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