Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Surprise of the New

Shannon Farrell Williams, violist

Innovations frequently, perhaps typically arrive before they have found a receptive market. Just as consumers must learn to adapt their tastes and habits to the concept, so must suppliers adjust their offerings to serve new requirements efficiently. Operating within this constantly adjusting milieu, investors may decide to pull a product today that might very well succeed with only minor adjustment later.

This is as true for consumer products as it is for music. Composer John Adams introduced three
versions of Dr. Atomic; the 4-hour opera debuted in October, 2005; the first symphonic version was introduced in London in August, 2007 and an even more condensed, more melodic symphonic version premiered in St. Louis and New York in March, 2008 to much greater acclaim.

For a less famous composer, the distance between obscure appreciation and popular success can be much longer. In the twenty years since George Benjamin first introduced Sudden Time audiences learned to appreciate a composer's play with cadence and discordance in the development of a complex musical theme and musicians developed new techniques to give full measure to the composer's intent.

In his excellent blog for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO), Eddie Silva discusses how difficult it is to introduce innovative, unfamiliar music:

How do you program concerts when you have audiences that want entirely different things from a night with the SLSO?

You [the audience] are paying money to be entertained, or maybe more than entertained. Do you want the familiar or are you interested in what is unfamiliar? What if you pay good money and you just don’t like it? What if you are like the poet C.D. Wright, who once wrote that she went to art “to be changed, healed, charged.”


There are still people who think Jackson Pollack drip paintings are child’s play, a hoax, an affront to their sensibilities. An easy assumption is that the artist is putting you on...


yet you had only to have witnessed the absolute joy on George Benjamin’s face after the SLSO gave his "Sudden Time" such a mesmerizing performance at Carnegie Hall*, where the subtle tablas felt like raindrops and the final viola solo (played exquisitely by Shannon Farrell) felt like the melodies of gods. Benjamin looked like the kid who gets the tour with Willy Wonka in the chocolate factory -- and you knew he wasn’t fooling with you or trying to get into your face. As a composer he was in search of a profound beauty unlike anything else. And he had just heard it.

Too many products and too many scores are scrapped, rather than shelved, when they fail to meet certain market tests. A wealth of intellectual property, literally thousands of learnings from hundreds of thousands of sources can be destroyed in that process.

Consumer products companies have only recently begun to catalog the product-related information accumulated during a product's lifecycle. By adopting effective Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) processes to capture and preserve this hard-earned corporate knowledge as it is accumulated they can save a fortune in product redevelopment when markets align: when "Sudden Time" becomes Now.

*The concert was performed on March 30, 2007. See reviews of the entire concert by Bernard Holland in the New York Times and Eddie Silva on

See also an interview with David Robertson, conductor and music director, on his approach to classical music.

For another article on innovation featuring the St. Louis Symphony, see Innovation Thrust Upon Us.

Just for FUN, visit this site to create your own "Jackson Pollock"

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