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.