Home     Foreign Correspondence   Notes from the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras (AAPRO) Summit, November 2012, Macau.

Notes from the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras (AAPRO) Summit, November 2012, Macau.

Kate Lidbetter, CEO of Symphony Services International, attended the AAPRO Summit in Macau, from 3-6 November 2012.  The report that follows notes some important themes that gleaned from the various speakers at the event – it is not an accurate transcription of what was said (unless indicated) and reflects only the notes that she took throughout the event.  This document may contain some inaccuracies or errors, and some sessions were translated into English.  Please note also this report does not cover all sessions of the Summit.

Delegates were welcomed by Raymond Zhou, Executive Editor-in-Chief of the China Daily website.  He invited Madame Guo Shan, Chairwoman of the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras, to speak to the delegates.

Guo Shan noted that she had attended other events that had attracted attention around the world. Classical music may have a shrinking market, but now we have events such as ClassicalNEXT. Why do we attend international conferences and events? It is very important for the growth of AAPRO. We will be able to influence more people. Since the Moscow Summit, the Alliance has attracted new people. Three new board members have been confirmed, and new members have been attracted to join because of our efforts. We welcome all these new members. We have maintained close contact with other organisations and orchestras, for instance from Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore etc. The General Manager from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra has come to Macau.  We can see that in countries around Europe, many countries have participated in more Summit related activities. I have also travelled to China and attended China Dream. Mr Zhou will present to us what has been covered in these tours.

A number of video welcomes/apologies were presented from delegates unable to travel to China.  All wished the Summit well.

Raymond Zhou then introduced Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras and invited him to give the keynote address to the Summit


Jesse Rosen

President and CEO, League of American Orchestras

Summit of Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras

November 4, 2012 Macau

Thank you Madame Guo! You and your colleagues, and many of you in this room have traveled to the United States to attend the League’s annual conference, and I want to express my gratitude for your participation. I am very happy to now be able to reciprocate by being with you at this important meeting, which promotes learning among our organizations and across international boundaries. Whenever I have the chance to speak at a conference, other than our own, I have two very powerful feelings. The first is admiration for the conference planners and organizers. I know with absolute certainty how much work goes into this! So I’d like to begin with a big thank you to Madame Goh, Rudolf Tang and everyone associated with the AA-PRO for creating what promises to be a very stimulating few days on innovation, a subject of great concern to all of us.

The second powerful feeling I have is enormous relief — that I can be here as a participant just like the rest of you. If the room is too hot or too cold, or you can’t find your way to a session; or if your PowerPoint projector doesn’t work, I know you won’t be calling me!

My remarks are titled “The New Work of Orchestras.” It would be more accurate to call it “the new work of American orchestras.” I don’t want to presume that the American scene, our issues and opportunities, are the same as any of yours. But I think I can best serve the spirit of this international meeting by speaking about what I know of the American situation. Then, we can look at what is the same and what is different, and begin learning from one another.

Today I will give you a brief look back at the evolution of certain basic values and practices in American orchestras. Then we will move to today’s changed environment and how it has affected our orchestras. Finally, I would like to take you through a series of new questions our orchestras are asking as they confront this new world, and add some thoughts on what those questions require of leaders.

Let’s start by going back to the early 1960s, the time that the modern American orchestra began to take shape. Under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the country passed legislation designed to eradicate poverty, improve education, put a man in space, and to finally confront — through federal policy and enforcement — the imperative to bring civil rights to all Americans. On the international front, the United States was determined to prove that it was now a world power in every arena, including the performing arts. So the arts held a significant place on the national agenda in the 60s and 70s.

In 1966, Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities, as well as the first national park dedicated to the performing arts. In 1969, the Ford Foundation poured a half billion dollars into 50 American orchestras. Orchestras, ballet, and theater all were broadcast routinely on network television, when there were only three networks and no cable TV. Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, for example, were carried to millions of viewers on CBS television.

Under President Richard Nixon’s administration the National Endowment for the Arts budget literally soared, leveraging increasing corporate and foundation investment with it. This major new investment was intended to expand artistic activity to meet the demand of a population ready and eager to participate, train professional arts administrators, and improve the livelihood of performing artists.

So what changes did American orchestras experience during this period? Well, their 2 managements became more professional, mostly through the work of the League of American Orchestras, which launched its first annual orchestra management seminar in 1962. The largest orchestras also lengthened their seasons, with 18 of them playing year-round and thus able to offer their musicians a living wage with job security. The subscription system took hold, and endowments were built, to ensure a reliable income stream. Artistic excellence became the galvanizing ideal, expressed in mission statements that talked about becoming “the best, world-class,” and performing at “the highest standard of excellence.” And a single vision of success came to define that excellence: 52-week contracts that included domestic and international tours, recordings, at least one Carnegie hall appearance, and international caliber guest artists.

These practices and values were innovative for their time, and served orchestras well during this period of growth. Here’s a telling image that sums up just how well: In the 1960s the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s subscription renewal campaign consisted of nothing more than a one page letter listing the dates of the concerts — no artists, no repertoire, just the dates. And they were sold out on subscription!

From the 1960s through some time into the 1990s, audiences grew and the quality of performance achieved new heights. American orchestras not only toured internationally but played an important role in cultural diplomacy. Wages increased for many musicians, and practices in operations, marketing and fundraising solidified.

Now let’s fast forward to today. It’s no secret to any of us that the business and cultural environment in this second decade of the 21st century is profoundly different than the recent past I’ve just described. And it continues to change at a dizzying rate. Digital media has created an explosion of access to the arts and creativity. At the age of five my son – who is now only 9 — was making mash-ups and had produced his own recording on a CD, a technology that is now almost obsolete. Digital media has also challenged our ideas of excellence, quality, and even professionalism.

