With new concepts and ideas, the orchestra is making itself fit for the future, even outside the concert hall. By Tobias Hell
New beginnings are always a challenge. Especially when a long-term partner suddenly breaks away. This has happened to the Munich Symphony Orchestra, which – since the beginning of the current season – has itself been organising its traditional subscription concerts. According to director Annette Josef, the separation from the previous partner MünchenMusik had become necessary as a result of bureaucratic EU directives, according to which new invitations to tender should have been initiated every four years to obtain funding. This would have left little scope for long-term planning and would, above all, have been to the detriment of subscribers. So now the self-confident leap into the cold water, which confronts the team behind the scenes with new organisational challenges, but at the same time offers opportunities to sharpen the orchestra’s profile according to its own ideas.
That becomes clear already with a stroll through Munich, where the newly arranged poster motives developed to the genuine eye-catcher. Responsible for this is the agency “Blackspace”, which has also given the advertising appearance of the symphony orchestra a clear fresh cell cure. For those who want to reach a new, young audience in addition to their regular guests must not close their eyes to digital communication channels. Thus, the orchestra is not only extremely active in the social media with images and sound. Together with the Theater und Konzerthaus Dortmund, they are also among the first in Germany to allow concert goers to upgrade their concert attendance with a new app called “Wolfgang” and to call up additional information on their smartphone parallel to what they are listening to. A kind of program booklet 2.0, which is already being eagerly used by our Dutch neighbours, and a useful addition to the popular artist talks that will continue to take place in the future, with which one seeks closeness to the audience and provides insights into the stories behind the music. “But good stories also need good storytellers”. The artistic director knows that. Because “not only the composition itself is responsible for how we experience a concert evening, but also the protagonists on stage, who only tell well-known stories or conquer new musical territory”.
No fairy tales
First and foremost, of course, is chief conductor Kevin John Edusei, whose commitment was a real stroke of luck in 2014. A maestro of the new generation, it is not enough for him to maintain a status quo, but he always likes to lure the orchestra, founded in 1945, out of its comfort zone and challenge it. Instead of works by the house gods Beethoven and Schubert, a great Mahler or Bruckner is sometimes put on the programme. And after the fading away of the last note and the wiping away of the beads of sweat, the musicians, who until then had looked highly concentrated into their notes, were thanked from their desks with an appreciative nod of the head. Edusei is aware of the ensemble’s potential, which has been perceived differently by the Munich audience since it took office.
A healthy interaction between tradition and modernity has always been part of the symphony orchestra. The music of the 20th and 21st centuries, however, is by no means just a fig leaf here, but always sounds in a precisely sophisticated concept. Soon, for example, Dvorak’s symphony “From the New World” will enter into dialogue with music by Duke Ellington, or here Stravinsky’s “Firebird” will meet a commissioned work called “Les Couleurs du feu”, which will be realized together with the border crossers of the radio.sting.quartet.
Edusei sees the new independence and personal responsibility above all as an opportunity for his orchestra. “Of course, this is all new. But it also releases a lot of energy from the musicians and the team. After all, we are an orchestra that lives from ideas.” And there is no shortage of them, especially when it comes to programming. You come across many names in the season preview that only insiders are familiar with so far. For example, the Swedish composer Elfrida André, who became a pioneer of the women’s movement in her home country. Or Jospeh Bologna Chevalier de Saint-Georges, born in Guadeloupe as the son of a slave, who was celebrated in 18th century France as “Black Mozart”. Their compositions are just two exciting splashes of colour in an ambitious programme that should provide curious music fans with plenty to talk about in the coming months.
The original article was published in the Rondo magazine (5/2018).