Cleveland Orchestra Without a Date For The Proms

I’m sitting here this morning working on the Klaus Heymann interview that will go up next week and I took a break to read the article posted on today’s Arts Journal headlines from Norman Lebrecht.  In the article, Norm blasts the players of the Cleveland Orchestra for refusing to play at this year’s Proms (if you aren’t familiar with what the Proms are, join the crowd, I had to go to the Proms website and figure it out).  Norm writes:

“It stems from the mule-headed refusal of musicians in the Cleveland Orchestra to allow their concerts to be relayed on the internet, as well as on Radio 3, without an additional emolument, which the BBC rightly withheld.”

I gave a quick call to the Cleveland Federation of Musicians AFM Local 4 office to find out more details but they had not yet read Norman’s article.  So I’m sure I’ll write something in the future once more details emerge.

However, not being one to believe much in coincidence I was struck by the fact that the paragraph I was writing in the Heymann piece was about the very same issue: the need for musicians to change many of the strict, long standing union rules that deal with broadcast remuneration because currently, they restrict growth. 

Norman doesn’t hold back with his intense discontent as he paints a face of the stereotypical “Ugly American” on the musicians.  He sees them as being more concerned with exercising their power more than with creating musical art.   The paragraph I was writing in the Heymann article was saying much the same (sans inflammatory language), but the fundamental difference is that Heymann also stressed that although the musicians need to become more flexible with these issues, they also need guarantees that they won’t be exploited.

I think Norm depicts an inaccurate historical context of why musicians behave so obstinately at times, in the article he says:

” [this] arises from a herd mentality bred in the 19th century when musicians had to cling together to earn a crust to feed their families and never settled for less than the union rate.”

This isn’t entirely accurate.  The musicians union was born in the same light that many unions begin; to prevent abuses from management and to ensure a more stable work environment.  Heymann realizes this historical context and that’s why he mentioned it in our interview, because even though the musicians union is guilty of many of the same sins as all unions are, management has still demonstrated that in general they are still quite capable of behaving the same way they did from decades past.

In the end, Norm’s problems, the musicians concerns, and the management’s ulcers could all go away if there was an equal distribution of power and control throughout the stakeholders of an orchestra.

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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