The Music Director Mystique

If there is only one individual that is traditionally associated with the idea of an orchestra, it has to be the music director.  And the past year has seen some remarkable events regarding the control and influence music directors assert over their orchestras.  Here’s a quick recap:



  • We have Daniel Barenboim stepping down as the music director for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the top orchestras in the entire world.  Why? It wasn’t over money or artistic issues but over how much time the orchestra’s management wanted him to spend in the community.  The musicians flirted with a vote designed to implore Barenboim to stay but it never came to fruition.
  • Martin Fischer-Dieskau, music director of the Canadian Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony was fired. But then a few months later, the board of directors has asked him to take his old job back again.  This about face is due to the fact that entire executive board that approved Fischer-Dieskau’s dismissal resigned en masse after pressure from hundreds of the music directors supports and several key donors.
  •  Gerard Schwarz was recently the target of a no confidence vote by the musicians of the Liverpool Philharmonic that said no to extending his contract after 2006.  But the orchestra’s board, management and several key donors are saying “nuts” to the players and want Gerald to stay.
  • Minnesota Symphony’s new music director Osmo V

    About Drew McManus

    "I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

    I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

    In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

    For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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