Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The repertoire safety index

A "safe" repertoire. What does that actually mean? According to Eamonn Kelly at the Weekend Australian, the ASO has an older audience than elsewhere in the country, which means that it has to stick with a safe repertoire, presumably on the understanding that older audiences can't cope with an "adventurous" repertoire.

Aside from the ageism implicit in this statement (are older people really unwilling to stray far from a "safe" repertoire?), it raises the question of how repertoire can be classified as "safe" or "adventurous", and if it can be classified, how the various orchestral programs around the country stack up.

In an effort to put some kind of objectivity into this process, I've constructed an index consisting of two parts: a composer safety factor and a repertoire safety factor.  I’ve sourced these from a number on online “top 100” type sources, including:

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The Naxos 200 Essentials list, from the world’s leading producer of classical recordings

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ABC Classic FM classic 100, as voted by listeners

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I don’t know who they are either, but they have tons of great music related lists

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The name alone warrants inclusion

The composer index pans out as follows:

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These composer scores are then modified by the repertoire safety factor, which reflects the popularity of individual works. For example, anything by Gershwin will rate 8 points (composer factor), except Rhapsody in Blue which is scaled to 4 points owing to its appearance on the favourite works list.

Any program can then be rated by averaging the scores assigned to each part of the program. For example, the first ASO master series of the 2010 season was:

 

Beethoven - Violin Concerto

0 points

Dvorak - Symphony No. 6

1 point

Total

1 point

Average

0.5

In contrast, masters series concert number 11 scored a little more highly:

 

Adams - The Chairman Dances

10

Milhaud - The Creation of the World

9

Bernstein - Prelude, Fugue and Riffs

10

Dvorak - Carnival Overture

1

Gershwin - An American in Paris

8

Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue

4

Total

42

Average

7.0

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pompous blathering from the Weekend Australian

It was hard not to be peeved by a recent article in the Weekend Australian entitled “Little orchestras with big ambitions count cost”.   The title alone provides a fair indication of what’s coming – a pompous dismissal by one or more Sydney or Melbourne-centric arts buffs of the aspirations of the hayseed orchestras located in the rest of the country.

Feedback on the article has already pointed out the obvious error on the ASO grant figures (they double counted the grant money the ASO receives from the state, including it as both a state and commonwealth grant) and there were a couple of crackerjack quotes which beg some further investigation.

Firstly, some unnamed "experts" are cited in support of the view that orchestras outside of Sydney and Melbourne are very lucky to exist at all - suggesting by default that they really shouldn't:

The Weekend Australian's Melbourne music critic Eamonn Kelly says funding has become "a perpetual problem for small orchestras". Experts based in the nation's bigger cities argue that smaller centres should consider themselves very lucky to have a resident orchestra at all.

We can draw two obvious conclusions from this:

  • Funding is not a perennial problem for big orchestras
  • Big cities are entitled to a resident orchestra while smaller centres are "very lucky" to have them

On this basis I'd have to question why $19m of commonwealth grant money was spent to keep the Sydney and Melbourne orchestras alive in 2009. Clearly they are entitled to this amount of money. On the other hand, $24m of commonwealth grants were spent to keep the ASO, QSO, TSO and WASO going in the same year. Clearly we should thank our lucky stars for this windfall!

The following is an extract from the 2009 annual reports of each of the major orchestras, with NZ thrown in for the hell of it:

 

(amounts in $m)

ADELAIDE

SYDNEY

MELB

WA

QLD

TAS

NZ*

Commonwealth  Funding

5.94

9.776

9.291

6.145

6.595

5.642

10.845

State Funding

1.557

3.055

2.672

2.299

2.69

1.931

-

Ticket Sales

3.079

13.392

7.857

4.122

2.201

1.442

1.483

Sponsors/Donations

1.14

4.356

1.494

3.238

0.553

0.541

1.759

Other

0.705

1.797

1.761

0.719

0.644

0.543

0.723

Total Funding

12.421

32.376

23.075

16.523

12.683

10.099

14.811

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Employee Expenses

7.994

18.495

13.445

9.248

8.114

5.588

8.017

Total Expenses

12.375

33.467

24.019

16.163

12.83

9.843

14.974

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grant Funding as a % Total

60%

40%

52%

51%

73%

75%

73%

Cth Fund as % Empl Exp

74%

53%

69%

66%

81%

101%

135%

State/Cth Funding Ratio

26%

31%

29%

37%

41%

34%

-

  *30/6/09 exchange rate of 1.2399 used

There are a few interesting conclusions to be drawn from these numbers:

  • Without Commonwealth government money, they're all finished
  • Sydney is clearly less reliant on Commonwealth money than the rest, but they'd still collapse without it
  • Melbourne's reliance on grant money is much higher than Sydney, and higher even than WASO
  • The mining boom has done wonders for the WASO sponsorship and donations programs

The pomposity of Kelly and these nameless "experts" didn't end there. For example:

But Kelly says because its audience tends to be older than in some other cities, the ASO has not been able to be as adventurous with its repertoire. The safer repertoire means the orchestra does not generate as much excitement as orchestras in other cities.

