Top priority for US orchestras: Check your privilege

Top priority for US orchestras: Check your privilege


norman lebrecht

November 18, 2020

Former LA Phil boss Simon Woods, in his first manifesto as president of the League of American Orchestras, has surveyed the landscape and decided what’s most important for saving the troubled sector. Almost all US orchestras have been silenced by Covid. Their donors are drifting away and the return to performance will be difficult. The audience is elderly and the repertoire stale. Maestros are overpaid and overbooked elsewhere. Musicians feel undervalued. These seem to me the most pressing issues.

But here’s what Simon Woods considers to be the urgent agenda:

1 We can wait no longer to implement permanent structural change in response to the racial injustice that disfigures the history of orchestras.

2 We must address the pervasive privilege that continues to run through our structures and activities.

3 Creative artists will lead the way

4 We need to rethink the role we ascribe to the canonic European repertoire of the past.

5 We must quickly advance the leadership potential of the coming generation

6 Advocacy for education reform and instrumental instruction should sit much higher

7 The rehabilitation of towns and cities must again become our work

8 Collective impact should be our daily bread

9 We must prepare for the next crisis.

Full article here.



  • BP says:

    Hey I may be bankrupt but at least I’ve checked my privilege.

    • Lyinda Martiz says:

      The myth of “white privilege” will be valid only when white people are prevented from paying for tickets and donating money to these woke organizations.

      Accepting money from whites is creating your systemic racism, so simply stop taking it for your own sakes as anti-white as these places now proclaim!

      Also, returning money from white identifying donors would be extremely soul cleansing as well.

      Once your new audience fills your coffers you’ll feel much better without feeling so enslaved by white money.

    • Tom says:

      If cultural institutions don’t address issues of systemic racism, they will be both morally and financially bankrupt. For them to thrive, in every way, they simply must address systemic racism.

      • E Rand says:

        HA! So, when the American orchestra “addresses systemic racism” (by doing what exactly?) – the masses are going to just pouurrrrr back into the halls?

        • V.Lind says:

          They should do it because it is the right thing to do. The consequences will be what they will be. All I want to see is equality of opportunity.

      • William Safford says:

        Tom, agreed.

        Many posters to the comments section of this blog are guilty of all of this. You are seeing this in replies to your posts.

  • Will says:

    Can’t disagree with any of that, but I question how much will actually change – boards of US orchestras are bastions of privilege and they won’t want it disrupted. Trouble is, orchestras need the money of those board members…

    • Bone says:

      Really, Will, you can’t disagree with any of that? Nothing at all bothers you about replacing the “canonic European repertoire?” I’m sure orchestral musicians will attack the latest creation of CardiB with the same intensity as they do Johannes B, right?

      • Marfisa says:

        Bone, the man says “rethink the role”, not “replace”. That strikes me as perfectly sensible. And what has CardiB got to do with anything? Orchestral alternatives to the “canonic European repertoire” would almost certainly not include rap!

  • G.M.Palmer says:

    Sounds a bit like the German orchestras’ frantic and slavish “wokeness” in the mid- 1930s to be ,….uh…” more representative of the German people” . justWerner Egk, ” A more ‘representative’ composer!” , anyone ?Good Lord. Simon must be culturally suicidal. And as a former USEFUL orchestral player I would just about swear that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Yes , European-inspired Fine Arts programming is more of a challenge in the US than in many other countries but that is because so many Americans are totally besotted by pop culture. Compare, for example, the Fine Arts sophistication of Vancouver to nearby Portland and Seattle just under the border and it is shocking.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Mostly non-relevant measures or empty words (“rehabilitation of towns and cities”, “collective impact etc”), but also a quick guide to self-destruction (especially the “need to rethink the role we ascribe to the canonic European repertoire of the past”).

    RIP classical music in Amerika.

    • Stuart says:

      It died in the US a long time ago. Music in schools – mainly gone. Classical music radio stations – most converted to other formats. Average age of the audience – older and older. It’s a niche of a niche. Then came Covid…

    • Tom says:

      Rethinking “the role we ascribe to the canonic European repertoire of the past” is essential to classical music’s survival and the only path forward if it wants to thrive in the 21st century.

  • Patrick says:

    Statements like this will get you hired. They will not sustain a symphony orchestra.

