Music and Democracy – Organizational Structures of Contemporary Classical Music Ensembles

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Désirée WILKE, Paris Lodron Universität Salzburg, Austria
This dissertation focuses on music ensembles that specialize in contemporary classical music. The research is interested in the genesis and transformation of the organizational forms of these ensembles. I argue that contemporary classical ensemble-culture is at the same time a countermovement against and a support for the institutionalized world of professional classical music.

In Germany, the number of foundations of contemporary classical ensembles has increased since the beginning of the 80s and has reached a peak in the 90s. The growth of the contemporary classical music scene is observable until today. The accompanying discourse of this development stresses among other things the contrast between modern democratical and traditional hierarchical forms of organization.

At first glance, the rise of contemporary classical ensemble-culture can be seen as an attempt to overcome hierarchical structures in order to make new aesthetical languages possible. At second glance, it can be seen as the attempt to satisfy just another expectation that has its roots in the 19th century: the aspiration of creativity, innovation and aesthetical autonomy that very often goes along with financial and life planning risks for the artists or musicians. A third glance reveals that this expectation again has led to a postmodern tiredness of repeating the nomenclature of innovation. Moreover, professional instrumentalists are educated within the trajectories of a highly traditional and institutionalized world of classical music, so that it becomes obvious that typical tensions occur.

Based on the results of a reconstructive analysis of documents (self-descriptions of ensembles, newsletters, CD-booklets), ethnographic observations and interviews held with (former) members of contemporary classical music ensembles, the research investigates how the perspectives of reflection are treated and related to one another by the actors. This provides insight into the social character of making contemporary ensemble-music regarding its involvement in the institutionalized world of classical music.