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Orchestra Moving to the Internet

One method in particular has been a boon for us: Internet broadcasting of virtually all of our subscription concerts.
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The most important question American orchestras face is: How do we reach new audiences? You all know the complaints:

"The average age is increasing."

"Classical music has little relevance today."

"The economic market cannot sustain an orchestra."

The list goes on, but in my hometown, we have found a way to buck the trend.

After a six-month strike, during which many in the industry wrote off the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as yet another casualty in the Motor City, we have bounced back with new initiatives that have helped to address these concerns.

One method in particular has been a boon for us: Internet broadcasting of virtually all of our subscription concerts. As a result of cooperation among the musicians, board, union and management, a deal was reached that allows this to occur with very little outlay of cash resources. Through the generous support of the Ford Motor Company Fund and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and in collaboration with Detroit Public Television, we have been able to reach thousands of viewers around the world, most of whom previously did not know about the DSO.

In my mind, much of the forward thinking has to do with the realization that the definition of the word "audience" has changed, at least for this orchestra. No longer does it consist of just those people who come to Orchestra Hall, but it now includes music lovers in homes, hospitals and even automobiles. Clearly, this is a throwback to the days when people would tune in, for example, on Sundays to listen to broadcasts by the New York Philharmonic. As a youngster growing up in Los Angeles, this was my audio window to a special musical world. Being able to listen with my family was very special indeed.

How does this new technology help solve the so-called "crisis"?

Clearly, the age of this audience is mostly younger. We know this through the comments we receive each week. They love, not only the programs, but also the additional content. Sometimes we feature voiceovers about the music to be heard, other times we feature interviews with the artists or composers. We also give them a few glimpses into the diverse arts scene in the Detroit metro area. Last year, I was able to have a friendly web competition with Michael Tilson Thomas, as to whose baseball team would win the World Series.

A few weeks ago, we presented the American premiere of Cyborg by the Barcelona-based composer Ferran Cruxient. He was not able to make it out to Detroit for the performance, but he watched with his father, to whom the work is dedicated, from his home. I gave him a cyberspace bow.

For Thanksgiving week, we will present the world premiere of David Del Tredici's only opera, Dum Dee Tweedle. Although we expect good attendance at home, most others, including journalists, cannot attend. But many will be watching from their own base of operations, and a few will actually review the concert, covering not only the musical content, but the televised quality as well.

Because the idea seemed so unique and relevant, we have been able to secure the needed funds that allow us to do these broadcasts. It does not put very much money into anyone's pockets, as the proceeds mostly go towards the production costs. Starting in January, we will have robotic cameras, which will provide us with more flexibility in the way viewers will see the orchestra.

After two years of these webcasts, we are still learning what works and what does not. Most of the time we get it right. As with any live television event, there are moments of fragility, but these are offset by the sheer joy of each concert. We are building our audience on a worldwide scale yet continue to reach those who come -- week in, week out -- to experience the marvelous acoustics of Orchestra Hall.

Who knows what the next development with the global audience will be?

Stay tuned.