  • James Weiss says:

    What a load of virtue-signaling rubbish. Classical music is an elitist art form. It always will be. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you offend and irritate your donors and patrons by constantly telling them they’re racists and need to change you’re going to drive them away. What/who are you going to replace them with? Or do you expect them to continue to fund your institution? Ridiculous. Does anyone with a lick of sense think this manifesto is going to bring blacks and people of color stampeding into concert halls and opera houses? Will rappers start donating millions to the MET? Give me a break.

    • Adrienne says:

      “Ridiculous. Does anyone with a lick of sense think this manifesto is going to bring blacks and people of color stampeding into concert halls and opera houses?”

      No, it won’t. I’ve been saying this for years. It’s patronising to suggest that blacks don’t know what they’re missing and much wiser whites know how to fill the void in their lives.

    • A.L. says:

      Well said. Six years ago the Seattle Symphony offered the world an unintended soundtrack template for the self-immolation of serious and worthy culture.

      Sir Mix-A-Lot “Baby Got Back”

      Ditto “Posse on Broadway”

      • Adrienne says:

        So black people stay away from orchestral concerts because there is insufficient crotch grasping by soloists?

        Jascha Heifetz really missed an opportunity, didn’t he?

        It’s worse than patronising, it’s obnoxious.

    • bbcorno says:

      There are other people of color capable of donating besides rappers. Just saying.

    • William Safford says:

      Here is something that does bring a Black audience to classical concerts: making the concerts relevant to them.

      How? Here are just two of many possible ways:

      – Program music by Black composers
      – Hire Black performers.

      How do I know? By sitting in the audience and observing who else is there with me, and seeing who is performing and what music is on the program.

      These are not the only ways to do so, but they can and do work.

      Another way is to involve children starting when they are young. One example of such a program:

      • William Safford says:

        I received five downvotes for pointing out positive and constructive ways for orchestras to attract Black audiences and to interest Black children in classical music.

        There’s a lot of bigotry in the comments section.

        Yes, I’m calling all five of you out, as well as others.

    • Tom says:

      I started a chamber music group that programs music by composers from under-represented backgrounds. Our audiences are about a quarter to a third Black, and nearly half people of color. So we don’t have to wonder if inclusive practices will bring more diverse audiences; they already are doing so.

    • Tom says:

      What makes you think White people don’t value anti-racist practices?

    • Patricia says:

      Thank you. This is just PC dreck run amok. The League used to do something useful for American orchestras. This is just race-baiting.

    • Marfisa says:

      Does James Weiss seriously believe that blacks and people of color only listen to rap? What ignorance.

  • Sharon says:

    During and after the riots this summer I received emails from many of the off Broadway theaters in New York stating that they are implementing programs to lessen racism and white privilege. I guess they believe that they need to sound woke for government and private donations

    • Tom says:

      Is it a crazy idea that they want to work against institutional racism because doing so IS virtuous, not because it SIGNALS virtue?

  • V.Lind says:

    The complete article, which is not as bald as the headers suggest, is nonetheless the same message we have been hearing a lot lately. Nothing like going with the flow.

    Hang on to your Beethoven and Mozart and Wagner and Mahler CDs, folks. They are going to be slugging it out for concert-hall space in this brave new world where they are considered “legacy” material.

    • J Barcelo says:

      And subscribe to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall. World class live music right in your living room.

  • Doug says:

    As the man said…..”liberalism is a mental disorder.”

  • American Musician says:

    I urge all to actually read the article, rather than taking it from bullet points. The first two points reference racial issues, but devoid of context, it seems like all the rest of them do as well. The rest are only tangentially, if at all, about race. These ideas at their core work towards the goal of making a modern American orchestra a thriving part of the local community, which is what any organization would wish for. As an American musician, it’s fantastic to have someone with a forward looking vision in charge. As Woods says: “Orchestral music has survived for centuries, and it will thrive again. But it will thrive differently — and the opportunity in front of us now is to fashion a future that is richer and far more embracing than where we’ve come from.”

    • BruceB says:

      Why read some dumb article if you already know what you think, LOL.

    • V.Lind says:

      i read the article and do see SOME Merit in SOME of his statements. But don’ you realise that words like “richer” and “embracing” are code? Taken on face value, I am ALL for it. But what they are actually saying, let’s stop pussy-footing around here, is “get your black content up — repertoire, artists, managements — NOW.”

      A perceptive comment was made above by Adrienne: “It’s patronising to suggest that blacks don’t know what they’re missing and much wiser whites know how to fill the void in their lives.”

