Conductors, Conductors, Conductors

There simply doesn’t seem to be any shortage of drama surrounding conductors over the past few seasons. I’m looking forward to my talk this afternoon with Arizona State University’s conducting students. I’ve been told they are a lively bunch and are filled with questions so I’m confident that the session will be anything but dull…


They may ask about current trends and recent events such as the Pittsburgh Symphony’s decision to hire Manfred Honeck as their music director, ostensibly replacing the conducting trifecta they’ve had in place since the departure of Mariss Jansons. Add to that the recent conductor related events in big budget ensembles such as Philadelphia and Chicago as well as equally impacting occurrences in smaller budget ensembles such as Louisville and there’s no shortage of topics to discuss.

I’m especially interested in talking with the students about non artistic related issues of serving as a music director. I simply can’t keep track of the number of complaints I receive from managers and musicians who want to tell me about the poor leadership skills of their respective resident conducting staff. I’ve always wondered exactly how much money organizations lose via situations attributable to the poor communication skills, dodging of responsibilities, and outright boorish behavior from some conductors.

This doesn’t mean all conductors behave this way – naturally they don’t – and that’s not to say the same isn’t true on the other side of the coin. Nevertheless, due to their unique position in the ensemble, how well the music director executes the political and administrative duties of their position greatly influences the organization’s operational activities (not to mention its bottom line).

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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