Looking through the programs for Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide I find it hard to make this distinction, but what's needed here, to prove or disprove this hypothesis, is a "repertoire safety index" - something to think about for a future posting.

Sponsorship, philanthropy and ticket sales tend to be static in smaller capitals, and government funding is growing annually by about 3 per cent.

Are they? This one's easily tested - again, some fodder for a future posting.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Triple concerto and the “orchestral piano”

Recitals Australia piece today featured Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, a fine piece made all the better by the principal cellist of the ASO (Janis Laurs) teaming up with music students Taria Pietsch (violin) and Michelle Zhu (piano).  Quite generous of him I should say, given the volume of the work that the ASO currently has on.

A fourth player here was Karl Geiger, who was listed as playing “orchestral piano”.  This was a smaller (I think) piano than the one Michelle Zhu was playing, with its lid down.  I assume this takes the place of the orchestra.  I see from Wikipedia (which may or may not be right) that the concerto was scored for one flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.  Yes I did cut and paste from Wikipedia, and I didn’t delete the links.  I wonder how many plagiarising students have been laid low by this slip?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Solidarity, Comrade Shostakovich!

The ASO musicians again turned up to play in their red t-shirts ’s for the weekend’s “Triumphant Shostakovich” program at the Festival Theatre.  Presumably their salary negotiations haven’t got them very far.  At any rate the theme sat quite well with the Shostakovich piece, subtitled as it is “A Soviet artist responds to just criticism”.

If ever there was music written by someone who was composing as if their life depended on it, Shostakovich 5 would be it.  Prior to this, Stalin had reportedly canned Shostakovich’s music (hence the reference to “just criticism”!) following which some party officials and then Pravda got on his case.  In 1930’s Russia no doubt this was about one step off exile to a Siberian gulag (or worse).  We know that Shostakovich immediately shelved his 4th symphony (presumably more of the same – I’ve never heard it) and set to work on the 5th, with a clear intention of making it more “soviet”.  The fact that he lived suggests that it hit the mark, and the fact that it’s become one of very few 20th century symphonies to be amongst the standard “classics” suggests that – in the face of what must have been extraordinary pressure - he wrote something very special indeed.  So special that having heard it on Friday night I couldn’t resist going back for another helping on Saturday evening.

The rest of the program was outstanding too – a new work by local girl Anne Cawrse (terrific, especially the all too brief violin solo), followed by Bernd Glemser playing Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini.  This is of course outstanding material, wonderfully played by Glemser, although somewhat marred on the Saturday night by one of the patrons.  Towards the ends of variation 18 (the really serene one, that Rachmaninov –always alive to the commercial realities of his art - purportedly summed up with the words “this one’s for my agent”) where it goes really quiet, we were a bit bemused to hear a really faint piano echo from the back of the theatre.  We were in the front row, and the sounds seemed to come from way back – I thought it might be coming from the piano bar in the foyer, but no, it was of course a mobile phone, with a piano ringtone (my money’s on Chopin).  I had a good look a conductor Volmer’s expression as it ranged from puzzlement (an echo?) to irritation (piano bar?) to anger (mobile phone!).  That it had to ring in the quietest part of the most famous of the 24 variations was probably inevitable.  A salutary reminder to ensure that the phones are silenced and/or off (I prefer both).  Mind you, it also begs the question why the ASO is disinclined to broadcast a reminder to patrons about this before the performance – everyone’s been guilty of this in one form or other, so in my view a quick memory jog would be welcomed by almost everyone.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Recitals Australia – Rachmaninov, Bartok and Liszt

 

Warming up for her B.Mus. Honours recital India Hooi gave us a most impressive rendition of three Rachmaninov preludes (excluding the famous C sharp minor one – how could she resist?), Bartok’s Three Burlesques and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.  Herself most impressed by the Bartok. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Solidarity Comrades!

News reports today of the ASO taking industrial action in support of a wage claim – something to do with fixing their pay at 90% of the Melbourne SO. Not that they’ve gone all BLF on us, but they are threatening to wear red t-shirts instead of their usual garb for the opening of the Schuman festival. I’m sure management is terrified!

Coincidentally the Overgrown Path blogger was reminiscing about the strike of the BBC SO back in 1980.  Check the photo – what’s the story with all that facial hair.  If I was management there I would indeed be terrified.

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