      The need is for education. Get all these conservatory grads who will never cut it in orchestras or as soloists into the schools introducing a reasonable music curriculum. Get young people of all ages introduced to the existence and accessibility and sheer joy of classical music and they might begin to people the halls when they reach voting age.

      Outreach, call it whatever you like, is useful. Go for it.

      But anyone who has issues with “the canonical repertoire” has no business in that job. The job is to attract audiences to your product, not to alter that product to unrecognisability in order to curry brief and false favour. It’s bad enough that blacks have been treated s second-class citizens Stop treating them as if they have second-class minds.

      • William Safford says:

        I agree with much of what you said.

        However, the last paragraph is a sticking point.

        The entire concept of a “canonical repertoire” is a relatively recent development.

        Was Haydn supposed to present a “canonical repertoire” at Esterhazy? No. He was supposed to supply new and fresh music. That’s why he wrote over 100 symphonies, as well as gazillions of other works.

        Did 19th century opera houses expect to hear Monteverdi or Handel over and over again? No. They wanted new and fresh operas.

        We see the effects of the ossification of the concert and opera halls.

        Mind you, there is a reason why there is a “canonical repertoire”: because there are truly great works.

        But we are not frozen in time. Great works can be written today, or tomorrow.

        The real issue here, is that many of the people protesting about the words of Simon Woods, fundamentally do not believe that nonwhite people can create great works of music.

        *That* is the issue. And it is a shameful attitude.

        • Anon says:

          Yes, but a Great Canon of hundreds and hundreds of great works has emerged over the past 400 years. It would take many lifetimes to become familiar with the canon.
          I am in love with this canon and would like to spend my life nourishing my soul with this music.

          • William Safford says:

            True. There are great works, and we do view them as a canon of works.

            That said, how did they become part of the canon?

            They were once new. People performed them. People listened to them. Enough people liked them well enough to continue to perform them. They thereby eventually became part of the canon.

            This process can continue today, but only if we take the time and energy to do so.

            There will be no new entries to the canon, if we do not do our part. That means that we need to commission them, compose them, perform them, and listen to them.

            Only a fraction of today’s works will enter the canon, just as only a fraction of yesterday’s works entered the canon. (How long has it been since you last listened to a live performance of an Onslow symphony, or a Gretry opera? Yet they were both accomplished composers. FWIW, never, and over a decade ago, respectively, for me.)

            Tomorrow’s additions to the canon are dependent on today’s actions by all of us.

        • V.Lind says:

          I have no issue with new music being added. If it is good enough it will stay added. But I just want orchestral musicians to remember where these music traditions come from.

          Europeans and their descendents are as entitled to preserve and perform their own creations as Indians and Chinese and others in their traditions. And, as in so much else these days, that is in danger of being forsaken in the interests of a cultural makeover. *THAT* is the issue.

          • William Safford says:

            I understand your point.

            That said, the issue at hand is a rethinking of the Euro-centric canon by *American* orchestras.

            I hardly have to tell you that the entire idea of a canon is exclusionary by definition: it includes certain things, and excludes most of them.

            This winnowing can be done based on various criteria.

            This can be done on the basis of quality. Of course, “quality” is a nebulous and arbitrary standard. What makes one work of high quality, and another of lesser quality?

            There can be other criteria. For example, would Schoenberg Gurrelieder be more firmly in the canon if it required one fifth the performing resources that it does? Practicality can be a criterion.

            Note that most of the complaints about Mr. Woods, concerns his comments about the idea “to implement permanent structural change in response to the racial injustice that disfigures the history of orchestras,” and “rethink the role we ascribe to the canonic European repertoire of the past.”

            That is to say, many complaints in this comments area (not yours) have to do with fearing encroachment on the current Euro-centric canon by living and/or nonwhite and/or non-European and/or women composers, supposedly at the loss of prestige of the current mostly dead white male European composers. Many are also concerned about the aftereffects of the rectification of racial injustices.

            This is the elephant in the room.

            Mind you, there are many ways in which the canon could be rethought in America. For example, it could simply mean that more emphasis is put on American composers. Maybe program a little bit less Beethoven and Mozart and Wagner, and a little bit more Copland and some new composers whom I haven’t heard of yet. Why not?

            British orchestras program British composers, and not just Elgar. Finnish orchestras program Finnish composers, and not just Sibelus. Etc. Why should this be less the case in America?

