You have to admire the glass-half-full perspective that D. Kern Holoman, a music professor and conductor of a California student orchestra, brings to this book about the history and continuing relevance, such as it is, of the professional symphony orchestra. It couldn't have been an easy perspective to maintain, this view of the orchestra as a functional civic enterprise, a locus of musical diversity with universal access via the internet, and a cultural ambassador and agent of peace.
If this sounds a little too good to be true, Holoman is also, by necessity, a realist. He writes about the fundamental problems of keeping a 90- to 100-piece American orchestra gainfully employed: namely, a star system in which celebrity conductors and soloists (and their managers) eat half of an orchestra's annual budget, while those ensembles continue to run up deficits; the declining participation of foundations and wealthy patrons in keeping orchestras afloat; the 2008 recession that took a big chunk out of orchestral endowments (the New York Philharmonic alone took a $40 million dollar hit in the financial crisis); and an ongoing wave of bankruptcies, pay cuts, and layoffs beginning in the late 1980s.
He knows that there are more music majors than available jobs, that some ensembles, most notoriously the Vienna Philharmonic, have been publicly and unapologetically misogynist and racist in their hiring practices, and that the classical recording industry is, for all practical purposes, dead. Yet there's always a silver lining, somehow, as orchestras are forced to be more involved with their communities, more fiscally responsible, more in touch with popular taste and listening habits, more dynamic. (Even the collapse of the classical record industry was more of a "correction" than a catastrophe.) It's not so difficult to see how sensible it is to take such a position. And if listeners and players haven't quite arrived at a place where Bruckner and Schubert can comfortably share the same program with symphonic themes from "The Legend of Zelda"...Well, that isn't really the point.