Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Michael Kieran Harvey and Cultural Cringe

Pianist Michael Kieran Harvey has fired an impressive salvo at Australia’s arts organisations, which is well worth a read. His observations include the following: Classical music is in the grip of cultural cringe, Harvey says, where there is no Australian conductor as head of an Australian orchestra, and music by local composers accounts for just 7 per cent of concert seasons. It’s an interesting observation, and although his figure of 7% looks a little low it’s probably about right, particularly for 2011 when the orchestra with the largest program (Sydney) had a meagre 6% local content. My data is as follows:

One particularly notable observation was that as these orchestras are funded in part by the taxpayer, there should be a much greater onus on them to perform works by Australian composers. This is a fair point, although I think he’s set his benchmark a bit high by claiming that the number should be 50%. As this table shows, no-one has got remotely close to this. One thing that might be of concern is that when the ASO went with 20% local content in 2011, they saw a 13% slide in ticket sales in that year. No doubt there were many reasons for this, but presumably the concept of 50% local content might cause a few palpitations. Whilst on this subject – I haven’t finished crunching the numbers on the 2013 orchestral programs yet, but early indications are that local content has fallen even further – ASO 6%, QSO 5%, SSO 5%, WASO 3%. So, I'm not too sure about his target of 50%, but fair call about the cultural cringe factor.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

2011 Annual Accounts - Two Speed Orchestras

chart1We’ve all heard plenty about the two speed economy in Australia lately, so its no real surprise that the WA and Queensland orchestras both showed a significant improvement in their funding positions in their 2011 annual reports, both having secured solid increases in their sponsorships. However, the disappointing thing about all of them (with the exception of Sydney) is that ticket sales have continued their years-long trend of flatlining.  Some, like the QSO, have evidently worked hard at converting single ticket sales into subscription sales – this strategy may have been successful, but ultimately their ticket sales are the lowest they’ve been for many years, although the Queensland floods of early 2011 would have had an impact. 

The relative success of the Sydney Symphony raises the obvious question about what they are doing to keep their ticket sales growing and their reliance on government grants falling.  There is no doubt that they have a bit of an edge in that they’re able to trot out names like Lang Lang (2011) and Anne Sophie Mutter (2012) for Sydney-only performances, but in addition to that you have to wonder if their insistence on playing Australia’s safest repertoire is yielding dividends.  A glance at their 2011 program shows a preponderance of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Rachmaninoff, and ultimately a repertoire safety index score of just 4.5 – way below the Australian average for that year of 6.5, and miles below the leaders ACO (9.9) and ASO (7.5).  Programming of works by living composers (8%) and Australian composers (6%) is similarly well below the national average.  Other details of the 2011 programs can be found here (2012 is here).

I guess it’s self evident that programing popular works by popular composers is likely to lead to an increase in ticket sale because they are, well, popular.  So here’s your proof.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Sydney v. Melbourne Cringe

The Sydney v. Melbourne thing hit the arts scene this week with Limelight magazine making a comparison of the two cities on a number of artistic fronts, including classical music. In regard to the classical music comparison, they made the point that the Melbourne Symphony offers slightly more adventurous programing than the Sydney Symphony. Is it?

Looking just at the 2012 programs, it's clear that the MSO is doing quite a bit more, with their "live music" component (ie works composed by people who are still kicking) standing at 19% while the SSO sits at a lowly 12%.  This stat ranges from 21% in Adelaide to 8% in WA.

Another arguably more significant stat is the percentage of works by Australian composers - 10% in Melbourne, and a puny
6% in Sydney (the range is 12% in Tasmania to a mere 2% in WA).  You'd have thought that given the amount of tax dollars the many headed public is contributing to this that such low numbers wouldn't be tolerated.

Finally, the Repertoire Safety Index tells us that the MSO, with a score of 7.0, has a playlist far less loaded with warhorses and chartbusters than the SSO, with a score of 5.6.  The range around the country is 8.8 (although that's the ACO which is probably an unfair comparison, to Adelaide at 7.3 down to WASO at 5.3).

In summary, Sydney is doing considerably less than Melbourne on these measures, although neither is doing particularly well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Terracini and arts funding

"If any arts organisation is receiving $20 million per year in funding from government, then it is not acceptable in a democratic society for that company to only play to a small number of people who are members of an elitist club. In fact, any arts organisation which is in receipt of public funds is obliged to justify that funding by doing its utmost to be inclusive of all members of society."

Some more good "long form" journalism from the Global Mail:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hipsters, hoons and Ennio Morricone

imageAdelaide gets quite interesting in March.  Between the Festival of Arts, the Festival Fringe, the world music festival, writers’ week, the Clipsal 500 car race and the Adelaide Cup horse race there’s something for pretty much everyone, sometimes all at exactly the same time.

Tonight proved to be such a case.  The Festival’s opening was a gala concert featuring the Italian film composer Ennio Morricone conducting the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, outdoors at Elder Park on the Torrens River.  They managed to sell out the 5000 seat venue (not to me mind you – call me tight but I balk at $150 a ticket for an outdoor concert), the threatened rain didn’t eventuate and the evening was perfect, but what wasn’t quite perfect was the ear splitting din from the nearby Clipsal car race (or a night time “shoot out” derivative thereof), nor for that matter the sound of an 80’s knock-off band further down the river (and we all know how well sound travels across water).

This all made for an interesting melange of sound.  Schoenberg would have been proud.  I was stretched out on a picnic rug nearby, able to appreciate the subtleties of what was on offer, no doubt in a way not possible if I was sitting the other side of the fence $300 lighter.  Fortunately the cacophony didn’t last past the intermission but nonetheless it stands as a fine example of culture clash.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Repertoire safety index…2012

With 2012 concert seasons well underway around the country it’s high time I finalised the repertoire safety index and supporting indices.

Overall the index has fallen slightly, meaning that 2012 programs are a little safer than 2011, although there were some significant gains, including the Sydney Symphony which rose from an anaemic 4.5 to a better-but-still-way-below-average 5.6.  ACO still gets the gong for the most adventurous programming (hardly surprising) while WASO has gone backwards and now offers the “safest” repertoire in the land.


As far as “live” music goes (i.e. music composed by a living composer), the NZSO and ASO are well ahead of the pack, the other results trailing away to WASO in last place, who have a dismal 8% live music content.


Australian content is once again on the disappointing side,especially over at WASO where an unbelievable 2% of all pieces are written by an Australian.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Adult learning and the Dan plan


According to the 10,000 hour “rule”, pretty much anything can be mastered with that amount of deliberate and mindful practice.  This guy has taken that concept and has pledged to turn himself from a non-golfer to a PGA standard player, with nothing but a coach and 10,000 of spare time.  He’s 2,400 hours into the project and has his handicap down to 11 – pretty impressive, but is it impressive enough?  Anyone for the obvious cello challenge?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sibelius on Steroids?

Nice wrap-up of the ASO's 2012 season opener, featuring the Sibelius violin concerto and Berlioz.  Check it here.

Delivering Sibelius on steroids | The Australian