What We Live For: Some recommended reading

A couple weeks ago, Alan Fletcher, CEO of the Aspen Music Festival & School, delivered convocation remarks to kick off the festival’s season.  Aspen has long been one of the most celebrated and prestigious classical summer festivals in the U.S., and every year welcomes hundreds of talented young musicians who represent the future of the classical music world to learn and perform in a rigorous artistic environment.  Their website boasts “300 events in 53 days.”  Their faculty includes performers and professors from the world’s top ensembles and conservatories.  It’s kind of a big deal.

Mr. Fletcher’s remarks can be read here — this particular transcription of the remarks is provided by NPR’s brilliant classical music blog Deceptive Cadence, and includes informative links to past NPR articles on some of the topics Mr. Fletcher addresses.  The text is also available here on Aspen’s website if you’d prefer — the page promises a video of the convocation to be posted soon.

READ IT.  Seriously.  Pretty please?  But in case you don’t, I’ll recap the important parts below.  

Basically, the speech gives an overview of the challenges faced by many American orchestras today, with particular attention paid to the relationship between the four groups Mr. Fletcher identifies as those upon whom “classical music in the United States depends[:] musicians, donors, administrators, and listeners.”  Mr. Fletcher highlights the great importance of all four of these groups, and emphasizes that the pervading uncooperative and “fracturing” attitude between between them is at the root of many orchestra’s current financial and labor struggles.  He explains:

No one of these groups “owns” the music, and no one or even two of them can keep the music going without the others. Too often we’ve been hearing from one group or another that someone else is unimportant, or worse, that “they owe us.” But everyone involved here is making a free choice to be involved, and is mutually obliged to make the enterprise work.

He then explores the interplay between “business sense” and “artistic sense” in the successful operation of any organization, including an orchestra.  As he so eloquently puts it:

The essence of a for-profit company is that it makes money for its shareholders, but the essence of a not-for-profit orchestra is that it makes wonderful music for its audience. The goal is not to balance a budget by giving great concerts; the goal is to use a well-planned budget to produce truly great concerts. The music is the mission, not the money.

Mr. Fletcher goes on to discuss the pros and cons of government support for the arts as modeled by many European countries; the all-around awesomeness of philanthropic donors who almost entirely keep most American musical institutions alive; the importance of community music-making (“great music must be made in Syracuse, in Honolulu, in Columbus, in Louisville — not just in Berlin and Vienna”); and Aspen’s own innovative use of a Board comprising administrators alongside musicians to keep the music, not the money, at the heart of all administrative decisions.  He concludes by calling on his audience — the students and faculty of Aspen — to keep in mind all the immense work that is done for music by the other three groups, not just the musicians.  Mr. Fletcher’s outlook towards the future of classical music is positive, as he encourages the students to continue their “beautiful work” while forging “genuine relationships with people whose role is completely unlike [their] own.”  He states:

I have complete confidence that our profession will endure, and that there is a meaningful role in it for all of us. How we make that happen is up to us. It’s what we live for.

If you are at all concerned or even just intrigued by the changes and challenges facing American orchestras right now, definitely read the speech.  It’s informative and thought-provoking and just plain interesting.  Then let me know what you think of it in the comments!


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