Minnesota Orchestra Lockout. Philanthropy will no longer fund the Minnesota arts scene and others.

The Minnesota Orchestra lockout continues and the damage to the Orchestra’s artistic integrity continues, to say nothing of the risk of its ultimate demise.

Minnesota is interesting, as it has traditionally had a vibrant arts scene, with two professional orchestras, an Opera company, a baroque orchestra, choral ensembles, theater companies, especially the Guthrie and dance organizations.  In addition we have Minnesota Public Radio and its closely associated American Public Media.  These all compete for audience and above all philanthropic funds.  So it is not surprising to find the funding situation should be so acute in Minnesota given the down turn in corporate and philanthropic giving.  The major arts groups are particularly addicted to this form of revenue.

In 1999, Boston had eight arts organizations with grants totally more than half a million dollars and the Twin Cities had 17.

Further only about 1/3 of the revenue of the Minnesota Orchestra is earned, while 50 to 70% seems more typical.

So there should be no surprise that we have come to this acute impasse here.

Things are difficult in Europe.  There is continuous erosion from traditional government funding sources.  This coupled with a tradition of less philanthropy than in the US has caused difficulties.  However this has been the impetus for innovation on a scale not seen in the US.  More about this later.

In an article Saving American Symphony Orchestras in Four Movements, Ted Gavin gives some stern if fairly typical advice.

His first item of advice, to produce less of the product, is bound to only slow the demise.  The ultimate way out has to be more product and not less.

His second solutions as to how musicians should be paid makes more sense.  However enough income needs to be generated to give musicians a decent living.  This latter is will require innovation and harnessing the Internet to significantly increase revenue.

His point number three about using programming to help keep musician cost in line makes sense.

The author expands on his view of board responsibilities.  He largely blames the boards for the current sorry state of affairs.  He elaborates on these issues in a further article: – Four Steps to Saving a Nonprofit from its own Board of Directors.

My view is that if you have to hand of large chunks of change at regular intervals and shoulder that much responsibility and stress, a sensible individual would probably run a mile.

This leads me to my most important conclusion that reliance on this type of philanthropy is now long past its sell by date.  The musicians should not want it either, as it reduces them to level of indentured  servants, however much they object to this characterization.  In Minneapolis I think this is the elephant in the room garnering a lot of the angst.

Alan Fletcher, CEO of Aspen in his address, Music Is The Mission, Not Money, he takes are more concillatory tone, a necessary step to getting the noise level down.  However there are no new solutions to circumstances changing permanently, which I believe they are.  His festival is expensive and requires travel to Colorado.  I see no attempt to reach a world wide audience, like the Verbier festival currently running.

In the Twin Cities this problem is highly acute due to the large number of arts groups to be funded, and in this I include MPR, which is largely funded by Minnesotans.  I believe MPRs business and funding model will also fail and I suspect sooner than they think.  In this MPR through American Public media have an opportunity to be part of the solution.

In Europe, there is no hope of replacing reductions in state support from philanthropy, I don’t believe.  This has created much greater innovation than in the US.

The LPO has long had its own record label and so have individual artists and performing groups.  The Royal Opera House bought Opus Arte, which was a brilliant move.  However the game changer here is harnessing the power of the Internet to sell seats outside the concert hall.  In this the Berlin Philharmonic are setting the standard for excellent production, presentation, audio and video quality.  I have had a season ticket to the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert  Hall since December 2012 and I have just renewed it at a 10% discount.  This organization is easy to contact and unlike the Minnesota Orchestra answers Emails, in a way that leads to thoughtful discussion.  These concerts are available without opening a web browser on new BD players and other devices from Sony, Panasonic, LG and Samsung.  Sony were the first to join.  The fact that these huge corporations think it worth installing the software to receive the BPO Digital Concert Hall speaks volumes.

