Bay Area Culture

Bay Area Culture

Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco on March 12, 2013. (Christian Watjen/The Epoch Times)

David Parker
David Parker

7/4/2024

Updated: 7/11/2024

0

Commentary
In Paris, the “Officiel” is the guide for cultural events of the week. It lists dozens of theatrical productions per night—staged, rehearsed, produced—in small, medium, and large theaters. France’s national theater company, La Comédie Française, employs so many professional actors that it opened branches, or “succursales,” throughout the city.
In Paris, there are about two symphony orchestras, two operas, five ballets, and dozens of chamber concerts—every night.
In San Francisco, if it weren’t for their large endowments, the symphony, opera, and ballet would have shut down years ago. At a recent symphony concert in June, an orchestra musician handed out this flyer:
“A MESSAGE TO OUR PATRONS FROM THE MUSICIANS OF THE SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY
“Thank you for the unwavering support you have shown the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony during this challenging time for our beloved orchestra. We are excited to welcome back our distinguished Music Director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, with performances in June, but are gravely disappointed in the board’s unwillingness to reverse the cuts that forced Maestro Salonen to resign.
“Cuts announced to date:
  • The cancellation of the SFS’s 2025 European Festival Tour
  • A decrease in annual SoundBox concerts from 10 to 4
  • A decrease in funding for innovative programming, including semi-staged productions, commissions, and repertoire, necessitating extra musicians
  • The elimination of digital media
  • The discontinuation of the “Concerts for Kids” educational series
  • Ongoing cuts to the musicians’ salaries that began during the pandemic and still have not been reversed
“There is a special connection between the musicians of the symphony and Esa-Pekka, so we were saddened to hear that the board is already moving forward with the search for a new music director. Additionally, two valuable members of our administration’s leadership team have announced their departures.
“How will we continue to attract top talent and retain the immensely skilled musicians who are new to the orchestra amid a series of cuts that threaten to escalate as long as our board and administrative leadership continue with no clear artistic vision? Cutting the artistic product is NOT a winning strategy.
“We are committed to maintaining our reputation as a trailblazing orchestra that leads the industry through cutting-edge programming and innovative multimedia projects. The SFS has the second largest endowment of any American orchestra, valued at $345 million, yet we are the only major symphony orchestra with no future plans to tour, either internationally or domestically.”
Well, the musicians are not accounting for the fact that San Francisco is a cultural backwater—why attendance in all the classical arts continues to drop. In truth, the symphony attracts better players than it deserves. Example: One year, the first trombone from the New York Metropolitan Opera took the first trombone spot in the San Francisco Opera at half salary. Tired of winters in New York, all he wanted was a home with a hot tub in Mill Valley. Lucky to be living in the Bay Area, symphony players shouldn’t be complaining about their $100,000-plus salaries.
The orchestra does merit a tour of Europe, but if it can’t sell out its own concerts, that will have to wait.
And are those “Concerts for Kids” really building a future audience? Or just satisfying a diversity requirement?
The June concert was, in fact, an exception. The programming was innovative. Ravel’s “Mother Goose” with both the orchestra and the Alonzo King LINES Ballet on stage was a moving experience, followed, unbelievably, by a rarely performed symphonic work with solo voice, partially staged, “Erwartung,” by Arnold Schoenberg. Exactly what the musicians are asking for. For his swan song, Esa got what he wanted.
The San Francisco Symphony’s $345 million endowment, however, came from my generation (1940s and 1950s) and my parents’ generation (1920s and 1930s). So use it up on my generation, give yourselves a raise (which you deserve), travel the world (as other orchestras do), and run out the funds from that endowment. Then turn Davies Symphony Hall into something audiences will pay for: rock concerts, Beyoncé with strings. Millennials aren’t interested in San Francisco’s symphony, opera, ballet, or Museum of Modern Art—all under dire financial straits were it not for their endowments. Living a civilizational low, millennials do not patronize the arts.
OK, one other suggestion: Livestream concerts into people’s homes in exchange for a subscription. The Berliner Philharmoniker has 2 million subscribers.
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David Parker is an investor, author, jazz musician, and educator based in San Francisco. His books, “Income and Wealth” and “A San Francisco Conservative,” examine important topics in government, history, and economics, providing a much-needed historical perspective. His writing has appeared in The Economist and The Financial Times.

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