Michael Kaiser on Arts Organisations

Michael Kaiser, interviewed by Naomi Lewin on last week’s Conducting Business podcast:

As arts organisations have gotten more and more scared about the changing world, there’s been a pressure to do ‘what sells’ and do ‘the popular stuff’ because that’s what’s going to bring in ticket buyers … The problem is, if everyone does Beethoven’s Ninth or everyone does Swan Lake, a) we get very dull, and b) there are many versions of Beethoven’s Ninth that you can get online. We compete less well with online entertainment and we look less interesting and surprising.

It’s nice to see someone talking sense. It’s hard for arts and music organisations to stray from the path of selling tickets to established pops, but if that’s all they do they’ll never expand their audience beyond the people who are already coming, and those people won’t live forever. Risks taken now won’t always work out—but fail to take risks and you guarantee a slow death.

On the same episode, Lewin says:

You had a sort of an Orwellian 2035 vision of each of us sitting at home getting privately-delivered content and never going out of the house for any arts event.

Orwellian? That sounds great! Listening to a recorded performance at home is the perfect experience: you get a great performance of the music without being surrounded by an audience that’s (depending on your temperament) annoyingly noisy or uncomfortably quiet.

Granted, I may be eccentric in this regard, but in any case it’s a false dichotomy: you must either listen at home alone or in a crowded concert hall? How about you invite a few friends over?