Then we come to Medici TV, to which I also have a subscription.  Medici TV is an Internet TV company based in Cannes France.  They are rapidly becoming the “Netflix” of classical music and opera.  They have a vast number of concerts opera and films to view and cover some musical festivals in depth.  I have been enjoying their coverage of the currently running Verbier festival.  The DSO, which also suffered a recent lockout, is the only American Orchestra carried in Medici TV, although the New York Phil have one concert, so they must be thinking about it.

I have also enjoyed the BBC, especially the BBC Proms currently running.  The BBC is funded by UK license fees.  In the US only BBC radio iPlayer is available at 180 kbs AC3.  In the UK TV broadcasts and radio in an HD stream at 320 kbs AC3 is available.  However setting up a VPN tunnel can get you a UK IP address.  So this year I have been enjoying the Proms on TV and true HD radio.  Three Proms per week are broadcast on TV, all on radio.  I have offered to buy a license, but the BBC tell me it not possible.  This is all due to contracting, and again unions are interfering and actually preventing musicians adding revenue streams.

I also have a subscription the Metropolitan Met Player, but the audio quality is significantly below European standards.  Only European broadcasters stream classical music above 120 kbs mp3 which is what is on offer in the US.  Such streams are of such low quality that they are more likely to put people off classical music and opera rather than become fans.  This is something that MPR as a leader in classical music broadcaster in the US should put right immediately.  And there is every reason to ask for a subscription to the stream.

Now this brings me to the last issue.  I think most classical music lovers have heard far more music in LP, radio, CD and now DVD, BD and streaming.  I would bet that for most classical music and opera lovers have only heard a small fraction of what they know and love in the concert hall and opera house.  In my view it has been true for a long time that orchestras and opera companies have reached their audience in far, far greater numbers through electronic media than the concert hall and the opera house.  It is this aspect that has been fatally absent in these musical arts funding disputes.  For starters, only a small fraction of the repertory is available live in even large cities over extended periods of time, may be with the exception of London.  Certainly that is true in Minnesota and now the turn around experts are advising that even less be available.  This makes no sense whatever.

It is my view that any major orchestra that does not have high quality AV material for purchase or subscription on the Internet is destined for bankruptcy and oblivion.

This means in fact that one of the root causes of the problem here in Minnesota and elsewhere is actually due to globalization.  I don’t see this discussed anywhere.  The Internet is global and all the above organizations need to take on a global mentality.  MPR partially have via streaming, but the stream is audio only and miserable, so it does not cut the mustard.

The new technologies offer a super picture and audio.  Sir Simon Rattle is a huge advocate of providing a picture with the audio.

In a Proms intermission a couple of days ago, Sir Antonio Papano was talking of the importance of seeing as well as hearing the orchestra.  He felt it really added to the experience to see the bowing and a lot else besides.  I could not agree more.  I have had a chance to demonstrate the new technologies to quite a number of regular concert and opera attendees now.  Almost exclusively, when they get over their astonishment, they give the opinion that it is a better experience than the live concert.  This is especially true of good opera productions.  To back this up reviews of the Robert Leparge production at the Met, have met with mixed reviews from the concert hall, but rave reviews from the BD set.  I would bet that that production works much better in a good viewing room than the opera house.  It seems to me it was just made for the screen and works very well in a good home theater.

In Minnesota I think serious leadership from MPR is required.  They need to be talking to arts groups about how to bring their productions to a world wide audience.  And yes, this will mean MPR becoming a video as well as an audio based institution.  MPR needs to really reinvent itself fast, or I predict stormy waters ahead.  Some new brooms may be required.  I barely listen to MPR now, as I have far more attractive options by the month it seems.  I wrote this recent blog on the future of terrestrial broadcasting.

The forces are working faster in Europe as state funds are disappearing faster than US philanthropic support, which I think is driving the faster technological embrace.

The same winds of change are blowing here, even if from a slightly different direction.  All of the parties I have referenced need to take heed.  Ignoring the winds of globalization, even in the refined halls of our orchestras and opera houses, will fast lead to oblivion.


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