Rebrand wizards: Orchestras are ‘a dusty old-world art for the elite’

Rebrand wizards: Orchestras are ‘a dusty old-world art for the elite’


norman lebrecht

July 14, 2021

The phrase comes from a marketing agency that has just done a rebranding job on the San Francisco Symphony (did anyone notice?). The agency appears to believe its description is a fair representation of the artform in 2021.

Here’s more:

In 2018, the San Francisco Symphony reached out to COLLINS at a crucial moment in reimagining its future. As its famed maverick Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas closed out his extraordinary 25-year tenure, the organization was laying the groundwork for its reinvention. This included experimenting with new programmatic approaches, subverting the hierarchical nature of both itself and the industry through a DEI-focused organizational overhaul, and — in a move that stunned the global music community — passing the baton to visionary conductor and composer Esa–Pekka Salonen, offering Salonen something quite seductive for any artist: a blank canvas to reimagine the symphonic experience for the 21st century.

Together, symphony staff, executive leadership, musicians, and the Board of Trustees worked to create an experimental blueprint that repositioned classical music for the modern era. The seeds of this show up in a groundbreaking artistic leadership model: one that diversifies the idea of a single artistic figurehead into the brainpower of a collaborative partnership. With the launch of the 2020-21 season, eight partners from a variety of cultural perspectives and disciplines will envision programming, including Bryce Dressner of the band The National, AI entrepreneur Carol Reiley, bassist Esperanza Spalding, classical vocalist Julia Bullock, experimental flutist Claire Chase, violinist Pekka Kuusisto, and composer and pianist Nicholas Britell.

This inclusive approach builds on the ethos of the organization, demonstrating a vested interest in dismantling the “elite” narrative that risked making the culturally curious feel unwelcome. The alternative experience of SoundBox, for example, sells out in just a few seconds, appealing to both long-time members and young newcomers with its informal, intimate, and industrial environment where musicians easily mingle with the audience. The symphony’s educational initiatives as the sole providers of music education to the San Francisco Unified School District only further demonstrates this commitment to widespread interest…

Read on here, if you can bear it.


  • HR says:

    With friends like that, who needs enemies?

    • The View from America says:

      With friends like that, who need enemas?

      … ‘Cause after the word salad comes the diarrhea.

    • Norman picked great excerpts. My favorite, though, is the first sentence: “For many, the symphony conjures up classical associations of old white men in ridiculous wigs. Pictures, perhaps, of Bach or Beethoven, Mozart or Mahler.”

      • Kanye East says:

        As oppose to young black women with impossible weaves.

      • Adrienne says:

        Mahler wore a wig up to 1911,
        and Lizzo doesn’t look ridiculous?

        Doesn’t the clown who wrote this nonsense realise that groups have been ‘bringing orchestras into their music” for decades? Eg: the LSO in Tommy, Rainbow Theatre, 1972. I just happen to remember this. I doubt if it was the earliest example.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Mahler only wore his wig secretly when Alma was not around. To be able to indulge in his hobby he had a little hut built far from his villa. As soon as Alma was descending the path, which was always clearly heard because of her admonitions, he hid the wig in the little cupboard where he kept his sketches. All of this was discovered by French biographer Louis de la Grange, but his findings were suppressed in the book.

  • UK Arts Administrator says:

    Typical marketing/management consultant twaddle. It doesn’t actually say much, but it was probably expensive.

    • The View from America says:

      Probably expensive? You can bank on it.

    • Stuart says:

      I read the whole things, and indeed, it contains a lot of consultant marketing-speak. Many unsubstantiated claims about the state of classical music. It cites “recent studies” but doesn’t name them. Interestingly, the solutions seem to have everything to do with employing innovative new fonts. It all sounds good as long as you leave your brain behind.

  • Harold Stover says:

    All it lacks is the use of “dialogue” as a verb.

  • RW2013 says:

    No, I couldn’t bear to read on – did it even mention the incoming conductress?

  • christopher storey says:

    The moment I see the word “reimagining” I switch off

  • Patrick says:

    Those nasty “elites” built your orchestra.

  • Patrick says:

    I found their slogan:

    “COLLINS. All caps, so we’ve got to be good.”

  • Anon says:

    Pop music has simple harmonies and lyrics.
    Much new classical “music” is extremely difficult to relate to. If anything, this is the area which is most elitist.

