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Collaboration: Let’s Make Some Music

Friday, October 17th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

When companies speak of collaboration, they usually think of team rooms, workflow, and instant messaging.  What they don’t think of is a philharmonic orchestra.  But not every company is Sony.

Technology companies such as Sony usually make technology.  In some cases, they even make music players (Walkman, iPod).  But it’s rare that the employees of such companies make music.

The orchestra is, however, a perfect example of collaboration and in Sony’s case it’s one of collaboration across the company’s divisions.  Founded in 1995 by then CEO Norio Ohga, a former opera singer who had conducted professional orchestras, the Sony Philharmonic is made up of Sony employees from different parts of the company (Sony Corporation, Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony Music, Sony Life Insurance).  60% of the musicians are engineers.  Since its inception, the orchestra has mostly performed in concerts in and around Tokyo.  Indeed, Japan has a strong tradition of amateur orchestras at companies; tech firms Pioneer and Ricoh also have their own orchestras.

Ohga-san’s successor, Sir Howard Stringer, evidently wanted to address the age-old question, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  So the orchestra practiced and practiced and made its United States debut this past Tuesday at the iconic concert hall with cellist Yo-Yo Ma (a Sony recording artist) and conductor Daniel Harding in tow.  Proceeds from the concert are being donated to the Harlem School of the Arts, Midori & Friends and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s Arts Education Program in support of arts education.

The program featured Dvorak’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B Minor, Op. 104; Berlioz’s Le Corsaire Overture, Op. 21 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64.  The playing was competent and even graceful at some points although some of the playing was lackluster.  The orchestra did come alive in the second movement of the Tchaikovsky symphony as well as with the encore, Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise from Eugene Onegin.

Maestro Harding conducted with vigor and by the middle of the Dvorak concerto he figured out how to ensure that the crowd did not applaud at the end of movements (which it did after the first movement, quite loudly and enthusiastically).

Contacts made by orchestra members have led to new products including noise cancelling headphones and home theater amplifiers.  In fact, Sir Howard himself is a great believer in getting different workgroups together for meetings, according to a recent interview in the Financial Times.  So if you are looking for new ways to collaborate, the example of Sony is worth looking into.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.