My column on the Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä and assorted other Nordic goings-on will run in The New Yorker next week. Short version? Vänskä is rëälly gööd. I've been listening to dozens of Finnish new-music CDs, and am working on a follow-up. For now, I want to post a remarkable statistic that I couldn't quite work into the piece. The ski-centric city of Lahti, where Vänskä got his start, has a population of 98,253. Total attendance for the Lahti Symphony in 2003 was 58,607. This means that on average sixty percent of the population attends the symphony in a given year. Many people, of course, go to more than one concert a year. But even assuming an average attendance of, say, five concerts, you get twelve percent of the population going to the symphony. If the same percentage of New York's population wanted to attend the New York Philharmonic, they'd have to play five concerts a week in Yankee Stadium. Any comments, wise Drew McManus?
Update: In a matter of hours, McManus responds, with statistics and speculation relating to the Finnish music economy. (Yes, the Lahti hall is undoubtedly part of the orchestra's appeal, as this photograph testifies.) McManus also asks what was implicit in my question — whether an American orchestra could ever achieve the same. Since Vänskä is now based in Minneapolis as well as Lahti, he will have a chance to work his magic there. Obviously American orchestras will never have the kind of government support that Finnish orchestras enjoy. But municipal and private local support is another matter. McManus cites Spokane, WA and Eugene, OR as promising cases. I see that the Eugene Symphony has 22,000 yearly attendance in a city of 138,000. That's not too far outside the ballpark of the Lahti phenomenon — and Eugene's subscriber base has grown by 39% in the last five years. I'm also interested to see that Eugene's repertory is pretty adventurous, encompassing this season Berg's Violin Concerto, Frank Martin's Concerto for 7 Winds and Timpani, and a premiere by Philip Rothman. Sooner or later some of these small-city orchestras may throw caution to the winds and start doing things that will revolutionize the entire orchestra business.
Update 2: Lisa Hirsch offers hër öwn thöüghts, emphasizing the incredible Finnish music-education system. Indeed, as I'll say in my column next week, it's probably the best in the world.