Free ensembles and small (chamber) orchestras as innovative drivers of classical music in Germany

Alenka Barber-Kersovan and Volker Kirchberg


This chapter takes as its theme the current state and development of classical art-music in Germany. This musical arena might be presumed to be in crisis yet has been experiencing transformations that contradict the negative prophecies about the future of this musical genre. Innovations have been emerging from smaller orchestras that are organized in less bureaucratic and informal ways. These might be found in free ensembles and relatively young and small (chamber) orchestras’ implementation of innovative and unconventional strategies, on all levels of the musical, performative and organizational practice. However, there is also currently the emergence of liquid orchestras’ - a term derived from the sociologist Zvgmunt Bauman’s (2013) 'liquid times’ or societies. Here, we transfer his general observ ation of society to these orchestras. These orchestras often have uncertain, precarious and variable structures, frequently engaging part-time-emploved or ad hoc hired musicians and staff. The labelling of these orchestras as "free ensembles” renders the temi Tree' - in neoliberal times - absurd.


In Germany, over the last couple of decades, the (political) discourse on classical art-music has been dominated by the concern about the future of this musical arena. Symphony orchestras in particular, which are often regarded as the epitome of European high culture and financed accordingly by public and private subsidies, have seemed to be under risk. The most obvious (and often-cited) signs of this threat are the ageing of the listening public and the decline in the sales of recorded media. Among other negative indicators are both growing competition and rising production costs in the face of declining or at least stagnating (state) subsidies. These are sometimes compounded by the reunification of the two Gennan states, and this has led to mergers or even closures of some established orchestras. Cultural policies have responded to this assumed threat of

'disappearance' (cf. Deutsche Orchestervereinigung 2011; Heinen 2013; Gembris and Menze 2018, among others) with massive investments in music mediation and audience development. Target groups of these investments are especially young people (cf. Plank-Baldauf 2019) and people with intercultural backgrounds (cf. Mandel 2014; Allmanritter 2017). A further strategy to strengthen this musical genre was the inclusion of the orchestra scene in the Germain 's Nationwide Inventorv of Intangible Cultural Heritage' (UNESCO, no date; cf. DOV 2014).

Although the concern was partly confirmed bv empirical data, the fear did not materialize (cf. Keuchel 2014; Concerti Media GmbH 2016). On the contrary, because a closer look at the classical scene shows that in this field a dramatic transformation has taken place, in which on the one hand some traditional performance formats indeed lost their appeal. On the other hand, this process was accompanied by various innovations around concert life that contradict the pessimistic prophecies about the future of this musical area. In this respect the most important impulses came from free ensembles and (chamber) orchestras with their potentially unconventional performative practices (cf. Lorber and Schick 2019).

Accordingly, the research question that we consider here is to study reasons and consequences of the conspicuous emergence and current significance of these new and often rather non-bureaucratic, and - at least to the outside - ‘informal’ small orchestras. This appearance is associated with both the renewed interest from new concert audiences, and politicians concerned with culture. However, the appearance is also indicative for a society' that emphasizes the uncertainties of 'liquid times' (Bauman 2013) in the late capitalist and neo-liberal era - the structures of labour and working conditions in these orchestras strongly resemble either the general new working environment of start-ups, or network-based projects under temporary or self-employment conditions (cf. Boltanski and Chiapello 2005).


According to studies by Braun-Thiirmann (2005), Drucker (2006) and Howaldt and Jacobsen (2010), innovations are both multi-layered phenomena of existing social practices, and products of inevitable social changes in our work and life environments. These practices can relate to different aspects of social life, such as technology, economy, or social and cultural issues. Therefore, an innovation is always affected by and embedded in a broader social setting, which in turn confirms or rejects (socially, economically, or symbolically) a given innovation. This theoretical concept of external conditions affecting the production of culture has its basis in the sociological "production-of-culture” approach as developed by Peterson and Anand (2004). In consequence, an innovation is never a novelty sui generis, but can be considered as such only in relation to dominant conditions; it refers to issues such as renewal, change or revitalisation and implies a departure from the prevailing conventional system (cf. Piazza 2017). The main conventional organization that the free ensembles significantly differ from is the organization of the Kul- turorchester, with a very specific (and union-confirmed) legal contract for salaries and tariffs, regulated for 129 publicly subsidized orchestras in Germany (cf. Zieba and O'Hagan 2013).

