Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NZ Symphony Orchestra under threat of closure

Axing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is one of four options being put forward in the face of falling ticket sales for performances.
The Culture and Heritage Ministry today released a new discussion paper looking at the future of orchestras in New Zealand, amid concerns that falling ticket sales and rising Government funding were making the sector unsustainable.
New Zealand has four regional orchestras, in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Southland, as well the national touring orchestra.
Once closed down the NZSO it will be nearly impossible to resurrect this world class orchestra so the NZ government has to think carefully over this one. 

Everyone in the music industry is suffering today but some of the pain that orchestras are now suffering is self inflicted. Over the years orchestras have not been very thoughtful to others and now the sympathy that orchestral players expect is not forth coming.

As an artist and a producer and director I have a love/hate relationship with orchestras as organisations. In my experience they have not been easy. When it comes to money and treatment orchestras, like tenors are prima donnas. In my time everything was done to placate them for they could and did make life difficult and expensive for other artists.

In the past musicians and record companies had it all they own way. They got and demanded huge fees making it impossible for many other artistic disciplines to use them. It meant that many operas and ballets could not and are still not be shown on TV or DVD as the orchestral fees demanded were far in excess of the income.generated Consequently opera & ballet and classical music did not and still does not get promoted and many artists have had their brilliant performances lost to posterity. 

At charity concerts when other artists forgo their fees orchestras's get paid!  As Gilbert of G&S once replied after being asked to donate his the royalty for a charity concert. If the orchestra gets paid I get paid! Orchestra's do not do charity unless for themselves. 

Because of cost singers get only one rehearsal with an orchestra. If singers sing with the orchestra the orchestra gets more money consequently singers just have to sit and listen. This does not improve performances.

Orchestra's are good at downing instruments and leaving if rehearsal time overruns or demand overtime. This does nothing to help get good performances either. Orchestras are within their rights but for others who have to suffer this appears unreasonable. Sometimes the singer will sing for the first time with the orchestra on their first night. It wouldn't have hurt them. If others behaved like this nothing would get on.

Orchestras usually get paid more than performing artists too and on a regular basis. I never got paid as well as the orchestra although many West End shows relied on my performance. These musicians who were well paid often used substitutes  so they could take other work and on those days the orchestra sounded awful and the show and our jobs suffered as the orchestra sounded appalling. Shows relie on word of mouth!

The present copyright regime bought in by USA to protect Micky Mouse stifles creativity. Having to wait 70+ years  for re-interpretation is too long so new up to date versions of hits of the recent past miss out on promotion and will be forgotten. 

I used to hate dealing with orchestral musicians as a bunch both as a performer and a producer. I recall once trying to employ the NSO when instead of seeing the General  Manager I was given five minutes of the Concert Manager's time where he insisted on showing off his digital watch. As this interview had been arranged by Radio NZ I do not know was the most embarrassed. Point being is orchestra's then were prima donnas and instead of being helpful appeared self satisfied and greedy and prepared to put a woman in her place. Anyone prepared to employ an orchestra should be taken seriously. I made do with recored music and later digitized music. Digitized music which is now so good and so cheap too by comparison. 

So is recorded music. In Sydney I attended the Australian Ballet with orchestra, In the third ballet I thought the orchestra was playing, mush better than in the previous ballets so I glanced down to see an empty pit. The orchestra had gone home after the first two ballets! The  recorded sound was so good.

Lastly it is a pity that orchestral musicians do not appear happier when playing instruments at concerts. Usually they look bored stiff as if they would rather be somewhere else!  On tour they grumbled constantly in spite of having paid for weeks off while we artists had no pay for that week just the fare to the next town.

But that is a minor quibble. I should hate to see the NZSO go!

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