of its parts.
      So the points made here by Nick an Tom about just these things are very relevant, even though, to you at least, they may apply to different forms of art which do not have much to do with each other. But they do, both in that they originate from the same cultural continua – there is hardly any, if any, culture which has only contributed music, or only literature, or only painting, or only theater to the common cultural heritage. So all these art forms come from complex cultural backgrounds, and recreating part of that complexity by finding combined ways to present them to the public actually enhances the public’s appreciation for all these art forms.
      And that’s not such a new and revolutionary insight either.

      • Andrew Patner says:

        Thank you, Michael.

      • milka says:

        Michael it amuses and pleases to note you have mastered the sound “Duh” , there is no telling
        where you can go with a few more
        sounds.May I suggest “uh” as the
        next sound ?A few more sounds and the world is yours .

    • John Borstlap says:

      Milka’s comments are totally uncalled for & don’t do any justice to the level of sophistication of the insightful reflections of Tom and Nick… I hope the two gentlemen repudiate these petulant expostulations.

  • Andrew Patner says:

    Whoever “you” “are,” it’s a shame that you are rude and insulting. No need for it.

  • Tom says:


    Did someone called “Milka” type anything on this thread? Oh…THOSE comments. I hardly bothered reading the first one to the end, and have ignored the rest.

    Life’s too short to waste typing time on nonsense.

  • Nick says:

    Re Michael Schaffer’s question above – “it’s nice if cultural institutions are kind of integrated in that way, forming cultural landscapes, but does it really make a big difference for how many people are attracted to different forms of culture?”

    The point I was trying to make is not that various art forms are integrated into one building, but that the arts facilities themselves form part of much larger spaces, much of which is given over to commercial activities. I can’t provide any statistics to show that this increases audiences for the arts. I do suggest, though, that by taking taking them out of the ivory towers they often inhabit and which many people will not go near, they are at least seen by a great many to be more part and parcel of everyday life. And that surely is a good thing.

    Many years ago I saw Ute Lemper give a wonderful Kurt Weill cabaret evening in the small Theatre Cocoon in Tokyo’s Bunkamura. The entire complex was packed – people going to a concert in the large Orchard Hall, others attending several cinemas, some at a Monet/Renoir exhibition in the Gallery, many shopping, many dining or just having a coffee and a chat. As importantly, the commercial outlets drive a public into the space throughout the daytime hours. How many ‘cultural facilities’ around the world are virtually dead until just before performance time?