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Classical music: Heightened senses, economic challenges
While the terrorist attacks certainly had an economic impact on the creators, producers and consumers of classical music, there is no evidence that 9/11 radically altered the cultural landscape beyond psychological damage.
Ticket sales and attendance have dipped, contributions have leveled off and red ink has accumulated. But these occurrences, agree arts administrators and marketers, are more directly related to the national economic decline that was well under way before the events of 9/11.
"There can hardly be any doubt that 9/11 simply made the economic downturn worse," says Chicago Symphony Orchestra President Henry Fogel, whose organization has been battling a $4 million to $4.5 million deficit that had reared its head before the attacks.
The psychological fallout from 9/11 is being felt perhaps most strongly at the creative end of classical music, according to Augusta Read Thomas, the CSO's composer-in-residence. "Everything seems to have a heightened sense of emergency about it," she says. "In some ways, everything I do from now on will involve 9/11, in the same way that everything I do involves the Holocaust and other tragedies."
For Thomas, 9/11 was "a deeply human, timeless tragedy" she prefers to deal with, musically speaking, in the abstract, something to be filed away in her creative unconsciousness. Other composers, such as Richard Danielpour with his "An American Requiem" (recently released on Reference Recordings), are writing commemorative pieces directly tied to the event. In his latest song cycle, "Aftermath," which received its premiere last month at Ravinia, Ned Rorem looks beyond the attacks to ponder the horror and waste of war. "In the wake of the Sept. 11 shock, I asked what a thousand other composers must have asked: What is the point of music now? But it soon grew clear that music was the only point," he wrote in his preface to the score.
Anecdotal evidence from the marketing end of classical music since 9/11 suggests that consumers not only are watching more closely where and how they spend their entertainment dollars, but also are less inclined to lock themselves into attending specific classical concerts and operas months in advance. (Even Lyric Opera, which traditionally has been far ahead of the national curve in terms of advance ticket sales, reports that this year subscriptions are running about 4 percent behind this time a year ago -- 85 percent of available seats have been sold.)
"If there had been a robust economic recovery over the last six months, we would have seen 9/11 fade as a [factor] in subscription planning and contributions," says Marc Scorca, president of OPERA America, a non-profit service organization that represents 189 member companies worldwide. On the other hand, he attributes sizable increases in ticket sales last fall at the Pittsburgh Opera, Opera Memphis and other companies to a resurgence of civic pride and patriotism in those communities immediately following the attacks.
That said, arts administrators are keeping a watchful -- and, in some cases, anxious -- eye on expenditures and ticket sales, budgeting as conservatively as possible to keep a lid on deficits exacerbated by 9/11. Indeed, fiscal caution and its concomitant, artistic caution, have become a kind of mantra with organizations from coast to coast. "Everybody is tightening their belts and wondering what will happen next with the economy and the stock market," says Zarin Mehta, executive director of the New York Philharmonic and former CEO of the Ravinia Festival.
For all the apprehension voiced in many quarters as the first anniversary of 9/11 approaches, several arts presenters actually are waxing upbeat. "Things have changed since last September in an unexpectedly positive way, in that the Ravinia family has reinvested in its mission to bring great music to as many people as possible, especially young people," says festival President and CEO Welz Kauffman. "Tragedy brings people together, and we have never felt such solid support for what we do and insightful ideas of what we should become. We have been reminded of what an extraordinary healer and unifier music is."