So How Do You Really Feel About Managers Yuri?

“Bah! Management!” That’s a quote from outgoing Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Yuri Temirkanov from an interview with Washington Post staff writer, Tim Page. That wasn’t the only thing Temirkanov had to say about the end of his tenure with the organization…

The article goes on to quote Temirkanov on a number of issues impacted by the organization’s current economic difficulties. For example, Temirkanov hinted strongly that reducing the BSO’s season or number of full time musicians would have an undeniable negative impact on their artistic output when he said,

“It is an illusion that you can get an orchestra to play this way with part-time musicians…What we do is only possible because we have been working together for a long time. If everything falls apart…it will be a shame.”

No doubt, those words will likely come into play during the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations if talks begin to focus on draconian cuts. It will be interesting to see if incoming music director, Marin Alsop, takes a similar public position if the impending negotiations include the type of cuts Temirkanov railed against in his interview.

After all, in music, timing is everything. During his interview, Temirkanov was openly critical of the music director search process where he cited managers as the root of problems,

“That whole scandal came about because of the management,” Temirkanov said, his tone taking on a sudden hardness. “Nobody listened to the musicians and to what they had to say. If the musicians had been able to hear all of the candidates, in the end they might have chosen Marin Alsop as the next music director. None of them think she is bad. They work with her very well and like her very much. But they wanted to be consulted and they wanted to be sure she was the right person. That was all they wanted. Bah! Management!”

Of course, it would have likely been helpful to all involved if Temirkanov shared his views publicly before that situation spiraled out of control, the aftermath of which has witnessed the departure of every key administratior and board member responsible for bring in the BSO’s incoming music director.

Nevertheless, upsetting outgoing music directors that also carry a great deal of clout within the larger international classical music community seem to be a specialty of BSO administrators. Back at the beginning of Yuri Temirkanov’s tenure, music director emeritus, David Zinman, stepped down from that post as a form of protest over the fact that he felt the orchestra wasn’t programming enough contemporary music, something he was well known for during his tenure as BSO music director.

At that time, the administration firmly believed that the organization should move in a different direction. According to media reports, in a letter to the BSO player’s committee David Zinman wrote “that he was leaving in protest of the orchestra’s altered artistic direction, specifically the decline of contemporary American music in the programming”.

At that time, the administration, although displeased with the public spectacle surrounding Zinman’s decision, decided to remain steadfast in the direction they planned. Several years later with the appointment of Marin Alsop, a well known champion of contemporary American composers, they turned around 180 degrees artistically toward Zinman’s previous course.

Ironically, both decisions have incurred public chastising from their outgoing music directors. If nothing else, the story of the BSO would be ideally suited for an intriguing opera libretto. Perhaps Temirkanov, also a popular opera conductor, could serve as artistic director.

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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3 thoughts on “So How Do You Really Feel About Managers Yuri?”

  1. Drew,

    Most opera libretti are made easy to remember, thanks to lack of nuance and context.

    It would be well-considered of you to refrain from revisiting this very tempting topic, already well-covered by Tim Page and others, until after the completion of the Baltimore Symphony’s current contractual, managerial, and directorial transition.

  2. When the whole Baltimore SO brouhaha broke, for comparison with the labor dispute involving the St. Louis SO musicians and management, I had the thought that it would take a lot to make the SLSO situation look good by comparison. Glicker and the Balt. SO management at the time managed to do precisely that with their handling of l’affaire Alsop. That is not meant as a compliment to them. Oh well.

  3. Hi E.O., thank you for the comment. I don’t know if writing about these issues after the fact will have any more or less influence on the negotiations and hiring process than the internal dialog already in play between stakeholders.

    I would agree that rehashing old material simply for the sake of doing so isn’t terribly productive but Yuri’s comments, and the timing, are particularly intriguing. It would be easy to file it away as “sour grapes” but I think it carries more substance than that.

    In particular, he said many of the same things the representative BSO musicians were attempting to say after the disagreement in the search process went public. If Yuri felt the same way then as he did during the interview, why did he select that point in time to express them?

    I think those are relevant questions worth examining in light of recent events.

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