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Originally published Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 7:36 PM

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League of American Orchestras chief reviews symphonic scene

Jesse Rosen, the president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, discusses the health of the symphonic scene in the U.S. He’ll be in Seattle, along with many of his colleagues, for the League’s annual national conference, June 4-6, 2014.


Seattle Times arts writer

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Classical-music players, conductors and administrators from across the country descend on Seattle this week for the League of American Orchestras’ national conference.

The Seattle Symphony, of course, will feature prominently at the conference, and its Thursday night Dutilleux-Ravel concert, led by music director Ludovic Morlot, is sure to be a highlight.

But the range of topics will go well beyond music per se. Technological developments, civic priorities, marketing innovations, community engagement, new fundraising strategies and numerous other issues are on the table for discussion.

Jesse Rosen, president and CEO of the League, spoke eloquently from his New York office last week about the latest developments in the classical-music scene. Here’s an edited version of our chat.

Q: What’s the general health of the symphonic scene in the U.S.?

A: I think there’s a lot more optimism now than there’s been in recent years. We’re seeing recovery from the impact of the recession, and we’re seeing a high degree of experimentation and innovation, as orchestras continue to adapt.

Q: Fiscal challenges remain. What’s the best way to meet them: changes to fundraising, changes to programming or a combo of the two?

A: I think it’s a combination. There’s a limit to how much income orchestras can generate if they keep everything constant. ... I don’t think that’s going to be sufficient, given the extent of change in our population and in so many things going on: technology, philanthropy, audience buying patterns, just taste in music. In all these things, a generational shift is going on, with the younger generation showing markedly different expectations out of a performing-arts event than older generations.

Q: How do the Seattle Symphony’s innovations in concert presentation compare with other American orchestras’?

A: Seattle is in good company, and I think they’re doing fantastic work. ... The larger trend, I think, that’s driving them is, in part, younger audiences and their desires for greater intimacy in performances, more contact with the artists themselves, looks behind the scenes, a more informal environment — and also repertoire that is often new.

Q: The Seattle Symphony, like a number of orchestras, recently formed its own recording label. Is that a heartening development or a sign of defeat at the hands of the record industry?

A: Record companies are no longer in the business of investing in classical music for the most part, particularly orchestra recordings. ... In the old days, you needed a record company to ... choose you to record. And you wanted to be chosen, because being chosen meant they would invest financially in you and they would also invest in marketing you all over the world. ... Now, and largely because of the Internet, it’s just simply not needed, so orchestras are producing their own recordings. It’s a way to convey to the public what the orchestra is about artistically, giving them a chance to sample it. It’s just not a moneymaking proposition any longer.

Q: What practical steps is the League taking to encourage orchestral health across the country?

A: One of the things we have been communicating pretty aggressively to our members in the past several years is the importance of being well capitalized. ... Often, financial thinking in nonprofits becomes oversimplified, so the focus becomes on balancing one’s budget. Capitalization is an attempt to really dig deeper than that and look at the resources that are needed to sustain oneself, to be protected from the impact of business cycles. ... It’s a more nuanced, sophisticated way of thinking about resources.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com



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