When All The Planets Align

After much public scrutiny surrounding his departure from the Chicago music scene and even more speculation about whether or not he would return anytime soon, Daniel Barenboim is heading back to Chicago…


However, Mr. Barenboim won’t be taking his accustomed place on the podium at Symphony Center. Instead, he is appearing less than half a mile away at one of Chicago’s newest concert venues, the Harris Theater In Millennium Park.

Mr. Barenboim will be conducting the Arab-Israeli West-Eastern Divan Symphony Orchestra for a one-concert-only performance of standard repertoire by Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms. According to a press release from the Harris Theater, this performance will be the orchestra’s only U.S. appearance outside of New York City for 2006. Furthermore, the concert was only announced publicly barely more than a month before the scheduled performance date.

Intrigue Abounds
The publicity surrounding the event suggests intrigue and interest on a variety of layers. On one layer, Mr. Barenboim’s appearance is barely more than six months since his farewell concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His departure as music director for the world-class ensemble was clouded by disagreements between the conductor and CSO management over the nature of music director responsibilities.

On another layer, the orchestra, a 78-member youth orchestra (ages 14 to 25) composed of Israelis playing alongside Arabs from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia, is a focal point for international events unfolding in the Middle East. You would have to live in a cave not to realize that issues and events in that region evoke such passion that they polarize a multitude of individuals in countries around the world

In fact, security for this concert is no secondary matter. According to Michael Tiknis, Harris Theater Managing Director, the identity of the orchestra’s hotel is being kept secret and the theater is implementing special security measures,

“The orchestra’s security for the concert here and in New York City is very tight,” said Michael. “We’ve been working with the Chicago Police Department and a private security firm to provide all of the security for our event. We will even have metal detectors in place at the theater the day of the concert.”

Additionally, the orchestra’s arrival and departure times are not listed on commercial flight schedules. Michael went on to say that the orchestra is arriving in Chicago via a charter flight provided at a discount by United Airlines, one of Harris Theater’s regular sponsors.

Pulling the Planets Into Alignment
Everyone who works behind the scenes in this business already knows that it takes a year or more to arrange special concert events. As such, you might think that Mr. Barenboim’s appearance with the West-Eastern Divan was planned well before he left Chicago after his final concert at the end of the 2005-2006 concert season. If so, you’d be absolutely wrong in this case. According to Tiknis, discussions about bringing the conductor and the ensemble to Chicago didn’t begin until the summer of 2006.

“We started talking to David Foster, president of ICM, about the idea and he was skeptical at first,” said Michael. “Convincing him and Mr. Barenboim that it would be well promoted and thus well attended was a crucial element. But a large collaborative effort allowed us to meet that challenge and let this come together.”

In fact, the one and only date and time which would work for the ensemble was already booked by a local Chicago ensemble. Furthermore, the organization had to rely on direct communication with Mr. Barenboim to make the arrangements and everything planned had to first have his personal approval

“We didn’t begin to talk about logistical issues until August,” said Michael. “By the time we started looking for a date in late September, the only day and time which worked conflicted with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago’s Messiah concert.”

One Uncommon Collaboration Prompts Another
Fortunately, the West-Eastern Divan spirit of collaboration served to pave the way for overcoming what would otherwise be deal-breaking barriers. According to Tiknis, working things out to reschedule one of Chicago’s larger Messiah went smoother than might be expected.

“We worked closely with [Apollo Chorus board vice-president] Dick Glennie and [General Manager], Greg Kolack,” said Michael. “We asked them if they could move their concert but that there was no obligation to do so. They put a great deal of time in to make this work including surveying the schedules for more than 150 musicians and singers to see if moving the concert would work.

As it turned out, they were able to move their concert to that evening so we could have the West-Eastern Divan here in the afternoon. We made some concessions to the Apollo Chorus for their flexibility and so far everything seems to be working out great: tickets for the West-Eastern Divan concert are selling very fast as are tickets for Apollo’s Messiah concert. We expect both events to be well sold.”

Michael pointed out that it is difficult to miss the fact that the concert is surrounded by cooperative symbolism.

“I’d say this was such a cooperative effort and in an industry that doesn’t always understand flexibility, this is shaping up to be a winning project,” said Michael. “Having this work out so well as the result of extraordinary cooperation during a holiday season that is special to a number of different faiths is something that makes both concerts something special.”

I contacted Joan Harris, Harris Theater board chair, to ask her what she thought of putting together this concert at a breakneck pace and she echoed Michael’s observations on the spirit of cooperation during a special time of year.

“The Harris Theater is so proud to be this responsive to the opportunity to bring the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to Chicago,” said Joan. “I believe so strongly in what this orchestra represents and I’m equally thrilled to have Daniel Barenboim back on mid-western soil, even if it’s for 24 hours.”


Tickets range in price from $52 to $98. For tickets, or additional information, call the Harris Theater box office at 312-334-7777 or log on to www.harristheaterchicago.org.


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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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1 thought on “When All The Planets Align

  1. I don’t particularly consider myself a fan of Barenboim the conductor, but seeing him with this orchestra that means so much to him is a very intriguing prospect, so that hopefully my travel plans work out and I’ll be there. At least we can say now that after this, Barenboim really won’t come back.

    PS: Thanks also for the heads up about the security.

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