Support for the arts enlightened says Gremillet

The balance of support between government, philanthropists and corporate sponsorship is ‘what makes a sustainable and viable way of creating art’, according to André Gremillet, who soon leaves the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as its Managing Director to head up The Cleveland Orchestra in Ohio.

Support for the arts enlightened says Gremillet

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He believes this balance makes Australia very enlightened in the way it supports the arts.

Andrew Gremillet leaves the MSO on 16 October, not without some concerns and many achievements under his belt.

But certainly he intends to foster an ongoing relationship between the two orchestras.

‘Cleveland has a very proud history of playing the best contemporary music from all over the world. So I certainly plan on introducing to the Chief Conductor [Franz Welser-Möst] some of the great work I have discovered here if he isn’t already aware of it,’ he said.

Early links in the relationship have already been forged, with an MSO–Cleveland Orchestra– Bavarian Radio Symphony co-commission in 2014 of a work by German composer and conductor Matthias Pintscher—Idyll—which had its Australian premiere with the MSO in May 2015.

André Gremillet joined the MSO on 5 November 2012, having spent the previous five years as President and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

He was widely acknowledged as turning that organisation around. As well as greatly improving its overall financial condition, he led the negotiation of a four-year contract with the musicians and a comprehensive fundraising campaign that raised more than $35.5 million on a goal of $32 million.

Indeed, under André’s watch, earned income at the MSO has grown by more than 31 per cent from 2012 to 2014, although he modestly doesn’t identify the orchestra’s increased fortunes in his top five proudest moments.

Top of the pic is growth in audiences. ‘We have increased significantly the audiences—and I would put that at the top of the list. You can have the greatest orchestra but if people never hear it, it’s meaningless.’

Artistic appointments have also been a source of great satisfaction for André during his tenure, including the extension of chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis’s contract.

‘Now that Sir Andrew is firmly established in his role here, we want to continue our journey with our audiences—which means not only playing work that people know and love, but also less familiar work they will be willing to discover because they trust the MSO and Sir Andrew.

‘I’m a big believer that long-term viability—artistic and financial—starts with really interesting and bold programming.

‘When you look around the world at some of the more successful orchestras, I believe they have that in common. In a place like Melbourne with a really sophisticated audience, we can take them on that journey,’ he said.

Andre believes the appointment of new concertmasters is ‘very critical in the life of any orchestra’—and following the retirement of the great [concertmaster] Wilma Smith, I’m very proud that we have brought here Dale Barltrop and Eoin Andersen, as well as more recently Associate Concertmaster Sophie Rowell.’

He next nominated the European tour of 2014 as a highlight under his tenure—‘great performances and wonderful recognition from the leading critics in Europe of what we do’.

‘And finally I would talk about our Chinese New Year concert which is something we created here in 2014—it has been very successful and was broadcast all over China in 2015.

That is something I hope will be around for a very long time.’

But there are a few issues that cause him great concern, music education in schools being the main one.

‘The big question for me is how the decline in music education is going to affect the audiences of tomorrow.

‘I don’t think we’ve seen the impact of that yet. That is why we’re obviously doing everything we can to help solve these issues but we won’t be able to do it alone. It has to be an issue that society tackles and government tackles with us.’

Another major change he has witnessed over recent years is the way audiences consume music.

‘People want more flexibility in their subscriptions and they tend to buy more last minute than ever.’

That said, he mused on the difference in buying habits between North America and Australia where subscriptions continue to remain strong.

‘I don’t know whether it’s a timing aspect or whether audiences are really different here,’ he said.

‘All I know is that we are going to take really good care of these subscribers so that we keep them. And we keep working on acquiring new ones.’

Therein lies the challenge. Andre believes keeping audiences stimulated and communicating with your community play a crucial role in staying relevant.

It’s a mix, he says, between playing the core repertoire, reinforcing the existing Australian canon, commissioning new work, incorporating popular work into programming and forging unusual collaborations (such as the MSO’s CD with The Wiggles, or performing with James Morrison) that will keep audiences engaged.

A crucial part of the puzzle, of course, is adequate funding, and in this regard he says the partnership between philanthropists, corporate sponsorship and government is the key.

‘The Australian Government and Australian society make a very strong statement by saying the orchestras and other arts organisations need to be supported with public funds.

‘I think that balance is what makes a sustainable and viable way of creating art.

‘And Australia, maybe better than any other country in the world, has this balance and it’s something one needs to work on all the time.

‘This country is very enlightened in the way it supports the arts,’ he said.

Long may it continue.

A native of Québec, Canada, and a conservatory-trained pianist, André Gremillet has performed in Canada, the United States and France. He holds a Master’s degree from the Mannes College of Music and an MBA from McGill University.

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