How About That, Everything Isn't All Doom And Gloom

Of course, the field is filled with success and growth and it seems that the latest installment comes by way of an article from 8/15/12 in that focuses on recent growth at the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO). The article, written by David Brewster, examines new artistic initiatives from the new music director, Ludovic Morlot, as well as increases in ticket sales and donations. What makes this good news story worth reporting is had been very critical of the SSO for a number of years.

In particular, they did a good bit of reporting during the period when the SSO hired consultant Ralph Craviso to guide the board during the 2010 labor negotiations. In short, that process nearly tore the institution apart; Crosscut described Craviso as the “New York lawyer/negotiator…who’s been playing the heavy” and his strategy being akin to asymmetric warfare. Similarly, the SSO musicians weren’t shy about expressing their displeasure with Mr. Craviso’s influence on the board.

It’s also refreshing to see that the author and the editors don’t have selective amnesia in that the 8/15/12 article liberally references the recent strife and juxtaposes it against the current conditions.

The last round, two and a half years ago, convinced many musicians that management was trying to solve the organization’s structural deficit by reducing the orchestra’s artistic aspirations drastically.

The musicians fought back, accepting still more financial cuts but encouraged when the board was finally persuaded to seek a new conductor and a new management team. This time, the mood is far more positive. Negotiations are under way in earnest, with one leader of the musicians’ team predicting there might be an agreement by the deadline or shortly after when the first concert of the season is held. “Unity of purpose” seems very much alive, so far.

It’s a long article but it’s all worthwhile so do yourself a favor and set aside some time to give it a read.

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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