Where’s Leonard?

On 10/31/2010, the Detroit Free Press published an article by Mark Stryker that examines the role of Detroit Symphony Orchestra music director Leonard Slatkin within the month long work stoppage. In full disclosure, I would describe my professional relationship with Leonard to a degree that might be characterized as a conflict of interest so I’m not going to offer any personal observations but I will say that Stryker put together an excellent piece…

The unsurprising news in the Free Press article is that Slatkin is remaining mum for now on the dispute. The only public statement he has offered was excerpted in the article.

Slatkin, who last winter signed a two-year contract extension with a voluntary pay cut, last publicly addressed the conflict in mid August. He told the Free Press that he remained optimistic about the future and saw no reason not to consider another extension when his deal expires. “Right now, both sides have a long way to go, and my own attitude is positive regarding the high artistic standards of the DSO,” he said before the strike.

Don’t expect to see Slatkin break his vow of silence anytime soon but if the work stoppage continues for the remainder of the season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Slatkin cultivate new career opportunities. In other related DSO news, Marc Stryker published a second article on 10/31/2010 that provides a recap and update on the strike.

In short, not much has changed. Stryker includes a quote of mine and want to reiterate that it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if they lost the entire season provided both sides remain firmly entrenched past the New Year. If that happens, the next waypoints to watch out for include the DSO’s timetable for event cancellations as well as 2011/12 season planning and subscription sales campaign.

Lastly, and piece by Jennifer Guerra from the 10/28/2010 edition of Michigan Radio introduces a fascinating snippet from DSO board member Gloria Heppner who reportedly said “she doesn’t think management’s proposal is viable.”

“Not if one wants to maintain a top tier orchestra it isn’t,” explains Heppner. “I mean, we’re fighting for the maintenance of a first class orchestra. We could have a community orchestra, but that, believe me, is not what this is about.”

Guerra wraps up the article with a conversation she had with the University of Michigan’s Mark Clague, who regular readers might remember as a recent Adaptistration guest author as well as from my work with the University’s American Orchestra Summit in January, 2010 (Inside The Arts hosted the summit blog, Enlarging The Circle).

Clearly, the DSO musicians and management are projecting all appearances of being firmly entrenched but if history has anything to teach us about labor disputes, it is that major breaks can happen without warning and a seemingly endless stalemate can suddenly change.

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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14 thoughts on “Where’s Leonard?

  1. It’s heartening to see that at least some of the DSO board understands the peril of the organization. I hope that can help break the ice. The orchestra deserves better. The community does, too.

  2. Excellent article. It is refreshing to have a board member comment on the excellence of and maintaining the excellence of our World Class orchestra.

  3. One of the difficulties of our situation in Detroit, is the lack of balanced and comprehensive coverage in our two local newspapers. The information in Mark Stryker’s article on Slatkin’s silence could have easily covered in a few paragraphs. Dramatically smaller is the space devoted to the non-econmic issues involved, or coverage on the unequal sacrifice taken by top management.
    The unwillingness of our local papers to adequately cover the musician’s side of this dispute continues to keep our public ill-informed about the complexities of what’s involved and at stake here. While there continues to be lively comments back and forth here in the blogoshpere, then general public is hearing mostly only one side of the story, despite, as in past contract negotiation periods, our musicians’ negotiating committee meeting with the editorial boards of both newspapers in an attempt to have our side addressed in a fair manner. Indeed, we only go public during negotiations if we feel we are not successful in getting our points to the other side and are willing to take the admittedly risky move of going public, while being aware of the traditional anti-union stance of our newspapers. We have had some good coverage, mostly by Michael Hodges, in the Detroit News, of our musician produced concerts. However, very little space in either paper is devoted to much of anything other than salary numbers of the musician’s expired contract, and I can’t recall the salary of our Exec. Director being reported, only general comments about staff reduction and 5% or 10% in paycuts.

  4. I have to take a quick moment to respond here Brian. I couldn’t disagree more with your assessment on newspaper coverage; in fact, I think the coverage in both the local newspapers has been entirely fair and the quality and quantity of writing is very good.

    I get the sense that you aren’t looking at coverage from a broader perspective and instead, focusing on each individual piece. When you take the former into consideration, which is what newspapers have to consider, you end up discovering that certain issues are pieced together best by exploring them in detail over a series of articles.

    Although I can certainly understand why you would want to see the musicians’ points included in each article, that simply makes for bad journalism in that readers get bored with seeing the same information over and over again. More to the point, the complexities of the issues you referenced prohibit any sort of comprehensive article simply because newspapers don’t have that much physical white space to dedicate to an orchestra strike (it would take pages). Just look at how much space has been dedicated here and this is a format geared toward insiders.

    As such, the need to spread out the issues over a series of articles becomes self evident.

    So once again, as someone who has observed newspaper coverage of labor disputes in great detail over the past decade, what I’ve seen transpire in Detroit is encouraging. In no way would I characterize the coverage as presenting one side of the story.

    I also have to offer up a bit of candor here and point out that it becomes increasingly difficult for any media outlet to report on events when the information provided is less than clear and concise. Case in point, although the DSO musician website has improved, it is still a jumbled mess of a media resource. It fails to communicate a message or walk would-be supporters through a complex series of issues in a way that maximizes understanding. There may be “what” oriented content but very little “why.”

    I am in no way privy to the discussions between the players’ negotiating committee and the editorial boards but if the musician talking points are in any way similar to how the musicians’ positions are conveyed on the website, then you may want to reinforce your glass walls before publicly tossing stones.