Think of the mp3 file — an inferior sound by any estimation — yet we accept it because it is the technology that permits ease of access and the widest distribution. Crowd sourcing and digital tools now make it possible for virtually anyone with a computer to create and distribute their content on a global platform, blurring the lines between amateur and professional. There are now 9,000 apps for creating music!

In the United States a huge generational shift is taking place: every 8 seconds someone turns 65, and by 2015, the American work force will be dominated by Generation X (people who are now in their 30s). Some major American cities now have majority African American populations and by 2050, whites will be a minority throughout the country.

Print media is rapidly giving way to social media, whose platforms continually change, causing unbelievable communications confusion for those trying to deliver their messages. And the new do-it-yourself, get-it-on-demand mentality wreaks havoc on those whose product delivery requires physical attendance at a fixed time and place. Meanwhile, the growing quality of Internet is closing the gap between live and virtual reality.

There are also big changes afoot in philanthropy. As I’m sure you know, the American system of government arts support rests primarily on tax policies, more than direct subsidies, to encourage individual and institutional giving. These policies, which form the backbone of our arts support, are now in jeopardy, since for the first time both political parties have included in their platforms a reduction in incentives for charitable giving.

Accompanying this public policy challenge is the growing demand for non-profits to create and demonstrate public value. The civic agenda of America’s cities places high priority on community building, on help to the underserved, economic development, and cultural equity — that is, on giving a fair share to all art forms, not just those who present the western canon in music, theater and dance.

So what impact has all this been having on orchestras? Straight lines are difficult to draw but we can certainly observe some correlations, including these key trends: The audience for orchestras is getting older, and Generations X and Y are participating in classical music at substantially lower rates than the Baby boomers did when they were in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Next, subscription sales are steadily giving way to single sales and last minute purchasing, which has added significant cost and volatility to marketing efforts. And in philanthropy, funders and donors are challenging the amount of resource consumed by large, western canon arts producers in relation to smaller groups that focus on specific cultures. The arts’ share of total philanthropic support is decreasing.

Meanwhile as orchestras have confronted these challenges they have found that the standard responses of working harder, refining marketing and fundraising techniques, and getting back to fundamentals are no longer enough. My colleague Ben Cameron from the Doris Duke Foundation is fond of this quote from the American poet Adrienne Rich: “We’re out in a country that has no language, no laws…Whatever we do together is pure invention…The maps they gave us were out of date by years…”

Well if our maps are out of date, what are the new maps? And what are the questions orchestras have to ask that will lead to new levels of innovation? What is our new work?

I believe orchestras must re-examine seven key areas. They are: Mission, Artistry, Community, Audience, Sustainability, Collaboration, and Leadership.

The first question is about mission: Why do we matter? As I said, in the past orchestras’ galvanizing value was on artistic excellence. They offered audiences a simple transaction: you buy a ticket or give us a donation, and we’ll give you a concert — a great one. Of course I’m oversimplifying to make the point. But today orchestras must ask themselves –and many of them are — “Is this simple transaction still relevant?” A crystal clear answer is essential — not only to guide strategy and inform innovation, but also to grow support from both private and government funders.

This work has begun in the States, and we are seeing a shift in orchestra mission statements toward a greater focus on access and service for audiences and communities. Here is one old example: “The mission of Orchestra Blank is to foster and maintain an organization dedicated to the making of music consonant with the highest aspirations of the musical art.” Now here’s a new one: “The Blank Symphony Orchestra exists to create meaningful experiences through music.” Remember, there is no right or wrong here. The important thing is to ask and answer the question.

The same is true of the next question: How do we define artistry in today’s world? Artistic excellence has been our rallying cry, yet it is one of the least defined terms in our field. I suspect it was meant to encompass the quality of musicians, conductors, and soloists; the collective level of orchestral execution; and an acoustical environment that supports the conveyance of the true sound of the orchestra. Thanks to our friends at the Australian Arts Council, we now have a new term that seems more in tune with how orchestras are beginning to expand their thinking. This new term is “artistic vibrancy,” which the Arts Council define as the combined factors of community relevance, artist development, stimulating the audience, a fresh approach to preserving and growing the art form, and of course, excellence.

This new “vibrancy” framework poses a clear and broader set of questions for orchestra leaders to consider in their artistic activity. It adds the important outward facing considerations of audience and community, while also deepening the potential of our institutions to invest in the growth of their musicians. And did you notice that this new definition places the questions of relevance and audience squarely in the artistic realm, instead of relegating them to marketing or community relations?

I recently observed a fascinating example of a “vibrant” event initiated by the NY Philharmonic’s music director Alan Gilbert. Alan’s program was Ives’ Unanswered Question, Boulez’s Rituel, the 3rd scene of the 1st act of Don Giovanni, and Stockhausen’s Gruppen for three orchestras. Quite an unusual program, to say the least. But it was also done in an armory: a huge empty space that was set with the audience in the round on bleacher seats; three platforms for the orchestra spaced between the bleacher sections; and in the center, more audience on the floor. The action took place all around you, you were very close to the musicians and the action, and you could see your fellow audience members. The performances simply enveloped you. With marketing as creative as the program, it’s no surprise that two performances were sold out. The orchestra’s director of marketing told me that he saw barely a regular Philharmonic subscriber – it was an entirely new audience.

That leads us to our third question: What about our future audiences: Where will they come from? In our old way of thinking, the audience was defined as the people who bought tickets and came to the concerts. The audience mattered a lot because their purchases paid our bills and established our success. We believed that our audiences had always been primarily people older than 40 years old. We also believed that if we could just keep them buying big subscription packages and paying more every year, and if we could find more people like them, all would be well.

