“I wrote to Peter Gelb, whom I know, and I said that the only way you’re going to solve these problems is to tear down that house, which is almost four thousand seats, and build something half the size or less. I am convinced that these very large concert halls are a thing of the past.”
You could be sour about the music industry if you wanted to be. Sadly, few orchestras now broadcast nationally. But the musicians’ union has a lot to answer for. It may have helped to make its members more prosperous, but it has been self-defeating in other ways.
There will always be a type that can’t stand that the broad public fails to share his passions. They will not reconcile themselves to the fact that classical music will always be, as it has always been, a minority taste. But the minority – lucky us – has an abundance before it.
It is a common criticism today, as it was in 1341, that to look “backwards” is to look upon something old and decrepit, outdated and dilapidated. Time for us moves only forward, and so paradoxically, while our civilization grows old, it is our past that we label as aged and the day itself as eternally young.
“Our mission is to enrich and connect people with a sublime musical experience – that’s what we do. What this means is that it’s not only the music that should be sublime, but everything about Concertgebouw should be sublime.”
Selling music in wrapping paper which belies its nature will inevitably lead to disappointment: potential new audiences – especially the younger generations without much exposure to classical music – will feel cheated when they find out that a Mahler symphony does not sound at all like heavy metal or hip-hop.
Organizations wanting to extract immense, even disproportionate, value from their brands must, like Wagner, work as polymaths; they must be great storytellers, impeccable orchestrators, innovative designers, consummate engineers, as well as uncompromising perfectionists.
There has been a drumbeat of naysayers who prophesy the doom of symphony orchestras, telling us in somber tones that only rich, old folks go to concerts these days. I’m sorry, but that’s not how I’ve seen things.
There is a natural harmony between the principles and values that describe classical music and those that define meta-luxury. Even more significantly, those principles and values resonate most deeply in our human nature, transcending all the boundaries that so worry us when we contemplate the problem of luxury.
We asked our major donors directly if we could count on their continued financial support for the downsizing plan to become a regional orchestra. The results were unanimous: nobody would give us the same amount or anything close to it for a lesser orchestra. Most wouldn’t contribute anything at all. We were built on excellence and that’s what we needed to be.