I t’s always a good sign when a music performance sends shivers down your spine… as last night’s Australian Brandenburg Orchestra program did. In fact, for the artistic director of any ensemble or presenter organization, it is, I think, vital that you program and perform works that are capable of doing this to the spines of your audience. The released endorphins, enkephalins, and other natural neuropharmacology of this primitive reflex of joy and emotion are part of what gets butts in seats and keeps money flowing in, year after year. Challenge us with new works, yes, but make sure they are ones that give us shivers down our spines!
- Bach – Sinfonia from Cantata ‘Wir danken dir, Gott’, BWV 29
- Bach – Chorale from Cantata ‘Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben’, BWV 147
- Bach – Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, BWV 1066
- Bach – Chorus from Cantata ‘Unser Mund sei voll Lachens’, BWV 110
- Zelenka – Kyrie from ‘Misa Sancti Josephi’, ZWV 14
- Telemann – Concerto for Two Horns in D major, TWV 51:D1
- Handel – Coronation Anthem No. 2, ‘My heart is inditing’, HWV 261
- Handel – Coronation Anthem No. 4, ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’, HWV 259
O ne aspect that is especially impressive about the ABO’s first-rate performance excellence is its personnel—a majority of the performers in ABO are part-time and are employed in other professions outside of music. This, and the fact that members hail not only from Sydney, but also from Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, and other places that are a considerable distance from ABO’s Sydney home-base. Rehearsals and logistics no doubt present challenges. With the logistical and geography issues, performing in this ensemble is more than the usual ‘labor of love’. Yet ABO, founded in 1989 by its director, harpsichordist Paul Dyer, has endured, has performed worldwide, and has 16 recordings on the ABC Classics label, including 5 ARIA Award winners for ‘Best Classical Album (1998, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010).
P ut another way, the provision of full-time orchestral work for graduates [would require] one quarter of Australia’s full-time orchestral musicians to retire every year. It also requires that no existing musicians, previous graduates, or overseas players apply for the positions. Even if this were to occur, four years later it will be [today’s] graduates’ turn to retire. In this context [of oversupply], part-time/seasonal orchestras rate special mention. In Australia, most part-time orchestras were founded by musicians... Most of the players in part-time orchestras come from academic institutions and from the pool of quality freelance players who engage in a number of different roles both inside and outside of music.”
Dawn Elizabeth Bennett, Understanding the Classical Music Profession, 2011, p. 83.
D espite challenges for the many who have day-jobs outside of music, the approximately 30 period-instrumental musicians and approximately 30 members of the choir maintain this tremendously high standard of musicianship—the technical fluency and enthusiasm and spine-tingling crispness that projected to our ears last night. They achieve warmth, joy, and musical intimacy that might plausibly and paradoxically be nourished by the challenges and part-timeness that dog their members’ hard-won individual commitments to music—á la “that which does not kill you makes you stronger”, or something like that. The Australian Chamber Orchestra and other ensembles here likewise thrive relying on part-time personnel.
C ould ABO’s music business model be replicated in the U.S. and elsewhere? The facts that ABO’s personnel come from more than one city and ABO’s performances are regional or national and not geographically bound to one city help to ensure that ABO’s sources of philanthropic financial support and corporate donors can be sought in a variety of cities and catchment areas, so that support from a small set of donors in a particular city doesn’t get tapped-out over a period of years and so that the cyclical economic ups-and-downs that disproportionately affect leading donors in one city don’t become an Achilles heel or point of latent financial instability for the organization. Each city and its donors feel strong attachment to the organization and its brand. Market diversity and de-concentration are sensible aims for any arts organization that aspires to sustainability and long-term financial success to have.
S uffice it to say, this wonderful ABO performance gave me quite a lot to think about besides the endorphins and shivers. Eleven ABO Board members, all effective at fund-raising, none of them ‘figurehead’ material. Fifteen experienced staff members—with development and media relations firing on all cylinders. A charismatic artistic director known for affability and bridge-building and inclusive attitude. Lessons here for all of us! A few links below, for your interest.
- Australian Brandenburg Orchestra website
- ABO’s page on Facebook
- ABO’s tweets
- Interview of Paul Dyer with ABC's Richard Aedy, 17-FEB-2012.
- Bennett D. Understanding the Classical Music Profession. Ashgate, 2008. (see ABO on pp. 83-4.)
- ABO 2011 Annual Report (13MB pdf)
- DSM. Chamber music-induced chills. CMT blog, 16-NOV-2010.
- Australian Policy Online
- Australia Council for the Arts
- ABC Arts: Music
- The Artful Manager blog (Andrew Taylor) at ArtsJournal.com
- How to fund the Arts in America. NY Times, 01-MAY-2012.
- Rohter L. Brazil's unique culture group stays buzy sharing the wealth. NY Times, 27-MAR-2012.
- Cutler D. Savvy Musician: Building a Career, Earning a Living & Making a Difference. Helius/Berklee, 2009.
- Gray D. Guide to Nonprofit Cash Flow. Finance Arts, 2010.