Dear Hartford Wagner Festival, I Don’t Want Canned Orchestras To Play My Music. XOXO, Jason

Dear Hartford Wagner Festival,

I was hanging out on the corner of Facebook and Twitter, like I do, when I saw an interesting article by way of Jessica Rudman.  Apparently, you have decided that you’re going to produce The Ring Cycle over the next four years, which is really great news! But you’ve also decided that hiring real, live musicians is kind of expensive. So, you’ve enlisted the help of a guy who’s painstakingly created a really fancy canned orchestra version of The Ring, for a fraction of what it would cost to hire actual musicians.

Now, I get it. As a composer who wants to write pieces for orchestras, nobody understands how difficult it is to scrounge up the cash to get 100+ masters of their craft into a room to do what they do best.  And the canned version features the disembodied samples of The Vienna Philharmonic!  Man, that’s some great brand alignment, right there!  At least, that’s the way your awesome social media intern seems to be positioning it on Facebook:

What savings!
What savings!


I’ve got a theory that the person who made this decision, well, probably isn’t a musician.  They’re probably a businessperson.  And you know what, I’m not going to tell you how to run your business: I’m a broke composer, and the person who made this call is probably living it up at some mansion in Avon, judging by those cost-cutting skills.  But I do wanna tell you something, just in case.

Someday, I may get wicked famous.  Someday, you or whatever businessperson who you’ve got taking these shortcuts may end up wanting to perform a piece of mine down the road.  And that’d be awesome!  But, just to be 100% clear on the subject: if I’ve written a part for an instrument, I mean for the sound to come out of said instrument, played by a human being.  And I expect that this instrument-playing human should be paid, unless they chose to volunteer.  I didn’t think I should have to specify that sort of thing, but thanks to the incredible business acumen of whatever genius you’ve got working behind the scenes there, I thought I should take a moment and be specific.

(If you’re a composer, you should do the same thing.  Tell the Hartford Wagner Ensemble how much it means to you that real people play the parts that you intended real people to play!)

Real orchestras do cost a lot of money, but I will always stand by having real orchestra musicians play orchestral music.  I would happily use a VSL mockup to help people learn my music, or to convince a group how awesome a yet-to-be-performed piece is.  But I would never write for VSL and try to pass it off as a product that’s close to the real thing.  If that means that fewer audiences hear my music, than so be it.  I don’t want to have to make that kind of compromise.


  10 comments for “Dear Hartford Wagner Festival, I Don’t Want Canned Orchestras To Play My Music. XOXO, Jason

  1. 06/08/2014 at 1:20 am

    The most upsetting part is that the cost-cutting priority seems to be coming straight from the Artistic Director, Charles Goldstein. Read his interview with The Wagnerian blog here:

    He states:
    “The conductor is still in his/her regular spot and has a video monitor showing the score moving and cues the singers as usual and holds the production together.

    The resulting sound is amazing and the singers had no trouble at all following the stick (during test rehearsals) The result is the ability to produce a “Ring” cycle at a fraction of the cost with a full live orchestra.”

    …”with a full live orchestra.” Excuse me?

    So the problem lies with the Artistic Director himself, actually believing that using sound samples from the VSL constitutes a live orchestra.

    It’s terrifying. Thank you for writing a post a spreading the word about this travesty!

  2. 06/08/2014 at 8:32 am

    Boo! Hiss! Karaoke sucks… and that is in reference to Barry Manilow tunes, and songs from Cats. But Wagner Karaoke???? That is major suckage of the highest order. Classical music is expensive but so worth the cost.

  3. Linda
    06/08/2014 at 1:15 pm

    Live human musicians playing the score, on real instruments, breathing the same air in the same venue as the conductor and audience. Don’t undercut our musicians, and don’t underestimate our taste!!

  4. Teri Herel
    06/09/2014 at 1:42 am

    I think this is a great idea and could be adapted to other venues. For example, instead of televising sporting events with live players, I think we should take advantage of the latest CGI technology and use sampled athletes for real-time CGI games! And these samples would be based on ACTUAL GREAT LEGENDS of the best ball teams! Now THIS would save money!

  5. Jeff Goldman
    06/09/2014 at 2:24 pm

    musicians demand more than their worth and are replaced by machines. not quite sure what the problem is. maybe they should take a pay cut like everyone else.

  6. 06/09/2014 at 2:52 pm

    Ah yes, I believe that’s taken from the charter of the Invisible Hand of the Market Philharmonic. I guess the truth of whether audiences will care enough about quality to pay for a real orchestra is yet to be seen.

  7. Peter Borten
    06/11/2014 at 1:15 pm

    And they are charging $99 a seat!!!

  8. Merrill Clark
    06/13/2014 at 4:17 pm

    “musicians demand more than their worth and are replaced by machines. not quite sure what the problem is. maybe they should take a pay cut like everyone else.”

    Everyone except management and the rest of the 1%?
    And you will now see the market place determine exactly what live musicians are worth.
    Enjoy your cheesy karaoke while it lasts and contemplate your lack of taste and discernment.

  9. Lori
    06/23/2014 at 1:43 am

    Who are the singers who are alright with this? Wagner, to me, is about waves of sound and being swept away. As an artist, one who sings Wagner, I would never want to have to confine my artistic expression and characterisation to what is the equivalent of a digital metronome. They are robbing the singers of their artistry and the public (at a hundred bucks a pop, i understand from the comments) of a moving experience. Save your money, buy a DVD! Or even better, go see Christine Georke’s Brünnhilde in any of the MANY major houses she’ll be singing it at in the coming few years!

  10. 07/07/2014 at 6:37 pm

    A tip for composers: MIDI renditions of your music are for proofing, and maybe for sending to singers to help learn their parts. Don’t put them on your website. They sound bad, and show that you can’t get your music performed.

    As far as the Hartford Wagner Festival goes, it might be a bit snobby to say they shouldn’t do this, especially if it was never going to happen otherwise. The singers may even like the opportunity, as there are precious few engagements available with real orchestras. As long as it doesn’t pretend to be the real thing, it could be like a singer doing a recital of opera arias with a pianist. Not the same as an orchestra, but way more affordable!

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