    • Timon says:

      What makes pop accesible isn’t its technical complexity or simplicity, it is the spirit of the music which chimes with the mass, it helps to kill the time, to distract, to promote self acceptance, to pacify iritation, most of all to express the trivial with a passionate intensity. Classical music is unacceptable in our society and our politics because it is aesthetic music, i.e. the judgement that some music is better than other is pregiven. It is too rich, the intensity of a partita by Bach is disturbing to most minds, it requires something they don’t want to give, the music puts too much value on each moment, whereas most men only value some moments occasionally, and are actually happiest when they do not have to care about anything, not much to think, or to feel.

      • John Borstlap says:

        For most people, life is a misty trajectory, undefined, meaningless, so you have to find some meaning in something and since the erosion of organised religion, that has become extremely hard. Pop music gives some consolation, that one is not alone in this mist, so as such it is not a bad idea. If there were better music education, or: cultural education, people would have more opportunity to find meaning in their life, to balance the misery that inevitably comes with living for everybody.

        • Timon says:

          A Japanese Poet: It is because we are in Paradise that all things in this world wrong us; when we go out from Paradise nothing hurts, for nothing matters.

          Pop culture: make things matter less.
          Corollary: make less matter more.
          Result: Donald Trump.

      • What nonsense! Classical music fades from popularity because it is hidden away on a dwindling number of radio stations, and mass audience venues, such as network and cable features. If Mozart, Bach, or any of the rest of your examples of “richness” or “intensity” were heard with the frequency of Beyonce, etc., people would like it just as much, if not more.

        I grew up in an era when classical music was heard, regularly, as theme music for dramas on the radio for children and adults. Also, masses of people, not rich, but quite ordinary in eonomic and social circumstances attended, or listened to concerts on the radio and TV.
        Fritz Kreisler, Heifitz, Rubenstein, Horowitz were household names.

        The “fading away” of classical music from mass culture is the result of economic choices by commercial interests, advertising revenues which prop up those interests, and populism: all values leading to “pablum” in the arts.

        When rock musicians(sic) are referred to as “artists,” and vocalists who have to have electronic enhancement to correct their out-of-tune wails are called “singers,”
        we can throw our standards and dictionaries out of the window.

        And don’t get me started on Symphony orchestras playing “rock and pop,” in a mis-guided attempt to gain audiences.

        Young people can get “off” on Mozart, Prokofieff, and all the rest quite easily if you just give it to them!

        • John Borstlap says:

          Correct. The problem is not the art form but the way it is treated by people who don’t know what it is.

          • Ashu says:

            [Correct. The problem is not the art form but the way it is treated by people who don’t know what it is.]

            Has it never crossed your mind that you don’t know the popular art forms you despise? How would you know them?

        • Timon says:

          I think the difficulty with good music is, what to do with it. Pop music you can hum to, or dance, or sit and relax. Good music though is often like Rilke’s Archaic Torso. A different kind of pleasure, not without pain. I would contrast that to much of pop, which is all pain and no pleasure.

      • John says:

        “Most men”?

        • Timon says:

          Give or take. Majority of the world are pressed to work for most of their lives in a job that at best doesn’t kill the soul.This doesn’t endear them to time.

      • Charles Bosselman says:

        Why don’t you people stop fucking around with music that’s been around a lot longer than your fucking assholes

      • Ashu says:

        [the intensity of a partita by Bach is disturbing to most minds… whereas most men only value some moments occasionally]

        What self-flattering paranoid nonsense. Who do you think you are, you bum.

        • Ivana Trump says:

          The question of value is, what will suffice? What value is value enough? With a Bach Partita, the intensity of value is either disturbing or merely ridiculous if the way you get through life is by de-valuing most things, by letting things go, just to keep on going. This is sad, but is the tactic of survival of too many lives. This is the kind of values pop music has to work with, if it wants to be popular.

  • John Borstlap says:

    This shows again the nonsense born from ignorance. It begins in the nation suffering from decline and decadence, and will drip slowly towards tired Europe where no brain can think of any new idea whatsoever.

    Classical music as an art form is under siege from groups who have no idea what it is, and who don’t want to be reminded that there may be cultural forms which escape their perceptive framework. Away with it!

    After the pandemic, the one single relevant and dominating question within the music world will be: what is classical music and why not? How could we commit suicide without people noticing?

    But surely there will remain people who will continue to understand the art form and support it through listening, performing, education, funding, and careful preservation. The others are free to indulge in their simple pop pleasures.

    • Anonymous says:

      You should check your own arrogance and ignorance.
      Particularly your phrase “others are free to indulge in their simple pop pleasures”. That’s one that simply isn’t helpful for furthering the art form. It’s just more of the typical “us vs. them”, “all-or-nothing” mentality and part of what needs to change. I guess you wouldn’t like that in a single day my listening spans from Billie Eilish to Prokofiev, from Michael Jackson to Mozart. And I enjoy all of it.