This worked for a while, but over time attendance began to decline. At first orchestras raised prices to keep income steady, but eventually both attendance and revenue began to slide. The price was simply too high.

As I mentioned, today we no longer have another generation waiting in the wings that is ready to replace our aging audience in the same numbers. Nor is seeking a new audience that look like the current one a formula for long term success. That would simply give us a larger share of a shrinking market. Today, we must be learning everything we can about people who are not yet members of our audience but could be: people who teach music, amateurs who play music at home, and other listeners who don’t come to concerts.

We know that classical music engagement online is high and 20% of the American public reports enjoying classical music. The question we must ask today is “How can orchestras create engagement and access for these people? What must we change about our pricing, customer service, concert design, and venues?”

For some people the answer may be about merging live and virtual experiences. In Miami, Florida the New World Symphony has a wonderful new concert hall that enables them to broadcast their performances live on the exterior wall of the building, which faces a park with a state of the art sound system. Often as much as half of the concert audience will go outside after intermission to watch the second half on the “wall cast,” joining thousands of listeners who are already there.

Several other orchestras have run successful experiments in lowering their prices, trading near term revenue for higher attendance and long term loyalty. And recent research on first time attendees, 80% of whom don’t come back, has identified promising strategies to convince them to return and eventually become patrons. In Memphis, Tennessee, symphony musicians have started a concert series in blues clubs. The programmer, the orchestra’s concertmistress, told me, “We need to grow our audience, and as musicians we think we have a role to play. This is where a lot of the musical people in Memphis happen to be.”

Closely related to the question of audience is the next one: Who is our community, and how do we relate to it? Traditionally, orchestras viewed the community primarily as the source of audience and support. Both were essential to generate necessary income streams, but the model was that the community gave and the orchestra received. The orchestra’s presence alone was reason enough for people to support it.

Today, orchestras must compete for resources and leisure time against an extraordinary array of opportunities. At the same time, civic leaders are turning to their non-profits to play a role in meeting community needs. So our old notion of community is not so well aligned with today’s expectations. For orchestras to remain vital and well supported they must ask new questions about community that extend beyond how much resource can be obtained. They need to ask, “How can the orchestra contribute to the advancement of civic health? How can we create access and engagement with more segments of the community? “How can our repertoire– both current and still to be written — relate to the themes coursing through our society?” In short, “how can we become good citizens?”

One avenue, of course, is through education. Many orchestras have deepened and broadened their educational activity, often partnering with schools. But there are so many more opportunities to expand the role of music in our communities. I am tantalized, for example, by the Atlanta Symphony’s new partnership with Emory University. Together they will explore the theme of “creation” from the perspectives of the arts, theology, and the sciences through a series of public symposia. Emory will develop a new curriculum to coincide with the project and the symphony will commission a new “Creation.”

Now here’s another example of orchestras responding to community needs.

I know some of you are familiar with El Sistema, the exciting movement from Venezuela that combines music education with social justice. The Los Angeles Philharmonic and more than ten orchestras across the United States have created similar programs with partner agencies, to reach children in underserved neighborhoods.

It can be difficult for orchestras to know how to advance their community work. The League has helped by creating an online tool that can guide them through the questions they need to ask.

Now so far we have looked at mission, at artistry, at audience, and at community. These are all familiar concerns. But the question that is creating the greatest tension today is, “What does true fiscal health require?” In fact, many orchestras may need to acquire new knowledge in order to answer this question.

There is a saying in English: “When the tide goes out, you find out who is swimming without a bathing suit.” The recession of 2008 exposed the financial fragility of many orchestras. But our data tells us that even before the harsh impact of the recession, which is still being felt today, long term negative trends had been in play for many years. From 2000 to 2010, attendance dropped and costs rose faster than income, yet orchestras continued to add concerts. This is not only unsustainable, but it leaves too many orchestras persistently fragile.

There were other risky assumptions. For many years, orchestras believed that a balanced budget and an endowment four times the size of its operating income were enough to assure fiscal health. Today, the high volatility in the stock market has made endowment returns less reliable while also greatly increasing pension liabilities. These factors have combined with continually rising health care costs to exert enormous pressure on some orchestras.

And here are other critical financial questions for today’s boards and chief executives: How can orchestras align cost with income? How can they understand their local markets, and avoid the trap of comparing themselves to those in different markets with different conditions?

How can orchestras achieve greater liquidity, and acquire enough capital to build sufficient cash reserves and invest in the research and development necessary to innovate and transition into this new world?

I don’t for a minute believe this is easy work and I don’t have all the answers. After all, just balancing the budget seems to take all of our ingenuity and energy. But I do know that if we are to make progress on these challenges, boards and executives will need to be transparent about their true financial position with all who have a stake in their success. They will need to plan and model for 10-20 years into the future, and to base that planning on facts rather than aspirations. That means resisting the pressure to satisfy near term needs at the expense of long term stability.

Here, again, the League has been working to help our members improve their knowledge and skills. This year we introduced a diagnostic tool that helps orchestras understand their true financial realities, their levels of risk, and how to plan accordingly. It is already creating greater transparency and promoting new conversations within orchestras.

Now the next question may surprise you: How can orchestras work with one another to meet their shared challenges? In the private sector, when demand changes or declines and resources to address the challenges are in short supply, companies often turn to collaboration. Orchestras have much to learn from this practice. How can collaboration within and across organizations help us generate solutions and mutual benefits?

