Orchestra 101 Bonus: What is an Orchestra?

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Back a couple years ago I created a series of short articles called Orchestra 101, on professional orchestral playing. Following some of the comments I see online relating to various situations related to contract negotiations in the professional orchestral world it is obvious that a lot of people have a very fuzzy idea of what a professional orchestra is and what they do. For those with this thought, especially if you are a student and aspire to perform, feel free to read that series as background on a variety of issues.

The central question I would pose as a follow up article to that series is this: is an orchestra a group of musicians who play music for appreciative audiences, or is it a management that hires people to produce an entertainment product for appreciative audiences?

Can management replace the musicians?

To briefly review, I don’t know how many Horn Matters readers are up on various recent orchestra-management situations, but members of all full-time orchestras have been vetted initially though open and fair auditions, and those in the orchestral long enough also have been vetted through a tenure process as well.

But it seems though that some managements at their heart see musicians as people who can be replaced, just like players on a sports team. I think this is what is the hardest for the average horn player or music lover to get their mind around.

But what is an orchestra?

Back to the original topic of this article, most people would generally define an orchestra as a group of musicians — strings, brass, woodwind, and percussion — which performs orchestral music by masters such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruckner. There is a conductor that conducts the musicians who perform, and at a professional level a management that runs the logistics and financial side (donors/grants/etc.) so that a busy schedule can be maintained for the musicians, presenting a variety of concerts for a variety of audiences. Classics, pops, educational concerts, etc.

Management exists to run an orchestra so that musicians can perform music for audiences that want to hear music. Stepping back though, this can lead to a “management as concert presenter” model of operations. The result is that players in labor disputes can feel like pawns in a game by their management; they are not going to be very happy about that.

Two guys in Arizona

And of course here at Horn Matters, we are just a couple guys in Arizona. We at Horn Matters really don’t want to wade deeply into labor-management issues, we are mainly just enthusiastic about all things horn. We sincerely hope that the situations that seem to be cropping up more frequently are resolved to the benefit of the performers and the public, and hope this article offers a bit of useful perspective on it all.

Article updated 2014. See this article also for more on the orchestra/professional sports comparison.

Orchestra 101 Series Continues Here

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