A Cultural Casualty From The Foiled Airline Plot

Although the planned terrorist activity was thwarted by authorities in London last week, that doesn’t mean the event didn’t successfully inadvertently strike a blow to the orchestra business. In particular, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (OSL) had to cancel its scheduled performances at the Edinburgh International Festival and BBC Proms this week. Of course, canceled tours are always cause for disappointment, but due to OSL’s unique operational structure, the cancellation has deeper consequences…

According to a press release issued on 08/13/06, OSL canceled its appearances “due to the changes and limitations on international travel in recent days”. The OSL is different from most traditionally structured orchestras in that they rely a great deal on the financial benefits from partnerships they develop with artistic partners. Regular Adaptistration readers will recall the details of this structure from an interview I published with OSL executive director, Marianne Lockwood, back in January, 2004 (part 1 and part 2).

The OSL’s appearances at Edinburgh and BBC Proms would have served as a sort of debutante ball where the OSL would have had the opportunity to prove to the world’s cultural scene that that have truly come of age and are a serious contender for a lead position within the American chamber orchestra scene.

According to the press release, some of those lost opportunities include “OSL’s Proms performance being broadcast and streamed worldwide by the BBC, and heard on radio stations in the United States through American Public Media’s distribution of ‘The American Proms’. The Edinburgh concert was being recorded for broadcast on New York’s WQXR, the radio partner of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.”

Of course, the artistic losses are the focus of the organization’s soul but the financial reality of the situation is eating away at its body. According to Edward Sweeny, OSL vice president & general manager, the immediate problems include conducting dozens of individual negotiations with airlines, lodging facilities, and other vendors over payments the organization has already made in conjunction with the tour.

“A great deal of our costs have already been incurred and are subject to contracts with cancellation clauses,” said Edward. “The real challenge is that we’ve paid a number of these organizations in advance and the contracts don’t specifically cover cancellation issues such as this. So we’re in negotiations or will be beginning negotiations soon with all of these groups to see about recovering our advance payments.”

In addition to lost payments, OSL has to consider lost performance revenue as well as revenue developed from individuals that sponsored the trip.

“[Talking with donors] is something we have to go through with each individual donor and the Edinburgh Festival has requested that we return the fee already paid to St. Luke’s,” said Edward. “We are currently working with the festivals to resolve any outstanding financial issues.”

Last, but not least, the OSL negotiated touring rates with their musicians, (represented by Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians). The musicians were counting on the income from the tour and many declined work in order to have room for rehearsals and travel. Since most of the OSL musicians rely on multiple sources of income to earn a living, this is a strong financial blow to individual musicians as well. According to Edward Sweeney, the situation is currently being addressed.

“On top of this, we negotiated a special tour agreement with the union and we have to talk to them about what our obligations are,” said Edward. “We plan to get to that issue along with the others this week.”

The OSL has grown steadily in artistic and economic stature over the years, helping to fill the void in the unacceptably meager American chamber orchestra landscape. It will be a real shame if this setback prevents them fulfilling their potential.

The following is a copy of the press release issued by the OSL on 08/13/06:



New York’s Orchestra of St. Luke’s announced today, with great regret, that due to the changes and limitations on international travel in recent days, the Orchestra has been forced to cancel its long anticipated performances at the Edinburgh International Festival and BBC Proms this week. Despite the best efforts of all involved, it has proved impossible to surmount the obstacles in the very short time available. The Orchestra and their principal conductor Donald Runnicles are deeply disappointed that this tour cannot take place and hope to return to Europe in the future.

The Orchestra of St. Luke’s is a world-class orchestra that the rest of the world has rarely had a chance to see, and its debut performances at two of the most prestigious international festivals has been greatly anticipated on both sides of the ocean.

On August 16, the OSL and Runnicles were to have been joined by pianist Richard Goode in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall for John Adams’ Chamber Symphony and two works by Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 and Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter.” On August 17, in London’s Royal Albert Hall, the concert was to have featured tenor Ian Bostridge in Lutoslawski’s Paroles tissées on a program that also included Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter.”

OSL’s Proms performance was to have been broadcast and streamed worldwide by the BBC, and heard on radio stations in the United States through American Public Media’s distribution of “The American Proms.” The Edinburgh concert was being recorded for broadcast on New York’s WQXR, the radio partner of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

Support for OSL’s UK concerts was provided by USArtists International, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts with additional support from JPMorgan Chase and managed by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

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 “A Cultural Casualty From The Foiled Airline Plot”

  1. While American Repertory Ensemble isn’t an orchestra (10 dancers from Joffrey, Atlanta, Oregon and Austin Ballets + a top notch piano quintet from Austin), we had a very close shave last week with this very same issue.

    The bomb scare happened during our five-performance run in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and caused no small amount of stress while we scoured the entire city for a flight case that would hold our violins and viola during our flight home this past Sunday. Three hours before our final show on Saturday night we procured a mixing board flight case that worked…so we thought we could relax.

    Famous last words…After all of this, once we got to the airport the airlines said they couldn’t check the crate because it weighed too much…8 kilos over the limit! We begged and pleaded but their answer was no no and no. Our flight was taking off at 6:20 AM on Sunday so no shipping/cargo businesses were open. Our violinists were determined to skip the flight and just take a train to London with the instruments and then figure out what to do there.

    Miraculously, in the last 10 minutes before our flight took off, they finally said “yes, we’ll make an exception…but only this one time.” Sunday night I received an e-mail from one of our violinists that all three instruments made it back without a hitch, which was a huge relief to me seeing as how I’m the Artistic Director of Music and I felt responsible in putting them in that position.

    I’m so sorry to hear about St. Luke’s cancellation and can only hope that their situation gets worked out and, of course, this situation never happens again.

  2. The guitarist Robin Hill was due to fly to New York from Manchester UK on one of the targeted routes. Thankfully the plot was foiled but we were left with the awful decision of whether to continue with his trip, or let down the QM2 where he was due to perform 2 concerts.
    He already had a good flight case for his guitar but it had never, in all his 30 years of travel, been in the hold. We managed to locate a case in the USA that fits around his original one for added protection. At a great deal of cost to us we had it shipped out overnight so that he could use it on the trip.
    Luckily it arrived, he has done the concerts which went very well, and is currently travelling home. It is so sad that it has come to this, but at least in this case, the show did go on.

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