Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Good Ideas Out of the Detroit Symphony? Yes, Indeed.

Mark Stryker of the Free Press recently wrote about how the Detroit Symphony is faring two years after settling its embarrassing, divisive strike. Some of the changes that the orchestra has made shows that the board and management are really making efforts to be forward-looking and relevant to today's audiences.

For one thing, management is incentivizing musicians to participate in community engagement. Although the orchestra took a 23% pay cut--the base salary is still $81,000, pretty good in a city that has no money--there is a clause stating that musicians will get an extra $7,000 if they participate in education and "outreach" programs. It's essential for orchestras to start thinking of themselves not as concert promoters exclusively, but as educators and advocates for their art; the bonus money, although modest, at least shows that the DSO is aware of this reality.

The DSO is also opening up new ways for people to enjoy its traditional repertoire. Because the contract agreed upon in 2011 made it less costly for management to distribute recordings, the orchestra now reaches an extra 10,000 per concert through internet broadcasts. The DSO is also playing 25% of its classical concerts on a suburban concert series that has brought in 2,200 new season-ticket holders.

A number of musicians bolted during the strike, but now the DSO is replacing them with fantastic new, young musicians. Stryker says that "the orchestra has hit home run after home run in auditions" and points to the orchestra's new concertmaster, Yoonshin Song, as an example.