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Competition in the Arts

April 14, 2009

Recently I’ve been wondering if the arts could use more competition.  I’m not talking about the competition for say solo opportunities or or seats in an orchestra, but competition for audience’s attentions.  What might happen if there was a second orchestra on the level of the New York Philharmonic in NYC?  Sure there are other orchestras who play very well (St. Luke’s, Orpheus) , but they aren’t as regular fixtures in the city or have the attention of the Phil.  I’m not sure if that’s fair either – I imagine any of them on any night could stake a claim to being the best orchestra in the city.

I think City Opera and the Met fits as a model for what I’m imagining.  The two seem to have different audiences and missions.  These roles evolved as time went on.  The competition is also healthy – the two need to work to maintain their audiene lest they defect.    The two need to figure out new ways to attract audiences – like the Met’s movie theater broadcasts.  Let’s hope City Opera can get itself situated back home soon so they can take advantage of their Opera Matters talks.

I also think in the long run its not healthy for classical music that an orchestra like the NY Philharmonic is funded primarily by large donations rather than public ticket sales (pdf of their 2008 annual report here).  The true stakeholders for what should be the city’s premiere orchestra becomes a select group of rich people who may or may not be out of tune with what the public is interested in.  If the New York Philharmonic wants to be the orchestra for that circle, that is fine, but I’m not sure if they’d really be earning their name.  We might be better off calling it the NY rich person’s philharmonic.

The bottom line is that I think classical music would benefit if the organizations felt a greater need to hustle for the public rather than hustle for its donors.

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