            Why do we not hear more often in America, music by American composers such as Irvine Fine, Harold Shapero, William Schuman, Virgil Thomson, Elliot Carter, Norman Dello Joio, Donald Erb, and so many others? They wrote good music. And those are just a few examples of dead white male Americans.

            Why not more John Adams, Philip Glass, Michael Daugherty, David Del Tredici, Allen Shawn, Ned Rorem, and others? And they’re just examples of living white male Americans.

            Why not more Katherine Hoover, Vivian Fine, Amy Beach, Ruth Crawford Seeger, and others? They’re examples of dead white female Americans.

            Why not more Joan Tower, Ellen Zwillich, Jennifer Higdon, Libby Larsen? They are examples of living white female Americans.

            I could go on and on.

            I don’t clam that any of them is on the same level of a Bach or a Beethoven, but all produced music that is just as worthy of performance and listening to as are works by many other composers whose music is in the canon.

            Finally, note all the thumbs-down on posts by Tom and me just in this one comments area, in which we presented positive information about identifying and promoting ways to get more Black people involved in music and how to promote music by Black composers and performers.

            Food for thought.

          • Tom says:

            How would you feel about Chinese government officials making the case against including Uighur or Mongolian music in Chinese concert halls? Or if Indian concert halls had a “Hindu musicians only” policy? It’s not like other cultures don’t also face issues of diversity and inclusion. We’re not unique in this respect.

          • M2N2K says:

            To WS: but all those American composers you named – male and female, dead and alive – are being performed in US more than anywhere else for many decades already, so your entire tirade about it is a moot point.
            To Tom: of course your examples of intentional exclusion would be highly objectionable, but in today’s US, where racism is still a serious problem, any kind of institutional policies that are based on racial preferences are nothing less than disastrous because they would be perpetuating racist attitudes and reverse several decades of slow and difficult progress that has been made in that area.

          • William Safford says:

            I disagree. It is not moot, for music from most of those composers are *not* being performed to any substantial degree, as compared to the canon.

            We hear music by the likes of Beethoven and Mozart over and over and over again. Sure, the music is really good. But there’s so much more out there that we could also be listening to!

            Adams and Glass are been performed at the Met and elsewhere to a certain degree, of course. I did hear Daughtery’s music last month in a virtual concert. But what about most of the rest, as well as so many others I didn’t list?

            When is the last time I heard music by Irvine Fine live? In a wind quintet concert about eight years ago. Harold Shapero? Never. William Schuman? When I performed it with an ensemble over a decade ago. Virgil Thomson? Decades ago. Elliot Carter? Several years ago, when I asked an ensemble I hired to perform it. Norman Dello Joio? When I performed it in grad school. Donald Erb? Over a decade ago.

            What about Katherine Hoover? I plan to perform her music next year, COVID-willing. Vivian Fine? Never. Amy Beach? When I performed it earlier this year. Ruth Crawford Seeger? I can’t remember.

            And these were all chamber or wind ensemble performances, not orchestral, as is the topic at hand.

            You get the picture. Also note that the reason I’ve heard performances by many of them is because I programmed and/or performed them!

            Also note that I didn’t list any Black composers in my previous message, despite that being a big part of the message of NL’s blog post. I wondered if anyone would catch that detail. Nobody commented on it.

            Rarely do I get to hear any when in the audience. I’m not a specialist, but I perform music by Black composers from time to time. I did learn about one Black composer the other day in the comments on SD, Hailstork. I’m about to order sheet music of his.

          • M2N2K says:

            In my experience, I have played pieces by most of those composers you have named here and almost every time my feeling and that of musicians around me as well as listeners who shared their opinions was that, though it was harmless enough to perform it once, there was no desire to play and/or hear it again. That is the main reason the “canon” is what it is. And it certainly has absolutely nothing to do with anyone’s skin color.

          • William Safford says:

            At least in America, the past history of discrimination against Black composers and other classical musicians is well documented. Even though much has changed in recent decades for the better, the effects of this discrimination linger to today.

            Ditto women composers and other classical musicians. The details are different, but the big picture is similar in many ways, except that women instrumentalists have been able to make great strides in recent decades. And let’s face it–blind audition was the primary driver behind this change for the better.