This chapter presents a preparatory' study that is theoretically founded in entrepreneurial, innovational, and work-transformation studies on micro, meso, and macro levels (cf. Moore 2016; Loacker 2013; Gielen et al. 2012). The project as a whole assumes that the appearance of these smaller ensembles are indicators for and results of significant changes in the work and life-organization of late capitalism and neo-liberalism (cf. Sennett 1998; Boltanski and Chiapello 2005; Brockling 2005). One expression that perhaps most accurately describes these changes not only in the labour market but also of organizing life in late capitalism, is the "gig economy” (Crouch 2019).

Musicians that work in these liquid orchestras are typical of an artistic labour market that is organized as a vertically disintegrated system of production, or as a gig economy. This system encourages innovation, but it also shapes and restricts individual careers and increases uncertainties around their development (cf. Menger 2006). In these liquid times, employability and salary' levels depend not only upon a very high professional qualification as a musician, but also on the innovativeness of performance styles, extraordinary compilations of music pieces, and an elastic readiness for project- and network-based teamwork. In our analysis, we focus on the musicians, the staff, and the musical bodies associated with these free ensembles and smaller orchestras, and consider four levels of analysis, which are all closely related to each other:

  • • Individual characteristics and patterns of musicians (micro level)
  • • Musical-performative issues (micro to meso level)
  • • Organizational issues (meso level)
  • • Societal and policy issues (macro level)

Based on these theoretical foundations, we conducted ethnographic observations and document-analyses (of homepages, newspaper reports and videos) of five prominent free ensembles in Northern Germany (Ensemble Resonanz, ensemble reflektor, STEGREIF.orchester, Orchester im Treppenhaus and junge norddentsche philharmonie). They are notable for thei r strife for musical distinction, thei r experimental approach towards repertoire, and their enthusiasm and joyful playing appeal - to a younger generation of listeners - who have not previously been concert goers.


Today in Germany, there are estimated to be some 800 orchestras that are capable of performing conventional classical-music concert programmes. However, they play at different levels of quality and work under different organizational, legal and financial conditions. In an international comparison, a special feature of the German orchestral scene represents the so-called Kulturorchester' (cultural orchestras; Mertens 2019). This term, which is still often viewed with discomfort, originates from the Nazi era, and was based on an understanding of art, which gave symphonic music, embodied above all in the 'ingenious' work of Ludw ig van Beethoven, the status of the highest cultural asset of the 'German nation' (Felbick 2015). At the same time however, this term also implied trade- union demands, which were first laid down in 1938 in the Tarifordnung fur Deutsche Kulturorchester (Collective Bargaining Regulations for German Cultural Orchestras). Today, the term Kulturorchester is understood predominantly in the legal sense in order to distinguish them from the other professional orchestras by the type of (high) state subsidy (Mertens 2019: 192). According to the Deutsches Musikinformationszentrum (MIZ; German Music Information Centre), there are currently 129 Kulturorchester, including 81 theatre orchestras, 29 concert orchestras and 11 radio orchestras, four big bands, 7 radio choirs and 8 chamber orchestras (Mertens 2019: 191).

The decisive criterion for this classification is that the mentioned orchestras are publicly financed, have a permanent staff, are active all year round, and play so-called serious music. The working conditions of musicians, whom as a rule, are employed for an indefinite period - yet can still be terminated - are regulated in the Tarifvertrag fur die Musiker in Kulturorchestern (Collective Bargaining Agreement for Musicians in Cultural Orchestras) and applied across the whole country. Further, the individual orchestras are classified according to their number of players in the so-called remuneration groups A to D, although there are also some deviations from these general guidelines (cf. Mertens 2019).


In addition to the Kulturorchester, there are now also numerous ensembles and (chamber) orchestras that are called 'free'. They are put together by mostly young musicians, who earn their living as freelancers; this might be termed a ‘portfolio career'. In addition, some of them are shareholders of an ensemble, thus participating directly in its economic success or failure (cf. Holst 2014).

