Gambling On The Lowest Common Denominator?

According to an opinon post on 6/19/2009 by Perry Tannenbaum at Charlotte’s Creative Loafing Arts and Entertainment blog, that seems to be exactly what is being suggested with regard to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) decision to appoint Christopher Warren-Green as their new music director…

lucky gamesIn this case, Tannenbaum asserts the lowest common denominator in determining a winning music director candidate was a pre-requisite to reside in Charlotte and certain non artistic duties.

“… it seemed likely that the distinguishing quality that shaped CSO’s decision was Warren-Green’s willingness to relocate to Charlotte and roll up his sleeves to help with PR and fundraising.”

Tannenbaum concludes by lamenting the lack of stakeholder input on the search process along with mixed messages coming from CSO executive director Jonathan Martin.

Just one other revelation sticks in my craw — as a journalist and as a music lover. Open the July/August issue of Symphony, the magazine published by the League of American Orchestras, and you’ll find CSO executive director Jonathan Martin boasting about the process. “We’ve garnered three articles about each of the candidates — a preview feature, a concert review, and lastly a follow-up story that segues into what’s going to happen next,” Martin crows, citing the Observer‘s coverage. “The amount of return has been extraordinary. We get hundreds of responses on each of the guest conductor concert weekends.”

Too bad Martin didn’t gush so freely on the importance of the input CSO received from the press and public in determining the ultimate outcome. On that subject, Martin was coolly noncommittal. “We’re not running a popularity contest,” he told magazine reporter Chloe Veltman. “Weighing lots of criteria based on feedback from donors, audience members, musicians, and others can only help us get the right result.”

If that helps CSO subscribers feel that their voices were heard rather than merely counted, I envy their gullibility.

This isn’t the first time in recent history that placing undue significance on residency requirements caused unintended negative consequences for a professional orchestra. Remember San Antonio?

The CSO has enough problems with the Arts & Science Council cutting them off at the knees (a group that doesn’t escape the crosshairs of Tannenbaum’s ire), they certainly don’t need to cultivate any on their own. Consequently, if Tannenbaum’s assertions are more accurate than not, the CSO may inadvertently end up on the wrong end bean-counting artistic decision making.

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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