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Ravels Radical Rivalry

Live Performance From Here On Out

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I just wanted to get a conversation going about a particular topic.

Major orchestras were already struggling entities before the coronavirus pandemic. Lots of the major ones throughout the Unites States were not profitable organizations and were barely holding on and surviving. Attendance in todays type of culture for the performance of major/typical classical repertoire wasn't like it used to be once upon a time. Music education throughout k-12 public schooling is pitiful and cultural awareness is essentially nonexistent. Now, we have almost all orchestras cancelling half a season or more. It's a blow. It is a huge blow to an already dying entity. My hometown is Kansas City. They have come out within the last week and announced the cancellation of any event up through January 2021. They are one of the rare oddities in the orchestral organization world that was actually turning a profit and filling every seat for every concert. The city very much so supports them and there is lots of excitement around the cause. Brand new top in the world performing arts center fully funded by donation. Unprecedented community involvement from organization to community and community to organization in these times. They were very lucky. However, they are still going to be slaughtered by this turn of events. 

So, how do you think this is going to effect the industry? Do you think the pandemic will change classical performance forever? Will we ever recover and go back to attending performances as we once did or will a lot of organizations go under and never come back? Do you think society will be comfortable attending relatively soon or not? Do you think it was necessary to cancel this much season? Should we or could we have gone about attending with some form of social distancing requirement and other mask/glove, etc. requirements? Will the actual method of performance change? Do you think we might need to start seeing virtual performance? ... for the time being? ... for the long haul? What do you think we might start seeing these organizations start trying to do in order to attract the audience and keep themselves going?

Tell me about your city and what the protocols have been. Was their orchestra pretty successful beforehand? Do you think they will make it through the pandemic? How has it effected them so far?

Do you think society going forward cares enough and is educated enough to appreciate classical composition and performance on the scale needed to support these types of organizations with enough monetary value to keep them alive? Are they educated enough and have the appreciation of traditional composition (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc.) to keep it alive? Are we going to have to see a much larger resurgence of a different more attractive/mainstream/pop-like or "dumbed down" style of orchestral composition to get people in the seats and money flowing to keep the tradition alive? Do you think we are at a crossroads and a transformational period where change is inevitable?

How does this change y'all as composers? What type of composing have you been doing knowing that for the foreseeable future there will not be an event held as to where a live audience can support the cause of live musicians performing even on the scale of chamber concerts or solo recital concerts? With the advent of computer notation and extremely developed electronic playback do you think we will ever see the time when live orchestral performance is dead and composers only ever write for the machine? We have already seen electronic take over pop music. We have seen the subtle creeping of electronics into the classical sphere. What do you think of this idea?

I have my own opinions and will chime in, but I would really like to see a fervent discussion take off. I think it is highly important for society to keep the tradition alive and to keep the memory of the past and the giants of the art form alive. It would be a devastating thing for the whole of society and culture for orchestras to die off and not be able to maintain themselves as organizations to the point of being able to offer the same types of performance season for the masses to attend as has been the case for centuries.

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Posted (edited)

The orchestra has been on this path since before the whole corona thing. Orchestras really are a relatively-recent thing in history and there is no rule that says society must have them, so if they cannot remain relevant, they will go away.

I do not really understand the obsession many composers have with viewing the orchestra as this be-all, end-all ensemble when in reality, it is just another type of ensemble.

People do not want to go and listen to the same composers who've been dead for a hundred years all the time and they certainly don't want to listen to all the modernist garbage that was churned out for the orchestra around the 20th Century, but this doesn't mean they don't like the orchestra itself.

Video games have been credited with saving the symphony orchestra numerous times


The simple reason is because they are playing newer music that people want to hear and is still rooted in the tradition. Channels on YouTube like VGOScore are popular, and use of the orchestra is everywhere in media, even if it is sampled and has long been used by New Age composers like Yanni. But people will still go to see live performances if they can.

The real issue is in the subject of recording, and I suspect it is truly THIS that is at the heart of the live orchestra waning.

There has never been a time in history where most composers were able to have their music played by a live orchestra, and today is no exception. As such, most people just don't write for it. Why compose for an ensemble that will never play your music? It is also extremely expensive and you need a lot of musicians, sheet music and a conductor, to play the same kinds of music (most of the time) that you could do with a much smaller ensemble that features at least one polyphonic instrument.

So, most people who do write for orchestra today will never have their music played by one, as was true of past composers. As such, you'll have to turn to samples if you want a full orchestra. Most orchestral sample libraries actually suck — the reason why is another post — at realizing the kinds of melodic writing and accompaniment figures that make for good orchestral music, and so that is why some (myself included now) are sort of just not bothering with writing for it at all. This is one big reason why a lot of modern orchestral music is "dumbed down". 

Right now, I'm mostly working on fantasy/folk music with live instruments I actually play and a mix of samples and obtaining those instruments and musicians has been cheaper than samples. The result is much better than I'm likely to ever get with virtual orchestras without spending a lot of money (and I've already spent thousands) to make sure I'd have samples that cover everything I need; I doubt covering "everything I need" with samples alone is even possible. So you wind up having to sacrifice all these musical ideas...

So it's like, why bother? 

BUT, that doesn't mean that instruments that are in the standard orchestra don't have their place. But if you need them, you can just hire a handful of players instead of the full thing. There are string players who will record multiples passages for you to make it sound like a full string section.

It is in this cut-down ensemble size, session recording of soloists and mixing orchestral instruments with other ensembles where I believe the future (and essentially its present) of the orchestra lies.


Edited by AngelCityOutlaw

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