In Great Britain, and especially in London, a similar development has occurred in the last ten years. This vibrant 'alternative classical music scene' is predominantly active in unconventional venues from w arehouses to pubs to abandoned underground stations, or even in a multi-story car park in Peckham (by the Multi-Story Orchestra), and presented by promoters such as Nonclassical' or on the 'London Contemporary Music Festival’ (Djuric and Andrewes 2014). In both Great Britain and Germany, these musical bodies act independently and are increasingly perceived as a separate structure apart from the established orchestras, mostly not receiving (any major) institutional support (cf. FREO 2018).

According to MIZ (the German Music Information Centre) there should be about 180 corresponding free ensembles in Germany, although the number is probably higher (cf. Lorber and Schick 2019) due to many not being reported. These are mostly smaller ensembles, chamber orchestras and in rare cases fiill-scale symphony orchestras, and the transitions between the different line-ups are fluid. As is still evident from the under-researched history of this field, the first ensembles of this kind formed during the 1920s and 1930s. With their transparent musical texture, they represented a counterweight to the bombastic sound masses of the late Romantic period and put new accents upon the repertoire. On one hand the emphasis was on the rediscovered ’early’ music, and on the other, the cultivation of the avant-garde chamber music of that time. Key works that promoted this development were Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schonberg (1912) and Die Geschichte vom Soldctten by Igor Stravinsky (1917) with their perhaps less conventional chamber instrumentations (Flender 2007).

Although the division of the free ensembles into 'old' and 'new' music is only schematic, because this scene is characterized by a remarkable variety of line-ups, programme orientations and presentation fonns, the MIZ has maintained the above-mentioned classification. Orchestras dedicated to early music often pursue the concept of ‘historically informed performance practice'. They play baroque and early classical music on authentic instruments, make use of the expressions and technical possibilities of past times or devote themselves to the revival of works that have already fallen into oblivion. However, those ensembles specializing in 'modem' music tend to work closely together with composers, encourage new compositions or integrate new works into their programmes, so that - with the exception of some radio orchestras - they can be regarded as the actual promoters of the contemporary musical creativity (cf. Lorber and Schick 2019).

As can be seen from the MIZ statistics, free ensembles have been founded in several waves. Although there were some post-war ‘free’ chamber orchestras active, it was not until the mid-1980s that this scene experienced a veritable founding boom. At that time Ensemble Modern, ensemble recherche and the Freiburger Barockorchester were formed, and these became role models for numerous successor formations. According to FREO (2018), this wave of foundations could be traced back to the 'inertia' of the large institutions, which relied on the classical-romantic repertoire, perfonned by large orchestras in large newly built concert halls. The same inertia applied to music academies, which preserv ed the traditional educational canon and neglected both historical perfonnance practice and the promotion of modern music, which again, prompted many composers to establish their own ensembles.

As a matter of importance, it must be pointed out that during the 1980s and 1990s, the free ensembles did not only play music that differed from the established concert programmes. They also broke with the conventions of the existing concert system in order to modify their performative practices both aesthetically and organizationally - according to their needs. This also largely applied to the new generations of ensembles that were founded around the turn of the millennium. They continue to react flexibly to the dramatic changes in the broader social context, and implement innovative aspects at all levels of musical, performative and organizational practice.


Although the outstanding quality of the above ensembles is of enormous importance - for leading the wav, setting standards and developing new presentation strategies - up until now they were seldom a subject of actual research. There are some scattered articles dealing with specific aspects of the free musical scene, but empirical studies that would provide a comprehensive overview of this musical field are lacking. Consequently, the outcomes of the research presented here are still explorative, focusing on the musicians involved and the innovative character of their performative practices. Based upon both our ethnographic observations and also the study of documents such as homepages of the ensembles, new spaper reports and videos, the follow ing statements w-ere deduced from the analysis of the follow ing five ensembles:

  • Ensemble Resonanz was founded in 1994 by the members of the Jimge Deutsche Philharmonie (Young German Philharmonics). The 18-strong core-musician ensemble is based in Hamburg, has the status of the orchestra in residence of the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall and owns also a club-like venue of its own, the 'Resoncmzbimker. The ensemble views itself as an interface between a chamber orchestra and a new-music soloist ensemble. In its concerts, the ensemble draw s on the contrast between old and contemporary music, juxtaposing unorthodox interpretations of classical w orks with the musical avant- garde, offering its public unfamiliar listening experiences. In 2002. the ensemble was awarded the Orchestra of the Future award by the Wurth-Stiftung, followed in 2016 by the Classical .NEXT Innovation Award for its project Urban String, which situates classical music in a club atmosphere.
  • Orchester im Treppenhaus was established in 2006 by the celloist and conductor Thomas Posth. It is situated in Hannover where it is praised as being ‘a sensation'. As with other ensembles researched herein, this group also works with an augmented-perfonnance concept and explores the boundaries of the live concert by opening doors to new listening experiences. The ensemble and its conductor were repeatedly honoured with prestigious awards, e g. the pro-vision-Preis of the Stiftung Kulturregion Hannover (amongst others) in 2015.
  • ensemble reflector was founded in 2015 by the conductor Thomas Klug - a well-known figure of this scene: He was the concertmaster of the Deutschen Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, and as the conductor and artistic director of Ensemble Resonanz for two years. His new orchestra includes some 40 young professional musicians and is situated in Hamburg and Liineburg. It is self-governed and independent, giving musicians space for participation and the development of a broad range of programmes without any boundaries. In 2019, the orchestra was awarded the Max-Brauer-Preis by the Alfred-Toepfer-Stifiling.
  • STEGREIF.orchester is an international group of some 30 young, versatile musicians with different musical backgrounds. It is led by the artistic director Juri de Marco and based in Berlin. Since 2015, the ensemble creates innovative, musically and visually powerftil reinterpretations of well-known repertoire and explores new dimensions of sound. It is an improvising symphony orchestra, which plays by heart and without a conductor. In 2017 the ensemble received its first major award, the Berlin Startup Music Prize, followed by the Wurth Prize from Jeunesses Musicales Germany. Further, the orchestra negotiated a three-vear partnership with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and thc junge norddeutsche philharmonic. This collaboration - Trikestra - was established in order to unite artistically and organizationally, and close the gap between the independent music scene and the established musical institutions.
  • junge norddeutsche philharmonie (Young North German Philharmonic) was founded in 2010 and is situated in Northern Germany. It is a project-based young orchestra, predominantly comprised of music-academy students and dedicated to the development of innovative event formats. Working without hierarchy, members are also encouraged to participate in organizational activities and to develop further skills in areas other than music. As with the STEGREIF. orchester, the junge norddeutsche philharmonie is a member of the Berlin-based project Trikestra and realizes some five-six innovative projects each year.

Cultural innovations affect the subjective, intersubjective and structural level of music making and are detectable in all processes of musical production, distribution and reception. Significant detail of all such aspects is beyond the scope of this chapter, and so it will focus on the various ensembles and their innovative performative practices. The point of departure is the assumption, that the above so-called 'crisis' of classical art- music is de facto a crisis of conventional performance culture and not of crisis of the art-music itself (cf. Trondle, 2008: 137). This crisis principally resulted from the fact that the concert system is based on a long tradition, during which conventional musical performances degenerated into rigid concert rituals. For example, at the beginning of the 19th century, it was still customary to consume food or drinks or to talk during a musical performance (cf. Trondle 2014: 21). However, particularly after the ‘concert hall reform' of around 1900, music became detached from the usual social contexts (it became autonomous music'), and as a "substitute religion” (Heister 1983) with its entertainment function suppressed.

