As a former executive of UBS once said to me at a post-concert reception for the Simón Bolívar Orchestra in Lucerne: ‘Herr Axelrod, can you believe how these Indians from the jungles of Central America can play Mahler?’ What will they say when a violinist comes from the Congo?
In Orwellian style, the orchestras of the USA became more sinister, private and exclusive than the biggest banks on Wall Street, while relying on those banks for corporate largesse.
In America, to criticize without a compliment means the criticism will not be heard.
The Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy in 2011 but has a new lease on life with Nézet-Séguin on the podium. The Detroit Symphony basically canceled its 2011–12 season, though it has come back in 2013 into profit and realized potential. In 2012 the Atlanta, St Paul Chamber and Minnesota orchestras canceled opening concerts due to lack of funding or, due to unresolved contract negotiations, enforced a musicians’ lock-out. The Cleveland Orchestra has been dubbed the ‘Miami Symphony’29 as it could not survive on subscriptions alone in its own city. However, one must be impressed that, in 2013, the orchestra realized that the secret for a sustainable future is in developing the young audience, not in the traditional subscriber. According to the Plain Dealer, attendance for the 2012–13 season increased by fifty-five per cent among students, resulting in a twenty-four per cent increase in overall revenue, not only from free tickets and social media marketing but by understanding that basic Disney motto: if you get the kids, you get the parents and grandparents.30 And their checkbooks.
The fear is that an electorate that thinks classical music is a luxury, and that its musicians and its audience are elitist, may soon decide whether those spoiled musicians who make more than ninety-nine per cent of the rest of the US tax-paying public deserve their support
, Gustavo Dudamel, has catapulted from a top ten place to number one, with a $136,500 musician’s base salary. Chicago comes next. San Francisco is behind in third place. The West Coast has supplanted the traditional Big Five. New York is now fourth and the remaining orchestras survive on a shaky status quo.32
2006 article in The Guardian, Anna Price quotes Bill Kerr of the Musicians’ Union: ‘Of the 600 or so orchestral string players in full-time work across the country, few earn more than £25,000 a year. Many are on much less. Kerr thinks we are a philistine nation; he points to orchestral rates of pay in western Europe, where a premier-league player can earn up to £50,000.’33