In one example, the Chicago Symphony has created a ground–breaking concert program called “Beyond the Score.” These theatrical presentations use film, video, photography, spoken text, lighting and actors — along with the live orchestra — to help the audience delve more deeply into a specific work, its composer, and its context. Eighteen orchestras have already licensed Beyond the Score presentations. That has defrayed Chicago’s large up-front production costs, while putting into circulation a high quality product at a fraction of the cost that participating orchestras would otherwise have to pay.

In another example, a few years ago the League’s own “Ford Made in America” commissioning program brought together 68 orchestras from all 50 states to award a major commission — at a cost that averaged less than $1,000 per orchestra.

And remember the important research I cited earlier on capturing first time attendees? That was undertaken by a consortium of nine orchestras in major markets pooling their resources to support the work.

There is yet another type of collaboration that is very much part of the new work of American orchestras. Some of you probably know that our last conference featured a joint presentation by the lead negotiators from the United Auto Workers and the Ford Motor Company. Why did we do this? Because when American musicians, boards and managements struggle over extremely challenging negotiations, they tend to see one another as the enemy. But the level of conflict in some American orchestras today pales compared to the physical combat that occurred in 1937 when Ford was unionized. Today, Ford’s management and labor have found a new way of doing business: they collaborate. Things changed when labor and management realized that they were not each other’s enemies. That instead, they needed to work together to address a shared challenge: globalization. And that success in meeting this challenge would result in benefits for all parties.

While I have both appreciation and sympathy for the pain that today’s aggravated situations in our orchestras have been causing to musicians, board, staff, and communities, ultimately the challenge all of these parties face is how to adapt to the 21st century. If we put our collective energies into that work, I believe we have a chance for a vibrant future.

This brings us to leadership, and the last question for today: What changes are required of leaders? I realize that I have told an American story to a group of peers whose organizations may bear little resemblance to those I’ve just described. Funding schemes, relationships with musicians, audience dynamics, artistic opportunities, missions, may all be quite different for many of you from those I have discussed.

Perhaps some parts of what I have shared are relevant to some dimension of your work. But I believe that there is one overarching idea around which we can all engage on equal footing. And that idea is the need to grow our capacity to navigate and lead change. No matter how secure any of us may feel about the durability of our organizations, we can all count on changes that will present new opportunities and new threats. In both the US and Europe, the traditional funding schemes are now at risk. And in every country, to greater or lesser degrees, orchestras and the performing arts are subject to changes in political direction. Tastes continue to change, and there is every indication that the speed of developing technology will continue to accelerate, and impact our cultures and behaviors.

When my predecessor Henry Fogel was CEO of the Chicago Symphony, he solved one of the most vexing problems for audiences: how to find the concert program in a program book stuffed with advertising. Henry’s innovation was to simply have a tab created that could take the reader directly to the program. This is surely a great idea, but it was developed to solve a technical problem.

Today, our challenges are of a different order. We are being asked to adapt to an entirely new set of conditions. So instead of the problem Henry faced, his successors and all of us must confront the adaptive challenge of ensuring that we continually have robust audiences to read our program books. And, we might reasonably ask, are program books even still relevant given all the new platforms for delivering information about our concerts?

To meet adaptive challenges, leaders must have special skills. In fact, I propose that our ability to achieve meaningful innovation depends upon our ability to lead change and adaptation. There is a great deal of literature on this subject, but one writer whose work resonates with me is Ronald Heifetz, a top leadership scholar based at Harvard. Heifetz offers these four principles for leading change:

One: Step back in the midst of the action to get some perspective, so you can find out what’s really going on. Or as Heifetz says, “get off the dance floor and onto the balcony.” This paves the way for a clearer view of the bigger picture.

Two: Foster adaptation. That is, help people develop the “next practices” that will enable the organization to thrive in a new world, even as they continue with the best practices necessary for current success.

Three: Embrace disequilibrium. It is important to keep people in a state that creates enough discomfort to induce change, but not so much that they fight, flee, or freeze.

And finally: Give the work back to the people. Let others lead experiments that will help your organization adapt to changing times. You don’t have to shoulder this all on your own!

For us as stewards of an art form and of performing artists, the most exciting thing about change is the art itself. The western canon wasn’t born as a canon; it was born of the immediacy of the time and place that inspired its creators. As leaders we must insure that the orchestral experience, whether new music or old, continues to be supple and fresh, and that it is presented in ways that deeply engage our current and future audiences.

This suggests that arguably our most important role is to foster creativity in the context of our time. This work extends far beyond finding the hottest new conductor or soloist. We can look first to the members of our orchestras, whose talent and creativity extend well beyond the narrow roles we ask them to play. We can look to the 20 year olds on our staffs, whose knowledge of social media is far greater than ours and manages to stay current. We can look to the artists outside our field in videography, dance and even the circus– for creative collaborations. To the animateurs of all kinds who bring the unique ability to bridge the orchestral experience to audiences unfamiliar with our work. And finally, today’s young composers and performers possess a new found spirit of invention, entrepreneurship, and innovation, offering a tremendous opportunity for orchestras to be at the leading edge in artistry.

Our new challenge as leaders is to encourage, guide and shape these creative forces – along with all of our stakeholders – so that they work together to help orchestras better serve our time and remain central to our society.

This conference offers a wonderful opportunity to challenge each other and advance this vital and innovative work. I look forward to learning from all of you.

Thank you.

(Speech reprinted with permission from Jesse Rosen)


Jennifer Dautermann – Director, Classical:NEXT

Classical:NEXT is an international professional forum for classical music where people can meet with all sectors in one place. Each sector has its own meeting (eg AAPRO) but it’s also important to look beyond your own sector. All sectors engaged with classical music are involved. Classical:NEXT is brand new – there has been only one event to date.  But it’s very popular – 750 professionals from 41 countries came.  Over 4 days there were presentations, artists performing live, speakers and delegates. We want to build on this through cross sector networking. Users generate the content and anyone with a good idea is encouraged to propose it.  The event has 3 main parts – an expo, a showcase, a conference.