            Note in this comments section, how vociferous the opposition to the very idea of making a few needed changes on behalf of Black people has been. Many people clearly feel that they have a vested interest in maintaining the discriminatory status quo.

            As for your observation about the quality of music by American composers, well, I’ve also played and/or listened to some music by Beethoven (Wellington’s Victory–I’m glad I haven’t had to play it yet) and other canonic composers that has been pretty lousy. I would much rather hear and/or perform something new and fresh to me.

  • The View from America says:

    Orchestras’ product is the music they present. The current product offering may be perceived as “stale” by some people, but what’s the evidence that changing the repertoire will improve the situation? It may well have the opposite effect.

    Let’s find out by running a test market or two. Have several major orchestras like Houston or Indianapolis “rethink the role they ascribe to the canonic European repertoire of the past,” and see how well that plays. Good luck with that.

    • J Barcelo says:

      I can tell you exactly how it will play out: A good friend of mine used to play with a per-service orchestra that advertised “The Best Music You’ve Never Heard”. Skipping the western canon, they played works by lesser known composers: Raff, Arnell, Reinecke, Atterberg among many others. The last concert of theirs I went to had fewer than 50 people show up. Audiences know what they like and aren’t about to change. Very sad, of course.

      • Don Ciccio says:

        is this the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein? I have attended some of their concerts and I would have attended even more but I don’t live in New York.

        Every time the audience was “medium-size” – for lack of a better term, but enthusiastic. And definitely more than 50 patrons.

    • Tom says:

      I started a chamber music organization, Crossing Borders Music, which shares music by composers from under-represented cultures. It is thriving, while other chamber music groups with “stale” repertoire are struggling. We don’t need to run a test. We already know inclusive practices help draw diverse audiences, in addition to simply being the right thing to do.

    • William Safford says:

      “Rethink the role…” does not necessarily mean “completely reject and purge the orchestra of anything old.”

      I just heard a virtual live (reduced) orchestra concert on Saturday, in which one of the works was by a relatively young Black composer. It was well received.

      The orchestra routinely commissions and performs new works. Most of the composers are American, many are women, quite a few are non-white, and all are alive. 🙂

      The other two works on the program are standards of the early 20th century repertoire.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    While the Covid crisis has forced us to rethink what we do (and that applies for many, if not all, industries) some of these suggestions question the very pillars of the art form and are dangerously close to diluting what it is we do as performing artists in the field of Western Classical music.

    Yes, privilege is in the DNA of the institutions but it was when Haydn was at Esterhazy, when Cavalli wrote operas for the Florentine nobility, and when King George commissioned Handel to write his great works. How and why should we turn away from the fact that money is need to fuel orchestras and that they will never appeal to the masses?

    Also, I have always questioned the assumption that Classical music concerts are expensive in relation to other forms of entertainment. People readily spend money on sporting events, Rolling Stones concerts, Pay per View boxing matches, and Xbox games. But when it comes to Classical music concerts, somehow “its too expensive”. Phooey on that.

    • Joe says:

      Cost is not the problem. The Yale School of Music offers well over a hundred concerts and recitals a year (under normal circumstances, anyway), all of high quality, the great majority of them free of charge. Most recitals draw only a handful of people: professors, family of the students, a few friends. It’s a situation where anyone would be welcome; no one is coming.

    • drummerman says:

      Agree with Old Man on many points. (I’m old, too.) No one criticizes a theatre company for doing Shakespeare, no one criticizes a ballet company for doing Swan Lake, no one criticizes a museum for showing Rembrandt but as soon as an orchestra plays Beethoven we’re accused of favoring Dead White European Males.

      Yes, everyone must do everything within his/her power to fight racism. Yes, every arts organization needs to reach out equally to all sectors of the community, make everyone feel welcome. That’s just good business! Yes, we need to promote music education, encourage young people of color to study music. (How about starting Project STEP programs in dozens of cities? – I have no connection with this organization. It’s just an aside.)

      I dislike the term “white privilege” because it implies that every white person has had things easy, simply by virtue of skin color.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        Actually, the literary (including stage) canon has been under fire for longer than the classical music canon. Theatres have not been going bust staging works by playwrights of color like August Wilson, et al. — while Shakespeare retains his high profile. Why do theatre audiences show more willingness to support a wider range of the art, than classical music audiences? This is a serious question, not a rhetorical one.

        • Old Man in the Midwest says:

          A very good question. Here in Chicago, we have a vibrant theater scene with both the Classics and modern rep represented.

