Former Colorado MD Blasts Ex Board Members

In a very unusual move for an active conductor, former Colorado Symphony Orchestra music director, Jeffrey Kahane, submitted an op-ed opinion piece to the Denver Post that unloads both barrels on the Clinton/Miller letter along with the Post’s editorial from 12/3/2011.

The Post published Kahane’s 941 word letter on 12/7/2011 and the conductor opens up in good form by making it clear that he has no formal relationship with the CSO and he speaks for no one but himself in this matter. And much like the letters which served as his inspiration, he gets right to the point.

I cannot in good conscience stand idly by and remain silent while the public is being fed a steady stream of misinformation, facts taken out of context, outrageous distortions and, in some cases, outright falsehoods.

Space does not permit a detailed rebuttal of the points made in the highly misleading editorial that appeared last Saturday in The Denver Post, nor of the far more extensive and damaging Perspective article of several weeks ago by Bruce Clinton and Heather Miller. This is most unfortunate, because the people of Denver and Colorado deserve the opportunity to hear the other side of the claims being made in these opinion articles.

Kahane continues by asserting that far from being the source of the CSO’s financial troubles, the orchestra’s musicians have a long and consistent history in helping find solutions and sacrificing during difficult periods.

I know of no group of musicians anywhere in the world more dedicated, more flexible, more creative, and more generous in spirit than the members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. It was that exceedingly rare combination of exceptional talent and deep humanity that drew me…to become a major donor to the orchestra. My wife Martha and I gave until it hurt: the value of our total contributions…during my five years as music director was well in excess of $100,000.

But what some might find as perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Kahane’s letter is he strikes at the heart of a battle raging behind most, if not all, of the recent round of business model focused disputes.

The simple truth is that what is at stake here is not an argument about which is the better or more viable of two different business models. This is about two radically different visions of what a great orchestra is, and what it means to the life of a great city. I have read and re-read the sustainability study which has been referred to in previous articles and comments, and I very much regret to say that the study is so profoundly flawed on so many levels that it would require far greater space than is available here to properly refute it.

What’s important to catch there is the phrase “this is about two radically different visions of what a great orchestra is” and based on Kahane’s letter, he doesn’t embrace the idea of radically redefined artistic standards without consequence.

But perhaps on more of a fundamental level, he’s merely pushing back against what appears to be a growing movement which openly rejects the notion that artistic standards and activity can be redefined by forces more in line with commercial enterprises which rely on competitive forces and profits without consequence to traditional mission driven standards. Certainly, this was argued y stakeholders at the beleaguered Detroit Symphony Orchestra as well as during the ongoing Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy.

The decades old struggle over control.

In the end, everything Kahane touched on in his letter is at the source of very difficult discussions among orchestra which are not faring the economic downturn as well as some of their colleagues. In particular, there is little doubt that balance sheets at some groups require creative thinking to restructure and manage debt but how far should those discussions cut into the fabric of artistic standards and mission driven activity.

Perhaps all of this a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing; using very real economic challenges to conceal the latest extension of the decades old struggle over dominant control, where a single stakeholder group has unchallenged influence over all aspects of strategic decision making.

What do you think?

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 “Former Colorado MD Blasts Ex Board Members”

  1. Seems to me that at THIS point, if the leadership of The League does not publicly distance itself from the rhetoric and actions of (Denver’s) Clinton and (Louisville’s) Birman, then it only lends stronger credence to the notion that those at the top of the LOAA are, in fact, covertly behind all this. If that is, indeed, the case, then the The League is WAAAY past due for a change in leadership.

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