By Ricky O’Bannon
In his 13 years in Baltimore, Andrew Balio has seen the American nonprofit orchestra world up close both in boom and lean times.
Balio, who is the principal trumpet for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, said he’s spent much of his time since 2001 learning everything he could about the business models, philosophy and culture of live classical music, and he’s used what he’s learned to create Future Symphony Institute.
The group is a nonprofit think tank that aims to be a “clearinghouse for bold, new ideas that answer the challenges our orchestras and their communities face in today’s rapidly-evolving world.”
The Future Symphony Institute is holding its first conference this weekend at the University of Baltimore, which will feature discussions led by the former chairman of the Cleveland Orchestra’s parent organization Richard Bogomolny, philosopher Roger Scruton, conductor Benjamin Zander and BSO music director Marin Alsop among others.
“These last 13 years have been a long period of study for me,” Balio said. “And what I found was the problems we face as orchestras, while they're complex, they're not unique.”
Balio said outside models and philosophies might prove useful to orchestras. For example, one of the principle focuses of the think tank — along with subjects like music education, architecture of concert halls and union policy — is the idea of connoisseurship.
Connoisseurship is sometimes seen as a snobby idea, but to Balio it is about creating a deeper understanding and appreciation for the music for the audience. The food and beverage industry has benefited tremendously in recent years as the American public at large have become better connoisseurs, leading to growth in demand for better coffee, wine, craft beers or hand-made cheeses.
The artisanal or slow-food movements have captured a philosophy Balio said could be useful for orchestras, which is why he’s been contacting groups like the Wine Economics Institute to learn more.
“The visible part of classical music is attendance,” Balio said. “The invisible part is what's going on inside of those people, the level of connoisseurship. That's what we want to attend to.”
Greater connoisseurship can lead to long term buy in for orchestra patrons who can attend for decades and in some cases become donors to nonprofit orchestras that do rely on philanthropy. Philanthropy is based on emotion, Balio said, which is why it is important to focus on the emotional response of the audience.
“Rather than the number of people we get to come to a concert, I'm more interested in how they react to it,” Balio said.
As far as what he hopes to come out of the Future Symphony Institute’s first conference, Balio said he’s looking for great discussions that capture new ideas to the classical music conversation.
“We don't want to duplicate what the League [of American Orchestras or other groups] are doing,” Balio said. “There's no point in that. But I do believe that we are bringing some unique features.”