          And many small theater companies that produce new works and have a core subscriber base.

          So why do theater goers accept and support newer works by a ethnic variety of script writers while orchestra attendees seem to desire the Canon and little outside of it?

          Perhaps that is the nut to crack rather than focusing on ethnicity in a Eurocentric art form.

        • Stuart says:

          When I lived in London (2013-2016) we attended a lot of theatre and concerts. The average age at a classical music concert was generally higher than at the theatres for stage plays. Also, a Beethoven symphony can be played a lot of different ways, but the possibilities of interpreting a Shakespeare play are much more varied and broad. A good director can bring fresh insights and new meaning/relevance to a Shakespeare work in so many interesting ways that are not available to a conductor of a Beethoven symphony.

    • William Safford says:

      Pre-COVID, I could spend a lot less money going to the Met than going to a baseball or (American) football game. If I sat in the top balcony, I could spend less going to the Met than going to the movies. Granted, those seats are substantially subsidized by a donor, but all seats there are at least partially subsidized by donors.

  • Kenneth says:

    “At the base of every major work of art is a pile of barbarism.” – Walter Benjamin

    Let us remember not to ‘cancel’ all art because of the casualties. We will have little left.

    Also people ignore what was/is occurring in the REST of the world, especially the foundations of jazz, ragtime, and other musical art forms that were predominantly Afro-centric.

    They are prioritizing identity politics, not music. True art will be hard-pressed to meet quotas of every victim-group.

  • Svetlana says:

    well even if you don’t agree with the part about priviledge, the idea of embracing humanity and the planet is an important one

  • Alan K says:

    Two words: Cultural Suicide!

  • Charles Heller says:

    Western orchestras have a duty to perform western art music, which is the result of 1000 years of evolution. I have worked with Indigenous Canadian artists and there is room for them to showcase their culture alongside western music, but this is not a war. I recently heard a western-trained music education specialist proclaim “Ditch The Ring!” If we ditch it, it will be an irretrievable loss to world culture.

    • Tom says:

      The thing is, there have been wonderful non-White composers for hundreds and hundreds of years. The problem is, they have been systematically excluded from the “classical” music world despite their prodigious talents and fine works.

      • Andrew Barnard says:

        Can you name a few? Citing “systematic exclusion” begs for some examples.

        • Tom says:

          It’s hard to name just a few when there are so many. Mostly off the top of my head, some excellent historic composers of color are Undine Smith Moor, Werner Jaegerhuber, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Ludovic Lamothe, Florence Price, William Grant Still, Eustasio Rosales, George Walker, Harry Burleigh, Chevalier de Ste. Georges, let’s not even get started on the Mexican Baroque… George Bridgetower, Margaret Bonds, Justin Elie, Occide Jeanty, Fela Sowande, Samuel Akpabot…

          • M2N2K says:

            Some of them like for example William Grant Still do get performed occasionally – probably more in the US than anywhere else by the way – and listing a bunch of names does not prove that they are “systematically excluded” because of their non-white skin color. Besides, one can certainly produce a virtually endless list of “White” composers who are never performed anywhere.

  • BruceB says:

    Haven’t read the article yet, but the gist of the comments seems to be that (a) classical music is dying and something must be done; also (b) the status quo must not be changed.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    What U.S. orchestras need to do is to stop hiring limeys.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    I think the considered response to this virtue signalling idiot is “get thyself hence in short jerky movements”…………or something similar!

  • anon says:

    Some have asked why have Asians excelled in White classical music when other minorities have not? Did Asians just work harder to beat the white competition, or failing that, Asians simply started their own orchestras?

    But Blacks are even more talented in music, much more talented and ground breaking and innovative than Asians. (Afterall, what have Asians invented that rivals jazz, rap, R&B in scope and in influence and in genius?)

    So if Blacks really cared about White classical music, there would be Black orchestras popping up everywhere in Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York, LA, and Black composers writing for them.

    Blacks don’t need White charity in White classical music.

    So why are White people so damn keen on Black inclusion in classical music when Blacks don’t give a damn about White people’s classical music?

    Because Whites see the dying White audience and the need to expand its market. That’s all. It’s not about racial justice, it’s about racial marketing.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Your comment is a good example that good observation skills do not always lead to good conclusions.

    • E Rand says:

      I think institutions are pandering to this idea because they know that federal dollars will soon depend on it. Its a ploy as empty as it is hopeless.

