In San Antonio, Mike Greenberg Couldn’t Be More Right

You don’t have to have to be a genius to realize that San Antonio Symphony President & CEO, David Green, is down for the count…

Ever since announcing the decision not to renew the contract for SAS music director, Larry Rachleff, Green and the SAS executive board have been pummeled with bad press as SAS insiders and outsiders alike point out the gaping holes in the logic they presented explaining their decision.

Throughout this ordeal, the San Antonio Express-News writer Mike Greenberg has done a great job at presenting both sides of the issues. However, Mike’s article from 12/16/06 tells it like it is and does a wonderful job at pointing out Green’s quagmire in the form of a mock memo to David Green. Mike goes so far as to frame the discussion using analogies that Green, a former Coca-Cola executive, will hopefully connect with:

“Let me tell you something that, as a former executive of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of the Southwest, you might appreciate:

Remember New Coke?

Well, your decision to give music director Larry Rachleff his walking papers is your New Coke.”

I can’t think of any other method capable of getting across what Green should interpret as an obvious point without the use of a 2×4.

If the orchestra is lucky, Green (with the support of the SAS executive board) will perform all the necessary political maneuvers to successfully kiss Larry Rachleff’s ass and get him to come back, even if it means waiting it out until Larry is done with his recently renewed Rhode Island Philharmonic contract.

Then again, maybe Green is among the small percentage of consumers that actually preferred New Coke and he simply doesn’t get what all of this fuss is about.

Personally, I would like to think that this sort of behavior is limited to the air space surrounding San Antonio but I’m watching another situation begin to brew in another part of the country that could have similar consequences for the organization.

For the time being, I’m going to bite my tongue and watch what happens in the hope that this orchestra will avoid launching their own version of New Coke. Nevertheless, if they begin gearing up the factory to produce this wicked brew, all bets are off.

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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8 thoughts on “In San Antonio, Mike Greenberg Couldn’t Be More Right”

  1. How do we know that there really is a shortage of qualified conductors? I think that the concept of a resident conductor for a regional orchestral wishing a strong local identity, and looking for long-term improvement in musical quality through sustained leadership, is an entirely reasonable one. If there is, in fact such a shortage (which is certainly not the case for orchestral musicians or composers), then the training system needs to be changed to meet this need.

    The present practice of local boards groveling to the demands of a small cadre of itinerant conductors and their management agencies has no musical justification and is certainly taking advantage of locals who are largely just trying to give back to their communities.

  2. Daniel is absolutely correct. While Larry is a fine conductor, he (and anyone) is far from irreplaceable. A strong local, regional identity requires a resident music director who is really resident. NY Phil, BSO, LA Phil and others of that size and budget may not, but clearly many smaller organizations do, if they are succeed within their market. That might be uncomfortable for Kalmar to hear, but that’s the world in which we live today.

  3. In the case of the SA Symphony, there has been a great improvement during Rachleff’s term, not only in the music-making, but by all accounts in the morale of the musicians, who have suffered from groteque managerial incompetence for far too long. Rachleff lives in Houston, not, say, Vienna, and offered significant concessions in order to remain with San Antonio. If the administration and board of the SAS haven’t figured out yet how to build a “strong local identity”, pointing the finger at Rachleff seems a pretty transparent effort to displace the blame for years of inadequate management.

  4. If you talk to any musician in any professional level orchestra in the US or around the world, they’ll tell you that there is a real and dire shortage of qualified (both artistically and managerially) music director candidates.
    When you’ve got someone good, you’ve got to cater to them to some degree.
    The conducting trade is a traveling one these days, but not necessarily to the detriment of the conductor’s home orchestra. A good conductor will spread the word about a fine ensemble back home, and in return bring prestige back to the home community. I’m sure it would be possible to demand that a music director take up full-time residence, but it would be a facade – the conductor would still travel many weeks out of the year to work with other orchestras. If you could possibly talk someone into this arrangement, the would most likely not be the first or even fifth choice of the orchestra or board – you’d be getting someone who has no demands elsewhere, and for good reason.

  5. Sometimes a community likes to boast that they have a traveling conductor. My orchestra uses that as a marketing tool. “We have imported the best conductor…”. Whether that is true or not, for my orchestra, it is a boasting bonanza, and the community eats it up.

  6. I’ve worked many times with both Rachleff and Kalmar and they are excellent musicians who are committed to the work of creating memorable performances. They have strong ideas and aren’t afraid of working to make them a reality. This can often bring conductors into conflict with a board of directors who may have their own agenda and aren’t interested in a creative dialogue.
    They might prefer a less assertive personality who will go along and not rock the boat by making artistic or financial demands.
    I’ve also noticed that most administrators cherish the staus quo and will only embrace change when the flood waters are lapping at their feet.
    The SAS board and its leadership have done the unforgivable in my view: they manufactured a crisis where none exsisted. They threw a capable, well respected captain overboard without fully considering the long term implications to the organization. The board is clearly at the helm but is there a plan beyond getting a full time resident conductor? Looks to me like they just hit an iceberg.

  7. There is no shortage of “qualified” conductors at any level. What is entirely deficient is a method of identifying them, of nurturing their skills and innate talent. Orchestral managers simply do not know where to look and are entirely dependent upon phone calls from people they know, making deals with established artist managements, or simply just the buzz around someone. All three ways are highly fallible because agendas have come to dominate the process. Added to this is the accepted expectation that a conductor should already be a complete entity, everything in place, a finished product. But how does that happen? Does anyone have any idea of what it takes to get there? It’s no coincidence that Salonen comes from a country with a well-developed, systematic program for producing skilled conductors. We have nothing of the sort here. However, there is here a well-developed system for hiring conductors who inhabit certain circles, and it does not allow much room for fresh blood, nor does it encourage progress of succeeding generations of conductors, which is why we see the same faces in different places. Levine goes there, Sawallisch goes here, Maazel over there, what’s the difference? I know for a fact that there is a lot more from which to choose, but in today’s American situation it takes a lot of work to find alternatives.

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