How Do You Evaluate A Music Director?

In a related event to yesterday’s article about Music Director compensation and assessment, I received a note from Erich Graf, Utah Symphony principal flute and president of AFM Local 104…

Erich forwarded a copy of a letter he addressed to Pat Richards, the US&O board vice president and Oversight Task Force chair that addressed some issues associated to their music director, Keith Lockhart, in Boston Globe article from early in July.

Dear Pat,

As the music industry has been flirting with Geoffrey Edger’s dismal article about Keith [Lockhart] over the past month-

Many of my colleagues and I are disgusted with the reference he makes in the article about the Utah Symphony that follows: “But can Lockhart continue to do both jobs? For now, yes. Lockhart concedes, though, that he could not lead a more prestigious, better-funded symphony and remain with the Pops.”

[Maurice] Abravanel worked for nearly a half-century (and successfully) to make the Utah Symphony into a “prestigious and well-funded” symphony. Lockhart was hired as a marketing “rain maker” here to perpetuate Abravanel’s legacy. His statement (among others in the article) is highly demoralizing to me and my colleagues. For a $245,000 salary here (while the musicians are experiencing a three-year wage freeze), what are the guidelines of his job?

I will be posting this e-mail on the Symphony bulletin board, and would appreciate a response from you that I can post along with it.

With concern,
Erich Graf

The letter raises some of the same issues examined in the yesterday’s music director compensation report. How does a board of directors determine whether or not their music director is working to an appropriate level?

In this case, how do you set parameters and make demands of an individual if they serve more than one master? In this case, Keith Lockhart is the conductor for the Boston Pops Orchestra and the music director for the Utah Symphony.

This apparent predicament centers on how the musicians of the Utah Symphony interpret the essence of Keith’s impression of their orchestra since he also leads another large budget, talented ensemble. This is one of the typical problems associated with a conductor who maintains full time positions at multiple ensembles; commonly referred to as “double dipping” (a topic which will be examined on a broader basis after this year’s ROPA music director compensation report is released).

The US&O is in the middle of an extensive reorganization and strategic planning endeavor, initiated by a recently completed evaluation from retired orchestra executive Tom Morris.

One of their goals is to adopt a new set of criteria to be used by the executive board to conduct annual performance reviews for their CEO (something which is desperately needed in Salt Lake and will hopefully result in some positive changes). However, there is no such effort being made to reassess and refine the performance review for their Music Director.

It will be interesting to see what sort of effect Mr. Graf’s letter has on the US&O board. Will they hold their music director to certain standards that they expect him to maintain at all times, especially when talking to the press? How will they feel about his views of the US&O which were expressed in the Boston Globe article? Should they take that into account when deliberating issues related to his contact? Will they invite further input from the US&O musicians? In essence, how do you evaluate a music director?

In the end, it is certainly not a simple issue to deal with. Boards already use ticket sales and fundraising statistics to help make some decisions, but that’s only one side of the coin. Nevertheless, it is one which orchestra boards should devote more of their time toward in order to establish a working set of evaluation criteria.

Perhaps there’s a new field of consulting work out there waiting for retired musicians to fill its ranks. Maybe musicians leaving the full time playing field will become as popular as retired military officers are among the corporate ranks in offering guidance in how to properly evaluate the non statistical performance of their music directors. I certainly know a few good veteran musicians who are more than qualified and probably up for the task.

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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