Troyens

Troyens

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

More on Minnesota

Alex Ross has some remarks on Minnesota and links to a speech by Alan Fletcher (President & CEO of the Aspen Festival) to Orchestrate Excellence; there's also a transcript (or copy of the speech) at Slipped Disc.

The latest bad news is that the Swedish record label Bis, which has been issuing the Vänskä/Minnesota Sibelius series, has canceled planned recording sessions for the Third and Sixth symphonies. If the lockout ends and the orchestra has a contract, there's a week in the spring that could work for making the recordings.

I have thoughts, but I'm waiting to see what happens in September, when Vänskä will either stay or go.

2 comments:

Paul Muller said...

Sorry if this seems a rant - but hopefully will provoke some discussion...

The story surrounding the Minnesota Orchestra lockout is probably the most visible of the struggles between musicians and management, but it is consistent with what is happening to orchestras elsewhere. It has become less and less about money and more about philosophy – and I think it is a parallel to the social changes effected by the industrial revolution, but played out in the 21st century.

We tend to focus on the innovation and low cost of mass-produced goods that have been made possible in the last 300 years by the industrial revolution, but there has also been a secondary effect: the conversion of craft into factory processes and the corresponding devaluation of skill. Companies buy more and more sophisticated machinery to fabricate more and more complex items, thus substituting capital for need of skilled craftspeople. And this is seen as a good thing: more goods produced at less cost means better value for the consumer.

Furthermore, in the capitalist view labor has become a commodity that is governed by supply and demand. High supply of labor, lower wages. So the modern philosophy is that skilled labor should be displaced by technology where possible or paid the lowest possible wage that market conditions will allow. And who sits on the boards of orchestras all over the country? Precisely the kind of people who see this view as gospel. They believe – with a theological passion – that the large supply of musicians out there simply must translate into lower compensation. Quality? Quality is a factor only if someone takes notice.

Additionally, the professional musician is one of the last skilled crafts that still exist in our society and consequently the orchestra musician has less and less in common with other workers in our society. Who else practices 5 or 6 hours a day at their art, and does this over an entire career? Most of us change jobs every few years and we are always having to learn new skills to keep up. The professional musician is becoming an anomaly in the way people work for a living and people will naturally have less empathy with the musician's point of view.

The result is situations that we have seen in Minnesota and elsewhere – pressure put on the musicians to accept less according to the capitalist doctrine of supply and demand. Perhaps the answer for orchestra musicians is to fire the boards and be more selective of donors; because capitalism is no friend, ultimately reducing the value of art to only what someone is willing to pay for it.

Paul Muller said...

Waiting to see what September brings on this issue... Sorry for the length of this.

The story surrounding the Minnesota Orchestra lockout is probably the most visible of the struggles between musicians and management, but it is consistent with what is happening to orchestras elsewhere. It has become less and less about money and more about philosophy – and I think it is a parallel to the social changes effected by the industrial revolution, but played out in the 21st century.

We tend to focus on the innovation and low cost of mass-produced goods that have been made possible in the last 300 years by the industrial revolution, but there has also been a secondary effect: the conversion of craft into factory processes and the corresponding devaluation of skill. Companies buy more and more sophisticated machinery to fabricate more and more complex items, thus substituting capital for need of skilled craftspeople. And this is seen as a good thing: more goods produced at less cost means better value for the consumer.

Furthermore, in the capitalist view labor has become a commodity that is governed by supply and demand. High supply of labor, lower wages. So the modern philosophy is that skilled labor should be displaced by technology where possible or paid the lowest possible wage that market conditions will allow. And who sits on the boards of orchestras all over the country? Precisely the kind of people who see this view as gospel. They believe – with a theological passion – that the large supply of musicians out there simply must translate into lower compensation. Quality? Quality is a factor only if someone takes notice.

Additionally, the professional musician is one of the last skilled crafts that still exist in our society and consequently the orchestra musician has less and less in common with other workers in our society. Who else practices 5 or 6 hours a day at their art, and does this over an entire career? Most of us change jobs every few years and we are always having to learn new skills to keep up. The professional musician is becoming an anomaly in the way people work for a living and people will naturally have less empathy with the musician's point of view.

The result is situations that we have seen in Minnesota and elsewhere – pressure put on the musicians to accept less according to the capitalist doctrine of supply and demand. Perhaps the answer for orchestra musicians is to fire the boards and be more selective of donors; because capitalism is no friend, ultimately reducing the value of art to only what someone is willing to pay for it.