The Future of the Orchestra: Part One

I’ve been reading a ton of articles from the web archives of classical music critic and orchestra guru Greg Sandow. There is a lot that he writes about, especially about the orchestra’s place in education, but in other respects I think he is extremely off base. One of the things that he writes about is the aging of the classical music audience, and the different ways that orchestras and classical music organizations can attract new (and younger) audiences. I think Sandow is absolutely right about the need for music organizations to literally grow their audience by being active participants in public education, however sometimes he seems preoccupied with the appearances and superficialities of the business. A small disclaimer: almost all of the articles I have been reading were published between ten and fifteen years ago, so his views might have changed since then. He runs a blog at, but I haven’t had a chance to read that yet.

One of the ideas that Sandow repeats is the idea that if orchestras coopt and mimic the language and advertising style of pop or jazz, that audiences will be more open to attending. Another is that the very use of concert halls and concert dress (tuxedos, etc.) is outdated. I think these fixations are completely wrongheaded. I do think that there is a lot of room to experiment with advertising, and I think that ambiance and presentation are important, but I think focusing on them misses more fundemental problems.

I think the two biggest “problems” that classical music institutions must find a solution to are:

1. Classical music requires engagement by the listener. Education and experience allow greater appreciation from the music, and, in the case of Modern/New or pre-Classical music, requires the listener to allow for musical languages different from that of the dominant culture.

2. The majority of people in this country don’t think that classical music belongs to them. This is independent of race, ethnicity and class.

In forthcoming posts, I’ll propose solutions to these problems.

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