Good News In Detroit

In what will undoubtedly help smooth over remaining wrinkles from their recent contentious labor negotiations, the Detroit Symphony announced that Leonard Slatkin has been appointment as their new Music Director. In a move which demonstrates just how anxious the conductor and ensemble are to work together, Slatkin becomes Music Director designate immediately and takes over the reigns full-time beginning next season…

The Detroit Free Press published a very good article by Mark Stryker today that provides an in-depth overview of Slatkin’s position and what strikes me the most is that Detroit is bucking the trend of hiring a younger conductor to serve as music director. Ultimately, this will likely pay off for the organization as one of Slatkin’s historical strengths is his enthusiasm and experience as a builder, which something of a lost art in this day and age.

More to the point, this appointment goes to show that an organization’s budget size has no impact on the need to adopt a "builder’s mentality" and Slatkin, 63, is taking an unusual route by demonstrating a willingness to roll up his sleeves and get dirty along with the rest of the institution in the business of not just maintaining an already accomplished institution better, but realizing hidden potential. In fact, Slatkin could have taken the all too common route of accepting a guest conductor position in one or two orchestras (on opposite sides of the Atlantic) along with as many guest conducting appearances and recording projects he wanted and cumulatively rake in more than what he will likely earn by accepting the Detroit position (although don’t think for a moment that income level is going to force him into what professional orchestra musicians the "hot dog and macaroni" cycle).

In the end, it is good to see all of the stakeholders in Detroit are so happy with the decision. In a perfect world, that love fest will last far beyond the honeymoon stage and the relationship will mature into a partnership of mutual respect and status that the rest of the business can look toward as a benchmark for success.

More on Leonard Sltakin’s appointment:
Detroit News
DSO website

Click here to read Leonard Slatkin’s contribution to the 2007 Take A Friend To Orchestra initiative here at Adaptistration.

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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2 thoughts on “Good News In Detroit”

  1. The DSO has always maintained having a music director committed to excellence in standard repertoire as well as bringing works by living composers to the forefront. Perhaps Leonard Slatkin is the man of our times. In working with Maestro Slatkin, there is a special warmth and spirit which he brings to everything he conducts. In recording, he is able to catch things quickly, fix them, and achieve a polished and musical performance lickety-split. What I respect most, his his respect for others first and the music he conducts. He will take the DSO to new heights, and bring the Detroit community into his world of music–how fortunate for Detroit!

  2. Oh my, Detroit has no idea what they are in for. This is much better news for Leonard Slatkin than it is for the Detroit Symphony. While it may take a few seasons it will become very apparent, just as it has to those poor souls in Washington, that Slatkin’s musicality is only skin deep. I suppose a big name counts for something and maybe that is what Detroit needs right now but Slatkin is absolutely incapable of taking the DSO to great musical heights.

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