Monday, February 23, 2015

BPO Digital Concert Hall: Ein Deutsches Requiem with the ASO Chorus

In 2008, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra began its Digital Concert Hall, enabling music lovers from around the globe to see and hear BPO concerts -- streamed live, or on demand -- through a subscription or single ticket.  Last year, the Digital Concert Hall also began streaming archival films, some produced 50 years ago, and feature von Karajan at the height of his powers.

For a limited time, you can experience the BPO's Digital Concert Hall free!

We encourage you to participate in BPO's Digital Concert Halls Facebook Survey.  As a thank you for filling out the survey, you will receive a voucher -- good through March 2015 -- with a code number, entitling you to a FREE 48-hour ticket to the Digital Concert Hall.  You may also enter to win a 12-month Digital Concert Hall ticket after the survey.

The ASO Chorus is deeply honored to be included in the Digital Concert Hall's archive of great Philharmoniker performances:  Ein Deutsches Requiem, conducted by Donald Runnicles, featuring Finnish soprano Helena Juntenen and Canadian baritone -- our own 'Dr. Atomic' -- Gerald Finley, and the ASO Chorus

ASO Chorus take their seats onstage
to begin rehearsals for Brahms' Requiem.
Berlin Philharmonie, December, 2009
These concerts at the Philharmonie, under the baton of Mr. Runnicles, form an important part of our choral universe.  That they happened at all was something of a cosmos-alignment: when he was first tapped as a guest conductor of the Philharmoniker in 2003, Mr. Runnicles asked if he could bring the chorus with him.  We joined him there, fortified with encouragement from ASO management, diligent choral preparation by Norman, detailed planning by the choral administrator, generous private and corporate funding, and unwavering pride and support from our orchestra at home. The 'amateur chorus from Atlanta' was subsequently invited back to Berlin on two more occasions, to perform sell-out concerts in a European capital, whose citizens are best known for the high artistic standard they demand in their premier concert hall. We did not disappoint.

I am happy and proud that one of our historic performances lives on through the miracle of live-streaming.  Please fill out the survey, and use your voucher to access our 2009 performance of Ein Deutsches Requiem through the Digital Concert Hall archive ... with the help of the latest technology, you can experience it for the first time, or relive it, like I did.

We sound glorious ...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Masters In This Hall

Happy Birthday, ASO!

It was a coherent vision which began this organization 70 years ago ... and guided its evolution into the world-class orchestra that it is today.  70 years of distinctive, live music-making from some of the finest orchestral masters are exciting to celebrate.

However, I still have a lingering fear, the same one which pervaded the lockout weeks, which still occasionally comes upon me:  the fear that the orchestra is doomed to be trapped in a cycle of having to justify its existence every couple of years, with events and arguments eerily echoing themselves.  The fear that a few years from now, someone -- perhaps not even connected with recent events -- will take a look at a balance sheet and cry out that 'something must be done!' about the orchestra because 'OMG! -- There's a deficit!'  And there we go again ...

Why did the lockout happen again in 2014?  How forgone is that conclusion for the next round of negotiations?  Is it possible that two groups who are historically on opposite sides of the negotiating table -- management and players -- can set aside entrenched modes of behavior and expression in order to move forward?

Breaking old habits is hard.  There is a saying which, when accompanied by the Gallic shrug, expresses an entirely French blend of cynicism and resignation: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose ... 'The more things change, the more they stay the same.'  Like that second lockout in 2014 ... it was a forgone conclusion, quite frankly ... two years prior, WAC went into siege mode and stayed there. Where are they now?

We need to explore issues which affect ASO's future, and the future of classical symphonic arts in general, by asking more questions.    

