Christina Fong

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I admit I've been a slug blogging recently. First reason; I have been in the final stages of post production on my new release, Morton Feldman: Complete Violin|Viola and Piano Works. It is due out on January 12th 2006 (Feldman's 80th Birthday). I find Morton Feldman to be a lot like Anton Bruckner: all-consuming on every level; spiritual, emotional, cerebral, technical and mechanical. Needless to say, both composers can have a profound effect on one's perception of time.

Second, it was the month of December. Like much of retail corporate America, December has become more and more a sacred cash cow for the American orchestra. The Grand Rapids Symphony performed 21 concerts in the month of December. I am not exaggerating when I say ALL 21 were holiday-related concerts. No doubt, the Grand Rapids Symphony's December resembled every other American orchestra's December.

Meanwhile, the holiday spirit did nothing to dampen orchestra cannibalism or vulture musicians. Recently a Cleveland Orchestra (CO) spokesperson announced they are "exploring" potentials outside the northeastern Ohio area. He was referring to the CO's residency in Florida (see 6/16/2005 VULTURE MUSICIANS ...). A "residency" is quite different from a "tour." A tour to Florida by the CO would benefit both Florida audiences and the CO. But tours are costly and from a financial perspective residencies are extended tours. The longer the stay the more it costs. For example, when a lawyer works out of town transportation is a mere pittance of the higher costs involved. The major portion of costs are other expenses, i.e. salary, hotel, per diem, in town transportation, etc.. Multiply this by a hundred member orchestra and voila, there goes 3 million dollars in 3 weeks. Many regional orchestras can survive on that budget for an entire season!

Many of us in the orchestra world hoped the Cleveland/Florida debacle was an aberration. Apparently this is not how the CO management views it, nor are they alone. In November, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) began a 3-year residency at the University of Chicago. Chicago definitely has the musicians and the funds for its own chamber orchestra, but perhaps the University of Chicago is more concerned with who will be playing rather than their larger function in the community.

Yes, these are challenging times for once thriving orchestras like the SPCO and the CO. In the past, there were funds to support relatively high paying orchestras in communities such as these. The current political climate and demographics have changed the situation. Thus, the corporate landscape has convinced these orchestras to continue their expansion by deceiving outside communities in that they are somehow worth more. Today, Americans are willing to pay up to $5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks as "mom and pop" cafes go out of business. This is why some arts patrons/corporations would rather spend 3 times the money for 1/3 the services they receive from the CO and the SPCO. By the way, does anyone remember the late 70s when the median income was under $10,000 and Calvin Klein jeans were $50 a pair?