1/ Thread about Systemic Discrimination in Orchestras inspired by comments about prominent orchs neglecting women composers. Thoughts stem largely from the short history of the @chicagosymphony I just finished for @UChicagoPress.
2/ To define "systemic discrimination" - I mean racism, sexism, and other biases that cut across organizations. This concept is especially important for understanding how discrimination infects Hollywood, the pop music industry, academia, and other "left-leaning" fields.
3/ Systemic discrimination *relies on* an individual's abdication of responsibility for the problem. "I'm not sexist," you say, as you sign off on the all-male program for the year. "It's not my problem to fix."
4/ It's useful, then, to think about how the interlocking parts of "the system" work together to breed discrimination and allow it to fester, like a wound that goes untreated. The moving parts I'll address are: Programming Directors, Conductors/Soloists, Marketers, and Patrons
6/ PDs - There's a great story in the @chicagotribune about Martha Gilmer (now CEO of @SanDiegoSymph) and her working methods as VP of Programming for the CSO. In the "old days" she would set out note cards in a calendar with things like soloists, conductors, composers, & pieces.
7/ It's a delicate process because these folks often need to be booked 2-3 if not 5-6 years in advance. A single season comes together in a piecemeal fashion, making it difficult to think about a year-long arc. ---> easy to miss forest for trees and "overlook" lack of diversity.
8/ C/S - If we add conductors and soloists to the mix, we encounter a factor that complicates the work of even the most progressive PD: these folks have limited repertoires and are typically averse to learning new works.
9/ Sociological research on performance explains that the rewards (both financial and cultural) for "sounding good" (i.e., virtuosic) are far greater than the esteem that accompanies a premiere (or "liberality"). Therefore C/S's have very little external incentive to "innovate."
10/ Music directors rarely appear for more than 10-12 weeks and can get away with a limited repertoire that can be stretched over 3-5 years. S's appear only once a season and only need not play what an S on the same instrument is playing elsewhere in the same year.
12/ Put it all together, and C's fill in gaps with repertoire that is no trouble to learn. Why else do you think so many concerts start with a Berlioz or Rossini overture? (Pace Bernard Haitink, who learned Haydn's Creation in his 80s.)
14/ So far, this whole situation is a dream for marketers, who can rely on well-known images of public figures (Mozart, for example, or a crazy-haired old male conductor) to create a visually attractive marketing campaign for a dull season.
18/ I'll never forget the concert ad for a Dvorak symphony I saw on FB that read, "Dvorak was the greatest symphonist of his age, save perhaps for Brahms." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but throw the words "great" and "Brahms" in there--Done. Who are they kidding?
19/ Marketing is where programming and musicians interface with patrons. The result is that the marketers reify an ignorant public that simply wants to devour greatness at every opportunity. ---> No need to look elsewhere for material.
20/ Finally, patrons themselves. I think patrons are the least complicit in the situation, but they certainly play a role. I sympathize, e.g., with a regular subscriber who wants to hear the MD excel alongside the orchestra as a whole.
21/ Hearing a Mahler 2, or a Bruckner 7, or the Rite of Spring is thrilling when a virtuosic orchestra synergizes with an insightful conductor. *Those opportunities are rare because of the scheduling system.*
22/ Audiences are not apt to complain when they get to hear the high-flying MD direct their favorite pieces for the first time, or second time in 5 years (or 10!). Some patrons also probably become habituated to the standard repertoire, perhaps thinking it's "all there is."
24/ Some orchs make ancillary efforts to "solve" the problem but ultimately mask it. Students in a seminar of mine examined *local* images on orch websites and compared them to diversity of programming. Rainbows in the images; terrible rep. Zero correlation.