More On The Baltimore Music Director Search

I just read two articles from the New York Times about the apparent appointment of Marin Alsop as the new Music Director for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

In order to head off some of the email I expect to receive regarding whether or not Ms. Alsop should or shouldn’t be the new music director based on artistic reasons, let me reiterate that this examination has nothing to do with those issues. Instead, I’m more concerned about the process behind the search process and how much significance the BSO board places on input from each stakeholder constituency; managers, musicians, volunteers, and patrons.

The first article in the NYT by Jeremy Eichler reports that BSO president and chief executive, James Glicker, claims the organization went to extreme measures to conduct audience polls and allow for community input regarding music director candidates.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t mention anything from Mr. Glicker regarding how the input from musicians was considered in this process. I considered that the reporter simply failed to ask about the players or it was edited out of the final version but then I ran across another article in the NYT from the Associated Press which is equally devoid of any mention of how the musicians feel.

It does include a comment from BSO VP of Public Relations & Community Affairs, Laura Johnson, who said,

“the majority of the board feels very favorable to Ms. Alsop. This could be an incredible moment.”

Once again, the opinions and comments from musician representatives are conspicuously absent.

Is it a good thing for the BSO to solicit input from the community? Absolutely. Is it a good thing that the majority of the BSO board feels favorable toward a particular music director candidate? Absolutely.

But what about the BSO musicians? In my previous article, I published a comment from the BSO players’ committee chair, Jane Marvine, who confirmed that 100% the musician representatives on the music director search committee voted to extend the search process to the end of the 05-06 season. The only other publication I’ve seen mention what the players think was in Tim Smith’s article from the 7/15/05 edition of the Baltimore Sun.

The NYT article by Jeremy Eichler does contain one fascinating paragraph,

“It would be highly unusual for an orchestra’s board to reject the recommendation of the search committee, which was headed by the board chairman and included six other board members, as well as orchestral staff, musicians and an outside consultant.”

I wonder if the BSO board will be made aware of how the musicians feel and how they voted at the last search committee meeting or if the musician representatives will be allowed to speak during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Even though the musician representatives don’t comprise a majority voting block on the search committee (they only constitute around 35%) wouldn’t it still imply that the search committee recommendation isn’t yet complete if all of the musician representatives cast a dissenting vote?

What do you think (remember, this isn’t a discussion about whether or not Marin is qualified to lead the BSO)? Should an orchestra board decide to approve the appointment of a music director if one of the organization’s stakeholders has overwhelmingly voted to give the process more time?

I’m anxious to hear what the readers out there in Baltimore and across the country think so don’t be shy to add your comments via the link below.

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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2 thoughts on “More On The Baltimore Music Director Search

  1. I remember talking with a long, long, long time member of the SLSO. He sat in the principle second violin chair for a long time, moved to NY, came back to SLSO to take the principle viola chair — or approximately that.

    We were talking about conductors at the SLSO. He said that when the conductor (Max Zatz, maybe?) left, the musicians were asked to vote on his successor. He said that Zatz (?) had worked them pretty hard and they knew that Rudolph Ganz, who was up for the job, would not, so they voted for Ganz.

    At a dinner for the big shots and donors of the NY Phil, one of the big donors leaned across the table and yelled down to George Szell, “well, George, I hear the orchestra had a guest conductor they hate even worse than you,” meaning Fritz Reiner, of course.

    That was a long time ago, and things have changed, but I question whether, even in this day and age, the musicians should be given absolute powers of approval or veto.

    Factor it in, yes. Be ruled by it — possibly not.]

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