A Public Statement From the BSO Musicians

The musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra released the following statement on Sunday, July 17, 2005 with regard to their organization’s current music director search,

The musicians of the Baltimore Symphony are asking Philip English, Chairman of the Board of Directors, to postpone any vote on the appointment of a new Music Director. The musicians ask that any decision be delayed until Thanksgiving of this year, which will allow opportunities for the orchestra to work with and consider several additional conductors who are scheduled to appear this fall.

The Artistic Advisory Committee, seven musicians who represent the whole orchestra, has carefully surveyed the entire active membership. Approximately ninety percent of the orchestra musicians believe that ending the search process now, before we are sure the best candidate has been found, would be a disservice to the patrons of the BSO and all music lovers in Maryland.

The Artistic Advisory Committee was promised an opportunity to speak with the Board of Directors before a decision regarding the appointment of a new Music Director is made. Given recent disclosures to the press it is clear that contract negotiations are underway with a candidate. This reinforces our view that a decision has been made without the full participation and agreement of the BSO musicians. If the Board of Directors makes a decision opposed by the vast majority of the orchestra, all confidence in the current leadership of the orchestra would be lost.

Based on this statement it appears that the musicians aren’t asking their board chairman for very much, only to wait four months so the musicians and public can have an increased opportunity to experience some additional conductors.

The final paragraph is arguably the most important of the statement. During last year’s contract negotiation, the musicians of the BSO were promised greater influence in the decision making process to hire a new music director as well as being granted greater authority in the musician tenure process. In order to secure these promises they accepted large concessions in their compensation in exchange for promises (not contractual guarantees mind you all of which is outlined in their ICSOM Settlement Bulletin).

If the musician’s suspicions are correct about the management secretly conducting contract negotiations with a candidate thereby intentionally excluding the musicians from the search process then why should they continue to trust their executive management or feel compelled to work with them in future endeavours?

Ideally, the BSO management and board chairman will answer these questions and address further concerns before they propose a motion to vote on any candidate for music director this Tuesday.

Time will tell, however, this situation is beginning to resemble what happened a few miles north of Baltimore when the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra expressed intense disapproval over being excluded from the process which resulted in extending their current music director’s contract.

In the end, the discussions surrounding these circumstances shouldn’t focus whether or not any music director candidate should be offered a position after Tuesday’s board meeting. Instead, they should concentrate on whether or not this process will foster an increasingly positive working environment within the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra or drive its constituents farther apart than they already are and contribute to a resentful artistic workplace.

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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