There are more than 900 orchestras in the United States and every single one of them is facing the music. The fans have changed, the nation has changed, and media-ripping pop culture today rules the roost. Just getting through a modern workweek is tough enough. Who has time to commit to sit down for a symphony next week?
And yet… for all that, we have five tremendous orchestras here in our corner of southern Connecticut, each showcasing considerable talent in superb-sounding concert halls. And when the distracted fan finally sits down for a performance, the magic still happens, and with considerable force, too. “For the passionate lover of orchestral music, this is heaven,” says Devin Thomas, who left Minneapolis’s symphony last year to become executive director of the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra (NSO).
Thomas’s problem in Norwalk is the same as that faced by his confreres at the Greenwich Symphony Orchestra (GSO), the Connecticut Grand Opera & Orchestra, the Stamford Symphony and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Orchestra (GBSO). Call these the Symphonies Under Siege. If that seems dramatic, consider the cascade of issues creating consternation, from the proscenium stage to the office suites, as the orchestras commence their 2005–06 seasons. There is, first, what one local orchestra executive calls “commitment phobia” in today’s audience. With fewer people buying season subscriptions and more waiting to the last moment to buy a ticket, orchestras are forced to spend more discretionary dollars on marketing and less on music.
Then there is the need to find programming for today’s audience, especially where there is a generation or two that missed out on a rigorous music curriculum at school. Add to this post-9/11 fundraising difficulties faced by all arts organizations, and you have an idea of the scope of the challenge.
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