A Note To The MET Just Relax

A few days ago Norm Lebrecht published a piece about how he was hired by the MET to provide commentary for their UK and European broadcasts but then fired shortly thereafter before ever working on a single broadcast.

According to his article Norm claims that one of his BBC executives said the MET decided to withdraw their offer because Norm wrote something about the search process behind the MET’s new executive director which some higher-ups at the MET disapproved of.

I don’t really have an opinion on whether or not Norm is qualified to offer commentary for the MET’s broadcasts I’ve never listened to any of Norm’s broadcasts. But I do have an opinion about how so many orchestra (and opera) organizations have a seemingly apparent case of paranoid schizophrenia.

Heaven forbid that anyone, anywhere write something besides the PR laced sugar coated puff piece about an orchestra’s inner workings.  And Norm’s situation seems to be representative of this self defeating attitude.

There was a wonderful article by Jen Graves in the Tacoma News Tribune at the end of November where she makes the assertion the best way critics and cultural writers can help the classical music industry is to be good writers and write interesting articles.

And the MET should have taken this advice to heart and realized that if Norm would have provided interesting, relevant commentary during the MET performances, regardless of his views, it would have been a good thing.  The MET didn’t need to prognosticate (after they offered Norm the job) whether or not people would have found his commentary appropriate the listeners would have done that for them.

In a day and age where live classical music performances are slowly bleeding out of the public consciousness, the industry needs to realize that there’s no such thing as bad press.  And if an orchestra believes they are receiving a great deal of criticism then perhaps that’s a good sign that you may want to reevaluate your respective course of action.

They also have websites, PR departments, and good old fashioned letters to the editor to express their contrary opinion (as was aptly demonstrated last week by Minnesota Orchestra violist, Sam Bergman)

There are plenty of people that agree and disagree with what Norm Lebrecht has to say, but if so much of what he said was so bad then he wouldn’t have as many readers and listeners as he does.  Market forces would have done a fine job at dictating whether or not he would have been an acceptable commentator – the people at the MET should have trusted their initial instincts.

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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