Alex asks why an Australian orchestra would outsource their program notes to an overseas writer
“…when Australia is practically bursting at the seams with unemployed musicologists (and other writers-about-music) who would jump at the chance to write their notes for them.”
In my own corner of the scene there are two main instances when I would publish the work of an overseas writer, “outsource” in other words:
The first is when the writer is an acknowledged expert in a particular composer or area of repertoire and I want to draw on that scholarship. To give a hypothetical example, Henry-Louis de la Grange on Mahler, and a real one, Peter Laki on Bartók. By doing this, I’m bringing to my readers an international level of expertise.
I’m doing the exact same thing, incidentally, when I commission writing from a local writer who is an internationally acknowledged expert, say, Larry Sitsky on Scriabin, or Richard Charteris on Gabrieli. [By the way, SYO, that’s the “genius of Gabrieli” you want on your postcard, not Gabrielli.] The writer’s location is immaterial, it’s the specialist expertise that counts. Going the other way, you could imagine an overseas presenter wanting to commission an Australian like Graeme Skinner to write on Sculthorpe, or Charteris on Gabrieli for that matter.
The second reason applies to certain obscure and rarely performed works, where it might be difficult to justify commissioning an original program note for what could be one publication. If there’s an existing note (in a CD booklet or from another presenter’s program) that’s in a suitable style, then sometimes it makes sense to seek a reprint from the writer, regardless of where they live. That’s fairly rare for me, though.
But there’s one scenario, by far the most common one, where I couldn’t even imagine looking overseas for an annotator. That’s the “standard” program or work requiring the treatment of a generalist. There are so many fine writers about music in Australia (and covering pretty much any style or approach you might be seeking) that there’s really no need to look further afield. Especially not if you’re a presenter that receives funding from Australian taxpayers and which therefore carries a responsibility to nurture the talent (performing, composing, administrative, etc.) that exists here.
But before you accuse me of being parochial, here are some other reasons why local writers are better (wherever your “local” might be):
- A local writer, especially if they attend the presenter’s concerts, will be more attuned to that audience and the presenter’s personality as a public organisation, and should be able to fine-tune their approach accordingly. (For example, I always aim make points of connection that are distinctive to the audience I know will be reading the notes and their likely experience of the concert in question.) It’s a good sign when you receive a note that would have to be edited before any other presenter could use it.
- A local writer is more likely to be familiar with your programming over the long haul, and with other concert activity in your city, and therefore able to make helpful links with repertoire or experiences your audience might have encountered before.
- If that local writer is also an employee (by which I mean an administrator or a performer, or a freelancer who is very closely involved with the organisation), then you acquire the benefits of a writer who’s truly connected with the programming and the artistic vision of their own organisation. They’ll have been involved at some level in bringing to fruition the concert they’re writing about, or at least witnessed the process, which gives the potential for communicating insights and adopting an approach that the reader will never get from a reference book.