In the final part of this intriguing series, NEC President Tony Woodcock concludes his musings on what he calls the “bright future” of music.
Some troubled orchestras are emerging from their tribulations persuaded that they must become indispensable in their communities.
It is gratifying to see that a number of symphony orchestras that endured wrenching upheavals are beginning to make a comeback. The Detroit Symphony, for example, recently negotiated a new three-year contract—six months ahead of schedule, and is performing both in its own hall and out in the community.
But I continue to look to the Berlin Philharmonic as a model for an orchestra that is truly embedded in the city’s cultural life, an important, relevant, legitimate and powerful contemporary force for music, the community and society.
Self-governing, the orchestra musicians manage themselves, from scheduling concerts, to making tour arrangements, to handling delicate personnel matters. All guest artists who perform with the Orchestra are there at the invitation of the musicians, including the Chief Conductor and all the guest conductors. The Chief Conductor is Artistic Director and a member of the executive management committee and is responsible for his own programmes. He also exerts some influence over the programmes of guest conductors, but these are always discussed by the executive committee. The Artistic Director exerts very little influence over hiring and none over firing. The players deliberately choose guests who present interesting artistic and stylistic opportunities, including the chance to explore historic performance practice.
Besides playing in the Orchestra, every musician is expected to be a soloist, perform chamber music and contribute to the overall vision of the Orchestra. Indeed, there are at least 30 recognized ensembles including the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, Amarcord-Quartet, Philharmonic Piano Quartet, and Berlin Baroque Soloists.
Because music education is becoming less and less important in the schools, the players are also trying to fill in those gaps. Their education projects relate back to the main orchestra with the idea that kids should see and hear the Orchestra at its home. So, if the Orchestra has on its series Debussy’s La Mer, the players will devise interactive projects based on the idea of the sea. Composition plays an important part of in this educational work and performances of student pieces involving BPO musicians are a regular feature. There is also an annual dance project in which student dancers take part in performances. What’s more, the Orchestra Academy, created in 1972, provides training opportunities for outstanding young musicians aspiring to an orchestral career.
The musicians’ work touches many, from kindergarteners to prisoners, from teachers to lifelong learners. There is no contractual obligation for the musicians to do this work. They are paid no additional fees — just travel expenses. They do it because they understand the inherent transformative power of music and want to share that with audiences who have not previously experienced it.
Tony Woodcock is the President of the New England Conservatory of Music.