Conversely, the free ensembles and (chamber) orchestras researched here, all apply several different strategies that can be regarded as innovative in comparison to the conventions of the traditional concerts. It is worth noting that not all of these strategies are deployed by all of the ensembles and not all are deployed in the same fashion. They all have idiosyncrasies, but there are also some features that these orchestras all have in common. Thus, the following can be considered:

  • 1. Traditional concerts usually open with an overture, followed by a solo concert, and after the break the evening reaches its peak with the reproduction of a well-known symphony (cf. Kalbhenn 2011). Most ensembles and orchestras discussed here, however, distance themselves from these formal conventions and develop new concert formats and dramaturgical concepts. Thus, for instance Orchester im Treppenhaus organizes Hygge Concerts - the name was taken from the Swedish feel-good concept - for which the visitors are supposed to bring their own sitting arrangements in order to experience the music in the most comfortable way. At the Dark Room concerts by the same orchestra, the audience is blindfolded and guided by the musicians to their designated seats, for an immersive experience in which the ensemble is accompanied by actors' voices. STEGREIF.orchester also performs street music, and encourages the public to sing along, and during the jange norddeutsche philharmonie perfonnance of itetruschka (referring to the Ballet Petruschka by Igor Stravinsky) - the public could dance.
  • 2. In a traditional concert, there is a fixed stage arrangement. Musicians normally sit in a specific order behind their music stands with a conductor standing in the middle of the orchestra on a low podium, controlling all aspects of the perfonnance. They are all dressed in black, which erases the visibility of the ensemble in order to stress the acoustical component of the perfonnance. This whole set up emphasizes the concept of the faithfulness to the 'musical work' that the orchestra is reproducing.

However, some ensembles broke with this tradition, and especially radical is STEGREIF.orchester. The musicians play by heart and move across the stage in a sort of a choreographed dance, which fulfils them with a feeling of freedom and opens space for creativity and improvisation. Further, no concert dress-code is prescribed, and they wear everyday outfits, reflecting their individuality. Sometimes the musicians even mingle with the public, which also listens standing up or moving around, and the constant motion of all parties turns the whole venue into a huge stage.

