The Future of Classical Music : Who Needs Another Set of Beethoven Symphonies? Young Artists Are Looking for a New Way to Make a Name for Themselves

Article excerpt

Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., was named chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London last month, taking over the baton from Sir Andrew Davis and expanding the fraternity of American conductors invading the European classical-music scene. Last week Slatkin met with NEWSWEEK's Dana Thomas in Paris, where he is conducting "La Boheme" at the Bastille Opera House until Dec. 10, to talk about music in the new millennium. Excerpts:

THOMAS: How do you like being a conductor for a European organization?

SLATKIN: It's very different than being a music director in the States, which is not just conducting, but also administration, marketing--it's a total job. At the BBC I'm one of several conductors. Yet I'm sure one of the reasons they hired me is because I have certain marketing skills.

How important is marketing?

That's a big issue, of course. And Europe is finally beginning to realize just how important it is, that a cultural institution is a product. There was a time that it was assumed that young people had the proper education to automatically go to arts events. That's changed. And the revolution of modern technology has changed the way people approach cultural events. The classical recording market is flat. Who needs another set of Beethoven symphonies from any orchestra? People are looking at other technologies to get their message out, and young artists are looking for another way to make a name for themselves.

Like [crossover violinist] Vanessa-Mae?

Well, she's made a name for herself, but she seems to be more about how she chooses to market herself than about the product she is putting out.

So what's the answer?

In Washington, what's worked is to have concerts that are targeted to different kinds of audiences, such as a festival we are doing about women conductors, composers, musicians. Or one devoted to the Pacific Rim. It will attract a different audience than what we would usually have.

What about the graying of the audience?

It's not true. For most of this century, the people who have had luxury time to go to the arts were usually in their mid-30s or 40s. …