BSO’s Glicker: “We Need To Teach The Musicians A Lesson”

Throughout the course of the past week, there has been much discussion about the recent appointment of Baltimore’s new music director. From the very onset of that discussion, the bulk of the major media outlets have been focusing on the appointee and the resulting conflict between the BSO’s musicians and executive leaders….


However, those issues have been artificially driven by media influence originating inside the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and they quickly took on a life of their own as they passed through the collective filters of the press. Nevertheless, the real issues worth examination are why things have unfolded the way they have; what are the motivations behind behaviors and what really happened during the executive board meeting on 7/19/05.

There’s been much more going on in Baltimore than what’s been reported to date and a full examination of those events will bring the focus back on track.

On the morning of Tuesday, 7/19/05, the executive board of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra listened to viewpoints from musicians and managers regarding the music director candidate before they took their vote. The musician representatives made their appeal and then left the room so the board members could deliberate in private.

Several hours after that vote I received an email message from a member of the executive board who was present during that private deliberation and participated in the vote; they recounted those events in detail (the following message has been unedited and is in its original form, the board member in question has expressed that they would prefer to remain anonymous):

At the board meeting today James Glicker said “you need to vote for Marin Alsop if for no other reason to send the message to the musicians that airing our dirty laundry in public is never acceptable, no matter what their reasons. They have acted unprofessionally, and are intransigent (I can’t remember all the words he used here) and what would happen if an employee at your company did this in the press?”

A board member said loudly: “FIRED!”

James Glicker said “correct, they would be fired. If for no other reason you need to vote for Alsop to teach the musicians a lesson.”

As a board member, I was appalled at the lack of basic leadership skills exhibited by Mr. Glicker and Mr. England. Their presentation and later arguments in favor of Ms Alsop was long on platitudes and void of evidence of her ability to sell tickets and raise money.

Mr. Glicker was unavailable for a comment.

This final piece of the puzzle helps explain why there has been such a media firestorm over these issues. In the end, for all of the public relations flak distributed by all of the parties involved it comes down to a power struggle within the organization.

Since the music director search committee was formed, the musicians have been contributing an enormous amount of time and effort to participate in the process to the fullest extent, just as the majority of non musician committee members have done.

They accepted sizeable pay concessions during their last contract negotiation on the grounds of developing a positive working relationship with their incoming executive manager, BSO president & CEO James Glicker. Part of that new working relationship was that the musicians would play a greater role in the music director search process and in helping share the responsibility of returning the BSO to financial health.

Earlier this month (via a media leak from inside the BSO management team) the musicians, along with the general public, discovered that their executive management had apparently been in negotiations with a particular music director candidate for several weeks without fully informing the musician representatives on the search committee. In July, when the search process officially broke down and the committee was ostensibly dissolved, the musicians made the decision to express their concerns over what they perceived as fundamental flaws in the search process and a breech of good faith on part of their executive management.

In return, they were instructed not to discuss their positions or share written information with any board members regarding a particular candidate and that they would be provided with an opportunity to address the executive board prior to their vote on Tuesday, 7/19/05. Apparently, after listening to the musicians points Mr. Glicker felt necessary to launch a personal attack with the goal of “teach[ing] the musicians a lesson”.

This last act of desperation from Mr. Glicker demonstrates his apparent intentions toward the BSO musicians; we value your input, but only until it’s time to make the decision.

In a letter updating the BSO patrons on the search process from June, 2005 (which is no longer available on the BSO website and was provided by resourceful Adaptistration reader, Garth Trinkl), Mr. Glicker wrote,

“I can assure you that no candidate has been selected, and that we are still interviewing and seeing new contenders. There is an appropriate sense of urgency to our deliberations.”

Apparently, he felt the sense of urgency he mentioned was great enough that his administration initiated contract negotiations with a candidate at that same time, even though he states in the previous sentence that no candidate has been selected.

The letter concludes by saying,

“In the face of daunting challenges, we need great teamwork—from not only the musicians, staff and Board, but from the broader BSO community, such as the Governing Members, donors, and subscribers. The mark of a great team is its ability to put aside personal differences and to respect leadership when decisions are made. I’d like to think the BSO community could be such a team.”

Perhaps Mr. Glicker’s definition of team work includes using his influence to push the board toward hiring a new music director “if for no other reason…to teach the musicians a lesson.”

