Beethoven Festival Orchestra
The Beethoven Festival Orchestra (BFO) is committed to improving the accessibility to the arts by offering affordable performances in New York City and its surrounding areas by the highest caliber integrated symphony orchestra while developing multicultural audiences.
There is a lack of racial diversity in symphony orchestras. However, the BFO will be truly integrated, comprised of young virtuoso musicians of diverse ethnicities and races either still in school or who have already graduated. The orchestra will provide opportunities especially for those that are in between school and their careers to gain more experience and broaden their network.
Diversifying the Audience
In her book, Invitation to the Party, Donna Walker-Kuhne writes about the arts being “the only tool we have that successfully crosses ethnic and cultural barriers, bridges misunderstanding, erases social strife and celebrates diversity…When diverse groups of people come together and experience the arts as one…they develop an appreciation for our shared humanity. Making the arts accessible to as broad an audience as possible helps build a better society.”
There is a glaring lack of diversity among classical music audiences. Our vision is to perform for all of New York City’s ethnicities, ages, and races for audiences as diverse as a crowded subway platform during rush hour.
Performances of symphonic music are often inaccessible, often because of the exorbitant ticket prices for good seats. But by charging $15 for all tickets, the cost of admission will no longer be an obstacle.
The organization embraces all kinds of music. Why is it named after Beethoven? In a letter to a friend, Beethoven wrote: “If the prosperity of our country improves, then I will only present my art in support of the poor. Oh, happy moment, how fortunate I am that I can bring it about, myself, that I can create it, myself!” We are inspired by Beethoven, who didn’t consider his music to be for the exclusive enjoyment of the royalty and aristocracy who subsidized him, but for everyone!
Youth Engagement Program
Our goal is to be especially welcoming to teenagers and millennials. Bringing small groups of performers to schools, particularly in underserved communities to provide dynamic introductions to the orchestra’s musicians, we wish to stimulate interest and engender the feeling among youth that they belong at the events. Young soloists, including people of color, will often be featured for the youth to see their peers who look like them playing classical music.
The Audience Experience
The BFO will forgo unnecessary traditions and formalities, thereby improving its attractiveness and accessibility.
- The orchestra will frequently play in venues that have reverberative acoustics, and ideally will perform in the center of a venue, allowing for 360-degree raked seating. Since all seats will be the same price, there will be open seating, and during performances, audience members may change their seat locations to experience the concert from different vantage points.
- Interesting information about the composers and their music will be shared at the performances, with the orchestra demonstrating sound bites to familiarize the audience with what they are about to hear.
- Applauding in between movements will be encouraged!
- Creating a natural, welcoming atmosphere we especially want the youth to feel comfortable coming in jeans, t-shirts, or sandals, the orchestra will not wear formal, monochromatic attire, and the audience may bring drinks and snacks into the concert to enjoy during the performances.
- We will make full use of various social media platforms with videos of rehearsals and performances as well as mini-documentary profiles of the individual musicians to create a buzz about the orchestra.
- Large screens will display cutting edge music videos to accompany the performances. The words to vocal music, including rap, will also be displayed on the screens.
2020 is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, and we are planning a series of concerts celebrating the orchestra’s namesake!
The orchestra will include theme-based programming, such as Halloween, Christmas, Valentines Day, and Black History celebrations. The orchestra will perform the music of living composers, especially women and composers of color, whose music is often ignored, featuring scenes from the operas about Harriet Tubman, James Baldwin, and Paul Robeson.
Celebrating New York City’s multiplicity of cultures the BFO plans to program classical orchestral, operatic, dance and choral repertoire alongside gospel, Latin, jazz, rap, and spoken word. Combining large orchestral music with music for small groups will be advantageous to our budget.
Chorus and Children’s Choir
Displaying the amazing vocal talent in the New York metropolitan area, a 200 voice volunteer chorus will also be established to perform great choral repertoire with the orchestra. Occasionally the orchestra will feature dancers and its own children’s choir.
An important component of the BFO will be its youth orchestra for outstanding musicians. The program is designed as a training orchestra for aspiring young musicians instilling the values of unity and hard work toward the achievement of great results and will offer the young players opportunities for leadership responsibilities. Musicians from the professional orchestra will mentor and coach the individual sections of the youth orchestra.
Another aspect of the organization will be its volunteer reading orchestra for professional and amateur musicians to come together every week to play great symphonic works. Instead of performing public concerts, the musicians will play for themselves simply for the joy of making music together. It will also provide opportunities for composers to hear first-time readings of their music.
The BFO will provide internships and assistant responsibilities, particularly for young conductors of color, that include some opportunities for conducting, in addition to offering workshops and masterclasses in orchestral, choral and operatic conducting.
We wish to make performances more accessible by offering tickets for $15. The box office receipts of organizations that charge up to hundreds of dollars per seat only cover a small part of the costs. Therefore we are seeking funding of $36,000 per concert to cover advertising, printing, venue, administrative and technical staffs, music rental and purchase, equipment, merchandise, and other miscellaneous expenses.
One of our fundraising strategies entails a series of intimate gatherings where screenings of short video profiles of the individual artists from the orchestra followed by solo and chamber music. These videos will enable donors to learn about the individual journeys of the young artists: freelancing, auditioning for orchestras, entering competitions and challenging paying off student loans. In addition to grassroots fundraising, we will seek financial assistance from organizations such as:
New York Foundation of the Arts
UMEZ Arts Engagement
Community Economic Revitalization Support Program Grant
West Harlem Development Corporation Grant
NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs
NYSCA Music Grant
National Endowment of the Arts
In ancient Greece and China music was a keystone in society. Music is perhaps the most powerful language, transcending time and space by uplifting and inspiring us when we’re sad, calm us when we’re anxious, and heal broken hearts. The Buddhist philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda, wrote that music has the power “to move audiences to jubilation, penetrating their hearts with vitality and hope.” It’s so exciting to create an orchestra that will bring communities together, be a clarion call for peace, and impact countless lives.
Music has the potential to effect change in a community. We want to create an orchestra that breaks free of its museum-like setting by placing it directly in the maelstrom of the contemporary world in a socially engaged manner. Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio, is a moving story of love, unjust imprisonment, courage, heroism, freedom, and the triumph of justice over tyranny.
We intend for the orchestra’s events to be relevant to today’s crucial issues, such as violence, war, mass shootings, terrorism, racism, xenophobia, immigration, and corruption. Therefore we seek to commission new music about peace and justice and to collaborate with poets, painters, dancers, filmmakers, spoken word, and rap artists to raise awareness about the sanctity of life.