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Students Must Take Charge of Their Own Careers

The role of the classical musician is changing. This was the theme of the sixth CEMPE breakfast seminar in the series “Being a good performer is not enough”. Ingrid Røynesdal and Tanja Orning urged the students to take charge of their own careers.

It is a Thursday morning in the middle of February. Ten students and a handful of teachers are listening intently to what Ingrid Røynesdal, CEO of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, has to say. She starts by explaining how the orchestra has seen its best season to date, playing to 87% capacity audiences in autumn 2015.

Struggling to be seen

The orchestra spends a lot of resources on audience development. It is estimated that Oslo hosts as many concerts (in all genres) as Copenhagen and Stockholm put together.

Large parts of our public spaces have been sold off to commercial interests and are therefore rather inaccessible to public institutions.

Ingrid Røynesdal CEO at the Oslo Philharmonic

At the same time, there are severe restrictions on displaying advertising and posters on the metro and in other public spaces, something which is common in many other big cities. “Large parts of our public spaces have been sold off to commercial interests and are therefore rather inaccessible to public institutions. We survive on that one week a year when we’re allowed to plaster Oslo’s main boulevard Karl Johans Gate with banners”, Røynesdal says.

Creating “events”

She goes on to say that giving performances every week, as the Oslo Philharmonic does, is in itself something the media considers a repetitive exercise. This means the orchestra has to work hard to create “events” by communicating more clearly and creating experiences that get people talking and interacting. This could involve innovative touches in the concert hall. Or, as the Oslo Philharmonic will be doing at the start of the 2016/2017 season, it could mean putting on a festival where the orchestra performs all of Beethoven’s symphonies over the course of two weeks.

That little bit extra

“We often see agents market their soloists as offering something ‘extraordinary’”, says Røynesdal. “The agencies are keen to attract musicians who have ‘something else’ to offer other than just being good musicians”. “What do you mean by ‘something else’”, asks a student in the first row. “It can be all manners of things, but it’s easy, or at least tempting, to bring up the pianist Lang Lang as someone who’s opened doors in a commercial sense.”

A new mindset

Røynesdal continues to elaborate on how society is changing, on the shift from public to private funding, on orchestra closures in other European cities, and on the dilemmas, she faces as the head of an institution such as the Oslo Philharmonic.

It’s about being relevant right here and now and about how to reach out with the amazing music we make without selling our soul!

Tanja Orning Post Doctor

“The orchestra may have to perform seven Christmas concerts in order to be able to afford two new commissions, she explains, before concluding: “It’s not quality that we need to worry about. What we all have to do is challenge our mindset and our way of thinking in order to meet the new challenges in society.”

Making musical education relevant

Next up is Tanja Orning. She is a postdoc at the Norwegian Academy of Music’s Centre of Excellence in Music Performance Education (CEMPE), where she is researching musical entrepreneurship. Orning is keen to make the training provided by the Academy as relevant as possible: “It’s about being relevant right here and now and about how to reach out with the amazing music we make without selling our soul!”

Have ideas and act on them

Orning then points to the contrast between the slow learning of the actual craft (playing the instrument) and moving with the times and being creative in order to communicate the music (being an entrepreneur). “It’s no longer a case of one person, a master, teaching you everything you need to know. You need to have ideas and then do something about them”, Orning says. “That is entrepreneurship”.

Coming from within

Orning stresses that there are no quick fixes whereby you import a solution that “fixes” the creative aspect. “You can’t just invite a stand-up comedian to tell jokes in between your pieces – that’s not what entrepreneurship is about. The important thing is that the creativity is coming from within yourself", Orning insists, before telling the audience:

“You probably need to take more responsibility for your own careers than musicians before you have had to do".