      • John Borstlap says:

        One of those typical reactions from someone entirely oblivious of the subject and with difficulty of reading text. There is nothing against entertainment music, but it does not exist on the same level of artistry, sophistication, meaning, intention, etc. etc. (there is a whole list). That people enjoy both entertainment music and serious art music, does not mean these two things are interchangeable. Nobody in his right mind would think that there is no difference between a macdonalds and a 5 star restaurant, but as soon as music is the subject, some people are quick to protest that their loved relaxing CD’s are like classical symphonies.

        • Sean says:

          There are innumerable pieces of music that exist in the realm of what you would call “entertainment music” that have just as much artistic merit as the best of those in the realm of classical music. To suggest otherwise is ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst. Whether you intend to or not, your comparison of classical music to fine dining is exactly the kind of elitist attitude that is driving audiences away from the concert hall. And I’m saying all this as a working classical musician.

          • Timon says:

            Sean, genuinely interested, in your opinion, what pieces of popular music have just as much artistic merit as Beethoven’s late quartets, Mozart’s Piano concerti & Requiem, Bach’s Clavier-Übung, ensemble and liturgical music, Schubert’s last sonatas, Schumann’s first piano suites, Chopin’s nocturnes and Ballades, & Brahm’s concerti? I also enjoy hundreds of songs of popular music, Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Don Mclean, endless simillar stuff, a lot of Electronic music, Black Eyed peas were good for a while, & I even hold a special place in my heart for Christina Aguillera, but I can’t think of any that approach the better, never mind the best works of “classical” music.

          • Sean says:

            Thanks for the reply. I’ll give an example off the top of my head, and you can feel free to disagree. I think Bjork is a consummate artist. To me, her album “Vespertine” is so well-thought-out and intentioned with unique compositional techniques (texturally and with timbre, especially on release) with lyrics and themes that come from such a deeply personal place that one cannot help but be affected by it. Obviously, I’m talking about a whole album here, mostly to drive the point that even a pop/electronic artist can put a lot of work and heart into their compositions and come up with a result that transcends beyond just entertainment music like John is saying below. I suppose it all kind of boils down to taste/subjectivity, but I can’t help that listening to this album gives me just as strong emotions as some of those great works you mentioned.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Surely there will be pop music or rock music that hovers in the territory between the genres (like some episodes by The Swans). Which is for the better. But that does not mean there is a difference between the genres, otherwise there can be no overlap.

          • Timon says:

            Thanks for responding. I’ve admired Bjork for a long time, I think “play dead” is exceptional. You won’t mind that I still don’t agree.

            I could put it like this: Figuratively, you cannot substitute Bjork for life, & you would not want to. She expresses an aspect of it, better than anyone else maybe. However, I think that you should want to and can profit from at least the delusion of equating the essence of vitality with the music of J. S. Bach. Wordsworth famously said “The Child is father of the Man; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety.” The sense is of that rhythm that extends through all the moments of life and is what we are. Taken this way, I could wish my soul to be as BWV 1006, but I would not want to be an album by Bjork, without diminishing her value at all. Or say, the practical use of great music is to form and sustain the soul, pop music is more humble. Bach held that “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment.” You can substitute Man for God, and you wouldn’t even be a heretic.

          • John Borstlap says:

            It was a metaphor taken from the bodily functions, to make something clear, as is often the case with metaphors.

            Of course ‘entertainment’ often forms a part of classical music repertoire, but that is not its most important characteristic. And who will decide where the boundaries are? Where seeming entertainment rises to heights of sophistication, it becomes much more than entertainment – like Mendelssohn’s scherzo of the Midsummernight’s Dream music, or Berlioz’ Queen Mab Scherzo, or the street scene music in Stravinsky’s Petrushka. What else do we have? Lot of Haydn’s string quartet music has this sophisticated entertainment but it is so much more than that. Even Beethoven had his quasi-entertaining moments like the 3rd mvt of opus 130:


            But the gesture of friendly light entertainment takes the listener to a world of refinement which is no longer simple ‘entertaining’. That is what good music does: it transcends such notions.

            (Next time we’ll have a lecture with projections, freely accessible, even for performers.)

          • Timon says:

            Apropos, I once played the boogie-woogie episode from Op.111 to my grandmother, & she started clapping.

