Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Of stars and staffs... #1

Lets face it; the classical music business is in dire straits. We are up shit creek without a paddle, and someone keeps stealing the noseplugs.
Taking a somewhat objective look at budgets for large orchestras or operahouses, one might get the feeling that there are a couple of major moneysinks in the business; star conductors and star soloists.
Even when grossly overestimating the importance of a really great conductor or a world class soloist, how long can managers with good conscience pump out 10-15% percent of an annual budget on a single event, as is sometimes the case when smaller orchestras or operahouses have 'exclusive visits' from world famous stars. Is it worth it? There is surely no defending someone getting paid 10, 20 or 50 times more than the standard fee?

In the mindset that perpetuates the pratice, the agents are the astronomers and the managers the astrologers.

The astronomers seek out the stars, name them and put them in their place on the firmament. They sit snugly behind desks, predicting the downfall of this and that star, and govern unscrupulously how these stars affect the lives of classical music listeners by telling the them so in colored pamphlets and media interviews.
When the astronomers have done their deed, the astrologers then try to interpret the deeper meaning behind it. They see the stars shining in the evening sky, follow their trajectories intensely, clutching at the hope that there is a certain mystical insight to be gained by simply associating oneself with these stars.
(The stars themselves, whether they be the flavor-of-the-month or the more longlived type, are only human, so they go where the money takes them. Who are they to tell their manager; "I want to cost less, my fee is unreasonably high"? Or am making frivolous assumptions here?)

The prevailing theory is, that some of the power - the mana - of the gueststar will rub off on the locals, leave a lasting imprint on hearts and minds and somehow magically enhance the capabilities of these 'lesser creatures', whereas the truth of the matter is, it rarely does. What makes someone better is pratice and patience, perseverance and pourage (I meant 'courage', but it had to fit with the other 'p' words...).
What a star-visit can do, on the other hand, is inspire. It can reinvigorate someone who might be stuck in a rut, and it can demonstrate how high standards can be set. And that is all fine and dandy, as long as there is also a culture of excellence present in the establishment, not just a culture of excellence-by-proxy.

So what's my point? My point is, that also in a time of crisis, managers need to maintain a balance between hyped cultism and healthy cultivation. The first is associated with the glamorous stars, the latter with 'boring' people of sustainable skill who are allowed to influence an orchestra or ensemble over a longer period of time. So, Mr. Manager, the next time you hire a chief conductor, forget what the agent says and listen with your own ears to whether or not the guy actually influences your ensemble in a positive way.

Lets stops pissing in our pants to keep ourselves warm. There is no quick-fix in music industry in crisis, there is only a growing responsability for not letting the collective craftsmanship dissapear. The audience finding your product boring? THEN STOP DUMBING IT DOWN!

I feel like I want to elaborate on this subject, so I'll nonchanantly refer to this post as #1 of 2, and lets see when I get around to it...if you get bored waiting...go practice your scales!


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If you could magically create your dream conductor, but he/she could only posess one quality, he/she should preferably be...