2017-2018 Contemporary Repertoire in Orchestral Programming: Part 1
Starting this year (2017-2018 artistic season), I have begun what will become a 5 or 6 year study tracking the programming of contemporary (post-1970) repertoire by a selection of large orchestras in the United States and northern Europe. My doctoral artistic research posits that there is a difference in contemporary music practice between the United States and Finland. I would like to see if this difference exists on a symphonic scale in orchestral programming, by examining and making note of how much and what types contemporary music are getting played, and in what kinds of concerts, by large orchestras in the United States, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. By establishing this report yearly, over the next number of years, I will also be able to track any trends and changes, nationally or regionally. What follows is first attempt at collating and discussing some data. All charts and images are my own.
In the United States, I selected what are termed the "Big 5" orchestras - New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and Philadelphia - plus the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The orchestras are located across the United States, geographically, and I feel represent a wide range of artistic practice when it comes to orchestra programming.
Of these orchestras, the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestras also have "Composer-in-Residence" programs. The composer-in-residence for the New York Philharmonic in the 2017-2018 season was Esa-Pekka Salonen (FI). The composers-in-residence for the CSO were Samuel Adams (US) and Elizabeth Ogonek (US). The composer-in-residence for the Philadelphia Orchestra 2017-2018 season was jazz trumpeter and composer Hannibal Lokumbe (US).
In Northern Europe, I selected six of the largest orchestras from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. This is in no way a complete list of influential orchestras in the region. There are more orchestras per capita in Northern Europe than in the United States, and therefore many more to chose from. My hope is that these Northern European orchestras will display some variety in their programming practices, even variety within a single country. Unlike American orchestras, none of the European ensembles have 'Composer-in-Residence' programs, nor do they have a CEO/President, due to the differences in management structure.
First, for each orchestra, I counted up the total number of concerts each orchestra had in the 2017-2018 season. To gather this data, I used the calendars on each orchestra's website, the orchestras' archived concert information, and season brochures, cross referenced in some cases using Facebook events for each orchestra. For the Finnish Radio Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, and Swedish Radio Orchestra, I had printed season catalogs in my possession to supplement information online. First, I counted up all "symphony orchestra concerts". I made note of which concerts were 'children's concerts', as well as film score concerts and noted these in the "total counts". Three out of the six American orchestras (New York, Chicago and LA) have "New Music" concert series, separate from normal orchestra concerts. Additionally, most of the orchestras in the US and Northern Europe have chamber music series. In an effort to be thorough, I did two sets of concerts totals, one with only symphony concerts, a second including new music concerts and chamber music concerts. The New Music concerts tend to feature chamber music, but not full orchestral pieces, which is why chamber music concerts and the New Music series are being considered together.
Once I had the total number of concerts, I made a list of all the contemporary repertoire that each orchestra played in the season and in how many concerts a given work was performed. As mentioned, I consider contemporary repertoire as works composed post-1970 (see my post "Is contemporary music even classical?" for an explanation). In most cases, the line was quite clear. The challenges this season were the programming of compositions by Bernd Alois Zimmerman, who died in 1970, and Toru Takemitsu, who composed actively between 1955 until his death in 1996. The only work from Zimmerman I included as "contemporary" was Skille und Umkehr, which was composed in 1970. Only one work by Takemitsu was excluded (Waltz from The Face of Another composed in 1966), but it was programmed in the same Philadelphia Orchestra concert as another contemporary work by Arturo Marquez, therefore not affecting the results. After listing the new works each orchestra played, and in how many concerts, I counted up the total number of concerts that featured contemporary music. In symphony and chamber music concerts where more than one contemporary work was played, it was counted as a single concert. Likewise, the New Music concerts only counted for one. I then divided the number of concerts featuring contemporary music by the number of total concerts to yield a percentage of concerts featuring contemporary music.