It is disturbing to think that the BSO may have hired a music director based apparently on a few individual’s personal vendetta. It may possibly be one of the most disrespectful acts toward a conductor and an orchestra’s musicians on record. It also contradicts the goals of Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Orchestra Forum, of which the Baltimore Symphony is currently a grantee (and has received millions of dollars in funding):

The Foundation’s Orchestra Program is based on two assumptions: first, that there is a relationship between artistic performance and organizational culture, and second, that the historic confrontational culture within orchestras often has inhibited substantive conversation about artistic issues, preventing orchestras from reaching their artistic potential. The Orchestra Program, therefore, has two distinct, but compatible goals: to help orchestras better articulate their individual artistic identities and goals, and to help them develop effective internal cultures that will make it easier to achieve these goals. Grants are designed to encourage systemic changes that lead to more integrated artistic planning, greater involvement of musicians and music directors in setting and advancing institutional goals, expansion of repertoire, and new artistic and administrative activities that sustain the organization creatively and financially.

In response to Mr. Glicker’s actions, Jan Gippo, ICSOM Chair & piccolo/flute St. Louis Symphony (also a Mellon Orchestra Forum Grantee) said,

We feel that showing power through “tough” management behavior is the wrong way to run an artistic organization. The most disturbing result is that the musicians are beginning to learn that when they respond to manager’s requests for increased communication the same managers listen at first, but when it comes time to make the decisions they exclude us in the process.

It’s disturbing to me that management would take money from the Mellon Foundation and then not follow-through and work with the musicians to share the risk in guiding the organization. Furthermore, the same managers then challenge the musicians when we seek public support because they have left us with no other options.

It’s apparent that the entire Baltimore Symphony Orchestra organization and the music director search process have been hijacked by a few executive leaders who maintain an antiquated “boss-man” mentality.

Even so, after the vote was completed the musicians demonstrated the level of their professionalism by collectively expressing their willingness to work with whomever the board elected to serve as their new music director.

In the end, everyone involved in this process has suffered unnecessarily. What should have been a triumphant moment in the BSO’s history has been co-opted by the personal objectives of a few old-school minded individuals.

At this point, those who care about the BSO should take the time to contact the organization with your concerns. Those who support the orchestra need to consider if they approve of the way the current executive leaders are running the organization.

Please keep in mind that the people who answer the phones and respond to emails at the BSO offices are likely not the same individuals who attended the executive board meeting on 7/19/05. They are usually the administrative staffers and coordinators who give much of themselves to help make the organization everything it can be. As such, please express your opinions and observations with the same amount of courteously the executive management should have considered affording to the musicians and full membership of the executive board.

BSO Telephone Contacts
Public Relations: 410-783-8020
Main Administrative offices: 410-783-8100
Governing Members: 410-783-8122

BSO Email Contacts
James Glicker, president and &CEO
BSO Public Relations Department
Governing Members

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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12 thoughts on “BSO’s Glicker: “We Need To Teach The Musicians A Lesson”

  1. Oh, this is such a sad and maddening situation. Did the BSO not realize that they are totally undermining Alsop and her relationship with the orchestra by hiring her under these conditions?

  2. What ever happened to the collaboration process? This is not supposed to be a dictatorship.–Is there any humaneness in the music business ? How can we create and keep a world class Orchestra with such divisiveness?

  3. It is unbelievable that Alsop would even take the gig knowing that the musicians voted against her. Has she no shame?

    So the musicians are gonna shrug their shoulders and start phoning their parts in and collecting the paycheck and the quality of the performances will degenerate and the world of classical music dribbles just a little bit closer to the sewer…

  4. I had a fantasy that Ms. Alsop would accept the offer on one condition: that Glicker resign! Too bad she doesn’t feel that degree of solidarity with the people who can really make or break her biggest career opportunity. Or, she could have turned the post down, sighting the poisoned atmosphere. That could have made her someone really unique in the annals of upwardly-mobile maestros; one who would stand on a principal that didn’t involve their egos. Given that, the BSO players might have endorsed her, at the appropriate time, by acclimation.

  5. I have no inside information re: this incident. I’ve read the general news reports, and this link came to me via a musician friend — who was trying to help me understand “what really happened.”

    But after reading the above comments from Mr. McManus, I’d like to offer two observations:

    1) I don’t know anything about Mr. Glicker, but it seems clear he is representative of the growing presence of a corporate mentality among managing boards for arts organizations.

    If the artists in these organizations expect to have any success in future negotiations, I would suggest they will have to expend the effort to better understand the mentality that governs business corporations in this country.

    I realize many artists have an abiding distaste for corporations, which is one reason they have chosen the arts instead of business for their livelihood. But the old strategies aren’t going to work anymore; in order to do battle with these new adversaires, you will need a deep understanding of their tactics, motivations, and guiding principles.