    Regardless, what precisely makes you conclude that the papers are unwilling to adequately cover the musicians’ side of the dispute? That is a serious charge and it requires equally firm evidence. Likewise, when expanding on that point, please explain what you would consider “adequate” coverage.

  5. Drew, one case would be that there has been only one article that covered the non-economic issues (Free Press, well over a month ago) in any sort of detail, but gave as much space to the Memphis Symphony and a grad student from NEC as to the musicians points. And there has been no mention of how the management will spend dramatically more money closing our pension plans that it would cost to keep them open.
    We certainly don’t want to follow the model of a small regional orchestra in a much smaller city, and although perhaps the management would like an orchestra of students right our of college, that is not the way to retain the quality or performing traditions that are the hallmark of the Detroit Symphony.
    There has been a lot more coverage of the orchestra in general during this strike than there would have ever been if we had started our season under normal conditions, but very few pieces that have not been slanted toward the management’s side, the exceptions being labor leader Mark Gaffney’s column and the editorial in the Free Press by Brian Dickerson. And as I commented earlier, Mark Stryker never fails point out our previous salary, never a word about what our E, D. earns, as well as her free mansion, car,etc.
    Another example would certainly be the reporting on why the musicians were required to be paid for four weeks after the last negotiating sessions concluded at the end of August. It’s been explained as a ‘legal technicality’ or as ‘due to a wrinkle in labor law’, never the fact that management was completely unaware that it was their responsibility to file the 30 day notice with the NLRB before they would be able to declare an impasse and impose their ‘proposal B’. That’s an approximately $700,000 blunder by management because of their or their attorney’s lack of knowledge of basic labor law.

  6. The question surrounding the pension is entirely valid but if there is no information forthcoming from management then how can anyone be expected to write about it?

    As for the amount of time set aside to player positions, the story you referenced (which also included Memphis and NEC) would have had far less impact if those, or similar, items of comparison weren’t included. an example of that would come across, albeit from the other side of the fence in a labor dispute, would be much of the coverage surrounding the Columbus Symphony where the local newspaper dedicated substantial portions of each article exclusively to management positions. In the end, the paper came across with damaged credibility and the Free Press would be in the same boat if they didn’t expend the added effort to research and incorporate related content.

    I think the accusations against Stryker in particular are misplaced. On the other side of your coin, have the player spokespersons been bringing those items to the attention of the media? Likewise, your assertion that the Free Press is downplaying the NLRB filing mistake is simply inaccurate. Yes, they included quotes from the DSO that downplayed the impact but those were clearly marked as quotes and not part of the original report’s content. The fact that they included an official quote is simply that, an official quote.

    The fact that the DSO had to continue paying the musicians is hardly a negative. They should have been paying the players and in a better situation, they would still be paying the players. But to make it seem like that money was wasted when absolutely nothing changed beyond planned activity is simply curious.

    At best, it was a negotiation tacit that didn’t unfold as planned and it likely cost those designing the tactic credibility as well as causing a great deal of frustration. As such, how can that be interpreted as a negative for the musicians or the institution if the musicians’ ultimate goal is to see their proposals adopted by the board?

    Lastly, I would recommend caution with your phrasing as it pertains to the NLRB filing. If you are aware of and recall labor dispute history within this business, you might recall a certain set of events at St. Louis in 2005.

  7. It is fascinating following this dialogue between Brian Ventura and Drew McManus.
    During the current Detroit strike, St. Louis was mentioned to a Detroit musician along with the observation that the Detroit management is attempting to do a St. Louis number here.
    The musician’s reponse was, “Not really. In St. Louis they mainly reduced weeks. In Detroit they are trying to gut the contract.”

  8. To be very clear here Doug, that isn’t what I was referencing. Likewise, I was not making any comparison between the 2005 SLSO and the current DSO management proposals. I’m not sure how you inferred that but I’m sorry for your misinterpretation. However, my SLSO/DSO reference was to the improper NLRB filings and the associated outcomes.

  9. Actually your reference was clear, Drew. Your mention of St. Louis in a Detroit context triggered my recall of the anecdote. When you’re in the thick of things, that happens. The St. Louis management was primarily interested in saving money, the Detroit management, it appears, is also and equally interested in “redefining” the orchestra.
    In truth, the Detroit musicians have some strong suspicions where Mr. Slatkin comes down on these “redefining” issues, but it would certainly not be fair to thus speculate in a public forum.
    All things considered, silence is probably the best Slatkin policy.

  10. Thank you for the clarification and given the sensitivity of labor disputes, it is good to to take the time to avoid any misunderstanding for those coming in and reading the comment threads for the first time.

    As for waht Slatkin thinks about the proposed work rule and artistic duties changes, your guess is as good as mine. But I agree, the liklihood is that he will remain quiet and I also agree that it is probably the best course of action, especially if events work themsevles out without the need to even address it.

  11. 1812 Overture.
    We all love!
    Imagine for a moment that Marshal Kutuzov (Supreme Commander of Russian Armies at the time), decides to let Russian Troops handle their own battles during 1812 conflict, without involvement of his leadership, just because personally, he does not wish to offend Napoleon Bonaparte, nor/and his own Troops…

  12. Slatkin recently landed the music directorship of the Orchestre National de Lyon as of 2011, so he certainly has another option if the Detroit SO situation completely implodes. He certainly doesn’t lack for guest-conducting opportunities, besides any sort of permanent post.

    The only other US orchestras that I know of which are looking for a new music director are Houston and the Colorado Symphony. Obviously I have no idea if either would be on Slatkin’s radar at all, but intuitively one doubts it.

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