How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Creativity and courage.
Here’s a tried and true formula for orchestral programs (I mean in the concert hall, not necessarily on the radio, though I’ve assembled such hours of music many times). Before intermission, play a short curtain-raiser, then launch into a substantial work. Often the second work features a guest soloist. It may also be something challenging, such as a modern work, or one that’s not too well known. After intermission, play one or two orchestral works. Generally at least one will be a piece from the standard repertoire (something the listener is likely to recognize and / or something accessible).
Though I’m a radio music director, not an orchestral one, I can see good practical reasons for adhering to this outline. The short opener allows for a reasonable break for seating latecomers. Most listeners will sit through even a fairly bracing contemporary work in the second slot, if they can see the promise of a favorite after intermission; putting it on the second half might nudge a few out the door during intermission.
If the name sounds familiar, it should: Morris was The Cleveland Orchestra’s executive director from 1987 to 2004.
Morris is part of a team putting together the Festival of North American Orchestras. About three years from now (May 2011), New York’s Carnegie Hall will present a 9-day series of concerts by orchestras of all sizes, including regional ensembles. The judges will choose the participating orchestras on only one criterion: programming creativity. The festival will cover the production costs.
The intent isn’t necessarily to promote contemporary music, though the festival’s team won’t resist it by any means. Rather, the idea is to reward innovative, surprising, and ear-opening combinations of works.
Not only may the experience lead the nine winners toward more courageous programming on their own home turf, the process of competing for the prize is likely to encourage many more to reconsider their programming policies. This could produce some interesting results.
Adventures in Concert Programming in the New York Times (registration may be required)