The Millennials’ Orchestra: Millennial Generation Audiences & Donors (cont.)

As a continuation of my last blog post Millennial Generation Audiences & Donors, I’m staying on the subject of technology and leveraging technology to help connect with next gen orchestra patrons.  I also begin to explore the idea of creating an orchestra concert experience and thoughts around the potential for engaging Millennials.

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From a finance perspective, Stanford Professor Emeritus in Economics Robert Flanagan is wary of technology’s impact on live orchestra performance.147 Although radio and Internet have increased distribution and consumption of music, he worries that these channels have also diverted audiences and revenue away from traditional, live concert experiences.148 Nonprofit arts researcher Alan Brown acknowledges the influence of radio and other music production technologies on the public’s musical tastes, but instead sees radio as a way to broaden people’s tastes to include classical music and contemporary works by symphony orchestras.149 Brown advises broadcasters to loosen the musical boundaries around classical music and encourage listeners to experience newer works. This, in turn, may foster greater acceptance of contemporary works performed live in the concert hall.150

Engaging Millennials in Multisensory Orchestra Concert Experiences

Some symphony orchestras have already begun to explore innovative audio-visubso_WestwaterKCC_gridal performance opportunities, such as Westwater’s Symphonic Photochoreography. Founder James Westwater describes, “Symphonic photochoreography is an innovative art form that engages audiences worldwide with evocative, multi-image photographic essays choreographed and performed live to selected works of classical music.” The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has engaged in Westwater’s “Kids, Cameras and Classics™” series (image right), a program designed to promote community involvement.151

Finding common ground with community members is important, not only for making connections, but also raising awareness about the work and impact of arts organizations in society.  I think alternative orchestra concerts provide a forum that enable this to happen.152  It is not just music; it is a concert experience – a shared concert experience that becomes a story that audiences want to share with their family and friends.153 Concerts that stimulate both the visual and audio senses can be an especially effective means of engaging Millennial audiences and providing desirable symphony orchestra experiences.154

With innovative partnerships, dynamic multimedia, and exciting, multi-sensory audience experiences beginning to take hold, I encourage symphony orchestras to continue thinking outside of the traditional performance mindset, to push their creative boundaries, and connect with their audiences in a variety of ways that are relevant and interesting to them.155 Knowing your audiences takes time and stems from the development of strong relationships. With audiovisual performances, and other engaging classical music experiences to facilitate social  interaction with enthusiastic and innovative arts organizations, symphony orchestras have much to look forward to with the evolution of technology.156

This is a personal blog. “The Millennials’ Orchestra” posts are not meant to be opinion pieces, but rather founded in research, which I gathered and reported on as part of my graduate capstone project over 2012-2013. Resources are listed below.

147 Robert J Flanagan, “The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras.”
148 Ibid.
149 Alan Brown (Project Director), “Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study.”
150 Ibid.
151 James Westwater, “Community Involvemebt: Westwater Arts Photochoreography,” westwaterarts.com/involve.html.
152 Catherine Starek, “‘SEE’ the Power of Music for Audience Development!,” originally posted as a guest blogger for Audience Development Specialists, 2013, mezzaphonicallyspeaking.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/3217/.
153 Ibid.
154 Ibid.
155 Ibid.
156 Ibid.

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Celebrating Amateurs and Professionals – BSO’s Rusty Musicians, Nov 2012

“For one brief but action-packed evening, amateur musicians are invited to join members of the BSO on stage to rehearse and perform predetermined repertoire led by BSO Music Director Marin Alsop.”

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is internationally recognized as having achieved a preeminent place among the world’s most important orchestras. Acclaimed for its uncompromising pursuit of artistic excellence, the Baltimore Symphony has attracted a devoted national and international following while maintaining deep bonds throughout the Maryland community.

See more about the program and registration at Baltimore Symphony Orchestra – Rusty Musicians.

Uploaded by on Feb 4, 2010 – The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra invited local rusty musicians to perform with them onstage at the Music Center at Strathmore on February 2 and 4. More than 400 answered the call. Divided into four sessions each night, BSO musicians and Rusty musicians rehearsed and performed together with Music Director Marin Alsop in Elgar’s Enigma Variations (Nimrod) and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony (Movement Four). Co-presented by The Music Center at Strathmore.

“It Takes a Village” (Part 2) – Heartfelt sacrifices of the BSO

Based on the article, “Musicians accept pay cut to help struggling BSO: New contract follows a series of concession made by the players in 2009,” by Tim Smith for the Baltimore Sun (03/25/2010)

Following the national recession in 2008, the Baltimore Symphony musicians donated part of their salaries and benefits to contribute to the revival and sustainability of the organization.  As discussed Giuliano’s article, “It Takes a Village,” the orchestra also proposed and participated in a fundraising campaign, which brought in an additional $24,000 for the organization.  The musicians’ donation ($1 million) and contributed funds represented an eight percent decrease in salary and benefits scheduled for the 2009-2010 concert season.[1]

The sacrifice made by the musicians was not short-lived, unfortunately.  With the prolonged effects of the recession on the economy and fundraising climate, the players agreed to a salary freeze for the 2010-2011 season, followed by a 16.6% pay reduction for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.  The musicians’ salaries will be roughly the same as they were in 2001.  The reduction in base pay for the musicians put a damper on morale, but the overall sentiment among the orchestra has remained strong.  The spokesperson for the Players’ Committee, and an English horn player for the Baltimore Symphony, was quoted saying:

…This sets us back a decade.  We have everything going for us.  The talent is on the stage and in the (administration).  We have a music director committed to expanding the orchestra as a resource for the community.  We have a collaborative spirit.  So it seems impossible to us that we have not been able to thrive as a major American orchestra in one of the wealthiest states.