            To really get your rocks of, consider Cameron Carpenter’s rendition of the gigue from Bach’s 5th french suite:

          • John Borstlap says:

            That variation has nothing to do with boogie-woogie. It is a very nervous, cramped expression of discomfort. B-W is, in contrast, about pleasure.

            I never want to listen to an organist who dresses like CC.

          • Timon says:

            I don’t hear it that way, it’s nervous, but joyous. Even so, perhaps only in Beethoven could the expression of cramped discomfort become a source of profound comic joy. I’m thinking Diabelli.

          • Convince me that rap has as much artistic merit.

          • Sean says:

            There are many (probably not on this website) that would call something like Kendrick Lamar’s’ “To Pimp a Butterfly” a masterpiece. It’s almost 80 minutes long (length is not wholly important, but shows its sense of scope) with production techniques unique to the genre and poetry about topics that resonate with a large population, particularly in America. Just because it uses a particular kind of soundscape and deals with topics you may not be able to relate with personally (namely the black experience in America) doesn’t mean there wasn’t substantial work and intention behind it. I don’t understand why there has to be this sentiment that entire genres of music can’t be “good” simply because they aren’t classical.

          • John Borstlap says:

            It is not so that genres are not ‘good’ because they are not classical. Genres can be excellent without needing any comparison to classical. Mongolian throat singing is beautiful for lovers of Mongolian throat singing, and what has it to do with Mozart or Mahler? Nothing. The same goes for hophippers, rappers, poppers, rockers, you name it. Or Chinese opera. The point is, that every genre has its own context, cultural and historic backgrounds, and standards, and these contextes etc. should not be confused or mixed-up or simply done away with, since this falsifies the way we listen to the music.

          • Spettro Puccini says:

            To Pimp a Butterfly, or Madame Butterfly. Each represent an attitude towards life. Which would you rather?

          • Adrienne says:

            My niece introduced me to Kendrick Lamar’s rap. Degenerate rubbish that would have been ignored at the outset if it were white. It’s not only inferior to classical, but several other genres as well.

            Resonates with a large population, particularly in America? Working out well, isn’t it?

          • Ashu says:

            [Convince me that rap has as much artistic merit.]


          • Allen says:

            “To suggest otherwise is ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst.”

            So you are the final arbiter and no disagreement is acceptable then?

          • Ashu says:

            [So you are the final arbiter]

            There are a good many final arbiters here. The rest of us are grown up enough to love and let love.

        • Anonymous says:

          I never said they were interchangeable. I said that I enjoy both, for quite different reasons. I happen to agree with the first part of your characterization.

          What I think is unproductive in the classical community, and is evident in your first comment, is the dismissive attitude toward other types of music as inferior, and by proxy the people that listen to them. Just listen to this man, who knows nothing about me, insult me as “someone entirely oblivious of the subject and with difficulty of reading text”.

          Have a nice day. Oh, and by the way, it’s “McDonalds”, not “macdonalds”. 🙂

          • Timon says:

            “the dismissive attitude toward other types of music as inferior, and by proxy the people that listen to them.”

            Philip Roth once said ‘we are here to be insulted!’

      • Charles Bosselman says:

        Why don’t you fucking people leave things as they are. You don’t know a fucking thing about classical music

        • D Ratch says:

          For God’s sakes Charles, out of the bloody basement again, this is getting ridiculous, why won’t you stay put!

    • Anne says:

      Wow, really well said.

      • Timon says:

        Almost well said; one can digest a big mac without becoming a big mac, but the music one enjoys becomes what you are. Fine dining is a nice thing to do – music is spirit, & not the aetherial mystical kind either.

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    Ha ha ha. I found it very funny. It’s good to know that satirical comedy writing is alive and kicking!

    What’s that you say? It’s for real??!!

  • Neil B. says:

    Is it me or is it just finding the right fonts and voila! – classical music is saved! Thank you, and here’s the bill for the word salad. Ugh.

    • Sam says:

      No such implication on fonts as as savior was implied. This comment is just ignorant. If our artforms cared enough as much as they do “dissing” this click bate article as much as they would try to stay relevant as communities evolve, (as they will continue to do with or without our support) then perhaps we would evolve with them vs constantly repeating the same forms of insanity in hopes that we can “educate them” or “symphonysplain” to “appreciate” us.

  • Euphonium Al says:

    I wish I could get paid six figures to write a report saying most Americans under 60 have little interest in classical music. I could have told them that for free. In fact, I just did.

  • Fred Funk says:

    Yeah, the Indianapolis Symphony went with a Haircut conductor, who has since departed. NEXT.

  • Brian says:

    They are going to re-invent themselves into oblivion.

