We’re Finally Seeing Some More Good Press About Baltimore

This past weekend saw two excellent articles about the recent events in Baltimore; one by The Baltimore Sun music critic, Tim Smith, and the other by The AFM Observer author, Robert Levine…

In Tim’s article, he attacks many of the ridiculous notions which have appeared in other major media outlets head on about this nonsense that the BSO musicians may have some bias against women conductors (I’m looking at you Boston, L.A., St. Louis, and New York). Tim falls a little short of presenting and connecting all of the necessary dots but that’s a trivial point since white space in a Sunday edition is still quite limited compared to the untamed frontier that is online publications (and kudos to The Sun editors for finally allowing one of their music writers to officially acknowledge blogs – bravo).

Tim’s article presents a very important question,

“In the end, this month’s crisis over a new music director begs a tough, fundamental question: Whose orchestra is it, anyway?

The board and administration apparently believe they own it, lock, stock and Beethoven. And they’re not about to let any pesky musicians tell them otherwise.”

Good question, we’ve tacked that one numerous times here at Adaptistration. It all comes down to where the legal authority rests within a nonprofit organization: the board. Managers and board members can “share” all of the authority and “collaborate” with musicians in the decision making process, but in the end they can yank those toys away from the musicians any time they damn well feel like it for any reason they want; even if it’s to “teach the musicians a lesson”.

Next in the parade of reality comes an article from Robert Levine. I’ve always felt that Robert has had a knack at being able to sum up many of the infinitely complex issues indicative to this business in a concise, easy to understand package.

This article is no exception as it serves as the single best description of how orchestra musicians have to go about evaluating a conductor, which is precisely what the musicians have been raked over the coals about for the last 10 days. Robert writes,

“In my experience, we make two judgements. The first is about the quality and degree of authority the conductor exudes. The second is about what it feels like to play for that conductor. The second is more important than the first, although strong reactions to a given conductor as an authority figure can distort musicians’ judgement regarding that conductor’s technical performance.

There are three kinds of conductors when it comes to that judgement. The first is the kind that makes the orchestra sound good and the musicians feel they’re not having to struggle to play together. The second is the kind for whom no orchestra can play well (at least as the musicians judge playing well) and for whom the musicians are having to struggle every moment to hold things together.

The hardest conductors for musicians to evaluate fairly are those for whom the musicians have to work really hard to play together for, but for whom the orchestra plays really well.”

His article goes on to say much more so don’t cheap out and satisfy yourself with this brief excerpt, go give the entire article the attention it deserves.

While you’re taking the time to read over those two articles, you might want to stop by an article I published 15 months ago after I interviewed the newly appointed BSO president and CEO, James Glicker. I’ll recap a few of the concluding passages here as a teaser,

“I fully expect to see one of two things happening soon in Baltimore, either Yuri is going to “resign” or there’s going to be a Mexican standoff that will break up an already fractured organization.

In the end, I’ll remember a piece of advice I received from one of my mentors, “Keep your eye on the new man”. I’m delighted to see the BSO’s administration change hands, but there’s always the fear that you might be jumping out the frying pan and into the fire. I hope the BSO board of directors is going to keep their combined eye of accountability on their new man.”

Spooky, isn’t it?

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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