TO BORROW THE PHRASE FROM TOLSTOY, all successful orchestras are alike; each struggling orchestra struggles in its own way. And yet, beneath their variable façades patched with business tactics and community-relevance initiatives, orchestras are besieged today by challenges that all share an underlying theme. In fact, that same theme defines the struggle that engages classical music itself.
The Future Symphony Institute is founded on the premise that the deep, foundational cracks underlying our crumbling orchestras can be identified, understood, and repaired; and that these must be repaired before we can address the patches that tactically hide but have not structurally stabilized the surface damage in the unique façade of each orchestra. In fact, we believe that the problems facing orchestras today have been solved already – probably many times over – by the thinkers, craftsmen, and businessmen who have been reconciling art with human nature for all of history.
We are not here to beat the bushes for more answers to the questions that you already know by heart – that you hear echoing without end through the major granting foundations, in the hallways and boardrooms of our symphony orchestras, and in the print of our nation’s most respected newspapers – but rather to ask new questions. We propose to question the questions that after almost 100 years of valiant and fervent seeking have brought orchestras no closer to – and arguably led them farther away from – sustainable answers and no relief from their struggles. When something is not working, the solution is rarely just to do more of it.
Instead, the Future Symphony Institute is founded to be an entirely new and independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit think tank in the tradition of the great American think tanks. It is to be a birthplace of bold and challenging ideas that unflinchingly reframe the ways we understand the problems. Comprised of a growing community of the world’s best and brightest thinkers, scholars, theorists, researchers, artists, craftsmen, and business minds, the Institute focuses on providing visionary leadership and contributions to strategic thinking, scholarly research, policy formation, and public dialogue.
Put simply, our mission is to relegitimize classical music. But that task is anything but simple. The challenge we face is firstly a philosophical one. And in this situation we are not alone. In fact, we are in very impressive company. Beside us in the court of public opinion stand Greek and Latin, Classics, the Western Literary Canon, Philosophy and Theology, Classical Architecture, and even History and most of the Humanities. All of these disciplines stand, like us, accused of irrelevance at best, and crimes against prevailing ideologies at worst.
For it has become a ubiquitous and lazy habit in our modern age to speak in sound bites and to think in ideologies. But we cannot penetrate any problem very deeply unless we’re willing first to demolish these habits of non-thinking. And we intend to penetrate to the bottom, to dig down to the very foundation. We intend to understand who and what we are as human beings, as an art form, and as institutions. From there we can hope to learn why we are. And when we know ourselves in this way, then we will also know our place in the great stream of human history – past, present, and future.
The big lesson for the symphony orchestra and those who love it, at the end of the day, may just be a lesson in human nature and the nature of human experience. It seems to be something we moderns are particularly good at forgetting. Or rather we prefer to think of ourselves the way we wish we were, based on some ideal or ideology, instead of the way we actually are. Either way, the error multiplies when we begin to make calculations based on our delusions. So prepare to abolish some delusions.
We’re coming soon.