Hopes and Dreams

Ideas of symphonic reform must necessarily be pragmatic. Orchestras of any size are slow moving ships that are adverse to change. In calling for symphonies to change how and what they present, it is sometimes difficult to imagine how change could actually manifest. There are two moments in the coming weeks that offer opportunity for change, moments that are pragmatic chances for reform. 


The first opportunity comes from the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Like so many other orchestras, this group has had major budgetary issues. They haven’t performed in two seasons due to funding shortfalls. Wednesday they announced that they have hired Alan Pierson as the new artistic director of the group. Mr. Pierson is the artistic director of the contemporary music group Alarm Will Sound. One hopes that Mr. Pierson will use the chance of a fresh start to expand the repertoire of new music beyond the composers championed by the New York Times. This is also an opportunity to address how the symphony presents music. Maybe now is the time for the musicians, at last, to change out of the formal-wear? Perhaps hire a lighting designer? Addressing the antiquated concert protocol? The Brooklyn Philharmonic has a chance here to really try something new, something vital, something interesting. Let us hope that they attempt some sort of reform and resist the temptation to sell variations on the status quo. Change is not the enemy of art.


The other chance for change is the upcoming announcement of the New York Philharmonic’s 2011-2012 season. It is an opportunity for their music director, Alan Gilbert, to expand the range of what the symphony performs. An invitation to think more broadly and inclusively about repertoire and thus relevance. It’s a chance to get away from the same eighty pieces that symphony orchestras play year after year, and instead offer all kinds of new music. Music from film, Broadway, and video games should be played on the same concerts as art music and the standard repertory. This would elevate the entire organization. It would elevate the entire industry. 


A new season is an opportunity to dream of possibilities. A chance to dream of reform that could help make the symphony matter to more people. It could be something small, like letting go of the tuxedo. Or something more substantial, like offering new unheard-of collaborations with other cultural institutions; for example it would have been inspired if the New York Philharmonic had played the music of Danny Elfman in partnership with MOMA’s (sold-out) Tim Burton exhibit. 


At the very least, one hopes the new season will have something more imaginative than another season-ending semi-staged opera.