How Orchestras are Strategizing to Reach a Wider Audience

An increasing number of orchestras are now serving their multilingual, especially Spanish-speaking, constituencies with more determination and resources.

By Laurence Vittes | From the January-February 2022 issue of Strings magazine

With inclusion and engagement becoming major themes in the outreach missions of many American orchestras, an increasing number are now serving their multilingual, especially Spanish-speaking, constituencies with more determination and resources. Orchestras are approaching these audiences through multilingual websites, artist and repertoire choices, and outreach activities, connecting more firmly with the communities they touch. For the members of multigenerational Spanish-speaking families with an interest in classical music as consumers, educators, and parents, these initiatives are providing transformative access.

Since Gustavo Dudamel arrived in 2009, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has become a flagship for more inclusive outreach, witha multilingual website that sets the gold standard for good looks and usability. “Their selection of a Spanish-speaking music director and their sustained commitment to serving young Latinx and other students of color through their Youth Orchestra L.A. partnerships have made classical music more visible and more ‘relevant’ in communities that may have had less connection to the music in the past,” says Mark Slavkin, director of education for the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. “And they have embraced training young musicians as a core part of their mission, not just as a means to future audiences.”

The Dallas Symphony and Tucson Symphony have put up similarly impressive multilingual sites, the latter’s featuring a brilliant array of lessons, guides, and other videos led in Spanish by music director José Luis Gomez.

The California Symphony, based in Walnut Creek, California, hosts a multilingual website that helps support its El Sistema–based program at a predominantly Hispanic elementary school in nearby San Pablo, providing after-school snacks and tutoring sessions for students and interested parents in what music director Donato Cabrera calls “a mixture of Spanish and English.” Cabrera says that moving all its communications “as much as they could bilingual” has increased its Spanish-speaking audience by five percent. “That’s a pretty significant increase and has grown every year.”

Overall, it is still unusual for an orchestra to provide a website in an entirely bilingual format, but many are integrating bilingual elements within the larger structure to serve these audiences. The New York Philharmonic, for example, provides bilingual lesson plans and videos on its Teaching Artists page. In separate episodes, composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón shows young composers how to create transitions in their work, and how to calm themselves through reflective interaction with their own sounds. The Argentine guitarist, composer, and arranger Jacinta Clusellas demonstrates how she “develops melodies” and “creates sounds with emotions.”


But outreach stretches beyond the digital, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is an example of how artist and repertoire choices can appeal to local and active Spanish-speaking populations. “In fact,” says music director JoAnn Falletta, “our home, Kleinhans Music Hall, is in the middle of a vibrant Hispanic neighborhood. We have been very successful with celebrating Latinx heritage, especially in concerts presented in partnership with many of the great Latinx musicians who live locally and in our region, as well as bringing well-known Hispanic performers, conductors, and compositions to both our classics and pops concerts. We have created material for young people that honors the Spanish language and is available for schools—for instance, a Peter and the Wolf in Spanish. We have plans to celebrate el Día de los Muertos at Kleinhans and invite our neighborhood. The Philharmonic will also be performing the New York premiere of Mexican composer’s Arturo Marquez’s new trumpet concerto.”

Marquez’s work made a splash in Los Angeles as well earlier this season when, under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl in August, Anne Akiko Meyers premiered his new violin concerto, Fandango, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the L.A. Phil.

Though many of these initiatives appeal to broad audiences, some are specifically focused on including Spanish-speaking children. During the pandemic, the Chicago Symphony released a free episode of its CSO for Kids
digital series using English and Spanish narration with music by Latinx composers, based on the children’s book, Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell.

Globally speaking, the London Symphony Orchestra has forged a new partnership, after its first-ever visit to Latin American in 2019. The LSO has announced the development, together with the Fundación CorpArtes cultural center in Santiago, of a free digital music platform in Spanish that will draw together LSO concert performances, music-education programs, and interactive media activities with LSO musicians and artists.


This step will adapt and translate existing content on the LSO’s educational channels to provide master classes with LSO players, listening guides with contextual information, and resource packs for teachers to download and use in classroom music lessons. The footage will be recorded in hi-def sound and feature four camera angles from which to choose at any time, the LSO says, “so the viewer can focus on anything from the tips of the drumsticks on the snare drum to the violinists’ fingers plucking their strings.”

Spanish speakers are only part of a kaleidoscope of audiences and constituencies that classical music must always be serving, as the NEA’s Ann Meier Baker says, “in unique ways as [orchestras] strive to meet each specific community’s unmet needs.” The Chicago Sinfonietta has been reaching out to 77 community areas through its Project Inclusion initiative for developing diverse and emerging talent since 2008.

The Sinfonietta’s recently appointed CEO, Blake-Anthony Johnson, agrees that language “is very important in engaging in a way that’s comfortable for the people in your community.” In his experience, he says, “It may neither make nor break your relationship—overall, our most successful way of engaging is on an individual basis,” but he “thinks it helps move engagements along quite a bit.” Asked how they approach the 77 communities, Johnson says, “We definitely look at them on a micro level. The histories of each neighborhood are just so different, and even within one neighborhood the range is quite large.”


Meanwhile, at press time, the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa, California, is in the process of launching a new multilingual website in mid-November. And because the population of Orange County, where the orchestra is based, is 34 percent Latinx and 22 percent Asian, the new website will be available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

The importance of these initiatives was put in context by Scott Reed, CEO and president of Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, which in 2018 started a children’s chorus in collaboration with the public schools. He suggests that “making our programs more accessible to one-third of our community shouldn’t be considered an initiative at all but at the core of our being.”

And if that one-third is looking for inspiration live onstage, they will see a phalanx of musical directors from Mexico and Central and South America leading major orchestras across the country: Dudamel in Los Angeles, Rafael Payare in San Diego, José Luis Gomez in Tucson, Miguel Harth-Bedoya in Fort Worth, Carlos Izcaray in Birmingham, Andrés Orozco-Estrada in Houston, and Giancarlo Guerrero in Nashville.