Friday, December 4, 2015

A payoff for new music

Symphony orchestras do not perform contemporary music to make money.

Playing new works rarely boosts ticket sales; score rentals, royalty payments to composers and extra rehearsal time that may be needed for unfamiliar or complex music make it more expensive to program than a Beethoven symphony.

An orchestra’s principal motivation for presenting new music is artistic, with prestige value as a secondary factor.

The Seattle Symphony’s performance of John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean,” subsequently released on a recording on its in-house label, seemed to be such a venture. It paid off on the prestige front when the work won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for music.

Now it could be a profit-maker, too, thanks to the pop singer Taylor Swift, who was so taken with “Become Ocean” that she has donated $50,000 to the Seattle Symphony. Her endorsement of the piece also could lead to more sales of the recording.

Swift’s gift will be used to start an educational program and to bolster the orchestra musicians’ retirement fund, The New York Times’ Michael Cooper reports: