Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Contact! New Music Series Survives Attempted Murder

Last week, the NY Times ran an excellent, though surprising, article by Michael Cooper about the last-minute reprieve for the NY Philharmonic's Contact! new music series.

This is one of outgoing music director Alan Gilbert's new-music initiatives for the orchestra. It's not so hard to see why the orchestra almost killed it: it's a chamber music series, with concerts given in small spaces, and it had an audience of around 800 annually.

On the other hand, it didn't cost very much, between $150,000 and $200,000/year, or one veteran orchestra member's salary, roughly speaking. For perspective, the orchestra's 990 form for 2013-14 shows total revenue of around $70 million. $200,000 is about .3% of the total annual budget, that is, one third of one percent. From a visibility viewpoint and from the perspective of giving the musicians the chance to play new music, the series is a win all around.

Note also the four guys who stepped forward with the money to keep the series going: Alan Gilbert, Jaap van Zweeden, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Matthew VanBesien. That would be the orchestra's outgoing music director, its incoming music director, its composer-in-residence (who just happens to be a great conductor and composer), and its executive director ("who reluctantly made the decision to suspend [Contact!]").

He really must have been reluctant, since he ponied up to keep it going. This makes me wonder whether it was pressure from the Board to drop Contact! that resulted in the initial decision. In any event, I'm glad the series will go forward and hope that it continues and even expands. And good for these four, especially JvZ, who is an unknown quantity when it comes to new music.

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