Writing For Orchestra
Writing for orchestra provides a number of problems – not musical problems, but economic ones. Orchestras are expensive: Wages are expensive because of the number of people. Rehearsal spaces are expensive because of the amount of space needed to house such a large group of people. Concerts are expensive, due to the size of hall needed to fit the entire orchestra. The size of the orchestral organization necessitates a whole tier of administrative staff who must also be paid.
The large outlays incurred in the orchestral project have the consequence of making orchestras extremely risk-averse. This is seen most easily in their programming - rarely choosing a work deemed exciting less than 200 years ago. The few commissions that they do award to contemporary composers are to those that are conservative and – in common with the orchestra's own temperament – similarly risk-averse. This is why very little exciting contemporary orchestral music is performed.
On the composition side of things, the time and effort needed to produce an orchestra piece is so large that is extremely unlikely that anybody would attempt the writing of one without the opportunity for performance already secured. However, due to the risk-averse nature of the orchestra, as outlined above, it is unlikely that a commission would be obtained unless one is anything but the safest, most conservative investment of their money – a bond, rather than high-risk stocks and shares. This leads to a situation in which the more experimentally-minded of composers are unlikely to ever even attempt the writing of an orchestra piece.
All the while, the conservative nature of the commissioned composer is likely to become even more risk-averse and entrenched when embarking upon their commissioned piece. This is due to the rarity of the opportunity to write for orchestra, and the knowledge of the prestige and much larger audiences afforded by the size of halls frequented by it. The fear of failure in front of a considerably larger audience than normal, and an acute awareness of the limited rehearsal time, is likely to result in a much more conservative piece than would otherwise be written. The limited rehearsal time (a consequence of the by-the-hour wages and the large number of performers) is frequently inadequate to get to grips with anything but the most derivative approach to music-writing and provides a practical limit on the level of complexity that can be successfully executed in the rehearsal time given. The orchestral composer must also deal with the entrenched conservatism of many of the players (a consequence of the deprivation to play more experimental or challenging fare).
Given the above situation, which even the “conservative” composer has to contend with, should the “experimental” (in the colloquial, non-Nyman, sense of the word) composer find themselves in the possession of a commission, it is unlikely that significant departures from orchestral tradition would find themselves on fertile ground and they too may be swayed by aforementioned constraints to reign in their less conventional tendencies.
Even in order for an “experimental” composer to get the opportunity to receive an orchestral commission, previous experience in writing for a similarly large ensemble is normally required, as a way of assuring the institution that the composition of a work of this size lies within the composer's technical ability. This often places the composer in the Catch-22 situation of not being able to write a work for orchestra because they have not previously written for orchestra.
However, there are great financial rewards to be gleaned, should one be driven enough to write a non-commissioned orchestra piece – out of 63 international composition competitions surveyed in 2009, at least 75% were for orchestra, frequently with large cash prizes.
There are two remedies to the orchestral situation:
1. To increase funding towards the orchestras, allowing them to make more risky, contemporary and exciting programming decisions. This is a situation which nobody but those in charge of large amounts of money, or in positions of political power is able to change and unfortunately, lies well outside the scope of action of the average composer.
2. To decrease the time and effort needed to produce an orchestral score. By reducing the time and effort needed to produce an orchestral work, the composer is able to both prove their technical ability to write for an ensemble of orchestral size, whilst avoiding the large outlays of time and effort, creating a work that would not receive performance. The New Fordist Organization uses technology as a way of reducing this time and effort in order to allow composers to transition into the world of orchestral writing wherein they can use the leverage gained through their technologically-generated orchestral score to present daring and innovative works in the orchestral medium. Technology here acts as a way to open up a more porous relationship between experimental composition and the orchestra, elevating the orchestra out of its conservatism.
Alternatively, through the collection and cross-referencing of data, The New Fordist Organization supports the use of statistical analysis to algorithmically generate orchestral pieces designed to win specific composition competitions. The money gleaned for the winning of these competitions can then be used to financially support composers in the writing of new, experimental and innovative works for orchestra, financially compensating the immense expenditure of time and effort which would go into their creation.