More Development In The BSO Process Story

There is a great article by Tim Smith in the 7/16/05 Baltimore Sun which includes some quotes from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra players committee chair, Jane Marvine, many of which also appeared here yesterday. In addition to those quotes there is some additional information from Jane which touches on the process behind the music director search; the article reports,

The seven musician members of the 21-person search committee will attend Tuesday’s board meeting and be permitted to explain their views. The orchestra has been told by management, Marvine said, “not to share written materials with the board members or to try to speak with them in advance of the Tuesday meeting.”

The “written materials” the BSO management is likely referring to are the evaluations the BSO musicians have completed about previous appearances from guest conductors. According to anonymous inside sources, these were not altogether favorable for particular candidates.

If Jane is relating the BSO management’s comments accurately, then this is a very disturbing development in the music director search process. Banning musicians from communicating with board members is a direct breech of good will on the part of the BSO management.

Lack of communication is at the very soul of many problems which exist within so many orchestras, so why on earth would the managers at the BSO want to apparently promote a lack of communication? Does the management have a similar ban on discussing the music director search process between themselves and board members? I doubt it, so where is the benefit in restricting musician input? Does management, or any constituency, deserve a disproportionate amount of influence when it comes to communication with the board?

The only time when musicians and board members have restricted communication is during Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations; these restrictions are enforced by NLRB law. If it is true that the musicians have been instructed not to share written materials with the board or speak to them in advance of Tuesday’s meeting then this would appear to be a violation of NLRB law and the players may be able to file an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.

But why is it necessary for things to deteriorate to such a ridiculous level? What is wrong with communication? Apparently, there is much more going on behind the scenes than is being made public and the BSO would be better off if they simply abandoned the cloak and dagger routine and adopted a more open policy.

Naming a new music director is something which an orchestra only has infrequent opportunity to do; tarnishing it by consciously creating a storm of hard feelings is counterproductive at best.

It is also worth noting that the only ICSOM orchestra I can think of in recent history who cut their music director search short was the Phoenix Symphony. Many ensembles will go for one to three years without a music director in order to conduct a methodical search.

In the end, unless things change for the better in Baltimore before Tuesday, this organization is in for a bumpy ride. As such, I hope all of the other orchestras out there who are embarking on a music director search (I am looking at you Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, National, and Pittsburgh): learn from this example!

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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