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Summer Issue of Symphony Magazine: Orchestras Across the Country are Taking on Challenging Roles Outisde the Concert Hall

New York, NY (July 23, 2012) – Orchestras across the country are expanding their institutional focus from simply providing high quality music within the concert hall to a newer, more relevant role within the community, reports the summer issue of Symphony, the magazine of the League of American Orchestras.   Orchestras as varied as the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, and Stockton Symphony are among the many carving out new community engagement and educational initiatives for the underserved, and reaching into virgin territory, even to the extent of tackling literacy and gang violence or offering free concert tickets for former prison inmates. One urban orchestra has gone a step further, suspending its main-stage classical programming in favor of a series of community performances targeted to specific neighborhoods.

"Harmonic Resolution," by Edward Ortiz, reveals the story behind the Stockton Symphony’s Music Alive residency with Israeli composer Avner Dorman, whose work Uzu and Muzu is an integral part of the orchestra’s conflict resolution program. "We wanted a piece that would really speak to the civic issues here in Stockton," explains Jane Kenworthy, executive director of the Stockton Symphony.  Ortiz’s article mentions the city’s low literacy rate and "documented population of 3,000 gang members spread out over 57 groups.

 
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Composer Avner Dorman and students at Stockton’s Lincoln High School Photo: Steve Pereira

 

The symphony partnered with schools, libraries, newspapers, houses of worship, and diverse community organizations to increase dialogue and understanding through classroom visits by the composer, community discussions, and story contests for students and adults, as well as performances for the work for nearly 7,000 fourth- and fifth-grade students.

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Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot, Photo: Ben VanHouten

In "Empty Seats, Full of Opportunity," Tom Keogh delves into the Seattle Symphony’s new ticket programs for underserved communities, including free tickets for former prison inmates, immigrants, seniors, and military personnel and their families from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma. 

"I don’t subscribe to the view that a targeted social-ticketing program undermines regular sales, because the whole point of it is to reach people who otherwise cannot afford to attend," executive director Simon Woods comments.

Donald Rosenberg’s "Detroit 2.0" highlights a range of new community initiatives developed by the Detroit Symphony since the end of a contentious strike. These new programs reflect "the institution’s resolve to make deep connections with new listeners even as it rekindles relationships with former patrons." Among those discussed by Rosenberg include the "whopping success [of the orchestra’s] Neighborhood Concert Series, which comprises 26 performances in six neighborhoods," and brings the symphony to suburban audiences who might not travel downtown to hear the orchestra, as well as new funds to "bring in black guest artists to perform with the DSO and support commissioning, recording, and performance of works by African-American composers."

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The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Leonard Slatkin
Photo: Victor Mangona

  

Meanwhile, Andrew Druckenbrod’s "Opening Doors" shines a spotlight on how two other orchestras – the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Symphony -  are addressing diversity and inclusion, Dallas with a landmark program "discovering, developing, and promoting the musical talents of outstanding African-American and Latino string students" now celebrating its 20th anniversary, and Pittsburgh with a newer program that celebrates "African-American culture and influence through programming" and utilizing partnerships "with organizations in three pre-dominantly African-American Pittsburgh neighborhoods. ‘We bring in instruments for the students, provide teachers, and give concerts,’ Pittsburgh Senior Vice President of Education and Strategic Development, Suzanne Perrino states. 

 

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Musicians in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Young Strings program
Photo: Dallas Symphony Orchestra

 

In Druckenbrod’s words, "The goal became not just to service minority communities, but to systematically get their input by more consistently reaching out to them and also bringing in more minority board members… Every constituency of the PSO has been involved, from staff to board to musicians." 

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Brooklyn Philharmonic Music Director
Alan Pierson
, Photo: Michael Rubenstein, Redux Pictures

Ian VanderMeulen’s "Brooklyn Bridges" describes how that orchestra is fulfilling its new mission to build artistic connections within its home borough and "make the revitalized organization truly ‘Brooklyn’s Orchestra.’" The orchestra suspended its main-stage classical programming and then "announced a ‘reboot’ season of multidisciplinary programs custom-built for three distinct Brooklyn neighborhoods – Brighton Beach, Downtown, and Bedford-Stuyvesant – with the input of local stakeholders and community leaders."  The results have been "packed crowds" across the board and a sense of the new programming being "remarkably innovative, perhaps even revolutionary," in the words of New Yorker critic Alex Ross in his blog The Rest Is Noise.

 

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Jesse Rosen, president and CEO, League of American Orchestras
Photo: Klaus Lucka

 

All of these examples highlight a new focus on "deep engagement with the community," a priority cited by League President and CEO Jesse Rosen in his "Critical Questions" piece in Symphony. "There has been a very positive shift in the value proposition of orchestras," he writes. "The old framework was, ‘Come to us.  You’re going to have a great time.  Support us, buy tickets, be here.’ We’re moving now to another way of framing what we’re about that says, ‘We are an asset of this community and we want to, can, and will play a role in helping address the agenda for the community.’ This is an essential shift, and I don’t think it is at all antithetical to the idea of maintaining artistic standards, our curatorial roles, and everything that goes with the professionalism that symphony orchestras stand for."    

In addition to exploring these new trends in community engagement, Symphony’s summer issue, edited by Robert Sandla, also includes orchestra and League news, profiles and an in-depth look at live concerts at movie theaters, written by Jennifer Melick.

The League of American Orchestras leads, supports, and champions America’s orchestras and the vitality of the music they perform. Its diverse membership of approximately 850 orchestras across North America runs the gamut from world-renowned symphonies to community groups, from summer festivals to student and youth ensembles. The only national organization dedicated solely to the orchestral experience, the League is a nexus of knowledge and innovation, advocacy, and leadership advancement for managers, musicians, volunteers, and boards. Its conferences and events, award-winning Symphony magazine, website, and other publications inform music lovers around the world about orchestral activity and developments. Founded in 1942 and chartered by Congress in 1962, the League links a national network of thousands of instrumentalists, conductors, managers and administrators, board members, volunteers, and business partners.  Visit americanorchestras.org.