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Leadership and internal alignment make the difference.

A committed and diverse staff led by a committed and diverse board will more easily identify and present diverse artists, who will in turn expand an orchestra’s network. And when artistic planning is part of a broader strategy for equity, diversity, and inclusion, branding and communications give unfamiliar works the best chance to succeed.

“The whole team must find a way to support the vision. We can’t go out there without buy-in. But when we hold hands at the edge of the cliff, then we fly.”

Mei-Ann Chen, Music Director, Chicago Sinfonietta

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It’s all about relationships.

White orchestra leaders’ networks have been overwhelmingly white. Many of today’s leaders and conductors are involved in developing networks that are intentionally inclusive, and that benefit from a new richness of multiple perspectives and experiences. Investing over time in specific composers and artists helps build their careers, and their relationships with musicians and audiences.

The San Francisco Symphony begins relationships with some young artists through the Spotlight Series of recitals, and structures those collaborations to unfold in stages over several years. Over half the artists are from historically marginalized communities. For instance, violinist Randall Goosby is in the midst of a multi-year series of appearances all booked at once.

“Planning is about balance and relationships and continuing collaborations.”

Phillippa Cole, Senior Director, Artistic Planning, San Francisco Symphony

The Los Angeles Philharmonic first commissioned Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz back in the 1990s, and then again after Gustavo Dudamel arrived as music director and focused on music from Mexico City. Ortiz has not only become a recurring presence with the orchestra; she has also tapped her network in Mexico and helped the LA Phil curate a whole slate of commissions in 2022.

“Each composer helps build our network.”

Meghan Martineau, Vice President, Artistic Planning, Los Angeles Philharmonic

“If you are in authentic relationships with diverse voices with a human-first perspective, diverse art becomes intrinsic.”

Alecia Lawyer, Founder and Artistic Director, ROCO

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Context adds impact.

Thoughtfully planned community events, audiovisual enhancements, preconcert talks, and creative program books can help make new voices important to listeners and get beyond composers’ mere identity.

The New York Philharmonic’s performances of Julius Eastman’s Symphony No. 11 were not just championing an overlooked American original. They were also complemented by an ongoing series called The Unanswered Questions, making space for conversation about the context and meaning of unfamiliar works. Unjust Malaise: Julius Eastman and a Broken Mental Health System, part of The Unanswered Questions series, took place atJohn Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“It’s programming as a portal to meaningful discussion.”

Patrick Castillo, Vice President, Artistic Planning, New York Philharmonic

The California Symphony’s Donato Cabrera has removed his standard maestro’s bio from the program book so that he can write about his rationale for the evening’s program. He also speaks before each work, building a narrative across each concert.

“Sharing more information has made it less challenging to program a concert that might contain less frequently performed works or world premieres.”

Donato Cabrera, Music Director, California Symphony

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Concert and whole-season themes provide a narrative.

Concert and whole-season themes can provide an impetus for creative programming and a narrative to keep audiences engaged.

ROCO organized its 2021-22 season under the title Musical Threads, “focusing on common threads of environmental awareness, human rights and the scarcity of time.” This high-level concept spun off concert titles like “Bursting at the Seams” and “A Stitch in Time” and embraced eight commissions from a diverse range of composers.

“Themes give people a way to move through the season. It’s fun to break out sub-themes for each concert.”

Alecia Lawyer, Artistic Director and Founder, ROCO

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Long-term projects cement commitment.

Long-term projects can cement a commitment to inclusive programming over several years, as shown by the above example of the South Dakota Symphony. Extending more expansive concert programming into recording and touring ventures helps to build the visibility and critical engagement crucial to establishing new works and composers in orchestral repertoire.

The Virginia B. Toulmin Orchestral Commission Program1 (an initiative of the League of American Orchestras, in partnership with American Composers Orchestra) has brought together 30 orchestras, large and small, to commission and perform music by women and non-binary composers. New Music USA’s Amplifying Voices involves over 45 orchestras in 11 consortia commissioning BIPOC and women composers. These are just two examples of coalitions inviting orchestras to invest collectively in the long-term success of today’s composers and their works.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Pan-American Music Initiative is a five-year project, begun in the 2021-2022 season, showcasing music across borders, as the Venezuela-born music director Gustavo Dudamel is uniquely suited to do.

The New York Philharmonic’s Project 19 celebrates the centenary of the 19th Amendment, enshrining women’s right to vote, by commissioning 19 new works by 19 women, premiered beginning in 2020 and stretching to 2024 and beyond.

The Philadelphia Orchestra invested years of work in restoring the scores of Florence Price’s Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3. Convinced of the works’ value, the orchestra performed them for live audiences over several seasons; recorded both works for Deutsche Grammophon (a recording that won the orchestra its first Grammy Award); played the works in Carnegie Hall; and in the summer of 2022 performed them on a tour of European festivals.

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Creative spaces lead to innovation.

Spaces devoted to adventurous music can be laboratories for new approaches and building new audiences.

The San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox is an experimental space with a club feel, where different curators create unique experiences. Drawing younger and more diverse audiences than the Symphony’s mainstage, SoundBox enables the Collaborative Partners (see Chapter 2) and curators like Tyshawn Sorey and Jamie Man to demonstrate fresh, inclusive ideas.

“SoundBox is a space to work with new people, and to see where their creativity can lead us, whether they be our Collaborative Partners or other visionary artists in the field.”

Phillippa Cole, Senior Director, Artistic Planning, San Francisco Symphony

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Footnotes:

  1. Virginia B. Toulmin Orchestral Commissions Program, League of American Orchestras

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