Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra–what did I miss?

As I related here I’ve been having some issues getting hold of an MSO 2013 program guide – they’re loathe to provide a pdf document online, preferring instead to go all retro and send one through the mail.  This finally arrived today – I feel like sending someone a thankyou fax,  or possibly a telegram. 

Anyway, my surprise at their choice of delivery channel was nothing compared to my surprise at the results when I crunched the numbers.  In common with the ASO, the MSO repertoire safety index has plunged, going from 7.0 to 5.7, with a lot more big names and their warhorses being trotted out.  This isn’t particularly surprising, as the index tends to bounce around from year to year, but what was really astounding was the % of the MSO 2013 program composed by Australians….2%.  Surely I’m missing something!  Did that bit of the program get lost in the mail?* They’ve got a reasonable % of pieces composed by living writers (15%), but where’s the local talent?  As the following table shows, the MSO are now squarely in WASO territory as far as this metric is concerned:


As for the rest of it, the plunge in the MSO and ASO safety index numbers needs to be put in the context of a remarkable leap in the QSO rating.  The playlist factor – which endeavours to assess what % of orchestra programs appear on those top 100/top 200/top whatever lists that abound on the web – behaves inversely to the safety index, as you’d expect.



Finally, the MSO manages a reasonable 15% on the”live music” score (i.e. music composed by people who are still with us):


Notwithstanding all this, the MSO deserves some kudos for including Conlon Nancarrow in its list.  He’s not Australian, and he doesn’t add to the live music factor (d. 1997), but as the author of numerous studies for player piano (e.g. here) I feel he warrants a tip of the hat, as here is some piano music I feel I could get to grips with.

* To be fair, the MSO did sneak a couple of locally made pieces into one of their Sidney Myer outdoor concerts – Edwards’ Full Moon Dances (which I saw last year, and is a terrific piece of music), and Broadstock’s Federation Flourish (which I don’t know at all). Including these would have lifted them to a still-anaemic 4%, but in any event I exclude free concerts from these listings as ultimately I’d like to look for the correlation between ticket sales and program content.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 Repertoire Safety Index

The 2013 Repertoire Safety Index is finally ready, although unfortunately it's a bit shy on detail this year as I've been unable to load up the programs for both the Melbourne Symphony and the NZ Symphony.  Both of these have adopted the (in my view daft) approach of listing individual concerts on their websites without making their actual programs accessible as pdf documents, either directly or (as in the case of the ACO) via  In the case of the Melbourne Symphony, the "request a brochure" (via snailmail!) feature on their website yielded no results at all.  A direct approach to @MelbSymphony via Twitter also drew a blank.  I think they'd prefer it if I just drove over there.

In due course I'm sure they'll make their programs available, and to this end I've enlisted the help of the MSO's associate conductor and Richmond FC booster Ben Northey (who I'm sure can spot a social media clanger a mile off).  Failing that I'll just have to go through the two websites concert-by-concert and catalogue their programs (maybe).

Anyway, there's been a bit of movement in the Repertoire Safety Index edging up from 6.6 to 6.7 (bearing in mind that the lower the number, the safer the programming).  

The ACO has had a meaningful jump from 8.9 to 9.8, although its still less than the 2011 result of 9.9.  The QSO is more noteworthy given that they've typically trailed the overall average - 2013 will see them perform a ton of pieces by composers well off their previous radar, featuring pieces by Abel, Addinsell, Arne and Arnold - and that's just the As :).  On the flipside the ASO's rating has dropped like a rock from 7.3 to 5.5, a feat largely accomplished by loading up on Mozart and Beethoven to an extent we haven't seen for years (these two composers collectively having contributed just 5 works to each of the last two years programs, but 15 to the 2013 program).

It's nice to see the proportion of music composed by people still above ground increasing, albeit largely as a result of the ACO's phenomenal increase in the use of works by living composers - a new high water mark of 36%!  And they're not all works by Richard Tognetti! Intriguing to see that the orchestra least reliant on government grants (see here) can take this position. 

Alas for our home grown composers, their proportion of pieces on the 2013 programs continues to flatline, falling to 8% from 10% (although this would be way lower if not for the ACO and CSO).  Needless to say it’s all miles away from Michael Kieran Harvey’s proposal for a 50% benchmark.  Finally, of particular concern is the SSO's contribution at just 4% - given their status as a "flagship" orchestra, not to mention their status as the recipient of the biggest government handouts year after year, you might be forgiven for expecting a little more than this.  As for the MSO at 2%???  More on this later.