The Eastman School of Music is embarking on an effort to explore and promote a new type of classical ensemble, one that would combat the financial and organizational difficulties facing larger orchestras.
The school plans to open the Paul R. Judy Center, a division of the Institute for Music Leadership, to foster development of new business models for music groups. The center was funded through a $1 million gift from Chicago financier Paul Judy, a longtime supporter of the Eastman School.
School officials said they are putting the Paul R. Judy Center together and planning an inaugural festival and conference in early 2015.
The center would study and ultimately promote what Eastman School Dean Douglas Lowry calls alternative ensembles. These are musical ensembles that focus on contemporary music, often performing in small and alternative venues rather than traditional concert halls.
“These ensembles create concert experiences that might include multimedia, and they do a pretty wild variety of programming that will range from everything from straight-out pop tunes to arrangements of pop tunes to hard-edged new music to baroque,” Lowry said. “The whole idea is classical music presented in an entirely different, non-traditional way.”
School officials worked closely with Judy to determine how to set up the center and use it to encourage the growth of this new breed of ensemble.
“This is really just a morphing of the symphony orchestra,” Lowry said. “Part of our effort will involve getting the word out about the conference we have planned. We want panel discussions and people really involved.”
He expects the new center to be posting articles and doing research into the new form of ensemble, Lowry said. The new model could demonstrate solutions to the funding problems facing many major orchestras.
“The ability to sustain large organizations and do what it takes to make them work has gone off the rails,” he said. “You’ll have a hard time finding anyone who disputes that.”
The school could do more than promote academic discussion, Lowry added. Ideally it would wake up the music world to the fact that alternatives to the large, expensive symphony orchestras are emerging and could ignite other philanthropy to support these new models.
Judy is a former chairman of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and current chairman of the Chicago Philharmonic Society.
“As someone who has followed and supported major musical organizations for a long time, I am greatly concerned about the news of orchestra bankruptcies and financial difficulties,” Judy said in announcing the gift.
“Unfortunately, these developments are not surprising given the limitations of the traditional orchestra organization model. I see great hope in the entrepreneurial spirit of the musicians who are taking it upon themselves to energize our culture with their own new groups, and I am pleased to be able to contribute to their continued growth through this gift to Eastman.”
Emily Wozniak, founder of Sound ExChange Orchestra and a graduate student at the Eastman School, said the new format gives young musicians more options. Just like entrepreneurs who choose to start their own businesses rather than work for corporations, these young people have an option outside of the traditional musical course.
“Overall it’s a whole do-it-yourself model,” Wozniak said. “It empowers young artists to believe they can start their own ensembles if they have a particular artistic vision, that they don’t have to just audition for orchestras. They can create their own professional opportunities.”
Many of the smaller ensembles locally have done quite well, Lowry noted, with budgets increasing close to 30 percent in recent years. And even more, they are injecting a sense of enthusiasm into the local music scene, he added.
“The excitement level is growing,” Lowry said. “It’s like the 1960s when everyone was forming rock bands.”
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