  • The Donor Question -- 'What happens when I send my money to ASO or WAC?' --  continues to be carefully examined, because the WAC needs to raise money, too, in order to fulfill its contractual obligations to the orchestra. There are good reasons why donors need to contribute to the ASO -- and historical reasons for them not to (that pesky 'spiraling deficit': why throw good money after bad?)  
  • The Debt Question -- How effective is a non-profit organization which is $189M in debt and can't satisfactorily account for the cash it had in hand? An exploration into WAC's debt and management history must contain a demand for transparency, if contract terms and 'best efforts' are to be achieved.  Lack of operating funds is having a devastating affect on the way ASO connects with its audiences.  To judge by appearances, there is no money currently being spent on cleaning up technology, or the timely marketing and promoting of concerts.  What else will bring audiences to Symphony Hall, if not the reaching out to interested people and the technology to make the experience easy and fruitful?  
  • The Orchestra Chair Endowment Question -- What is the current status of the endowment? What about the $8M matching grant?  Has there been any matching?  What ways can we plug in -- officially or otherwise -- to assist ASO and WAC in their efforts to bring the orchestra to its full complement?  
  • The Interested Parties Question -- Who needs to be involved in our efforts to maintain the financial and artistic level of the ASO? Interested parties consist of elected officials, arts groups, teachers, movers-and-shakers, community leaders, schools, e.g. We will continue to disseminate information to various concerned groups through email campaigns.  Mr. Doug Hertz is advocating for tax money to support the arts!  Read about it here: The ASOC blog's up-to-the minute Resources Page, maintained by Andrew Gee, is a valuable archive of press releases, op-ed pieces, editorials.  
  • The Art and Culture Awareness Question -- What is the current state of cultural growth in Atlanta? in Georgia?  Answering this question is for WAC's benefit as well as the players. Many different arts groups show sturdy support and growing numbers on the SOSA Facebook page.   How are WAC and ASO reaching into the community to build awareness and community relationships?  Are these results being measured somehow?  
  • The Leadership Question -- Perhaps one of the most fundamental questions.  What are results of the search for ASO's CEO?  Who is on the search committee and who are the candidates? Can we get to know any of them?   We know that in the past that 'absolute compliance with WAC' was a chief requirement for a CEO ... but will that serve ASO in the future?  How about 'experience and success leading a world-class arts institution' as a chief requirement? What about Board members: what constitutes a good ASO Board member? Again, 'compliance' was a past prerequisite, but the angry exodus of board members during the lockout indicated that 'compliance' came at too high a price. 
  • The Support Group Question --  Who is dedicated to preserving the financial and artistic future of the ASO?  We know there are groups affiliated with WAC and ASO; what are their functions?  Who are their members?  It is our hope that through all the social media outlets, two grass-roots organizations can continue to explore constructive and interesting ways of building the orchestra's profile in the community.  
    • SOSA is a force for community and world-wide awareness, getting the word out through the Facebook page, the SOSA blog, and Twitter.  The support base for these efforts will grow exponentially as SOSA continues to be an up-to-date resource, SOSA's mission is to build community awareness of ASO and Atlanta arts programs, help stimulate and grow financial support through fundraisers/projects, promote ASO concerts and ticket sales and promote Foundation-sponsored concerts outside Symphony Hall.  SOSA has a FB and Blog page.   
    • ATLSM Foundation (website only):  The Foundation will also continue its work of finding playing opportunities, helping the players partner with band and orchestra directors in community schools, performing free concerts, coaching students, holding auditions and master classes. In future, there will be some overlap with SOSA as far as community awareness projects, which benefit the Foundation's educational outreach mission.

Let's assume that the collective 'we' did learn something from only two horrific experiences.  Let's assume that four years from now, a 'transformation' has taken place:  in that time, players and player advocacy groups have built bridges between the orchestra leadership, staff, board members, donors, the community of audiences, and fellow WAC divisions to allow smooth, meaningful communication and mutual support.  Audiences are up.  Money is being raised; debts are being paid down.  Players have taken a measure of control over their destiny, even to helping choose board members and leadership.  And as proof of the environment of trust, carefully nurtured, all parties are working together in a shared artistic mission.  They did it in San Francisco; we can do it here.

The ASO's future depends on our accepting new genres of thought, if you will, opening our minds to the reality that in breaking old destructive patterns, we can actually change a predicted outcome. 

When the future generation celebrates ASO's 100th birthday, our combined efforts today will account for the number of candles on the cake.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Eddie's Attic Celebrates The End of the Lockout!

Allons enfants de la patrie 
(Come, children, let's go to the party!) 

Sunday, Nov. 23 from 5:00 pm until ? 

It's time to show your appreciation for the ASO's triumphant return to Symphony Hall! And the 10th Annual Chamber Music Marathon at Eddie's Attic is the place! 

All of us who have attended the musicians' community concerts during the lockout know first hand that the ASO is more than just a collection of symphony orchestra performers. These are highly skilled players, masters of the symphonic form, who also happen to be passionate about all forms of classical music ... and especially chamber music.  Because the players are deeply invested in the future of classical music in Atlanta, they are constantly searching for new and exciting ways to promote and share their love of chamber music in unexpected places ... including very cool clubs like Eddie's Attic.

The Chamber Music Marathon at Eddie's Attic is a popular tradition ... mainly because it bridges the distance between stage and the audience.  You'll hear virtuoso playing, you'll interact with the players, and best of all, get to know each player's artistry.  This is a unique, personal experience you cannot have in Symphony Hall.

Eddie's Attic is a superior 'listening' club, with excellent acoustics ... and is historically known as the place where Live Music Matters!  They also have a great bar, restaurant service, and a terrific wait staff.  And what live concert would be complete without an adult beverage, a dynamite burger and a chance to pour out your feelings about the lockout to a sympathetic crowd?

Come join us!  Here's the ticket link: Eddie's Attic 11/23 Chamber Music Marathon Tickets.

**** PLAYER UPDATE 11/22:   
Tomorrow night will be an amazing party! Come meet your friends at Eddie's ... We're United by Music! That means the Lockout can't 'officially end' until we all drink a toast to its demise, stick a viking helmet on it, put it in a boat, set it on fire, and send it out to sea. Let's close the chapter on pillaging and looting ... and open a brand new book: The ASO Moves Forward!'

Reserve a table ... bring your friends ... and get your party on!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ratification Feels Crazy Good!

For the FIRST TIME in history, the ASO musicians have come away from the negotiating table with a win. After over 8 weeks of being locked out by their parent institution, the Woodruff Arts Center, the players will be back next week to play in Symphony Hall, courtesy of a ratified contract which guarantees a complement of 88 players in four years, and a pay raise.    

We have all worked hard, supporting the players in what was an often daunting effort to get a fair settlement from the WAC.  

Was this terrible battle was necessary?  Why was it the players had to be threatened with the loss of their livelihoods as well as the compromise of their artistic reputation?   

The only thing I can say is that when I look at the weeks of work and struggle, I can't fail to see the good:  an orchestra with a better understanding and control of their place in the future ... two committed artistic directors willing to put their reputations on the line and tell the world of the great harm being done to the ASO ... a chorus solidly behind them, as they were two years ago  ... new friends online and on the picket line; the chance to meet thousands of vocal supporters who cherish their orchestra ... a series of highly successful community concerts, which reminded us of what we were fighting for ... the chance to face a highly entrenched bureaucracy and not flinch even when they called us 'crazy'.  

Next week, we will express our gratitude to friends and patrons in the best way we know how:   performing the Beethoven 9 in the place where we, and our orchestra, belong together.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Does Atlanta Have a Symphony Orchestra? (or Why Size Matters)

By Susan Merritt
Career-Long Musician and Music Educator

The typical size of a modern "symphony orchestra" is the result of the changing historical/stylistic periods in orchestral music. The number of musicians required to play the music written in each of the historical styles grew from small (around 25 players in the 1600-1750 Baroque Period) to very large (95-105+ in the 1815-1915 late Romantic Period and afterward). This was not because those crazy audiences just decided they liked bigger orchestras or the musicians wanted more buddies. It was because the composers of each period wrote music for more and more instruments.

To be designated a "symphony orchestra", an ensemble must have the instrumental forces needed to play music from each and every stylistic period. (i.e. a "chamber orchestra" plays only music from the earlier periods, thus needing a smaller complement of players; a "string orchestra" plays music written only for stringed instruments). A modern symphony orchestra, needs over ninety musicians on its roster, and, in some cases, over a hundred, to perform music of every stylistic period.

Quite aside from the requirements of the art form itself, professional orchestral musicians, like professional athletes, are engaged day in and day out in strenuous and sometimes injurious repetitive physical activity. If you think that's bunk, try sawing away on a violin or bending over a string bass for 6-8 hours a day and then being at the top of your form around 10:00 o'clock three to four nights a week. Repeat for 30 years. Shoulders, elbows, backs, necks, wrists, and hands take an incredible beating. You will be on a first-name basis with your physical therapist, neurologist, orthopedist - not to mention your otologist when your hearing goes because you sat in front of the trumpet section for your entire career.

At any one time during a season, there inevitably will be a number of team (orchestra) members on the "injured list" - yes, orchestras have an injured list. Sometimes careers (and livelihoods) end because of the injuries. Healthcare is no small item among your benefits.

In order to continue performing at peak capacity and to prevent the most common injuries, rest periods are essential. All musicians (athletes) need to be "on the bench" periodically. The rosters (complements) of teams must account for that reality, so that there are more pitchers, goalies, linebackers or musicians available than are needed for any one game (performance). Size of the roster is critical for two other reasons. (1) Both types of organizations train/rehearse and play as a team, with all the implied interdependencies cultivated by long-term work AS A TEAM, and (2) there (we hope) will always be newer players learning OVER TIME to play well with the team. Bringing in short-term, albeit talented, players from the outside who have not cultivated these interdependencies undermines the carefully fostered characteristics of the team (orchestra). The same principles apply in business. The Business Dictionary defines "team" as

"A group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project. Team members (1) operate with a high degree of interdependence, (2) share authority and responsibility for self-management, (3) are accountable for the collective performance, and (4) work toward a common goal and shared rewards(s). A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members."
( definition/team.html#ixzz3HYL2I3H0)

The chart below shows the MINIMUM number and types of instruments needed to perform music of each historical period, based on the composers' indicated orchestration of their works. This is for a SINGLE PERFORMANCE of a piece of music of the period. It, of course, does not account for the standard management of the orchestral "team", taking injury, illness and required rest time into account. The contrast with the present number of active musicians in the Atlanta "Symphony" Orchestra is instructive. It reveals how many non-team players must supplement the ASO when they play music written after 1815. Sometimes up to one-fourth of the orchestra. It also indicates that every single ASO musician must be physically well and present onstage for music written in the Classical Period (1730- c.1820).