    2) Even more important, I think artists need to get a better grip on the basic fundamentals of PR and press coverage.

    I think the musicians on the selection committee were trying to play fair — by the book, so to speak.

    As a result, in the initial coverage, they came across as whiners and carping critics.

    Now, when their “real” story is beginning to emerge, it is too late. The daily media has moved on, and the background behind the musicians’ position is left to outlets such as this — which is basically for the insiders.

    ………………………………………

    What I’m suggesting is not that difficult. Every muscisan ought to snare someone from the biggest, baddest corporation they know, and takem them to lunch to get a start on understanding how corporations are run these days. The local Subway would do fine, and would send a subtle message to your new friend.

    Right after lunch, I would call the local reporter who covers arts in the area, and do Subway again the next day.

  6. Interesting points Jan, but I would suggest that the members of the corporate world have just as much to learn from the musicians as the musicians have to learn from the corporate types.

    Playing the “all corporate” or “all about the art” game has historically been disastrous in the orchestra business. Ensembles either end up bankrupt or left artistically impotent (and slowly heading to bankruptcy).

    I would also add that based on the historical development of orchestras, Mr. Glicker’s actions is much more indicative of old-school corporate behavior which has always been present in orchestra boards.

    And for the record, based on the statistics I gather for this site, the vast majority of readers are neither professional musicians nor arts managers. The bulk of regular readers are patrons.

    Perhaps all of this is far more interesting to the general public than most people, in and out of the business, assume?

  7. The underlying problem in Baltimore is the same almost everywhere, whether it is an orchestra or an art museum: the board members and the patrons look upon musicians and artists as lackeys, not extraordinary professionals. So, what is acceptable in a corporation, downsizing, cutting salaries, benefits, seems normal to management, while the musicians respond with righteous indignation.

    Not heeding the advice of those who know best about their own profession, namely, the musicians, is poor management technique, and it is the chairman of the board who makes that mistake, who should be “fired,” not the musicians, who are fighting for their art and for their principles.

    Marin Alsop deserves better from the board. Perhaps, the musicians, in concert with her, will prove to the board how a relationship of true professionals should work. Boards, look, and listen!

  8. Who’s the Boss?

    Mozart was literally kicked out of Archbishop Colloredo’s residence in Salzburg 200 years ago. I guess that taught him.

    For the time being members of the Baltimore Orchestra for inspiration might look at photographs of Louis Armstrong and study the subtle nuances of that smile.

    Hang in there, musicians. You can take comfort by playing a time honored orchestral game: Outlast the Manager.

  9. I would like to point out that Mr. Glicker’s alleged comments during the board meeting have been reported by only one source who also wishes to remain anonymous. We do not know whether this anonymous source has any alternate agenda, or even if the comments attributed to Mr. Glicker are accurate. Until these comments can be confirmed, it would be unfair to accept as fact Mr. Glicker’s alleged statements based upon a single, unverified, and anonymous source.

  10. I would point out that there is a significant difference between anonymous and unconfirmed. Unfortunately, Mr. Glicker has not responded to any part of whether or not he made those comments shortly before the BSO executive board took their vote on 7/19/05. He has been provided ample opportunities directly and through the BSO PR department to respond and has an open invitation to do so at any time.

    Taking the time for an anonymous commenter to speculate on a source simply because it is anonymous for the sake of casting doubt does not serve much purpose when Mr. Glicker has every opportunity to go on record himself to respond.

    However, I would agree that whether or not each individual reader accepts the statements from the anonymous board member as fact should confirmed to their own individual approval. As such, I would suggest contacting the BSO using the contact information at the end of the article.

  11. Upon further reflection…

    My comments of a few days ago (see above) center on Marin Alsop in an unfair manner. For all I know (we know?) she may have made a commitment to the board with the understanding, given the musician’s apparent involvement, that the process would ensure that the band was on board. If so, what a rude surprise all this must be for her. Certainly not what any Music Director could wish to start out with.

    It was entirely correct for the musician’s statement to be so forward looking and positive, and that should be accepted at face value. As should the statement by Ms. Alsop, whose already daunting job may have suddenly become a lot more difficult. I should only wish her and the orchestra well.

    It’s still appalling that such words were uttered by a supposedly qualified management professional (was the anonymous source foolish enough to make those words up?), and they deserve maximum censure. Still, what’s really important is what happens on stage. The people of Baltimore will have to deal with the Neanderthals on the board and in management as events progress.

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