  • 3. Considering the repertoire, free ensembles and (chamber) orchestras play a broad range of musical works, with standard classical compositions also amongst them. Although the score remains unchanged, their programmes mostly differ from the established conventions, filling the venue with a specific atmosphere, which traditional orchestras celebrating the seriousness of the 'art religion' often miss. Not all musicians choose to work in a freelance ensemble, not because they weren't offered a suitable job in a Kulturorchester, but rather that they just wish for independence and artistic freedom which might otherwise be suppressed in an established institution. In the ensembles highlighted here, musicians play pieces that they choose themselves in the way they want to hear them. This opens new possibilities for expression and self-realization, which in turn elicits a positive impact upon the public.
  • 4. Some ensembles, especially STEGREIF.orchester, which in its projects iffreebeethoven, #freeschubert and Ufreebrahms (referring to Beethoven s Eroica, Schubert's Great C major Symphony and Brahm s Third Symphony) exposed the well-known pieces to radical reinterpretation. The interventions of STEGREIF.orchester are immense, because after a fundamental de-construction of the above works, the remaining musical fractions serve as departure points for free improvisations. Although the core material of the original compositions remains recognizable, the re-compositions can be characterized as new works in their own right. Since this orchestra encompasses musicians from different musical backgrounds, the improvisational framework also contains a variety of crossovers into other genres such as jazz, rock, folk and klezmer. A similar concept was realized by the junge norddeutsche philharmonie in its project Uetruschka. In the first part of the concert, the Stravinsky’s Petruschka was reproduced without any changes of the musical substance. In the second part, it was taken as a source of inspiration and the sound of the classical symphony orchestra was enlarged by live electronics.
  • 5. Traditional concert rituals (cf. Rosing and Barber-Kersovan 1993; Heger 2013) presuppose the primacy of listening as the only legitimate form of reception of classical music and reduce its perception to contemplative immersion in the work. However, due to a perceived sensor- overload (cf. Trondle 2014), such reception does not correspond with the preferences of today’s consumers (cf. Schroder 2014; Thorau et al. 2011). In order to meet such contemporary aesthetic expectations, events by these ensembles often include also other arts, such as literature, dance, theatre, performance art or multi- media presentations. Thus, for instance Orchester im Treppenhaus presented the tragic story of the film star Renate Muller by actors, performing against the background of gloomy sounds. In its concerts on romanticism, Ensemble Resonanz included fragments from the Romantic Theory by Novalis. STEGREIF.orchester performed its own version of Mozarts Don Giovanni together with the Neukollner Oper. junge, and norddeutsche philharmone includes dancers in its performances.
  • 6. In their search for the “Classical Concept of the Future” all such contemporary ensembles also include different kinds of media. They work with photo, film and video and their trailers are professionally made and of high artistic quality. Ensemble Resonanz has its own CD label and presents a monthly classical radio transmission on the digital radio station ByteFM. The web-portal aims at ‘digital natives’ and opens new venues on the Internet. Very similarly, the STEGREIF.orchester offers a digital education series called plural, as a new approach to present classical music to a young public. Orchester in Treppenhaus developed a programme, in which during the first part of a concert (of traditional works) the public can use a special app on their smartphone to mark their favourite parts of the music, which are then subsequently performed by a chamber ensemble in an intimate setting.
  • 7. The above ensembles do not regard classical music as a hermetically sealed exclusive field. They are put together by musicians who are open to various styles of popular music and are capable of combining them with classical music at a high artistic level. Ensemble Resonanz. for example, plays their Urban String events together with a DJ and merges classical chamber music with electronic dance music, ensemble reflektor performed a concert with the jazz saxophone player Malte Schiller and his band, STEGREIF.orchester made a flash mob’ together with a choir, a rapper and a soul singer, and it is about to write a techno-symphony. In a similar sense, the junge deutsche phil- harmonie explored the possibilities of a crossover between classical music and electronic (dance) music, and Orchester im Treppenhaus proved in its title disco that classical instruments can also produce a funky groove.
  • 8. Free ensembles are also prone to leaving the usual concert venues and perform at unusual or unconventional places such as harbour quays, bunker rooms, schools in socially problematic districts, staircases in public housing complexes, and metro stations - to name just a few. Unusual performance spaces both facilitate and trigger unusual performance styles and modes that would be not likely be sanctioned in conventional concert houses (cf. Kirchberg 2020). The layout of the traditionally magnificent concert hall implicitly imposes certain behavioural restrains upon performance. Thus, although the ensembles and (chamber) orchestras do not refuse to play in such venues, they are also trying to make a special break out of the rigidity of classical conventions. Ensemble Resonanz established its own performance venue called Resonanzraum, which is supposed to be the first chamber music club in Europe. It is situated in a former World War II bunker, which is also the home of many start-ups from the pop music scene, in the gentrified Hamburg inner-city neighbourhood "'Schanzenviertel”. Further, the ensemble is also playing in other clubs around the town and advertising their performances with red text sprayed on the pavement. Orchester in Treppenhaus performs often in a museum, ensemble reflektor is in residence in Hamburg Oberhofen Ouartier, where old warehouses were turned into a creative quarter, and junge nordde- utsche philharmonie chose as the venue for their DETECT CLASSIC FESTIVAL the so-called RWN terrain, which was a torpedo research station of the Nazi navy during World War II.
  • 9. Some ensembles are also active also beyond mere playing by putting up their own concert series or even festivals. Ensemble Resonanz organizes a Resonanzraum Festival with a yearly changing theme; in 2019 the festival was devoted to Romantic Music, ensemble reflektor also invites musical friends from different backgrounds to its 'extended' series of festivals, which started in 2019 with ultraBach. This took place in Liineburg and compromised a series of different events, from splendid concerts to intimate home-music, drawing together professionals, amateurs and music students and culminating in an "imaginary cantata'’, a newly composed chorale, based on Bach's cantatas. A dancing concert in the music school and a club night further brought Bach into the 21st century.

Looking at these examples, classical music is not extinct in Germany, as was feared in the past by parts of the cultural and political establishment. On the contrary, this musical arena seems to be very much alive and has been doing well for some time. Although innovative approaches are noted in all parts of the classic field, the "actual innovation engines” and “creative laboratories for the classical music scene” (cf. Lorber and Schick 2019; FREO 2018) seem to be the free ensembles and (chamber) orchestras, setting new standards for contemporary musical life.

