So No Hard Feelings Then?

When will folks learn that just because you give an interview in a non-English media outlet that doesn’t mean word won’t get back to the U.S.? The latest transgression instance comes from conductor Christoph Eschenbach who told Die Welt (English translation via Google) that he thinks the Philadelphia Orchestra management during his time there as music director was “incompetent” and that they “lie.” He continued by reportedly accusing them of mismanagement that directly led to the orchestra’s current economic condition…

click for the English translation of the Die Welt article (thanks to Google translate).

It isn’t clear if Eschenbach is referring to James Undercoffler and/or Joe Kluger since both served as President of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association during his time with the organization. Nonetheless, it is clear Eschenbach harbors a great deal of animosity toward the organization and since he now serves as music director of the Kennedy Center and the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), his comments could be construed as a form of defamation.

Whether or not damage control measures from Eschenbach, the NSO, or the Kennedy Center have been enacted are unknown and then again, the Philadelphia Orchestra might be too busy tending to the shop to allocate any resources to follow up on Eschenbach’s comments. Time will tell.

In the end, perhaps the lesson here is that instead of letting your unfiltered feelings out into the general public via mainstream media, it might be best to tell your therapist.

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 “So No Hard Feelings Then?

  1. I must come to Mr. Eschenbach’s defense here–to a degree. The Google translation gives a tougher impression than the original German. Eschenbach calls the new management–to which he attributes the break–“unfähig,” which means “incapable” or even “inept”–“incompetent” is an extreme reading with extra connotations. CE also says, “It was pretended that the orchestra didn’t like me. Which was a lie.” He carefully, with the indefinite “man,” doesn’t actually say it was the management that lied to him! Although that is, of course, implied.

    He does say that “mismanagement” led to the accumulation of a $9 million deficit, and the difficulty of finding a new MD. Tough, but defamatory?

    The entire article, which sadly recounts the tribulations of CE’s early life in its first half, leaves a wistful impression–intended or not, one gets the feeling that CE thinks of the unfortunate Philadelphia experience as an extension of his childhood trauma.

      • The ironic tone, I guess…there’s a wry and typically German world-weariness to it that doesn’t translate too well.

        I’ve only met CE once, and we chatted for a few minutes about Korngold, whose Symphony he admires. I liked him.

  2. Hello Mr. McManus,
    I cannot agree that the opinions stated by Mr. Eschenbach are anything other than his own opinions. That they are backed up by fact is being ignored. The management in Philly was incompetant and never knew how to talk to or reach CE, a true artiste.

    If a very experienced music director tells a story of his tenure with an organization and he relates it from his perspective, all he can be criticized for is for having an opinion. Why would calling out a liar be defmatory?

    with thanks,
    Chicago IL

    • I don’t know if the newspaper article bothered to fact check anything Eschenbach asserted or not. Granted, the organization has made it perfectly clear through their own communications that they are dealing with levels of financial distress, although comprehensive data to determine exactly what that entails has yet to be produced. The defamatory component comes into play with regard to accusing any individuals of being liars. There is good reason why legal euphoniums exist and regardless of facts, making that sort of public claim could result in consequences. Eschenbach could have taken issue with methods, processes, communication, etc. to make his points in such way as to not create the sort of potential complications resulting from the what was published.

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