Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Symphony Hamilton and the Live Music Conundrum

Sunday afternoon I heard Symphony Hamilton: Symphony on the Bay play an all Beethoven program under their conductor James McKay, recently retired Head of Performance at my Alma Mater, the University of Western Ontario. The orchestra played the Leonora Overture #3 and the 3rd Symphony, and Leslie Kinton joined them for the 5th Piano Concerto  Mr. Kinton played with accuracy and enthusiasm.
Whatever the calibre of the orchestra's performance, the auditorium of the Royal Botanical Gardens has rather poor acoustics and I was stunned recently that the Bach-Elgar Choir is performing there as well.

This orchestra has ended up there ("there" being Burlington, Aldershot actually) because:
 -it has been unable to find an affordable and appropriate venue in Hamilton
 -the new Burlington Arts Centre is to open in the fall of 2011 and they hope to perform there

The orchestra had previously played in churches in Hamilton and, for a while, in the Studio Theatre of Hamilton Place. Hamilton Place is so expensive to rent that even Opera Hamilton has abandoned it and will perform next season in the 1200 seat Theatre Aquarius.

In any event, the orchestra is in dire financial straits, and declared as much in a message from their Acting President in the program. They point out that only about 30% of their costs are achieved through ticket sales (the RBG auditorium was packed, and has been for every concert I've ever attended there.)
They need government or corporate support or donations from their patrons who are already paying $28 to hear a mostly amateur orchestra.

The Bach-Elgar Choir underwent a similar crisis some years ago and has never completely recovered.
What is to be done?

I must confess that I have not a clue. For years even professional musicians have subsidized the arts organizations for whom they perform by accepting scandalously low payment for high quality work. I remember being asked (and agreeing through my union) to be paid about $15 per show for radio broadcasts of performances which were played on the CBC and, ultimately, on public radio stations around the world all as a means of promoting the arts organization for whom I was working.

The place of live performance (and recordings) in the world has changed, and is changing. It's a sad commentary that the public, who by and large don't attend live performances, may end up with nothing of value to listen to.

1 comment:

  1. A further problem is that the public doesn't even know what they are missing.