Memphis Symphony a model for evolution of orchestra mission

Classical music producer and ArtsJournal blogger Joseph Horowitz singles out the Memphis Symphony Orchestra as an example for other orchestras to follow as they broaden their mission away from simply performing concerts to providing an array of education and other services to the community. This is a necessity, Horowitz says, because "concert supply outstrips demand." Therefore, an orchestra must come up with creative ways for its full-time employees to fulfill their contractual services, besides producing expensive -- and perhaps poorly attended -- concerts.

Horowitz caught up with Ryan Fleur, the Memphis Symphony's CEO, at a recent orchestra conference, and he recounts some of what the MSO has been doing in what Fleur calls "a cultural shift":

Eighty per cent of the Memphis Symphony's 36 fulltime musicians engage in "approved partnership activities" totaling up to 45 of 266 contracted services per season. They mentor students at an inner-city charter school. They furnish "leadership training" for local corporations. They produce performances outside the concert hall, replacing traditional subscription weeks.

One obstacle for some orchestras in adopting what Horowitz calls "the Memphis model" is getting the musicians' unions to cooperate. These nonperformance services are outside of what a professional musician traditionally has been trained to do. However, musicians are coming around, Horowitz says Fleur told him, because "they believe this redefinition is essential to the survival and necessary transformation of the orchestra."

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