Friday, May 6, 2011

'Inconsistency of personnel'

Karen Lynne Deal, the Richmond-bred conductor, is wrapping up her 11-year tenure as music director of the Illinois Symphony, which performs in the state’s capital, Springfield, and several nearby communities.

In a valedictory interview with Dan Craft of The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL) . . .

. . . Deal observes that for a musician trying to make ends meet, a gig with a sub-major symphony orchestra may not make economic sense:

“If I’m a musician from Chicago, and I can stay in Chicago and make more money playing a wedding than spending five days in Springfield, that’s what I’d do; it’s what any reasonable person would do.”

Deal goes on to say that “inconsistency of personnel makes it especially hard to plan a concert season a year in advance, based on who you’re supposed to have, since by the time the concert rolls around, you may have only 10 percent of [those musicians].”

That’s a critical problem for orchestras that depend on part-time and freelance musicians to fill out their rosters. (That includes every professional orchestra in Virginia.) Leaders of those orchestras rarely acknowledge this problem in public. They’re even less likely to acknowledge its effect on concert programming specifically and artistic scope generally.

Orchestras that chronically recycle warhorse repertory may lack ambition or vision. Or they may figure that playing the tried-and-true is the safest way to fill seats at their concerts. Or they may be anticipating “inconsistency of personnel” and avoiding music that could prove to be beyond the capacity of the ensemble that winds up playing it.