budgets and programming

I have decided to write a little bit about programming and especially the considerations that must be taken into account when devising a programme. Programming is arguably the most important aspect of my work as far as the public is concerned. Audience surveys that I have devised have unanimously agreed that the most important consideration in purchasing tickets for a performance is the repertoire. 

Now one might think that this makes the job of devising a programme a relatively straightforward process but for me it is rather daunting. I find the huge breadth of repertoire to be almost too much at times! My personal preference is for limitations and constraints of various kinds so that I am forced to think laterally.

Examples of limitations that I have considered in the past include the repertoire of other orchestras that might be playing in the same city, soloist choices, marketing considerations, rehearsal availability and audience requests, just to name few. The consideration I want to write about is the constraint of budgets.

I suppose, if I could, I would be programming works like die Jakobsleiter, Tristan and Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony (just to name three works that have not been premiered in New Zealand) but works such as these have the delightful combination of being hugely expensive and the guarantee of tiny houses! Of course, it would be fun to be part of an organization that can mount repertoire like this on a regular basis but I have the sneaking suspicion that I would get a bit bored of the process of programming as there would clearly be nobody to say “NO!”. Likewise, I would probably get very bored indeed if all I did was continue to narrow the “approved” repertoire that orchestras appear to present over and over again. That can’t be a way forward!

Having a clear budget parameter is for me liberating, in a strange sort of way. While it might reduce my options in terms of repertoire it forces me to re-think how the orchestras that I have been associated with can provide a balanced, and varied season that finds favor with the public, drives artistic growth and supports the wider industry. Do I sometimes wish for more – of course, but I do derive considerable satisfaction when the programs succeed within the constraints that budgets force. 

I have been reading David Byrne’s marvelous book, “How Music Works” and he writes of his experience of budget issues inspiring musical impulse that may never have otherwise occurred to him. Likewise, Stravinsky said, “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self.” I’m sure that all of us have had similar experiences in our work.In my far more modest way – which is after all, more of a curator’s role – I have found exactly the same sense of freedom in programming. Sometimes having all possibilities is just too much for me and a defined focus of any kind  - even if it is imposed upon me – actually brings new insight into programming direction.