And The Winner Is…No One

The 6/11/2012 edition of the Washington Post reports that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) failed to find an acceptable candidate as the winner of its YouTube powered soloist competition. For those unaware, the PSO’s program was not entirely unlike many reality television driven talent competitions, the goal of the competition was to locate up and coming talent not already represented by established agencies (CAMI, OPUS3, etc.).

no winnerThis was a sincerely intriguing effort in that one of the issues discussed behind closed doors in the field is the totality of control artist agencies have in determining which musicians become soloists and those who don’t.

Conductor and piano soloist Bill Eddins published an article that touches on this topic back on 4/26/2011 and he was frank in his assessments over the degree of control artist agencies exert over the field.

…which leads to Artist Management companies. They make money off of the chosen few, they push said conductors (and soloists) onto the A list, hype the living bejesus out of them, plaster their photos everywhere, charge ridiculously exorbitant fees for the briefest of appearances, and then pretend they’re doing this business a favor. I recently read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time. God help me, but all I could think of was that if the monster survived he’s probably running a management company in New York City right now. The Über-Management’s exploitation of young artists and B-listers makes the slave trade look borderline ethical.

Nonetheless, the PSO’s decision to refrain from declaring a winner might be enough to spark more than a few self satisfied chuckles among artist agents.

In the end, it would be good to see the PSO give the program another run to see if lessons learned from the first effort can produce desired outcomes.

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 “And The Winner Is…No One”

  1. An interesting outcome, to say the least. Some composition contests clearly state that the judges reserve the right not to declare a winner; I wonder if such a rule was in place for this effort? If not, many hopefuls have been led down the garden path.

    If the model was Reality TV, I can’t imagine a Dancing With The Stars or American Idol in which the process spins out and at the last minute the judges simply don’t declare a winner because none of the candidates achieved that elusive spectacular stellar level of performance. What harm would have been done to declare a winner and let that winner have his/her 15 minutes of fame performing with an orchestra? If the result was less than optimum, would “art” truly have been harmed any more than when an audience member takes the baton and “conducts” a Sousa march?

  2. I watched a few of the videos that were posted of the finalists, and I thought several of them were quite good.

    I hate to seem terribly cynical, but is it possible that the PSO was getting some pressure from agencies not to legitimize unrepresented artists?

  3. Are the videos still up anywhere? I failed to find any with a Youtube search.

    I agree that it smells – to not choose a winner is a slap to any deserving candidate that entered. Any good musician can take solace in losing to another good musician, but to lose to an un-reached “standard” is insulting, if the decision was unwarranted.

  4. While the PSO deserves some credit for reaching out via ‘new media’ for talent, the outcome may only reinforce the public perception of orchestras as ‘elitist’. So maybe nobody ‘cleared the bar’ to play on a classical subscription concert… put them on a youth or community concert.

    Granted this isn’t the first solo competition that has failed to produce a ‘winner’. There was a period when major international competitions seemed to be unwilling to ever award a gold medal. Whether this helped or hurt the industry remains to be seen. However, as has been mentioned in a prior post, all the ‘talent contest’ TV shows probably wouldn’t survive if they didn’t pick a winner. One wonders if the Olympics would be such a big deal if nobody ever ‘won the gold’.

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