Peter Dobrin’s article from the 11/16/06 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Philadelphia Orchestra music director, Christoph Eschenbach, told the musicians he was informed that 80% of the “musicians did not agree with his artistic interpretations” and the same percentage “left concerts feeling great anger”…
The article also reports that Eschenbach learned about these statistics directly from the organization’s new president, James Undercofler. Beneath the surface quality sensation this piece brings to the public, there are a number of deeper worthwhile issues to explore.
To begin with, if what the article reports is accurate, then Undercoffler deserves some sincere credit for accepting the unenviable job of polling the musicians (or at least verifying and accepting a reasonable poll conducted by the players), taking the results earnestly, and delivering those results to the music director.
Although it isn’t unusual for other for-profit institutions to conduct managerial reviews based on employees evaluations, this is something that is relatively unexplored in the orchestra business with regard to musician/music director relationships. Musicians do evaluate guest conductors, there’s even a standard form created by ICSOM for that purpose, but there aren’t many ensembles which regularly poll musicians on issues related to artistic satisfaction they derive from working with their existing music director.
If you’ve been following the case in Philadelphia since Eschenbach arrived, you already know the players were not overjoyed with the appointment and any love shared between the two was only lost in increasing amounts after he arrived. As such, the arranged marriage has ended badly with both parties displaying a distinct level of pain and disappointment.
Nevertheless, this is a good example of how to handle an unpleasant situation. It makes me wonder how things in Seattle could have turned out at the end of last season if they conducted themselves the same way the current parties in Philadelphia have.
In the end, the Philadelphia Orchestra deserves credit for keeping the details of the survey under wraps, that’s the sort of thing that doesn’t need to go public. However, it is good to let the public know that drastic decisions as of late are not being implemented on a whim or unsupported reasoning (80% is certainly a clear majority). That alone should build an increased level of confidence among the ensemble’s patrons.