The expo is where most of the networking takes place. There were stands for 74 exhibitors in 2012 but it will be expanded in 2013. Showcases are for creatives to present themselves both live and via video showcases in which one person can present an entire orchestra. The person who presents doesn’t pay to attend, though they have to fund their own travel. A jury selects from proposals and is looking for high quality and what’s next. The deadline is 9 November but this could be extended by a few days if delegates are interested in applying.

The conference focuses on knowledge exchange and again, the Jury selects participants. They are looking for current issues, what’s next as special presentations.


Kate Lidbetter, CEO of Symphony Services International (Moderator); Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras; Saneyuki Yoshii, Managing Director of the Association of Japanese Symphony Orchestras.

Kate Lidbetter introduced the panel as follows:

Thank you for the invitation to speak to delegates at the AAPRO conference and congratulations to Mme Guo and her team for putting together such a wonderful few days of discussion and networking.

Innovation is the lifeblood of our orchestras.  Without it, we can’t build audiences, especially younger audiences.  Without it, we fulfil the cliché of simply being “heritage arts”, playing the music of dead white males.  Without it, we will stagnate.

Before I introduce our panellists, I’d like to tell you a bit about innovation in the orchestral sector in Australia.  As many of you know, I run a company called Symphony Services International, based in Sydney.  We provide a range of products and services to our members, the six symphony orchestras located around Australia.  More and more, we’re also providing those same services to orchestras around the world.  In addition to a truly wonderful artist development program providing training for performers, conductors and composers, we have a database of over 3500 program notes and annotations available for re-print.  We offer surtitles for orchestral works with a vocal component, we have a music library that we believe is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere with over 460,000 individual items available for hire.  We have also started selling our groundbreaking Goodear Acoustic Shield internationally, with strong sales in the US and UK to date.

I’d like to give you a taste of some of the innovations implemented by our Member orchestras; the Adelaide, Melbourne Queensland, Sydney, Tasmanian and West Australian Symphony Orchestras.  These orchestras range from just 47 players to over 100, most of whom are employed on a permanent, full time basis.  The Sydney Symphony has just returned from an extremely successful tour of China, where it performed 6 concerts in 10 days including Guangzhou, Tianjin and Beijing where the orchestra contributed to celebrations of 40 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and China (get pronunciation).  The SSO’s blog nominates some of the education concerts as highlights, including presentations and workshops with schools and tertiary institutions.

Earlier this year, the Sydney Symphony announced a major partnership with the Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou.  This partnership is designed to assist the Australian government in creating closer political, economic, social and commercial ties with China.  Clearly it will also create closer musical ties as well.

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra is undertaking a unique program in 2013.  Later this month, the orchestra will present a concert called Symphony of Legends: Video Games Unplugged.  This is a compilation of some of the most widely heard music today from popular video games such as Starcraft II. QSO believes new audiences are best reached through new and innovative marketing and they have therefore created the position of Gamer in Residence. Believed to be a world first, QSO’s Gamer in Residence will provide a link between the orchestra and game players in Australia and will enable the orchestra to raise its profile in relevant ways among new audiences.

The Gamer in Residence is Australia’s leading Starcraft II player, a professional gamer who also has an interest in video games music and orchestral performances. He will work with the orchestra to promote the concert by actively participating on facebook and twitter and in gaming forums where people interested in music from video games are likely to be. He’ll also participate in interviews about the concert and professional gaming, lending a unique perspective to the concert’s promotion and the music being played. QSO hopes to hold a Starcraft II tournament in the lead-up to the concert, to create awareness of the concert and highlight its relevance to gamers. The tournament will offer prizes and attract the interest of professional gamers throughout the region; tournaments such as these can be live streamed or watched by non-professional gamers, introducing QSO’s activities to a new audience. This would be aligned with concert merchandising including mousepads and t-shirts as well as advertising on selected websites frequented by gamers.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra also has an innovative new program titled Secret Symphony.  It’s designed to give Melbourne audiences “up close and personal” experiences with the orchestra.  Unlike a traditional concert program, many of the performance details will remain secret until just before the opening bars are played.  Potential audience members must “like” the MSO facebook page and follow twitter feeds to get clues to what’s happening, where and when.  Concerts are not held at the usual times, or in the usual venues and to date, the activity has been a huge success.

These are just a couple of examples of innovation in Australian orchestras.  When I asked my colleagues to provide me with some information to bring here to you, I was flooded with great ideas and plans – I had to choose carefully just a couple that I thought might be of interest.  Now I’m very excited to hear what’s going on in the United Kingdom and Japan.

Our first panellist is Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras.  

  • Director of the Association of British Orchestras, which exists to champion, connect and develop professional orchestras across the UK.
  • Graduated Oxford University,
  • Administrator of the professional touring theatre company Quicksilver Theatre for Children
  • General Administrator of leading drama conservatoire Drama Centre London
  • Head of Development and Marketing, Mountview Theatre School
  • Chief Executive of the National Operatic & Dramatic Association, the UK’s representative body for amateur and community theatre, during which time he served as chair of Voluntary Arts England.
  • Currently chair of the National Music Council, which exists to promote the interests of the music sector as a whole.