    • Skippy says:

      It’s about virtue-signaling.

    • William Safford says:

      “…when Blacks don’t give a damn about White people’s classical music?”

    • V.Lind says:

      You are clearly ignorant of the rich traditions of Indian and Chinese music (among others in Asia) that may or may not appeal to the western aural palate but have massive followings in their homelands and their diasporas..

      When I lived in Hong Kong, I found Chinese opera a bit mystifying, and not musically very sympathetic, but I went to Chinese aria concerts that were wonderful (and, although I am not among them, I know lots of people here who quite enjoy an aria concert though they have little tolerance for a whole opera).

      And I might add that nobody is challenging these traditions to “diversify” and change to suit some new political agenda. When I saw Chinese opera in the west, it made NO concessions to western taste (except perhaps length). Chinese artists who have chosen to follow western music have CHOSEN to do so. And opportunities have been made available, for study and travel.

      But Chinese music will always survive. The Chinese take pride in their culture. They have not been afraid of outside influences, but they support their own: Hong Kong has a ballet company, a modern dance company, and a Chinese (contemporary) dance company, all thriving, just as it has its philharmonic orchestra and its Chinese music companies.

      Western classical music operations need to be proud of their canon, accept the best musicians they can get (and by all means go looking for them, and any overlooked repertoire they may introduce to the rest of us, in wider areas) and recognise that black America has produced a HUGE and vibrant repertoire of music that speaks to THEIR traditions and experience.

      Stop trying to be what orchestras were never meant to be — social engineers. Yes, clean up their acts: stop rejecting people because of their race (or sex). Stop looking sideways at black people. Let them play, let them sing, and see if they are a good fit for the ensemble. Same with women. STOP CLOSING DOORS. But once through the pen door, artists and managers should be a lot more secure in what they are offering.

    • Tom says:

      Just as a point of information, there are Black composers, and many of the very orchestras you mentioned have commissioned their work. As another point of information, “classical” music has had Black composers and other composers of color for centuries. The phrase “White classical music” isn’t accurate and never has been.

  • BruceB says:

    One good point he makes is that orchestras can be more like museums: curating a core “basic repertoire” while also periodically making room for “special exhibits” that reflect evolving social norms and concerns.

    For example: Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keefe are not the only museum-worthy female painters, for example. We all know that, and it’s easy to say “Well of course there are many,” but to find their actual work hanging in an actual museum can be hard to find if you don’t make a special effort. A special exhibit featuring female painters can change/ expand audiences’ perspectives and — perhaps — reassure boards that hanging an occasional work by a female painter is not utter folly. You can maybe go beyond your one or two stalwarts. (American music, for example: more than just Copland and Barber, with the occasional John Adams thrown in? Or: screw that, the budget requires ticket sales and another Beethoven festival is the only answer?)

  • E Rand says:

    Utter claptrap. A bromide stew.
    The American Orchestra is a product of European culture, which was, incidentally, made up of white people until quite recently. The greatest music from Europe will, by definition have been written by white people. The only people that care about this are the Leftist racists who see everything through that lens. I wish you luck in identifying the next Beethoven, Brahms, Babbitt or Britten. We all wish for it. But, the odds are that the attractions of fame and money are far stronger in the pop field. Are orchestras going to start playing that garbage? Lordy I hope not.

  • Adrienne says:

    Sorry, don’t agree at all. If shrinking audiences is their concern, persuading younger white or, better still, SE Asian middle class people would be the obvious choice because it would stand a better chance of success.

    In my opinion, trying to attract black people just makes them feel virtuous. SE Asians turn up anyway, so they can’t claim the credit.

  • Moron in Chief says:

    What a moron.

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    I pledge to not support my hometown orchestra (my privilege) until this “leader” wakes up stops spouting irrelevant nonsense. I’m paying for many online classical music shows. But the crap that gives a nod to an invisible audience and ignores the interests of its patrons? Not a penny.

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    “We need to rethink the role we ascribe to the canonic European repertoire of the past.”


    That’s what classical music IS.

    Think of the outrage if there were demands that some other forms of music be watered down to appeal to people with other cultural traditions.

    • William Safford says:

      Why do you feel that adding to the repertory would be watering it down?

      • Paul Brownsey says:

        Watering down is not the same as adding to the repertoire. He’s talking about rethinking the *role* (NB) of the canon.

