Business and art have always shared a close relationship. Wherever there’s a creative idea, there’s a financial backer and institutional hoops to jump through. This tension between administration and expression is especially prevalent in orchestral music.
University Symphony Orchestra
Tonight at 8 p.m.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Tomorrow at 8 p.m.
Tickets from $10
American Orchestra Summit
Tomorrow and Thursday
Free for students, $25 for non-students
From the perspective of Music, Theatre & Dance Professor Mark Clague, this dilemma is a “manifestation of the same set of longstanding issues: How does an elite Germanic tradition connect with a broad community of listeners in the United States and why and how do we pay for it?”
Questions like these lie at the core of the American Orchestras Summit, which will bring participants and panelists from around the country to the University Wednesday and Thursday.
Topics like “Re-Conceptualizing the Symphony” and “Leveraging History: Lessons from the Past” will be examined in a panel discussion format with four or more speakers per topic. Breakout sessions and open discussions will also take place.
According to Clague, a co-organizer of the event, the idea was overly ambitious from the start, but the response has been overwhelming.
“When we described the Summit on our Web page as a ‘landmark’ event, it was really wishful thinking,” he said. “We convinced a handful of big names in arts administration to join us and, of course, had the benefit of the presence of (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) Emeritus Conductor and pioneering contemporary composer Pierre Boulez.
“Things just snowballed from there.”
Michael Mauskapf, a Rackham student, is looking forward to a fruitful dialogue among attendees.
“We are hoping to have an open, honest and productive conversation about how these issues from the past and present might inform what orchestras do in the future, and what current successes are happening today,” he said.
Additionally, Mauskapf is anticipating potential solutions including “some practical and actionable projects that orchestras and academics can enact immediately to improve the health of the industry and of cross-disciplinary partnership.”
Clague is also enthusiastic about prospective pairings, noting that Thursday will be devoted to collaboration and connection.
“We will ask each participant to sign on to some new project,” he said. “(The University’s) American Music Institute has two ideas.
“One will be a study of success in the U.S. orchestral scene, (because we usually) focus on learning from the failures, for some reason. … The other will be a composition competition to create new versions of the American national anthem in celebration of the bicentennial of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in 2014. We’ll also announce the participation of two big-name composers.”
The importance of the Summit does not lie solely in its institutional function. Many have deep personal interests because of their passion for orchestral music.
“I’ve played in orchestras since before college as a trumpet player, and I still play today,” Mauskapf explained. “I also study the orchestra. Most important, however, I love the orchestra as an audience member, so I want to see it succeed and flourish past my lifetime.”
Clague looks to posterity when considering the Summit’s implications.
“I want our students to have these jobs in the future and our audiences and kids to get to enjoy this music,” he said. “Rock concerts and symphony concerts are very different, but the intensity of experience in live music is similar.”
There will be two opportunities for the public to feel this “intensity of experience” during the Summit, with the University Symphony Orchestra performing tonight and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra tomorrow.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance should be a perfect display of why these conversations need to be happening in the first place.
“Recordings are great, but things like Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, which the CSO will play at Hill on Wednesday night, shimmer in live performance in a way that a CD and certainly an MP3 can never replicate,” Clague said. “Live music lives in part because of the state of mind — the intensity of concentration — that the ritual of a concert inspires.”
Music, Theatre & Dance Dean and Guest Conductor for the University Symphony Orchestra Christopher Kendall claims the USO’s performance and piece selection, although fitting, was not scheduled with the Summit in mind.
“The repertoire for the concert on the 26th was chosen before the Summit was a factor, and was selected … with the aim of providing our wonderful orchestra students an opportunity to work with repertoire that makes an important contribution to their learning process,” he said.
“This particular, very challenging program has three works,” he added. “One from last year, one from 50 years ago and another from 100 years ago, all with something deeply important and compelling to say, but saying it differently: one emphasizing the spiritual (Bruce MacCombie’s Samsara Rounds) one the intellectual (Lukas Foss’s Time Cycle), and one the emotional (Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27).”
With prominent speakers and a wide variety of attendees including musicians, conductors, composers, business professionals, financial backers, students, writers, critics, historians and everyone who enjoys orchestral music, a healthy dose of buzz has been generated from the prospects of the Summit.
“Enthusiasm is high for the Summit,” said Mauskapf. “It seems as though we caught a wave, as this issue has recently received a lot of national press. People are both worried because of the challenges and excited regarding the opportunities for change and innovation.”
The Summit starts tonight with the University Symphony Orchestra’s free performance at Hill Auditorium. Wednesday includes the first half of panel discussions and breakout sessions at Rackham Auditorium followed by a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Hill. On Thursday, the conversation wraps up with a half day at Rackham. The Summit’s Rackham component is free for students.
Follow the Summit live on its official blog at www.insidethearts.com/OrchestraSummit/.