Our second panellist today is Mr Saneyuki Yoshii, Managing Director of the Association of Japanese Symphony Orchestras.  Yoshii-san joined the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra at age 21 and remained there for a decade.  He worked in marketing and planning for the Yomiyuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra and was General Manager of the Miyagi Philharmonic Orchestra (currently known as the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra).  He was awarded the 9th Nippon Steel Music Award (Special Award) in 1999.  From 2000 to 2007 he oversaw the management of this orchestra as Concerts and Operating Manager and since his retirement he has been an advisor to the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mark Pemberton speech:


British orchestras have grasped the opportunities afforded by new technology for some years now. Indeed, two years I gave a presentation to this conference on just some of the exciting developments we’d seen from our members. But before I show you some more recent initiatives, I want to ask a question.  Why innovate? Why do orchestras feel the need to embrace new technology, when their core business is to present the great classics on the concert platform?

Well, the key to answering this question lies in an orchestra’s mission. British orchestras now understand that their business needs to extend beyond the concert hall and beyond their traditional audience.  A common mission across our members is to perform the highest quality music to the widest possible audience. And it is the “audience” that lies at the heart of the innovations I want to present to you today.

Some of the motivation for this comes from funders. Both public and private investment is increasingly linked to maximising the reach of the orchestra and generating a social return on investment. But there is also this sense that the audience is changing. There will always be an audience for the traditional two hour concert in the hushed confines of the concert hall. But we have the potential to go so much further than that, to engage with a wider audience with different expectations of contemporary art and entertainment.

So the three presentations I want to show are all about reaching that different audience. The first springs from some research carried out in London which showed that, contrary to the assumptions of the orchestras’ marketing departments, they did not each have their own distinct and loyal audience. Instead, it showed that many people made little distinction between the 7 orchestras – it was the attractiveness of each concert, with some bias towards the concert hall, that drove the audience into the hall. And it also showed that the student audience (and there are over 400,000 students in Higher Education in London) was particularly fluid and under-developed. So those marketing departments broke the habit of a lifetime and collaborated on a marketing strategy to remove barriers to attendance, which they had identified through several years of focus groups, surveys and other feedback: specifically high ticket prices, confusing box office procedures, high booking fees, worries about ‘fitting in’ and needing to make it a social occasion.

The Student Pulse app tackles these barriers, and an additional one – the issue of brand cut through in the crowded London orchestra market. All London orchestras are going after the same “small” student market with similar offers, competing for space at the same Freshers Fairs and usually failing to look any different. The Student Pulse was the ideal opportunity to put some of the findings of this research into action on the student market.

The Pulse app was developed with funding from the Digital R & D Fund for Culture and the Arts (ACE, NESTA, AHRC); one of which criteria was that the technology they developed could benefit other arts organisations. By extending the app to include all nine Student Pulse partners, it has enabled them to have the benefit of this technology for a fraction of the full development costs.


Let’s now look at two other initiatives in London. Taking that word “audience”, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment had the bold idea of turning their marketing on its head, and focusing not, as was usual, on the musicians and the repertoire, but on the audience itself. But it will be better explained in the three clips I’m about to show you. The first was the call for audience members, the second a teaser for the season brochure they produced, and the third explains how they got there.


Finally, I’d like to show you perhaps the boldest attempt to move the orchestra out of the concert hall and into an entirely different environment. The Philharmonia has absolutely put new technology at the heart of its mission, which includes “the use of new media to bring its performances to the largest and most diverse audience possible”.

Universe of Sound is a free interactive digital installation, allowing people to explore the orchestra from the inside out as they perform Holst’s The Planets.

Using giant visual displays, touch screens, unconventional projecting surfaces, movement-based interaction and planetarium-style projections, people can take part as musicians, conductors, arrangers and composers, concentrating on different sections of the orchestra and even creating their own mix. Universe of Sound has been created by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra, on a 37 camera shoot, believed to be the largest classical recording session yet undertaken.

Its première was presented in partnership with the Science Museum in London from 23 May-27 August 2012. The project will then tour to UK cities including Birmingham and Canterbury in 2013, before being developed for international touring.

Universe of Sound also appeared online at The Space, the free digital challenge launched this summer by Arts Council England and the BBC.


(Speech reprinted with permission from Mark Pemberton)

Panel/audience discussion:

A number of topics were discussed between the panel and the audience including:

Do you think that management of orchestras consciously ask themselves “how can I be innovative today”? Are they specifically looking for new and uncharted projects to try and make new audiences, or do you think it’s a more organic process than that?  Why do you think innovation is important for orchestras?

Do symphony orchestras, which are inherently heritage ensembles, try a bit too hard to prove themselves in the area of innovation?  Do you think it’s any more important for an orchestra to engage in innovative programming or come up with bright new ideas than say a dance or theatre company?



Peter Meisel, Leiter Kommunikation of Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Munich)

I have been working in Munich since 1995 and in that time there have been many changes. If you make marketing pertain to one specific city, it will not work in other cities. Munich has 1.4m inhabitants. It is a little village compared to Asia but the 3rd largest city in Germany, and very beautiful.  It has a rich cultural life and the surroundings are beautiful. There are 5 major orchestras, two opera houses, two concerts halls and many other cultural institutions. Oktoberfest every year sees 6 million people come to the city. This is much more important than orchestras! Strauss, Mozart, Wagner are all associated with Munich.  In the Munich opera houses it is important that conductors present the work of these composers. Audiences expect big names. Sawallisch, Mehta, Maazel, Thielemann, Levine etc have all worked here. Hiring conductors of this level costs, and the money for this has fortunately always been there and still is.

The average age of the audience is around 60. Single ticket buyers are a little younger but not much. Throughout history there have never been concert audiences with very young average ages.  Perhaps this is because you appreciate good things with age. Every orchestra has an education department and Europe has caught up with US and GB in recent years.