        • William Safford says:

          All of the music that’s now in the canon, was at one time new. Others did the work back then, that culminated in the canon that we have today.

          How will we add to the canon, if we refuse to do the same work that our forebears did?

          How will we expand the relevance of our music, if we do not appeal to the very people who could join us, whether in the audience, on the stage, or behind the scenes composing or facilitating the music?

  • Penelope Insect says:

    If we make significant changes to the canonical repertoire of Western art music, what will we be left with? Something not worth listening to, I’m afraid.

    All these IDEAS yuppies need to drink fewer flat whites and stay out of things about which they clearly know nothing.

    Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms have stood the test of time for a reason, and not simply because they are white.

    True greatness transcends the test of time – and race.

    • William Safford says:

      I’ll ask you as well: why do you feel that making significant changes to the “canonical repertoire of Western art” would leave us with “something not worth listening to?”

  • Cronda Slinton says:

    Priority #1… empty the corrupt bag of cheetos currently in the Oval Office!

  • Tom says:

    As someone who’s devoted my professional life to inclusive practices in classical music, creating an organization, “Crossing Borders Music,” that attracts the large, young, diverse audiences that large orchestras keep talking about wanting to attract, I’m truly disappointed, though not surprised, to see the ignorant comments here. There have been Black composers and other composers of color for centuries. There are lots of Black people who like classical music, including outrageously successful performers. Following inclusive practices is not about turning anyone away or casting anyone out, but rather making sure those no one is given an implicit (or even explicit) message that they aren’t welcome. If “classical” music institutions don’t address their elitist and racist assumptions, their future is dim indeed. On the other hand, institutions that create inclusive environments are not only doing the right thing and providing a useful service, but securing their own relevance and bright future.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      I agree with you. But welcoming people in — which I think is basically what you are advocating — is very different from watering down “the role we ascribe to the canonic European repertoire of the past”.

      There used to be a classical CD shop in Edinburgh. One of the staff was a black lad. According to the shop’s newsletter, he was formidably knowledgeable about “the canonic European repertoire”, with a speciality in, I think, Spanish Renaissance choral music in praise of the Virgin. But my impression was that shoppers tended to go to other members of staff with their queries about recordings, as though a black guy could not be expected to chew the fat about Klemperer vs Karajan or whatever. Obviously that sort of thing needs to change.

  • Marge O. says:

    more typical us empire of empty: we shoulds we ought tos we need tos, we are better than this garbage. Nothing is going to change. the us empire was structurally flawed. It’s a doomed plane. that’s reality. window dressing and virtue signaling with “diversity” is more lipstick on a rotting carcass

  • Marge O. says:

    Another limey. Great waspy thinking americans! More of nothing.

  • Terence says:

    Why does nobody ever point to ‘Black privilege’? The NBA has a considerable over- representation of Black players and very few (if any) ethnic Indians, Latinos or Asians.

    Oh, the players are chosen on merit? So that’s okay for orchestras too?

    (Go California, rejecting Proposition 16: Equal opportunity not quotas.)

    • William Safford says:

      Why, you ask, do we talk about something that doesn’t exist?

      Well, if we can talk about illegal ballots, and the Orange Enemy of the People’s supposed win of the Electoral College, I guess we can also talk about “Black Privilege….”

  • Plush says:

    A fakir

  • Patricia says:

    Another white liberal. Unfortunately the arts are full of them. And he is full of it.

  • Fiddlist says:

    Did this guy survey audiences before coming up with this list?

    “The rehabilitation of towns and cities” – who does he think he is, FDR?

    Unbelievable arrogance.

  • Greg says:

    Quite a conundrum, isn’t it, asking for increased funding from those most likely to possess “the very pervasive privilege that continues to run through our structures and activities”? Has it ever occurred to orchestras that maybe the underrepresented demographics they are trying to attract just don’t want to be attracted? Their faux virtue signaling doesn’t fool anyone. The only reason they seek to diversify is to increase the donor base because their primary audience is dying out. It’s as simple as that.

  • B. Guerrero says:

    Clearly a job for Superman. He must have a Clark Kent somewhere in his offices. Have orchestras really “rehabilitated” towns and cities in the past?

  • M2N2K says:

    Giving preferential teatment to a piece of music because of its composer’s skin color is equally as racist as neglecting or suppressing a piece of music because of its composer’s skin color.