Archive for the “Symphony Orchestras” Category

An article in the May 14, 2012 New Yorker profiled Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor who examined the effect of disruptive technologies on large corporations. Here is an excerpt from the article about one of his first case studies:

“The first industry that Christensen studied was disk drives. He saw that the companies that made fourteen-inch drives for mainframe computers had been driven out of business by companies that made eight-inch drives for mini computers, and then the companies that made the eight-inch drives were driven out of business by companies that made 5.25-inch drives for PCs.

What was puzzling about this was that the eight-inch drives weren’t as good as the fourteen-inch drives and the 5.25-inch drives were inferior to the eight-inch drives. In industry after industry, Christensen discovered, the new technologies that had brought the big, established companies to their knees weren’t better or more advanced—they were actually worse. The new products were low-end, dumb, shoddy, and in almost every way inferior.

But the new products were usually cheaper and easier to use, and so people or companies who were not rich or sophisticated enough for the old ones started buying the new ones, and there were so many more of the regular people than there were of the rich, sophisticated people that the companies making the new products prospered. Christensen called these low-end products “disruptive technologies, ‘because, rather than sustaining technological progress toward better performance, they disrupted it.’”

To repeat, here is the key insight of Christensen’s research: “In industry after industry, Christensen discovered, the new technologies that had brought the big, established companies to their knees weren’t better or more advanced—they were actually worse. The new products were low-end, dumb, shoddy, and in almost every way inferior. “

Christensen found that big successful companies typically saw no threat from inferior products with poor performance and so ignored them in favor of their existing high-end, high margin products. Why try to manufacture millions of 5.25 inch PC disk drives for just a few dollars profit when your much better eight-inch drives were already selling for hundreds each in the minicomputer market? But when the disruptive technologies became accepted – and improved – it was too late for the fat corporations living off legacy products.

Is there a lesson in this for new music? I think so. Let us assume that the tools used by traditional performing organizations – the concert hall, the expert players, the rock-star conductor and the traditional commissioned composer – all produce a much better product experience than the computer-generated MP3 realizations posted by Internet musicians and composers on-line. And the revenue coming from down-loadable music is certainly minimal. So if you are John C. Adams, for example, why would you undertake to realize your music for the on-line audience when the result will likely be less satisfactory and much less lucrative than writing a new score for the Los Angeles Philharmonic?

This, I submit, fits the classic Christensen pattern of a disruptive technology. The computer-realized music is perhaps less impressive than what is heard in the concert hall, but it is also very easy for the composer to get his music out there and very easy for millions to hear it. So, while new music realized electronically is perhaps inferior in quality, it is also low cost and widely available at a time when the traditional performing organizations are doing less and less with new music. Will our philharmonic orchestras perceive the disruptive effects of this technology and will they be able to stay on the cutting edge of music? Clayton Christensen would say no.

What do you say?

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Last May I began my monthly task of searching for composition competitions, calls for scores, etc., and came upon the Indianapolis Composition Competition.  I noted the substantial cash award, plus the performance by the ICO as part of Indiana State University’s 44th Contemporary Music Festival.  The announcement stated that:

The Indiana State University Contemporary Music Festival/Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra Composition Competition was established to recognize outstanding composers of orchestral music. In addition to a monetary prize, the composer receiving first place will be invited to attend a performance of the winning composition by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra as part of the Festival’s activities. The winner also will be invited to speak at the Festival on a topic relating to his or her music. Other guests featured at the three-day Festival include the Principal Guest Composer, Gabriela Lena Frank, guest pianist Michael Kirkendoll, guest scholars, and composers participating in the Music Now concert. Since its beginning, more than 200 established and emerging composers—including eighteen winners of the Pulitzer Prize and five winners of the Grawemeyer Award—have participated in the Festival.

My immediate reaction (particularly to the bolded sentence) was “Ok, Joe, you have 0.01% chance of even being seriously considered. Is it really worth the time and $20 entry fee?”  I pondered my options for a bit and came to the conclusion, that yes, it was worth the time and entry fee, because if I did NOT enter, then I had a 0.0% chance of obtaining anything.  So, I entered, and had completely forgotten about the competition until I received an email and letter last week stating that I had, in fact, won the award.  I was stunned.  OK – now what?

I contacted the hosts and awarding organization and thanked them for the award, and told them that I was honored and happy to accept.  They said “Great!  Now send us the parts!”  I responded, “OK, I will!”  I hung up.  Then a sense of dread immediately ensued – I was planning to make some minor revisions to the piece following its premiere in April 2010 and I had not yet done so.  I reminded myself to stay calm, clear my mind, and then I set to work.  I finished the revisions in a couple of afternoons, and am now preparing the parts.

Now that the initial shock of winning the award and the stages of hurried preparations are behind me, I reflected upon my initial thought – not to enter – and must laugh a bit at myself.  Had I not entered, I would not have won.  My advice to all of the “young and emerging composers?”  Enter every competition you can.  If you do not have a piece that fits the instrumentation, then take a year and write one for the next year’s competition (if it is annual).  I am not suggesting that composers should “dive-bomb” every competition, rather we should take the time to search for competitions and calls for scores (I do this once every month), mark the competitions that we feel are important, and work diligently toward our goals.  We are the best arbiters of our music.  If we do not make the effort, who will?

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Jim Sector over at the Albany Symphony told me about competition kicking off just now, that some of you might be game for:

The Albany Symphony Orchestra (ASO) is proud to announce the orchestra’s first young composer competition: the “Composer to Center Stage” Reading Session. The ASO will hold an open call for scores starting on September 14th, 2009 and ending November 14th, 2009, available nationally to young and emerging composers looking to refine and develop their orchestral craft. From the pool of applicants, three composers will be selected to join the ASO in March 2010 to attend an open forum, hosted by nationally-acclaimed composer John Harbison, and to attend the ASO’s March 26th concert featuring Mr. Harbison’s music. In May, these finalists will be brought back during the orchestra’s annual American Music Festival, where they will have their pieces read by the symphony on May 22nd, meeting again with Mr. Harbison for feedback. An honorarium will be awarded to finalists, and both travel and housing will be provided for their trips to Albany.

A few of the more important rules for this one:

- Applicant must be either a US citizen or non-citizen lawfully and permanently residing, or studying full-time, in the United States.
- There are no age restrictions; however, applicants should be composers at the early stages of their professional careers.
- Each composer may submit only one composition for consideration.
- Only works that will not have been performed or read by a professional orchestra nor received a public performance prior to the reading date are eligible.
- Only works completed within the last five years will be considered.
- Works may be up to 15 minutes in length. Sections of longer works will be considered.
- Instrumentation should not exceed ASO’s standard symphonic complement. Works with instrumentation which exceed the above will be considered only with advance approval.
- Not eligible are concertos, choral works, works with excessive electronic elements.
- Works with Electronic elements are discouraged, but will be considered on a case-bycase basis. For works with electronics, MIDI, and/or digital technologies: include a one page statement describing the rationale for its use, as well as any pertinent production requirements and technical specifications.
- If selected, composers must provide professional, legible orchestral parts and scores prepared according to guidelines established by the Major Orchestral Librarians Association.
- The quality of the score submitted is the primary evaluation criteria. It is therefore in the applicant’s best interest that the score be clear, accurate, and the best representation of the composer’s work.

If you’re interested just contact Mr. Sector at jims@albanysymphony.com, and he can send you the complete application & guidelines.

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