It Appears There Is More Under The Surface At Palm Beach

In case you thought the Palm Beach Symphony – Juilliard residency kerfuffle was done, it turns out that it was only the tip of a very unhappy iceberg. The Palm Beach Daily News published an article by Jan Sjostrom on 5/26/2012 that reports growing tension between the orchestra’s musicians and its Executive Director, Michael Finn.

turn pageAccording to the article, the bulk of the labor dispute beyond the proposed residency is comprised of musician concerns that a recently hired contractor will replace many of the existing musicians along with growing tension between musicians and the ensemble’s Music Director Ramon Tebar.

Many of the musicians fear that Music Director Ramon Tebar aims to replace them with Florida Grand Opera’s players. […]Finn sent an e-mail May 2 to the musicians on its roster telling them to contact [the new contractor, Alfredo] Oliva if they want to play next season.

Tebar said the new roster will be ready by this fall, but did not respond to other questions about his dealings with the orchestra. Neither Tebar nor Oliva replied to inquiries about the hiring process.

It’s worth noting at this point that when questioned about his plans for communicating with the orchestra’s rostered musicians for the last article about Palm Beach Symphony appearing here at Adaptistration he declined to answer. That wasn’t included in the main body content of the previous article as it wasn’t directly related to the issues at hand but in light of the Sjostrom’s article, it appears to have far more bearing.

Failure To Communicate?

Sjostrom’s article reports a history of communication trouble between the orchestra’s management and musicians. In the example that eventually led to the proposed Juilliard residency, Finn claims he contacted musicians for ideas about school programs but failed to receive much interest.

“I asked them to come to me with ideas for schools concerts or if they had performing groups,” he said. “I got not one response, so I went with what I know.”

The musicians cry foul at that claim and many assert they were never contacted. At the same time, Finn is reportedly moving ahead with residency plans, sans official Juilliard participation, but avoided mentioning whether or not those plans will include existing orchestra musicians.

Disaffected musicians said they don’t recall Finn’s invitation, and that if he wanted a schools program, he should have approached them with a specific plan.

Finn said he intends to go forward with the residencies without Juilliard’s participation. He declined to say how local musicians might figure in his plan.

The article goes on to report on strained relations between the music director and musicians. The orchestra’s former concertmaster, Eliot Chapo, was quoted saying that he left due to Tebar’s behavior.

Ill feeling between the orchestra and Tebar has been simmering for some time. Some musicians claim that Tebar refuses to listen to them and wastes so much time lecturing them during rehearsals that whole sections of the music go unrehearsed. […] Eliot Chapo, the symphony’s former concertmaster, said Finn told him he’d quit his job when he acceded to Tebar’s request that he leave a February rehearsal where he objected to Tebar’s frequent interruptions.

“We’re all professionals,” said Chapo…”Some of us, like me, have been in big-name orchestras. You don’t have to be condescending and try to teach us. That does not go over well with qualified professionals.”

And for those who don’t recognize the name, Eliot Chapo is the retired concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and before that, the Dallas Symphony concertmaster, the Pittsburgh Ballet and Opera Orchestra concertmaster, and the Pittsburgh Symphony associate concertmaster.

Moving Forward

At this point, it seems as though the situation is in a holding pattern until the organization initiates the hiring process for the 2012-2013 season. If the musicians’ concerns end up being justified and the new contractor pursues a course of outsourcing and replacing many of the existing musicians, then labor relations may get very ugly.

On a brighter note, there appears to be plenty of time between now and when the orchestra intends to send out work offers in the fall for management and musicians to establish a meaningful dialogue and work through the issues and arrive at an amicable agreement.

Ideally, the group will find value in solutions that promote preventive maintenance and contribute to artistic growth over outsourcing and mass replacements as a salve for believed artistic woes. For more on that topic, set aside some time to read a pair of articles from 2010 on peer review (part 1 and part 2) along with an overview of a TEDx talk I gave in 2011 on the subject of labor relations.

What do you think; does the Palm Beach Symphony situation have more to do with individuals and process or is it the product of something else? If so, what?

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 “It Appears There Is More Under The Surface At Palm Beach”

  1. Ironic that these rumors of Maestro Tebar wishing to use FGO musicians as replacement musicians are out there, given the torrid history of the FGO and its troubled past.

    If I am not mistaken, about 4-5 years ago the existing band of FGO musicians decided to approach their management with a proposition of a collective bargaining agreement. In response, management dissolved their relationship with that band and hired a whole new set of replacements.

    This appears to be yet another example of how things are done in south Florida – a mode of operation that is ‘par for the course.’ It draws out my own impression that in Florida it is perfectly OK for arts organizations to feast on each other in order to survive.

    Meanwhile the rank-and-file – musicians AND staff – get stuck in the middle. One could easily imagine that they all end up harboring very bitter and long-term resentments towards each other and the groups they currently work for.

    Whether or not these rumors of replacement musicians are actually true or not is almost beside the point. It seems to indicate a very dark, pessimistic and antagonistic work environment, and that (looking at the bigger picture), unabashed cannibalism runs amok in south Florida.

  2. This mess as well as the FGO flap a few years back are all courtesy of the purposeful scuttling of the Florida Philharmonic 10 or so years ago. The community is getting what it deserves but the musicians are paying the real price.

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