Things That Make you Go “Buh?” Conductors

Does anyone else notice that conductors seem to be a bit more, shall we say, “artistically tempered” than usual? A few weeks ago, Ricardo Muti made headlines when he walked away from a gig for the Queen of England because he reportedly took issue with her programming suggestions and now the Boston Globe reports that conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky ditched a concert series with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) because he didn’t get equal billing with soloist, Lynn Harrell. Come on people; get a tighter grip on reality…

Whatever happened to "the show must go on"
Whatever happened to "The Show Must Go On?"

In both cases, it seems as though the conductors should have been more explicit in their engagement contracts if issues like these are going to force them to fly off the handle and walk away from an otherwise ideal gig. It isn’t as though the Queen called Muti’s artistic prowess into question or the BSO marketing department photoshopped promotional images of Rozhdestvensky as a marionette with Harrell as the puppeteer.

For better or worse, an orchestra’s marketing department decides on the best strategy to promote concerts. If a guest artist has parameters for advertising connected with their appearance, they need to include it in their engagement contract. In fact, many do exactly that although those parameters don’t typically dwell on font size (although there are some doozys out there).

At the same time, who knows what really went on behind the scenes at either of those situations other than those directly involved but the end result is the public sees a very petty, negative stereotype in action. What’s worse is that these high profile events transpired at a time when this business doesn’t need to arm opponents with ammunition.

Artist managers; please, control your clients and to all guest artists; the next time you consider throwing a celebrity style tantrum, consider whether or not it is worth ending up as a deserving target for folks like Matt Smith! Ultimately, whenever encountering what Rozhdestvensky calls a “moral insult” the most professional response is to stick it out and put on a great concert then the moment I is over quietly complain and never return.

Postscript: I received an email from an orchestra musician regarding Rozhdestvensky’s complaint that he wasn’t promoted appropriately given his accomplishments: “Welcome to our world.”

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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