The orchestra has been able to maintain their full-time, year-round status, however, which is a “point of honor” for the musicians.  The BSO is one of seventeen U.S. orchestras with that 52-week a year performance status.  The musicians love their jobs and the organization and only want to see the orchestra succeed.

The aggregate effects of this loyal, passionate, and collaborative spirit have paid off.  With the budget cuts, salary reductions, fundraising efforts, and allocated endowment funds, the orchestra managed to wipe out its debt.  Meecham applied what he calls “tough love” because he knows the orchestra cannot solely depend on the community and/or funders to successfully weather the recession.  Although the community rallied around the organization in 2008-2009, they cannot be expected to continue to provide the same level of support year after year, especially if the organization were to incur another large deficit.

In this way, the article reinforces my understanding of funder relations in the arts, particularly in regards to the notion that funding organizations and individuals are more likely to contribute to a nonprofit arts organization that has little or no debt, demonstrating sound and effective financial management practices.  Although it is not ideal to cut the salary and funding of the artists and programs, the orchestra was able to reverse its debt in collaborative, purposeful way and garner the support of the surrounding community.


[1] Giuliano, Mike, “It Takes a Village,” 2010, Symphony: 39.

It Takes a Village – Welcome to the BSO family

“It Takes a Village,” by Mike Giuliano in SymphonyOnline

This is one of the most inspiring U.S. orchestra turnaround stories I have ever read.  It shares the real-life struggles, passionate teamwork, brilliant leadership, and reinvigorated direction and growth of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  “It Takes a Village” is a relevant and insightful article.  It highlights some of the changes and programs that have occurred since the appointment of the new President and CEO, Paul Meecham, and BSO’s music director and esteemed Maestra, Marin Alsop, in 2007.  The article has informed me of financial difficulties the BSO has faced with the national recession, decisions that were made in response, including the key players in those decisions, and confirmed my understanding of effective audience engagement in the 21st century.  With the extraordinary leadership of the new CEO, the tremendous talent, skill, and personality of the new music director, and an enthusiastic and supportive Board Chairman, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra set out on a re-energized and corrective path.

The article shows how a variety of factors have contributed to the success of the BSO’s revitalization.  The first step was bold, yet simple.  The Orchestra decided to offer a subscription plan for $25 per seat (36), compared to the typical $60+ subscription cost – a reduction of 40% from the average subscription price!  Paul Meecham recognized the BSO’s empty hall as an audience development challenge and answered the community’s need for greater affordability with the new subscription plan.  This was achieved with the help of a large corporate gift ($1 million) from PNC, shortly after its acquisition of a longstanding Baltimore bank, attempting to build awareness among the community.  In the following season (2008-2009), the BSO was able to continue the plan only slightly modified due to a $250,000 matching grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  The $25 subscription plan remained in place for three seasons, extending from 2007 through 2010.  The BSO experienced dramatic increases in subscription sales, attendance, giving, and public interest.

The first decade of the new Millennium was marked with challenge and change.  Faced by the emotional and financial strain created by the events of 9/11, the establishment of the Music Center at Strathmore as a second home in 2005, and the initial controversy among the musicians over the selection of the new music director, the BSO was challenged to prove its strength.  “In a remarkable collective effort, the entire Baltimore team – administration, music director, musicians, board, and members of the extended ‘family’ – worked together to turn the orchestra’s situation around (38).”  As the title of the article suggests, “it takes a village,” a team, a family, to work together and turn an organization around.

Paul Meecham realized the symphony needed to be focused, disciplined, and live within its means, in addition to placing greater emphasis on communication, transparency, and connecting with new audiences.  The board played a big role in the BSO’s success as well.  The BSO had previously accumulated a five-year deficit of $17 million, but the board decided to use some of the endowment funds to balance the debt and establish a healthy operating cushion.  The endowment was split into two separate funds – $27 million unrestricted and $62 million restricted – and the $17 million was paid off all at once.  This left $10 million in unrestricted funds for the orchestra for future support.  The Board Chairman at the time, G. Bronfein, had described his “relationship with Meecham and Alsop as a ‘three legged stool’ (39),” further emphasizing the collaborative and supportive spirit of BSO’s leadership.  Even the musicians opted to donate a portion of their salary and benefits, as well as participate in fund-raising efforts for the sake of the organization.

The organization has been rejuvenated with a fresh vision and energy in the appointment of Marin Alsop.  She has helped to infuse excitement, confidence, and innovative spirit into the Baltimore Symphony, elevating the artistry, repertoire, and public appeal to a new level.  Despite her impressive resume, she is known for being a team player, down-to-earth, open with musicians and the community, and a great musical leader.  Her “expansive” style of communication resonates with 21st century audiences, especially to young people.  Maestra Alsop’s preference for all kinds of music, ranging from masterworks and contemporary composers to global music, incorporation of technology, and attention to diversity and education have contributed to the BSO’s developing reputation as an exciting, cutting edge symphony orchestra.

Having a basic understanding of younger, 21st century orchestra audiences, it is clear to me that the Baltimore Symphony is truly working hard to keep the orchestra and the symphony experience not only alive and well, but also approachable and fun for all ages.  Marin Alsop has been quoted saying, “I’d like my legacy to be inclusion, access, and possibility.  I strive for versatility and a real spectrum of sound.”  Giuliano’s article shows that it takes a village of strong, passionate, knowledgeable leaders, artists, supporters, and audience members to make such dreams come true.$25 subscription series, 2007-2008