Some ideas for breaking even at Orchestra Hall

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 10, 2011 - 4:57 PM

The phrase "interesting developments in the local classical music scene" probably strikes many as the equivalent of "worthwhile advances in Canadian agriculture," but bear with us here. There's actual news.

If you're wondering whether a local orchestra lured away a cellist from the St. Louis Orchestra for $250 million -- no. Classical music is not like baseball, except that both involve a score, and several symphonies have a "bottom of the ninth," but that's about it. Here's the latest:

1. The Ordway will be rebuilt for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Somehow this happened without five years of banging the begging bowl against the taxpayers' shins or threatening to move the orchestra to Los Angeles. It's my way or the Ordway! Most of the funding comes from private donations or foundations; one person kicked in $5 mil but requested anonymity; we'll know if there are strings attached if one season consists entirely of Sousa marches played on kazoos.

2. Meanwhile, over in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Orchestra had a losing year. Not in the baseball sense of going 1 for 4 against Brahms on the road. They lost money. This has nothing to do with the overhaul of Orchestra Hall, which will cost $40 million (the earlier, more expensive plan for a retractable roof was dropped.) No, the orchestra itself lost money. This is bad, because we need these guys to shield the guttering light of the orchestra tradition against the gales of popular culture.

Some suggestions:

• Corporate sponsorship of individual symphonic movements. Get Life Time Fitness to sponsor the scherzos, for example. Slumberland can take the adagios.

• Conclude each concert with an enormous, loud, unresolved chord, or "Shave and a Haircut" without the "Two bits," then pass the hat. If everyone kicks in a few bucks, resolve the chord or give 'em the "two bits." Likewise, you could announce that you will be playing all four movements of a highly regarded modern composition that sounds like cats being disemboweled in a steel mill, but if everyone ponies up, you'll only play three.

• Downsizing is another option. Violas: Who'd miss 'em? I'm just saying everything has to be on the table.

• Just cut everyone's salary. Really. They probably make too much. If God wanted you to be rich, He wouldn't have given you musical talent.

But then, if they're not paid enough, they might get too weak from hunger to play the popular, strenuous pieces, and it'd be Satie and half-speed Debussy from here on out.

So perhaps the state could dribble out more Legacy Amendment funding from the great sloshing bucket.

"Oboists standing with signs at freeway ramps" isn't the legacy we have in mind.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

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