I’m home from Classical : Next, and my mind is abuzz. Yes, it’s the strong morning coffee, the time difference, and the length of my to-do list. But there’s more: the powerful ideas, the opportunity for hilarious and penetrating conversations with members of our amazing Canadian team, the intellectual calibre and sophistication of our international colleagues, and (because it’s always, at heart, about the music) the marvelous performances that I heard. There’s also the obligation to remove all the business cards that I collected from the various pockets of my clothing before I do laundry – but that’s surely of less interest to you.
Here’s a top-line summary of the important themes that resonate for me:
There are many pressures on orchestra organizations not only in Canada, but right around the world. The similarities are much more striking than the differences.
• Play great music with commitment and fidelity;
• Explore 400 years of repertoire and at the same time, play a key role in developing the next 400 years of repertoire;
• Find and then thrill new audiences;
• Be skilled educators and coaches;
• Exemplify excellence in team work while encouraging high levels of individual contribution and performance;
• Be accessible in pricing, venue choices (including digital availability), concert scheduling, repertoire selection;
• Be entrepreneurial;
• Articulate a strong, compelling, and future-oriented case for support;
• Be great and humane workplaces.
I know, I know. We’ve heard much of this before. What made these discussions “better”?
No-one presented themselves as having all the answers; nor was there a search for a single silver bullet. The exchanges were predicated on the idea that we are ALL learning how to adapt, whether through process improvement or major, disruptive breakthrough.
There’s an increased comfort with paradox. One of my favourite conference sessions featured presentations by Edbar Zaman of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and Manus Carey of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. (As fellow Canadian delegate Jean R. Dupré of Orchestre Métropolitain said, he liked the session where there wasn’t enough time for either speaker to finish their presentation! This was THAT presentation.) Both use paradox in their work: Edbar reflecting on a good-sized list of oxymorons (ranging from Hierarchy vs. Democracy to Excellence vs. Fun) and Manus asking if we wanted the orchestra to be a factory (emphasizing efficiency and standardization of process) or a laboratory (focusing on observation and learning).
Skilled facilitators made the most of conference sessions that were typically only 45 minutes in length. We left wanting more, not regretting the time we’d never get back.
As Canadians, we’re accustomed to hearing a lot about US orchestras – their successes and travails. We’re not quite so accustomed to being listened to, although our experiences are distinct. In the privileged setting of Classical : Next (where there was a “disproportionate” Canadian presence according to one American observer!), our contributions had impact. Were my interventions at sessions better heard because I come from the land of Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Lori Freedman, and the Cecilia Quartet? Perhaps, and that’s fine with me!
Can I also make a confession? As rich as the conference was, and as much talk of orchestras as it incorporated, it did not include an actual orchestral performance. So I took advantage of the 24 hours that I had between the end of the conference and my flight home, hopped on a high speed train from Rotterdam, and heard Osmo Vanska and the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest and Calefax Ensemble in a delightful mixed program of Szymanowski, Francesconi, and Beethoven at the Concertgebouw. Talk about orchestras is energizing, and I certainly like to talk. But nothing quite beats that sound, particularly not That Sound, in That Venue, with Those Players, That Conductor, and That Repertoire. I am #blessed.
I’d also like to reflect, with gratitude, on the qualities of Team Orchestras Canada, a truly delightful collection of people. Each one of you made an indelible contribution to my quality of life during the conference, and you each made a strong contribution to the positive impression that Team Canada left behind, through your shifts at the Orchestras Canada booth, your interventions during conference sessions, and your other interactions with conference participants. Thank you, Thérèse Boutin (Orchestre symphonique de Québec), Jean R. Dupré (Orchestre Métropolitain), Kevin Lau (Toronto Symphony Orchestra), Andrew Mellanby (Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony – who gave a terrific, last-minute presentation on his orchestra’s Hack The Orchestra event!), Shannon Whidden (Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra), Vicki Young (Manitoba Chamber Orchestra), Tania Miller (Victoria Symphony).
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.
Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 153 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.