  • Morgan says:


  • J Barcelo says:

    Sorry Salonen, but the “best” has already happened. It’s not for lack of trying from modern composers – and some of his work like LA Variations is excellent. Audiences go to concerts to get food for the soul, to be in the presence of greatness, and to experience beauty. And there hasn’t been much written in the past decades that people respond to. As far as concert attendance goes, look around Davies Hall – the huge homeless population, the sh*t on the streets (literally), the mentally ill roaming the area, and the shocking lack of police presence: people don’t feel safe in SF anymore. The last time I was there it was awful and I understand it’s only gotten worse since. Clean up the city and maybe people will come back.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There’s enough written today, not by many composers, that is welcomed enthusiastically by audiences and players (even) – but programmers don’t like it that much. Why not? Because it sounds ‘oldfashioned’. To name a few: Nicolas Bacri, David Matthews, Karol Beffa, Paul Moravec.

      Here is Salonen’s LA Variations:

      I think it’s pretentious, vapid and average, with Messiaen chords, full of ‘dramatic’ gestures but with hardly any musical substance.

      • Freud says:

        “…full of ‘dramatic’ gestures but with hardly any musical substance.” Bit like you then, John.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I say that on a daily basis but would’ye think it’s taken seriously? When I pointed it out in the scores, literally! how bad the stuff actually is, I only got a pay reduction.


  • Marfisa says:

    Full phrase.’*They are too often perceived as* dusty old-world art for the elite’. Regrettable, but true (at least to some, hopefully reducing, extent).

    COLLINS is in any case more about design than marketing.

    If you do take the trouble to read further, there is a fascinating account of the process of font design tailored for this client (the SFO), how a font can be created and manipulated kinetically for screen use, and, in this case, how words can illustrate and respond visually to musical ideas.

  • drummerman says:

    We can all laugh about the “hype” this company is giving itself but orchestras do need to thinking in new ways to attract new audiences. Does anyone disagree with that? Naturally, different orchestras will go about this in different ways and that’s OK.

  • Larry says:

    No one criticizes a theatre company for doing Shakespeare. No one criticizes a ballet company for doing Swan Lake. No one criticizes an art museum for showing Rembrandt. But orchestras are criticized for favoring dead, white, European males.

    • Timon says:

      Yet Shakespeare is more or less another white dead male in most universities, where modern grievance politics was born decades before it was mainstreamed by their graduates.

      • V.Lind says:

        That, alas, is true. I knew a PhD candidate in English — her subject was Canadian literature, which is fine, but when I asked her what she had taken in the past, she had done NO Shakespeare in her two previous degrees. She said, “I don’t like drama.”

        My subject was the Victorian poets, but I took Shakespeare courses every year and did my undergraduate thesis on his work. But my university had taught English literature from the ground up — Anglo-Saxon, Chaucer (in Middle English) right through to modern poetry, with the compulsory courses done more or less consecutively so as to well illustrate the progression of literature in English. Shakespeare was, as I recall, only compulsory in first year — I opted to continue with him, partly because of the calibre of scholars at my disposal if I did.

        A recent look at the calendar of courses of my alma mater showed courses never available to me, like children’s literature and mystery fiction. Not saying they do not belong, any more than I would disallow courses in rap music or jazz in music colleges. Let alone Caribbean or Asian or African writing in English degree programmes. But for God’s sake, let’s keep the canon in both. It grounds and illuminates the best of the offshoot products, or could. But we are seemingly producing people with no sense of reference, no context. Perhaps out of that the occasional original thing emerges, but it is rare and, even more rarely, lasting. What is today’s objection to things that have stood the test of time?

        • Ashu says:

          [Shakespeare was, as I recall, only compulsory in first year — I opted to continue with him, partly because of the calibre of scholars at my disposal if I did.]

          Such as Northrop Frye, I’m guessing.

        • Saxon says:

          Lind: not everyone agrees on what the canon is or should be. Hence no agreement on what the reference and context should be.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It all stems from Foucault who claimed that all institutions, including cultural institutions like symphony orchestras, are mere instruments of power used by the bouzhwazee to cement their dominant position in modern society.

    • Manuela Hoelterhoff says:

      and all of them wearing white wigs! Could COLLINS please provide a photo of Mahler with a white wig. thanks.

    • Karl says:

      The art museums will soon have some of the Hunter Biden art hopefully.

