Off To Maestroland & NYP Has A New CEO

It’s all about the maestro today as I’ll be participating in the opening day of the 2012 Conductors Guild Annual Conference here in Chicago. My session on What Executive Directors are Looking for in a Music Director begins at 2:45pm CT and I’ll do my best to post some thoughts after it wraps up.

In the meantime, check back here for any updates about twitter hashtags for the session. If an official one pops up, I’ll post it as an update as it will be interesting to follow what participants are thinking. It might even provide a way for someone not in attendance to participate in the Q&A period.

I’m looking forward to the other two sessions following mine; Developing Expertise in Professional Orchestra Conductors and So You’ve Been Called for an Interview. Based on the title alone, the latter has some real potential if the session moves toward a frank discussion format.

MVB is NYP’s new CEO

It looks like the New York Philharmonic (NYP) pulled the trigger on a new CEO and it is Matthew VanBesien, current managing director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Australia and before that, CEO of the Houston Symphony.

It’s an interesting choice and what’s more interesting are some of the conditions under which VanBesien is entering the new gig.

For instance, I gave a quick quote to Crain’s Business New York for a 1/4/2012 article written by Miriam Kreinin Souccar saying that one of his biggest challenges is going to be dealing with the current labor negotiations and subsequent labor environment.

But before I start getting email messages pointing out the quotes from NYP board chair Gary W. Parr in a New York Times article from the same day written by Dan Wakin, where he said “[VanBesien’s] not going to be actively involved in the negotiations” let me say that yes, I read that article before giving my quote to Crain’s.

Parr’s quote works as a nice sound bite but the reality is it’s a substantial risk to exclude an incoming CEO from participating in what may very well turn out to be one of the most influential collective bargaining agreements in the orchestra’s history. Moreover, it’s difficult to imagine a CEO that wouldn’t insist on being involved.

Consequently, not participating in the negotiations is itself a very meaningful form of involvement; simply put, not getting involved isn’t an option.

Stay tuned…

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 “Off To Maestroland & NYP Has A New CEO

  1. I glanced at his bio-has he really risen to what is the top of his field within less than 10 yrs of being an ASOL fellow, with no other executive training? What does that say about the state of things?

  2. I hope your question was meant to be taken as rhetorical. 🙂

    The state of things as far as the orchestral world is concerned is a bit worrisome. His rise says that yes, you can go to music school and get a job in a second, even third rate orchestra for a while, and if you can’t make it to the top by your playing abilities, start over and go to ASOL. Then you can boss around the same musicians that didn’t give you time of day when you had your instrument in hand.

    Ironically, the same day, there was news about Oregon Symphony dropping out of LAO, or the artist formerly known as ASOL, saying that it really didn’t do that much for them. Perhaps more orchestras should take that stand.

  3. Guestoo-

    It’s hard enough to get any orchestra job these days and the general level of playing is so high that I wouldn’t denigrate anyone for playing a “second, or even third rate orchestra.” I’m thankful to have the opportunity to play in a top orchestra, but I’m under no illusion that my presence is due to the lack of other qualified musicians.

    Further, playing ability and management/leadership ability are not necessarily correlated. I’m glad van Besien has found his niche – I hope he turns out to be great at it, for everyone’s sake.

    I think Oregon Symphony is a great example of an orchestra that is not hung up on discovering a “new model,” but is just going step-by-step in creating the right model for Portland. I hope their success continues.

    Henry Peyrebrune
    Cleveland Orchestra

  4. I am delighted the Oregon Symphony evaluated their relationship with the LAO and decided it didn’t bring anything of value to the Oregon Symphony. All orchestras should be making this evaluation, and hopefully coming to the same conclusion.

    After nearly 40 years in the music business, I think there is nothing more dangerous then a musician who decides to go into management. Musicians who make the transition to management frequently bring baggage from their time as a musician, and it often manifests itself in ways that are not sympathetic to musicians.

    I wonder if the AFM should start an equivalent to the LAO, a musician/labor based management training program?

  5. I think it totally depends on the person and their abilities as to whether any possible “baggage” from them maybe being a musician before moving over to management would impact to the down side their ability to be effective as orchestra manger, GM or CEO. Deborah Borda is a former musician although I understand she did not pursue a career out of playing her instrument. I am sure there are other former musicians in top orchestra leadership posts that are successful; there just might not be that many of them. I have seen some situations where the opposite happens: a “leader” comes in who has never had any experience as a musician or who lacks any real knowledge of how orchestras work but they have tons of “corporate” experience–sometimes it works but sometimes not. A balance needs to be struck between the two as I do firmly believe that it takes an understanding of both “sides” to be effective and, as important, someone who can maintain perspective yet be sensitive and understanding of musicians’ needs, desires, frustrations etc. and someone who can be a good negotiator and listener….anong many other traits but these are at the top of the list. Some musicians CAN excel at these things in the right setting.

  6. I can’t echo Henry’s comments strongly enough.

    It’s way to easy for musicians to hurl the “failed musician” epithet at managers. It’s a slippery slope that can easily apply to Union leaders and board members. (and conductors!) This art needs good managers, particularly now. As we have recently seen, great orchestras can get into serious trouble with only a few bad decisions by any or all of its stakeholders. Conversely, good decisions can make orchestras can thrive in their communities – regardless of their tier.

    In the interests of full disclosure: Matt and I were colleagues in the Louisiana Philharmonic. The LPO was then and is now a fine orchestra that has been resilient through more hardships than most organizations ever experience. Not that this even needs to be said, but Matt was an excellent player and a great colleague. If my experience working with him is any indication, the NYP just made an excellent decision.

    Adam De Sorgo
    Principal Oboe, Sarasota Orchestra
    Vice President, AFM Tampa Bay Local 427-721

  7. I agree with Adam De Sorgo that NYP made a great decision. I was fortunate enough to be on the staff of the Houston Symphony while MVB was there and he did not suffer from the “failed” musician syndrome at all. I would be surprised that anyone would even say he was a “failed” musician, especially considering how difficult it is to get into any professional orchestra these days. The fact that Matt is a “former” musician is part of what makes him so good at what he does. I wish him the best of luck in his new gig and heartily congratulate the Phil on their new ED.

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