Into The Belly Of The Beast

The 5/16/2011 edition of the New York Times (NYT) published a superb article by Dan Wakin (with assistance from Michael Schwirtz and Kathryn Shattuck) which serves as a representative example of quality investigative reporting in the arts. The article dives into the seamy underbelly of foreign orchestra tours within the US…

Wakin’s article is the latest in what has become a series examining what some, such as internationally recognized conductor Yuri Temirkanov, are calling an “immoral” approach to planning, promoting, and presenting foreign orchestra tours.

On 3/3/2010, the NYT published an investigative article by Wakin into the Moscow State Radio Symphony Orchestra and his later articles focus on the “Tschaikowski” St. Petersburg State Orchestra and Dublin Philharmonic.

According to the series, each of the ensemble’s US tours are organized by Andrew S. Grossman, senior vice president at Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI).

After reading Wakin’s articles, it may be difficult for most to escape the conclusion that these tours are designed to exploit Eastern European musicians with the sole purpose of making a profit. Wakin’s attempts to gather clarification about orchestra members, history, administrative practices, and artistic missions were consistently referred from CAMI representatives to the foreign orchestra’s managers, who in turn referred questions back to CAMI.

We could continue to examine each of the points in Wakin’s article, each more troubling than the last, but in the end this sort of exploitative behavior is only possible if it’s enabled by the extended arts field. Based on the content of the NYT articles, ticket buyers, venue administrators, and the musicians’ union are becoming increasingly concerned about misrepresentation, deceit, and exploitation.

Consequently, the field would benefit from an organized campaign to educate presenters and patrons about the reality of foreign orchestra tours along the lines of those investigated in the NYT articles. That, in combination with a concerted campaign among the service organizations to promote the inherent value of domestic orchestras (perhaps in conjunction with the musicians’ unions?), can help eliminate a culture of enabling abusive promotion practices.

NYT Articles:

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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0 thoughts on “Into The Belly Of The Beast

  1. There’s no question that Dan Wakin’s articles have shed light on an important issue and this kind of investigative journalism is what we should expect from the New York Times, and he does it extremely well. But for most folks in the orchestral community in the US, I’d like to think this is old news. We’ve been hearing about this and seeing it in action, for several years.

    I think what brought it to wider attention was the tour organization of these ensembles by CAMI. A glance at the recorded music catalogs of the past 20 years or so yields results of orchestras cobbled together for sessions, and often named for another part of the world or something geographically vague.

    As for the punter who feels fleeced by the Opole Philharmonic, I would guess that he or she is Polish or knows his or her Silesian geography better than most Americans. This kind of thing, and I certainly would demand complete transparency if i were a concert promoter, is the unfortunate result of globalization writ large across the world of concert music. We may see more of it.

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