Monday, June 21, 2010

Philly Music Revisited


I was typing out an epic-length comment in response to some of those on the previous post, but since it's my blog, I thought I should just turn it into a new post!

The Orchestra definitely does a lot of outreach. (and, as Ralph knows but others might not, the person in charge of those efforts is a card-carrying musicologist, and a good one.) Certainly better than our other big classical music institution, Curtis, whose efforts pale in comparison to Juilliard or Eastman, even when accounting for its small size. But I guess I think that the fundamental outlook of the orchestra is the Valhalla approach, in which the Orchestra is hard to differentiate from the city's art museum, standing on top of a hill approached by an enormous staircase. There's a lot of value in trying to draw a new and diverse audience through outreach and education, letting Rocky climb the stairs, as it were, but I don't think it's going to structurally change the relationship between orchestra and city.

Also, I don't mean to give the impression that the city is declining, in the same sort of declining narrative that faces the rust belt cities and orchestras. Definitely less relative money than there once was a century ago, but a lot more money than there was thirty years ago, and, I would further argue, less segregated than it used to be, when the wealthy suburbs controlled institutions like the Orchestra and the Art Museum, and the city itself remained largely working class. But the old-fashioned Main Line suburbs are much less starkly class stratified than they used to be. Some money is moving even further out in the suburbs, other money (in the form of evil gentrifiers such as myself) is moving into the city, and the suburbs are getting more diverse themselves. As I say, it's an extremely vibrant place these days, and it's not that there is no market for sophisticated high culture.

So what I wish is that the Orchestra was actually more sophisticated, in a contemporary sense. This is a much milder critique of the orchestra than it probably is coming off as. I love the Philadelphia Museum of Art because despite all odds it fits in surprisingly well into the city's urban life. Admittedly this is partly because of Rocky. But it's also because its longtime director, the late Anne d'Harnoncourt, invested heavily in contemporary American art, and also in the works of Duchamp--Philly has by far the world's greatest collection of Duchamp, just about any piece of his that you've heard of is here. Not exactly what one would predict from the stuffy surroundings, and it makes for a wonderful art experience. (Side note: if Bruce Nauman's Days is still installed there, you must go see it right now--beautiful and devastating.)

My slowly-unfolding analogy to the Orchestra is that I wish their model was the west coast orchestras, not the NY Phil. The SF and LA bands made heavy investments in contemporary music over the past few decades, and in my hometown of San Francisco, I gather that they've been rewarded with a young and enthusiastic audience base that likes exciting new music in addition to the canon. I don't know any numbers, but that was my sense when I was living in the Bay Area. Philly doesn't have as many financial resources as SF, but I think that if they stepped up their contemporary programming, and positioned themselves as part of a dynamic, cosmopolitan arts scene rather than just an educational museum, they might be surprised at the possibilities.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

"Philly doesn't have as many financial resources as SF, but I think that if they stepped up their contemporary programming, and positioned themselves as part of a dynamic, cosmopolitan arts scene rather than just an educational museum, they might be surprised at the possibilities."

This is necessary arts management, at least for the 21st century. Even organizations that focus on early music are discovering that they need to provide an 'experience' not a static 'museum' as you put it. Does this mean strobe lights, smoke machines and gimmicky giveaways? No, I hope not. But I do think many organizations need to capitalize on the inherent dynamic nature of the musical arts. And there needs to be inreach as well as outreach--I don't know what the situation is with music curricula in the public schools in Philly, but it is certainly poor in many places. Schools can also take the initiative to seek out their performing arts organizations and to integrate that civic vibrancy as a crucial part of education.