Education – 80% of the audience has higher education of some kind.

Subscribers – 70-80% of the audience are usually subscribers.  33% are interested in the program, 12% come because of friends, only 11% are interested in the conductor, and 6% in the orchestra.   Non-subscribers are more interested in the conductor and the program (in that order).

Information sources – word of mouth is the most important tool in getting people to the concert. It’s cheaper than advertising!  Printed media and radio are the most important source of information, not the internet. Only 12% of respondents named the internet as the most important source of information.

When I started working with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra (1995), Sergiu Celibidache was the only marketing tool, but shortly he died. James Levine was appointed after that, and he increased the number of concerts on offer. We had to start marketing to sell tickets. We aimed for a younger audience, and decided to not put Levine in the focus. We used a sneaker (sandshoe) motif in our campaign, and it worked. This campaign continued for couple of years, then we used a workers motif and slogans like “Headphones make you lonesome”. People found the advertisements funny. Our numbers increased from 11,000 to 19,000 subscribers in my time there. The press liked it too, so they wrote about it. We also did radio spots.

After 5 years Levine left and Christian Thielemann arrived and we needed a big marketing campaign. He was a German conductor, so we decided to put him in the focus. We ran an absurd campaign: “Anton Bruckner is really looking forward to meeting Christian Thielemann” etc.  There was also a big press campaign. I was responsible at the time for press, marketing and education – an interesting combination.

Then I went to the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. The situation was different there – it’s a radio orchestra so the funding is very, very safe. The radio pays 100% for the orchestra, and conditions are good. But the orchestra was frustrated because people were not really aware that this was THE orchestra in Germany (besides Berlin Philharmonic). There were limitations on marketing – the internet has the same conditions as a radio station, which has nothing to do with what an orchestra needs, so it’s inadequate. We found a graphic designer to make a new corporate design. We needed people to identify with the orchestra. We got a young genius graphic designer, who created typography especially for the orchestra. We concentrated on printed matter for the orchestra. Each poster is designed individually so we can emphasise whatever we like. There is no standard pattern. Sometimes we focus on the work, sometimes the soloist, or the conductor. From year to year we printed the name of the orchestra smaller and smaller and people began to associate the font with the orchestra.


Guo Shan, Chairwoman of AAAPRO, President of China Symphony Development Fund (“Orchestras of China”)

We are interested in introducing advanced management ideas but Asia is lagging behind. In past decades many European and American orchestras have come to China. We get partners, residencies to cooperate. Some orchestras have started using these models. As a not-for-profit organisation we are working with orchestras around Asia to learn from each other and also to organise tours overseas. We like to have annual summits and talk to guests from all over the world.

Seasons are a commonplace concept in the west that has limited popularity in China.  Funding can be attributed by the maturity level of the orchestra though this is not necessarily the case.  International co-operation is also important.

Mr Guo Yuliang – Vice President of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing and Chairman of NCPA Concert Hall Orchestra, China (“Cultivate the audience through strengthening the marketing”)

We are all here talking about one thing.  We talk about marketing, how to nurture the audience. As Chinese we like to know the principles before we carry out the real work. What makes high arts relevant in the modern era? What is for development in the future? If you are an artist you are perceived as having high moral standards and also talent. Culture is a means to nurture people. In the old days, Confucius heard a great piece of music and for three months he didn’t eat meat.  In modern China we talk a lot about government support.  Officials talk about facing our audience so the essence of our sector’s development is audience. Audience is the impetus for the future development of our sector.

The first way to achieve this is marketing. Who do you want your customers to become? Product is determined by consumers. Music consumers are the determining factor tor for classical music. Without an audience, the orchestral sector is not sustainable. What advantages do we have? In China we have parents’ expectations, they like their children to study music if they have the means. About 20m children are learning the piano in China. Cultural consumption has been growing rapidly. Before we lacked musical talents.  20 years ago it was rare for Chinese to study in famous conservatoires in Europe and USA.  Now we have so many students studying arts and music in the west. The next step for Beijing is to become a world class city. Already we are well renowned in the arts. Audience numbers are still not up to expectation. People think they need a proper education to enjoy classical music. In terms of nurturing audiences, we use marketing strategies. We don’t think free tickets are a good way to popularise classical music. Museums around the country are free. But museums are static places that should be protected by the government. We are performing arts. Through marketing we can nurture our audience. All marketing strategies are interrelated.

Socialised communication. First we must professionalise. Where are our audiences? We have four categories of audiences. One thing is the die-hard fans, the lovers, the passionate and some that are just concerned about music. Many don’t know many musicians and artists. We have targeted our activities at those people. We try to transmit our ideas through the artists – for instance Lang Lang. There was a Music festival in May at NCPA. Many people don’t know about music. Media is not very passionate about reporting such music.

Mr Rudolph Tang, Head of Communications, China Symphony Development Fund (“Introduction to a different world”)

Twitter and Facebook are not available in mainland China but there is an equivalent available. It is growing by leaps and bounds, with 250m accounts in China. China is different to the rest of the world. Facebook and twitter are not accessible without extreme means. You have to get over the wall. You can do it through a virtual portal network but you are at risk of getting exposed or it may not work. The Chinese have their own version, which was started in 2009.  Weibo.com has become dominant the social media choice in China – 57% of social media users in China use it, it has over 300m users and is growing rapidly with 100m tweets daily. A word limit is imposed, 140 characters. Chinese can use fewer characters because of its typography (ie more can be said with fewer characters). This is a fundamental feature of the Chinese language. Weibo can carry triple the amount of information in fewer characters.