What makes these ensembles innovative are not just the unconventional programmes. Their organizational fonus and working methods differ significantly from those of the so-called Kulturorchester and affect aesthetic/ musical, perfonuative, technical, media, organizational and financial aspects, closely interconnected in a multi-dimensional dynamic system of mutual relationships. An important issue seems to be the fact that these ensembles are "free”, not only in that they lack institutional (financial) support, but also that they have a crucial impact on the question of w hat music is being played - and how.

Free ensembles take the tenu 'freedom' quite literally and understand their 'free' makeup as playgrounds in which they can try new things, unfold their creativity and create new paths to classical music both through new7 concert fonuats and perfonuance practices. Although deeply rooted in the classical tradition, they try to extend it by exploring soundscapes beyond the boundaries of conventions and looking for interrelationships and crosspollination of different musical worlds. Their joy of experimentation is not self-centred, but public oriented. All of the above ensembles understand the need for recruitment of new7 public strata beyond the educated bourgeoisie. They view7 this as their social obligation, and they also organize educational projects or support school classes within that realm. However, contrary to the established orchestras w ith their mediating programmes aimed at introducing (young) people to the classical tradition, these new7 ensembles tty to also meet the expectations of the public in a bidirectional dialogue. They do not limit themselves to the reproduction of the standard repertoire, but present themselves with a youthful demeanour. They do not put up barriers between the stage and the auditorium, but make sure that their performances still satisfy the need for relaxation and entertainment.

The results of these efforts have not gone unnoticed. Such unconventional performance practices do seem to appeal to young listeners, w ho are generally interested in music, but would normally not attend a concert of a so-called Kiilturorchester in a conventional venue such as a Konzerthalle. These new musical bodies seem to resonate with the Zeitgeist of the present day, to meet the musical taste of younger new listeners, and to reshape their expectations - previously derived from long-term tastes, places and behaviour patterns.

However, the non-conformism and elastic rule-interpretation of the free ensembles brings more than a pinch of new ideas to the classical-music concert scene. This scene was defined by old and stagnant patterns and is therefore perceived by some as going through an existential crisis; however, the optimism related to the neo-innovative and entrepreneurial spirit has sprinkled it w ith more than a grain of doubt. The dialectics of innovation and neo-liberal constraints, as pointed out by, e g. Boltanski and Chiapello (2005) or more recently by Crouch (2019), is characteristic of a labour market that is more and more based on sub-contractors. This is exemplified in the construction sector, Uber drivers in the mobility sector, and AirBnB suppliers in the hospitality sector. It is also now’ found in the classical-art-music w orld and defines the labour market for young and able musicians of this area.

We therefore end this article with observations by two sociologists of the arts, Pierre-Michel Menger and Angela McRobbie, who for the last two decades have studied these advantages and disadvantages of the artists' (although not specifically of the musicians') labour market. Menger (2018) laments the contingency of the artistic system of rewards. Since innovation is at the core of this artistic success, new ness is a threat from the new arrivals - the free ensembles - being levelled at the formerly successful organizations (e g. Kiilturorchester)'.

And there is nothing more subtly attractive than a professional world where innovation through exploitation of uncertainty is combined with ... a narrow crest path between the consolidation of. . . reputation and the permanent exposure of these reputations to challenges from new arrivals.

(Menger 2018: 169)

Whereas Menger - from a structuralist perspective - emphasizes the constraints of a neo-liberal society that demand a "liquid” w-ork environment of permanent self-evaluation and individual responsibility, McRobbie (2009) - from an agency-oriented perspective - offers some light at the end of the tunnel.

[Creativity has been instrumental ised as a regime of freedom, bringing with it the possibility of happiness at work. . . . [W]e need to pay more analytical attention to not just the subsumption of life by work but to life itself, how ... can everyday life be used as a possible instrument for critique against the overwhelming authority of work, can life be a source of creative opposition?

(McRobbie 2009: 136f.)

It will be the task of future research to find out how (and how much) these emerging free ensembles are only a product of a neo-liberal society7 in liquid times, or whether (and how much) they can constitute an ongoing alternative, non-conformist and creative oppositional force to the current cultural hegemony.


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Transforming musical performance

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