    • Sisko24 says:

      You are quite correct, however classical music requires a mind/ear connection thought process which apparently is beyond many people of today. To use that thought process requires concentrating intently on what others are doing (the orchestra) and not oneself nor their cell phone nor the person they’re at the concert with. Therein lies the problem: classical music is a non-narcissistic listening activity still hanging on in a narcissistic society.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The irony is that it began as a narcissistic social event, at the end of the 18th century, with audiences talking, eating, looking at each other, amorous exercises in shielded boxes, etc. Only in the course of the 19th century – that terrible bouzhwazee! – the custom developed to give attention to the players and the music. So, where is progress?

  • Steven says:

    As per usual, the lead-in to the article is tendentious click bait. I read on past the link, and I saw that Collins did not say that symphony orchestras are dusty, old-world art for the elite. It said that they are too often perceived as dusty, old-world art for the elite. A different matter altogether.

  • Allen says:

    Old World art, eh?

    Like the contents of our galleries, theatres, churches and cathedrals, museums (which, correct me if I’m wrong, were rather popular before Covid), and whole town and city centres in Europe and beyond. In fact at times some of them are so crowded that it’s difficult to move.

    Popularity is not the problem but he’s picking on orchestras because they involve performance, which requires an unfashionable attention span. They are products of the same culture however.

    The problem is that they don’t appeal to everybody and that, in 2021, is a sin that must be expunged.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Is there a translation for that meaningless gibberish?

  • George Neidorf says:

    The only thing missing from both articles is the music. Maybe that doesn’t matter anymore.

    • Maybe it’s lost on everyone but the phrase “the SF Symphony will be the sole provider of music education in the Unified School District in San Francisco” says it all. There is NO real music education in our schools any more. You say that people can’t relate top classical music and why is that? They know nothing about it. That is THE root of the problem. That is why collins is needed to make it relatable. If one knows nothing about something, chances are they will not be interested. Education is going to be the answer, mark my words.

  • sam says:


    In America, only progressive urban Blue cities have symphony orchestras, so while the announcement may not play well in Peoria, Illinois (no symphony, no opera, just cows and rusted grain silos), it is sine-qua-non in San Francisco.

    And all you critics on this site — as all the cattle in Peoria — have never ever bought a single ticket to see the San Francisco Symphony in your entire life, so why the HELL should the SF Symphony marketing department write anything that needs your approval?

  • Alan Glick says:

    STOP THE PRESSES!!! Pop music, which appeals to the lowest common denominator, attracts more people than classical music!!!

    • V.Lind says:

      I don’t feel remotely lowest common denominatorish, and I love a lot of pop music, jazz, folk, so-called world music, other forms as well as my beloved opera and classical music.

      What I find to be lowest common denominator is people whose ears are closed to anything outside THEIR comfort zone, which it seems to me is what you are accusing pop fans of.

  • BRUCEB says:

    First thing on the link:

    “Symphonies suffer from a ruthless PR problem: They are too often perceived as dusty, old-world art for the elite.”

    Nothing misleading about that headline. Nope, nothing at all.*

    *(No, I’m not new here. I usually click on the link to find out what on earth NL is really talking about.)

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    It’s a while since I’ve seen a SD article where all the replies are so much in agreement. Usually we’re the scene of many squabbles. But this nonsense seems to have united everybody

  • Jack says:

    Ah. the Fusties are all having a bad hair day!

    Along with other forward thinking organizstionds, the San Francisco Symphony has been at the forefront of innovation and finding new ways of engaging a changing and changed audience.

    Folks like Borstlap can tsk tsk down from their ivory towers and some of you others can laugh at the corporate-speak, but the fact remains that audiences are dwindling.

    People who are serious about wanting to address this problem are hard at work while in forums like this, the fusties bemoan all those cultural Visigoths who just don’t seem to get that mystical, magical moment in the slow movement of the Schubert 5th.

    The twentieth century presented myriad problems for what I call ‘art music’, too many to enumerate here. The fact remains that once-filled halls are half-full or even less. And behind the art in those halls are business enterprises — orchestras, opera companies, string quartets and many more — already foundering after staggering losses from the pandemic, desperately trying to find a way forward. And if they can’t, the fusties and all the rest of us will at least have old CDs and DVDs to view something that will become less and less commercially viable.

    So laugh at the corporate-speak and continue to insult the audience you desperately need to cultivate, but I’ll be looking for the folks who are out there looking for solutions, because they will show the way forward. After all, the greatness of the masters won’t amount to a hill of beans in an empty hall.

    (And Norman, you really should know better.)

    • Guest says:

      Totally agree. Even if the “nonsense” sentiment of the consultant is phrased in a way that offends some people who are apparently happy to continue to see their esteemed artform die in popularity, it’s totally correct. I’m sure that the commenters here would have a collective heart attack if they heard the new Attacca Quartet record. It’s not even my cup of tea, necessarily, but you have to respect artists who have already been established as great artists in the traditional sense trying something new and out there.

