As I conclude my three years with the Toronto Philharmonia, I am led to consider again the purpose of a live performing arts organization in this time of electronic media. Why have a professional orchestra performing in our community when we can listen to such great music on CD, on our televisions or via online podcasts?
Some will say that the social experience of sharing a live performance in a great hall is, in itself a reason to support our orchestras and chamber ensembles. I agree that it is one reason. But is it enough?
If we make our musical organizations simply museums for the display of works by composers long dead and gone, we have no one to blame but ourselves when other citizens find what we are doing irrelevant to their daily lives, or who feel that what we do can easily be replaced by electronic records of performances by a very few orchestras worldwide.
An art form is alive, growing, challenging our assumptions, involving us, and provoking debate or it is dying. Performing the best of music from the past should always be a part of what an orchestra does, but if it is not also encouraging students, new musicians, community artists, collaborating with living composers, creating opportunities for its own musicians to learn, grow, explore new collaborations then it is irrelevant to the artistic life of its own community. It is my view that this is at the core of the mission of any orchestra in today’s society, and not the after-thought, or add-on that so very many organizations regard the role of education and professional development.
Organizations that view contributions to music development, education and professional development as hoops they must jump through in order to succeed with funding applications are unlikely to priorize these activities. Unfortunately it is a common view. I would challenge them to put the musical life of their community at the core of their Mission and view concert presentation as but one way to contribute to that Mission.