There was a successful social media campaign for Shanghai Symphony Orchestra recently. They started tweeting in early 2011 through Weibo and post about 20 new tweets per day.


Ken Smith (Music Critic) and John Kieser (General Manager, San Francisco Symphony) in conversation.

 What was life like earlier on when the record label was the only option for recordings. PBS used to produce a lot of media including classical music etc. There was a big change in the recording industry in the 90s, a shift in how they could support the classical music world. They are for-profit companies, have to think carefully about their catalogues. It was hard to agree what to record – we had our interests, they had their needs, and we decided to part company over the control of the content. So who would own it? The record label owned the recording, so we didn’t own the intellectual property. In 2000 we created SFS Media, the second orchestra to have its own label. SFS Media also includes TV, wireless media etc.

Our first project was a Mahler cycle.  We collaborated with labels but they were working for us, not the label. It was a question of branding. It’s a double edged sword, it’s wonderful to have control and determine the marketing etc, because if you’re with a label you’re fighting all the other orchestras they deal with. On the other hand you have the headache of distribution and marketing and publicity. We wanted to put our resources into the publicity.

You have to define your priorities, and know the identity and heritage of orchestra. We had to confront why media is important. Our core business is presenting live music on a concert hall stage. It’s core to our belief that this is the best way to experience the music. But there are other reasons for doing media. Recognition, promotion and marketing, education, it builds and retains audiences, recruits and helps retain artistic leadership, musicians and artists, it provides a permanent record. You become your own middle man. Lots of orchestras now have their own labels, or partnerships eg Nashville and Naxos.

We still do brochures and telemarketing but YouTube and Facebook are free, though you have to produce fresh content.

There’s a great challenge with media – it’s often classified “nice to have”, but really it’s essential. About 20 years ago very few orchestras had human resources departments – now they do. The same thing is true of media. You need to dedicate a portion of your staff’s time to make this happen. The worst thing you could do is delegate it to just one person. Media touches every part of the organisation. There has to be a conscious allocation of some portion of the budget to media.

Products and content

Audio – CDs, other hard media, downloads and streams, podcasts, concert broadcasts, ringtones.  Audio/video – documentary and educational video, concert videos, promotional videos. But you can’t do it all. You need to work out what you do really well and then dedicate yourself to it. Formats are changing rapidly and no-one has a crystal ball about where it’s heading, though subscription streaming seems popular (Spotify etc).

SFS seems to be a West Coast orchestra specifically. We are closer to Asia than to Europe in many ways. What kind of responsibility in terms of repertory, identity etc do we have? When we looked at the persona of SFS, there were couple of things we wanted our international audiences to be aware of.  We are dedicated to presenting core repertoire and cutting edge repertoire (especially American repertoire). Our strategy for producing audio products is the pinnacle of why we produce. Every release of core repertoire is balanced with an American recording because we don’t want our image to go one way or the other.

Some US orchestras appear to be one organisation at home, and another one when they’re on tour. Is that different for SFS? It’s interesting because there is certainly a persona that is projected by media. Herbert Blomstedt, when he first came to SF, was working on Neilson symphonies. Europe didn’t want that – it was a tough sell. But then we started recording them with Decca and got quite well known for that repertoire, but then Maestro changed to Buckner, and Europe wanted Neilson because we’d been typecast. On our current tour, our first concert is in Macau and we’re performing Mahler 5, Rachmaninov, Lou Harrison, John Adams; we’re trying to vary our programming to match our media.

When you’re in charge you don’t have to wait on their distribution and timetables. What are the distribution channels you use?

Broadcast television, YouTube and other video sites, Facebook and other social media outlets, radio, internet and satellite radio, iTunes and other download distributors, Rhapsody, Spotify, Rdio and other streaming outlets, orchestra website, bricks and mortar and online stores, dynamic signage. YouTube Symphony – 33m people watched it in Sydney. Many of them hung in there for 3.5 hours.

Dynamic Signage – screens everywhere you look eg the ferry from Hong Kong to Macau. You need to get your content in there, even if it’s just a clip of your orchestra playing.

Even the movie industry has trouble getting people into the cinema. How is this working in terms of getting people not the concert hall? For a long time we’ve tried to connect media with people in the concert hall. It’s very hard to do.  You need to establish benchmarks and goals, metrics. The live concert experience and trying to reach the younger demographic is something we’ve been studying over the past few months. And you use media to draw attention to your orchestra but the actual concert experience has to undertake major restructuring if we’re to expect audiences in the future. All the experience surrounding the concert has to change, it needs to be a more social event. If someone is going to commit to a subscription series a year into the future you have to let people be more spur of the moment, spontaneous.

It’s easy for SFS to talk about this, you have a Music director who’s used to this. What should other orchestras do without replicating SFS?  Context – people want to know more about what they’re going to hear, what to expect etc. Podcasts useful for people to understand what will go on. If your music director isn’t comfortable talking to the audience, you need someone else to do it. Pre- concert talks, off the podium dialogue with the audience, run a store in the hall, increase the number of artist signings etc. Direct connection between the audience and the artist is extremely important. Have a reception before or after concert, get the musicians known by the audience.

How does one build up a media centre or integrate it within the organisation? First thing is getting the media on the side of promotion. Look for existing talent within the organisation to shoot promotional videos. Build the structure within the organisation. We use media to promote media. This is a basic skill set within any organisation.  The challenges are time and money. There must be an allocation of funding to media. Look to local TV etc to stretch the dollars, seek philanthropy. Build a team with the right skill sets. Your musicians may already be quite adept at making videos. The level of quality is a concern, what you put out there must be the highest possible quality. The excellence on stage must be met by excellent production values. Distribution is also a major challenge.