The Muse in Music - Lawrence Golan on Programming with the Audience in Mind
By, Dan Perttu
For this time in the Muse in Music blog, I am interviewing Lawrence Golan, Music Director of the Yakima Symphony (Washington), York Symphony (Pennsylvania), the Denver Philharmonic, and the Lamont Symphony (Colorado). Lawrence has also conducted throughout the United States and in Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, El Salvador, England, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, and continues to develop relationships with orchestras nationally and abroad. In addition to concerts with the orchestras of which he is Music Director, Golan’s 2018-19 season includes return engagements with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra (for performances of The Nutcracker with Tucson Regional Ballet Company), his debut with Italy’s Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo and Maui Pops Orchestra, and leading a summer 2019 production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at the Europäisches Musikinstitut Wien. 2018 summer performances included the Yakima Symphony Orchestra’s new concert series at Cave B Summer Music Theater in Quincy, Washington and a sold-out concert with the Bayerische Philharmonie in Munich, Germany.
Dan: What music inspires you as a conductor? If the entire body of classical music were on fire, and you could only save 2 to 3 pieces, what would you save?
Lawrence: I am inspired by all kinds of music. From within the realm of Classical Music, I love repertoire from all periods, styles and geographic areas. That said, I tend to be most inspired by whatever I am working on at the time. When I’m studying and/or conducting a Brahms symphony—there is nothing better. But then I would say the same thing as I am working on Mahler, or Beethoven, or Mozart, etc. As for saving 2 or 3 pieces: Beethoven 9: it is the greatest and certainly the most influential symphony ever written. Mahler 2, Tchaik 5.
Dan: What motivates you as a conductor? Why do you do what you do?
Lawrence: I am motivated by the great composers. I am in such awe of their talent and creativity. I spend my days and nights trying to realize their creations and their intentions to the best of my ability.
I was born into a life of music. My father, Joseph Golan, was the Principal Second Violinist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for decades. I started as a professional violinist—not knowing any other life. I eventually morphed into conducting because I became enchanted with the big picture; not only the musical big picture (all of the parts, the interpretation, etc.), but the organizational big picture as well: programming, audience development, marketing, orchestra building, etc.
Dan: Audience development is a really interesting issue. What have you found to be the most effective ways to grow audiences?
Lawrence: This is a huge topic and one that can’t be fully explored right here and now. However, I can make a few comments about it. I think that for 95% of orchestras—all except those that have the budgets to bring in the superstar soloists and conductors whose names alone sell tickets—the most important factor in selling tickets and thus developing an audience is programming. I find that thematic programming—both for individual concerts as well as entire seasons—is helpful in this regard. While a concert with three great but unrelated pieces could be perfectly enjoyable for those who buy a ticket, it is difficult to market. All the marketing department can say is “come hear us play three really great pieces.” But thematic programming gives the marketing department something to grab on to. It can affect everything they do including the text they use for their materials, the graphics, the color schemes and end even pre- and post-concert activities. Another thing that I find very important, especially in regard to new music, is to gain the trust of the audience—trust that whatever we program, whether one has heard of the piece/composer or not, will be a great aural experience. The programming of bad pieces (those with no interesting sonic elements) can negatively impact ticket sales for future concerts. And the repeated programming of bad music will completely kill off an existing audience base.
Dan: This leads nicely into the idea of artistic vision. How would you characterize your artistic vision? How does music by living composers fit into this vision?
Lawrence: I endeavor to provide the audiences that I serve with a wide variety of music, from all countries, eras and styles. And within that programming context, I endeavor to present each piece within the historical performance practices that it was written as well as the historical, political and/or emotional context that the composer was working in. The works of living composers are absolutely a part of that equation. I want the audience to know that great music is still being written every day.
Dan: What a wonderful vision. Do you have preferences for certain aesthetic orientations or styles in new music? What does this imply for your programming and for your audiences?
Lawrence: My own preferences are, in my opinion, irrelevant. I don’t program for myself, but rather for the audience and, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the situation (professional orchestra, university orchestra, youth orchestra, etc.) for the musicians in the orchestra. That said, in order to keep contemporary music alive, it is important not to let the audience, as they so often do, fall into the incorrect mindset that all contemporary music is bad. For that reason, I tend to program sonically interesting, exciting contemporary music as opposed to music whose interesting characteristics are strictly intellectual but cannot be heard.
Dan: Do you find that you and the administrators who work in your organizations have to market contemporary music differently?
Lawrence: Not really. Because my programs tend to be thematic, we primarily market the entire concert, as opposed to individual pieces. If a contemporary piece fits in to the theme of a concert, it belongs there. We don’t need to explain why we are doing it.
Dan: This has all been very interesting and illuminating to me. I have one more question - just on the lighter side, so that people can get to know you as a person. What do you do to relax?
Lawrence: Sadly, I have very little time to relax. However, I love my family (wife and two kids) and like to spend as much time with them as possible. We usually go on an annual ski trip and also tend to rendezvous with extended family members in tropical destinations (while I am not much of a beach fan, my wife certainly is!).
Dan: Wow – that sounds wonderful…. I’ll take either a ski trip or a tropical vacation—especially right now in the doldrums of the dark time of the year. Anyway, thank you so much for talking with me! I have enjoyed getting to know you as an artist.
Lawrence: Thank you!