      • Timon says:

        Originality or novelty? Beethoven was original, composers after him are inspired to imitate the effect of originality, without knowledge of the cause. Brahms worshipped tradition, and became one of the last original composers in the west. Often to try something new is to try something old. Thinking of the Attacca Quartet, it isn’t strange that few musicians understand music, most of the world speaks without any love for language.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed Brahms wedded a deeply felt love for the beauties and profundities of tradition with the greatest originality. But his example is the most difficult to follow.

          • Timon says:

            I agree. But it’s something I don’t understand. Whether cultural traditions can exhaust themselves, or if the past just becomes too daunting to follow. Given 2,000 years time-out, Michelangelo could act is he were picking up where Pheidias left off. Do we have to forget the past before it becomes viable again? I don’t see why. The best English poetry was written almost steadily from Chaucer through to recent times. Is it because music is the social art par excellence that it is more vulnerable to social changes? But witness Oscar Wilde: “So far from being the creation of its time, it is usually in direct opposition to it … In no case does it reproduce its age. To pass from the art of a time to the time itself is the great mistake that all historians commit.”
            And yet, things have been harder since Brahms.

          • John Borstlap says:

            “Do we have to forget the past before it becomes viable again?”

            That seems often to be the case.

            Generations react against the products of their ancestors, and sometimes they go back to a far past to create a future that is as far as possible removed from their direct past.

        • NeueFreud says:

          “…few musicians understand music.” As Borstlap above, rather speaking for yourself here.

          • John Borstlap says:

            It’s a daily source of irritation to see from close how music like Boulez is not understood by someone calling himself a musician while those old wigged fogeys like Beethoven & Mahler are revered like as if they did something truly valuable. It’s life denying! Closing down the doors to the future!


        • EAVASIVE ALQholist says:

          I love your finishing sentence! Do since it with depth and tactful poignancy tells a seldom told truth!

    • John Borstlap says:

      The point is, that it is exactly the nonsense in this post that chases away serious audiences. Wrapping classical music in something that it is NOT, is not only patronizing, but misleading, creating false expectations which inevitably lead to disappointment and a turning away from the field. The misunderstanding is that classical music, as an art form from the past, has to be adapted to the needs of the modern world. THIS is destroying the art form – since it is the ills of the modern world which has caused dwindling audiences in the first place. Adaptation is merely more of the same.

      It only needs some thinking.

      By the way, my place doesn’t have towers, let alone ivory ones. I made some inquiries but they are much too expensive, and vulnerable to air pollution and west winds. We had to make do with classicist façades & interiors.

      And of course, you should read my new book which is exactly about this problem and about the obvious answers.

    • Allen says:

      “because they will show the way forward.”

      Lots of people are looking for a way forward, they just don’t happen to believe that this is it.

      And opening your comment with name calling (not unusual around here) is not an effective way forward either.

  • Monsoon says:

    It seems like every ensemble for the last 20 or 30 years has hired a consultant once a decade to tell them this.

    What I find so perplexing is how much of orchestra and opera companies’ marketing continues to include pictures of audience members in suits and tuxedoes, holding champaign, etc.

    And then there are the corporate partnerships with luxury brands (for the longest time, Carnegie Hall, for example, had Breguet watches all over its website — how does having a $200k timepiece on your website not project an image of elitism?).

    • Kenny says:

      It’s “champagne,” moron.

    • V.Lind says:

      It’s a poisoned chalice. “Luxury brands” tend to offer sponsorship of orchestras, opera and ballet companies rather more than humbler ones — they are what corporate clubs are for, small business donors.

      And sponsors, especially large ones, seek the recognition (as well as their tax break) of public association with the entity being sponsored.

  • Dragonetti says:

    No need to read on. ‘Experimental flutist’ says it all.
    Will the last to leave the concert hall please turn off the lights? Thank you.

  • A Pianist says:

    “Did anyone notice?”

    Speaking as a San Franciscan – no. All I ever notice about the SF Symphony is that I look at the programming and the ticket prices, and decide that the program isn’t worth the money.

    • V.Lind says:

      Every orchestra I have worked for, and there have been several, knows that the one way to attract a newer, younger audience is low prices. They do what they can — last minute rush seats for the unsold spaces, and student prices that in my experience are not significantly lower than any others.

      And the problem is that they simply cannot afford to offer low prices, at least not very often and rarely for the most attractive offerings. Perhaps they could look at a sponsorship model by which a sponsor could cover a whole performance so that tickets could be free, or very nominally priced (on the principle that paying something gives it value).

      I do know that any of the very rare free concerts put on by the orchestras and opera companies in the two cities I know best are HUGELY attended, suggesting an interest in the music that a lot of those audiences simply cannot afford.

      And the on-site staff and follow-up callers can usually draw a few new subscribers, and there are probably even more people who will pay for the odd concert thereafter to try to repeat their treat.

      But price as much as taste keeps far too many people away — the only elite in play is the wealthier.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The obvious solution then, is that the city or the state government has to take over the funding of an orchestra including the running of its hall, because classical music is a common good to be made accessible to all, like schools, the infrastructure, etc. But this requires understanding of what the art form is. Since the value of the art form cannot be measured and weight in material terms, a materialist society fails to acknowledge its own riches.

    • John G. says:

      Speaking as another San Franciscan, I agree with you.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    I propose to ignore the marketing claptrap and focus on what Salonen — excuse me, the collective leadership — accomplish. “SoundBox” seems like a good idea; of course, it is hardly original, with predecessors dating back at least as far as the carpet concerts of Boulez/NYPO, the LAPO’s Green Umbrella series, etc.

  • Kenny says:

    Gag me wid a spoon.

  • Kenny says:

    Um, I missed the Carter Festival?

  • Sisko24 says:

    The elephant in the room is that serious music education, which would include instrumental instruction as well as learning to read, write and actively listen to music, is simply not being taught in most elementary, middle and high schools in the way it once was. Fixing that is a very long-term but in the immediate instance, what should be done?

    • Timmy says:

      Exactly! The betrayal by the republican party by cutting arts programs and education in U.S. schools over the past 3 or 4 decades are now being realized, and we are now faced with pathetic attempts to “re-imagine” (i.e. degrade/dumb-down/) one of humanity’s greatest art forms.

  • Freewheeler says:

    Well, for starters, a “symphony” is a piece of music, and the group of musicians who play symphonies is called an “orchestra”.

  • fflambeau says:

    All that’s missing: “With COLLINS leading us all in the vanguard during these quintessentially crucial times, we can conquer anything!”

  • John says:

    I’ve been hearing claims like this since I got into classical music–in the early 80s. Classical music is still here; all the attempts to “save” it (Chanting monks, topless fiddlers, burned out Australian pianists, sexy string quartets, more topless fiddlers) are all gone and forgotten. This will be too, as soon as they cash their consulting check.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s a hopeful perspective, although it may be that the topless fiddlers will be sorely missed.

  • Charles Bosselman says:

    Why don’t these fucking people leave things as they are. Of course there’s an idiot that doesn’t know a thing about classical music

    • Mz Ratch says:

      OMFG Charles, enough is enough – say goodbye to the basement, and your padded walls, and your generous allowance of ketamine, I hope I never see you again.

  • Donna Pasquale says:

    This is a very interesting and thoughtful exercise. As the comments below indicate orchestra concerts are associated-but not necessarily attended-by people who make prejudiced and frankly unpleasant comments on Slipped Disc.
    Anything that builds an audience and shares enthusiasm for a wonderful art form and life enhancing experience is to be welcomed.


    If you want to think about rebranding/reimagining, look at what orchestras like the LSO do:

    1. LSO Discovery
    2. Community projects led by musicians
    3. Visits to care homes by musicians
    4. Children’s concerts
    5. The annual free BMW-sponsored concert in Trafalgar Square, which includes young people playing in the orchestra.

    There are other activities of course, and none will guarantee young audiences flocking to concerts, but at least the LSO (and others) are doing something real and positive.


    What a monumentally tired bunch of dusty old crap about concert music! Calgon, take me away! 🙁

  • John Borstlap says:

    How can we make orchestral concerts more interesting and more attractive for contemporary audiences and especially, for younger generations?

    It is not easy, because most of the music performed in concert halls requires sitting still and focussing attention upon what is being heard. But yet, there are ways that invite enthusiastic exploration:

  • Sam says:

    These concepts have been around for a half century and never work. Remember how Boulez removed the seats from Avery Fisher and made the audience sit on the carpet??

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    I love that they can’t even spell Bryce Dessner’s name correctly.

  • Anthony Princiotti says:

    Apparently the solution to salvaging Western art music is to arbitrarily denigrate the repertoire that has sustained it for generations and alienate those who love it. Silly me, I always thought it was possible to both enjoy the great music of the past and explore new music. I think I once read about people doing that….