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In the world of orchestral music, “the system” sustains discriminatory practices even when individuals within it claim to be progressive.

How does the system work?

Artistic teams for large orchestras typically plan individual concert seasons in a piecemeal fashion. Soloists and guest conductors must be booked several years in advance, and even the music director may have competing obligations. Without a firm policy commitment to inclusive programming, this planning method allows the team to overlook a lack of diversity during a given season as the delicate balance of scheduling can supersede these concerns.

But the work of artistic planners does not happen in isolation. Music directors of large orchestras are typically in residence for a fraction of the full season and can stretch their core repertoire over five or more years before it becomes stale. It could take at least this long for a director to get through the canonical symphonies of just three composers: Beethoven, Mahler, and Bruckner. As a single season takes shape, guest conductors only need to avoid doubling someone else even if all the conductors share the same core repertoire, which can now be squeezed into one season. Finally, soloists need only avoid conflicts with other soloists on the same instrument.

The combined effect leads to programming stagnation. Each season becomes a game of musical chairs. Who will play what “masterwork” this year?

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