Which music are we talking about? The music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz, all the Strausses, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, Bruckner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Grieg, Rimsky-Korsakov, Elgar, Mahler, Debussy, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Holst, Ives, Ravel, de Falla, Respighi, Prokofiev, Gershwin, Copland, Shostakovich, Barber, Britten, Bernstein, Adams... . I'll stop there. These are some of the recognizable superstars of each period (and, ironically, the composers Atlanta audiences have historically been most likely to buy a ticket to hear). The composers of that group number in the hundreds, if not thousands. We should also mention the "Atlanta School of Composers" - composers whose music was commissioned, premiered and recorded by and are now eternally associated with the (once?) great Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Higdon, Theofanidis, Golijov, Gandolfi and Adam Schoenberg (and according to the ASO website, "...with other prospective composers on the horizon". Really?).

The Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) has assumed a role for which it was not originally intended, namely the cultivation, management and promotion of a symphony orchestra (or art museum or theatre). That role was rightfully delegated to the individual managers and boards of directors of each division of the Center – those with the expertise to do that. The Woodruff Arts Center handled facilities, payroll, corporate fundraising, security, etc., but not the artistic product. In other words, WAC played a support role to the actual artistic product. Divisions paid WAC their share of the “rent” and other services. The WAC in turn shared the corporate funds raised with the divisions according to their respective budget size.

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, famously said of bad companies: “… the ‘product people’ get run out of the decision-making forums. The companies forget how to make great products. The product sensibility and product genius that brought them to this monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product vs. a bad product.” (Carey, Ryan. The Eight Greatest Quotes from Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview. March 6, 2013. http://www.pastemagazine. com/blogs/lists/2013/03/the-eight-most-important-passages-from-steve-jobs-the-lost-interview.html)

Given the current mindset, I daresay that we can look forward to the Governing Board of the Center embarking on a course that determines the types of artists and playwrights the High and the Alliance will be capable of displaying/performing – with no less disastrous results than determining which repertoire the ASO is capable of performing. The quality of the product determines the fate of the organization. The ASO, by its very nature, is the only WAC division that must rely on a permanent roster of musicians to exist. I fear that the present course ensures that the Center will eventually be “parenting” (badly) a second-rate and merely regional group of artistic organizations. Does the Arts Center aspire to mediocrity?

Creative accounting, meddling in the artistic product, and causing possible irreversible harm to the very institutions that give the Woodruff Arts Center its reason for being spell doom for the WAC. It’s time to wake up. A balanced budget for a second-rate arts center is no victory.

Do your job, WAC. Raise the money to support excellence.


Here's that not so pretty chart (hard to do in a Facebook post) by period and required instruments listed in order:

Classical Period/Early Romantic Period/Late Romantic Period/Modern Period

1st Violins 10/14/16/16
2nd Violins 10/12/14/14
Violas 8/10/12/12
Cellos 6/8/10/10
Double basses 4/6/8/8
Harp 0/1/2/1-2
Flutes 2/2/3-4/2-4
Oboes 2/2/3-4/2-4
Clarinets 2/2/3-4/2-4
Bassoons 2/2/3-4/2-4
French horns 2-4/4/4-10/4-8
Trumpets 2/2/3-8/3-6
Trombones 0/3/3-5/3-6
Tubas 0/1/1-2/1-2
Timpani 1/1/2/2
Other percussionists 0/1/4/4-5


1st Violins 14
2nd Violins 11
Violas 8
Cellos 8
Double basses 5
Harp 1
Flutes 4
Oboes 4
Clarinets 4
Bassoons 4
French horns 4
Trumpets 3
Trombones 2
Tubas 1
Timpani 1
Other percussionists 3

I know it's hard to compare when there is no grid to line it all up. Work at it. Read it and weep.You'll learn a lot. Then think: Does Atlanta have a symphony orchestra?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Robbie Report: How the WAC Can Cut $5M from the ASO Budget

One of the more vexing issues we've been struggling with since 2012 has been the negative financial impact of Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, for which construction WAC Board member Larry Gellerstedt's company received a no-bid contract.  Loan payments as well as operating costs were added to the orchestra's bottom line, digging the orchestra deeper and deeper into debt.

Robbie Clark sheds light, asks probing questions, and generally tries to gauge the effect of VWA's effect on the ASO, after pioneering through a thicket of available information.

The ATL Symphony Musicians logo was adopted
in 2014 by the players, to differentiate themselves and their
activities as a separate entity from the ASO organization.