This week I attended the ‘Deutsche Orchesterkonferenz’ in Halle an der Saale to discuss issues of quality and innovation. And once again I stumbled across the confusion we have in our sector when we talk about innovation and renewal. Reason enough to bring forward a suggestion: I think it’s very useful to differentiate between two types of innovation.

On the podium at the ‘Deutsche Orchesterkonferenz’ 2018 – foto: Gerald Mertens

The first type is aiming at renewal within an existing format or business model. Innovation in this sense can be f.e. the expansion of the offer or the optimization of the way the orchestra offers an activity. The commission of a new work that is performed in a concert hall is an example of this kind of innovation. And actually, composers have been at the forefront of innovation for many decades. Just think about Beethoven and what his music meant for the professionalization and the dissemination of symphonic music throughout the word. Innovation in this sense can also be the opening of a new concert-hall – with improved acoustics. Or an extension like the Wolfgang.App that enables listeners to get additional input while the music is been performed without disturbing the others.

The second type aims at finding new audiences by creating a new and different kind of setting in which – in our case – symphonic music is presented or performed. With this type of innovation the orchestra wants to build a new format or business model. To be successful in that type the orchestra has to let loose of established formats and believes. It has to give room for trial and error. One famous examples of this type of innovation is the film ‘Rhythm is it!’ by the Berlin Philharmonic that created a new format for a new public to enjoy and experience the wealth of classical symphonic music. The Yellow Lounge by the Deutsche Grammophone is another example of a new format that offers classical music for new audience in a different setting. And there many others.

The type of innovation also has implications to the definition of quality that applies. Whereas within the first type the orchestra can stick to their major aspects of quality assessment, the orchestra cannot in the second type. Take the example of the excellent acoustics of the room in which the music is performed. This is a given in the concert-hall but it is a challenge with the format of the Yellow Lounge. To deliver the music in a club the performer has allow the music to loose in sound quality or allow the instruments to be amplified – a no go in the concerthall.

The readiness to leave certain aspects aside in order to gain ground on other aspects is a precondition to be successful in type 2. This readiness separates the players that are apt to be successful in winning new audiences with new formats.

Why there is no reason to be afraid I will explain in another  blog to come.

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