I would urge all who are campaigning to ‘save’ the TSO and who are condemning Mr Strong to do their homework.
Around the world orchestras are changing direction and this is because in the arts, as in all things, nothing lasts forever.
For example, the concept of a modern state-funded orchestra is relatively new in the rich history of classical music.
When Mozart and Haydn composed in the 18th century, they wrote for private ensembles funded by patrons.
In the 1930s the NBC created an orchestra for the brilliant Arturo Toscanini – once Toscanini retired, that orchestra lapsed.
In recent times, consider groups such as Claudio Abbado’s adventure with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra – the Italian maestro’s creation and idea.
In our own country, the Australian Chamber Orchestra plays Beethoven and Schubert symphonies with a small group
Furthermore, consider this – chamber orchestras can play the repertoire of larger ensembles, particularly with 38 players as is suggested by Strong. In fact, there would be little (Mahler and Shostakovich definitely) that the TSO now plays that it could not play with 9 less players, and there might be a good deal more that could be played more authentically with a slimmed down ensemble.
In our own country, the Australian Chamber Orchestra plays Beethoven and Schubert symphonies with a small group.
And the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which has just over 40 musicians on its books, will play Brahms’ 2nd piano concerto in May this year – this is a work of depth and resonance requiring a big sound.
Or take the repertoire of the stellar Academy of St Martins in the Fields, directed for many years by Neville Mariner, or the Prague Chamber Orchestra that Australian Charles Mackerras turned into a truly great orchestra, period. Or I Musici di Veneti or the Scottish Chamber Orchestra or and the list goes on.
There is nothing magical about having over 40 musicians in an orchestra.
Finally, while the TSO is an excellent small orchestra, it is not regarded as one of the world’s best as some are claiming. The Academy of St Martins in the Fields, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the Prague Chamber Orchestra, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra fall into that elite category.
The TSO is a fine band
That’s why they attract conductors of the talents of Claudio Abbado, Paavo Jaarvi, Sir Neville Marriner and one of best violinists around today – who I had the privilege of hearing in Sydney a number of years ago, Joshua Bell.
The TSO is a fine band – in fact this month the prestigious Gramophone magazine has given a tremendously positive review of the orchestra’s latest offering of Moscheles concertos with Howard Shelley. But let’s not gild the lily by making it something it’s not.
If you want to be properly informed in the current debate and not simply ridiculous opportunist and negative like Lara Giddings, Eric Abetz, Rene Hidding and petty city burgers then you might care to look at Norman Lebrecht’s When the Music Stops on the changing fortunes of classical music. Or if you prefer, and Lebrecht can be a bit on the pessimistic side, read critics like the New York Times’ Anthony Tomassini.
But remember the words of the great recently turned octogenarian Pierre Boulez who has assumed control of the Chicago Orchestra from Daniel Barenboim – orchestras must always re-invent themselves otherwise they become brittle and conservative.
I would be delighted to talk with anyone seriously interested in the future of music in Tasmania and to point people in the direction of developments in the classical music world globally – there’s a lot happening and much of it good.
But conservatism and knee-jerk protection of the past is not part of the good news.