What will orchestras look like 50 years from now?

The whole musical world is changing, and for pianists, this is represented by the renaissance and rebirth of piano improvisation in all musical genres. This is an exciting time to be an improvising pianist!

On the other end of the spectrum are the symphony orchestras, which are nearing a crisis point in their 40 year slow-but-steady decline in popularity.

We often hear about what orchestras are doing (or not doing) to attract a younger and more varied audience. Playing a parks concert here, or including a movie soundtrack piece there. But let’s step back for a moment and ask a different question. One that takes a longer view:

What will the whole orchestral scene will look like in 50 years’ time from now?

Another way of putting it is like this:
If we were designing an orchestra right now, with the current financial and labor scene and taking the public’s musical tastes into account, what would our new orchestra look like?

Would it play exclusively classical music? Would it play even 50% classical music?
Would it have a rock drum set in the orchestra?
Would there be a rap artist sitting amongst the violinists?
Would the 1st cellist also specialize in vocal percussion?
Would the woodwind section include a jazz soprano sax player?
Would the repertoire feature Aerosmith songs?

If we could design an orchestra today, “from the ground up,” would it be still rooted almost entirely in 18th and 19th century musical customs? Does anything else we design today consist almost entirely of centuries-old parameters? Or would our future orchestra look very different than the current model?

If we were to design our future orchestra and start taking concrete, measurable steps to transform the current symphonic orchestra into the future model, would would the first step be?

If we were to divide the complete transformation into 50 distinct steps, to be implemented at a rate of one step per year, what would we need to do this coming year?

Perhaps there’s a big opportunity in this line of thinking. Perhaps it’s the only way forward for the symphony orchestra.

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