MARGIN FOR ERROR
It was surprisingly difficult to get a complete count of total concerts played in a season. Many orchestras do not keep a comprehensive calendar, while some categorize their calendars to an extremely extensive degree. Some have their complete calendars, or season programs, available all year either in PDF form or in a calendar application, while others immediately archive past concerts as soon as they have been performed. Concerts held outside the normal concert hall are often not listed in the general calendar. The large American orchestras, especially, play so many concerts in different formats (children's concerts, lunch time concerts, evening, touring, community concerts, etc), that getting a complete count is challenging. Additionally, there are certain orchestras who share calendars with their respective concert hall, who hosts a number of other performing acts in the season. I believe my counts to be within a margin of error of 2-3 concerts, with the exception of the Cleveland Orchestra total count. It is very clear that there are some Cleveland concerts missing, on account of their residency programs in Florida and Austria, however deep investigation into their website, archive, press releases, etc. could not locate the missing concerts or the programs. I do believe, however, that the effect will perhaps be a higher percentage of contemporary music than might be accurate. In the future, I will know that initial counting must take place in August, before the season starts, and then checked throughout the season for changes and additions. Tour dates and tour concert programs, as could best be determined, were included, but these are subject to change as well. My data is up-to-date, to the best of my knowledge, as of April 2018.
Above is a raw look at the results from my programming survey. You can find the total number of symphony orchestra concerts, chamber orchestra concerts, and "New Music" concerts that each orchestra had in the 2017-2018 season. Additionally, you will find two percentages, first the percentage of symphony orchestra concerts featuring contemporary compositions, and second, the percentage of total concerts (symphony, chamber and New Music) featuring contemporary compositions. The percentage of total symphony concerts featuring contemporary music is graphed below:
As you can see, the Finnish Radio Symphony orchestra played the highest percentage of contemporary music amongst all twelve orchestras, followed closely by the the Swedish Radio Symphony. The Philadelphia orchestra played the highest percentage of contemporary music in the United States in the 2017-2018 season. The Los Angeles Philharmonic played the second highest amount of contemporary music in the United States. The lowest amount of contemporary music in symphony concerts was played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra. The Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra performed the least contemporary music of the Northern European orchestras.
When chamber music and "New Music" concerts were added to the total count, the overall "ranking" remained much the same. While the Northern European orchestras do not have separate New Music series, quite many of the chamber music concerts featured contemporary music, keeping the Finnish Radio Symphony and the Swedish Radio Symphony at the top, with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic moving slightly ahead of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who maintained the highest percentage of contemporary repertoire of the American orchestras. The Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony and Danish Radio Orchestra played the least amount of contemporary repertoire.
This initial collection of data not only establishes a base for comparison in future seasons, but also leads to questions about why certain orchestras perform the way they do. There are connections amongst the orchestras that can lead to a better understanding of patterns of practice, for instance, the CEO of the New York Philharmonic, Deborah Borda, was previously the President of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for many years. Also, the composer-in-residence for the New York Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen used to be Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and before that, was the conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony. The current Principal Guest conductor, Susanna Mälkki, is also the Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic. It is curious, to me, that the Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestras performed such little contemporary music this season, comparatively, when the former Principal Guest Conductor of the Chicago Symphony was none other than Pierre Boulez, and the former Music Director of Cleveland was contemporary music advocate Christoph von Dohnanyi. If the next question is to ask why the results are the way they are, it will be important to understand these connections and the effects they have on programming practice in an orchestra. This data will provide a great 'jumping off' point to begin targeting the right questions in the right direction.
Part 2 of this report will profile the types of contemporary music getting played, principally where the composers are from, and whether the performances are commissions, world premieres, national premieres, etc. There is a lot of contemporary music out there, I am curious to see if orchestras are playing a variety, or whether certain styles are getting the majority of the attention. In the meantime, I will continue to digest this data, and add to this post accordingly.
https://nyphil.org, https://cso.org, https://www.clevelandorchestra.com, https://www.bso.org, https://www.philorch.org, https://www.laphil.com, https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2014/06/23/finnish-radio-symphony-orchestra, http://www.srso.se/en/about-the-swedish-radio-symphony-orchestra/, https://drkoncerthuset.dk, http://helsinginkaupunginorkesteri.fi, https://www.konserthuset.se/en/royal-stockholm-philharmonic-orchestra/, https://ofo.no