How Troubled Orchestras Can Bounce Back And Flourish

WQXR’s latest podcast from their Conducting Business series, which focuses on issues affecting the classical music landscape, includes a discussion about the state of American orchestras and the current rash of labor disputes. The panel includes host Naomi Lewin, Graydon Royce, music critic at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Jesse Rosen, president and chief executive of the League of American Orchestras, and me.

UpSince the programs maintain a run time of approximately 30 minutes, not all of the conversation makes it into the final version and one fascinating bit that fell short of that threshold tied together a discussion thread that started off with one of the host’s initial questions asking about whether or not orchestras would benefit from improved governance at the board and executive level.

Toward the end of the program, Royce made a comment about his observation that the LA Phil is doing better than other orchestras, in part, because of the revenue stream provided by their Hollywood Bowl programs.

Royce’s observation made me recall the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy and how that group listed, among other items, as reason for their bankruptcy a series of failed initiatives originally designed to create new revenue streams and/or stabilize large expenses. For example, the Philadelphia Pops merger, the now defunct recording label, the Kimmel Center residency, and more.

When you bring all of this back to the host’s original query about the quality of governance, juxtaposing LA aside Philly is a good illustration for just how much influence having the right people, in the right place, doing the right things has on an orchestra’s current fortunes.

My thanks to WQXR, host Naomi Lewin, and producer Brian Wise for inviting me to be a part of the panel discussion and kudos to fellow panelists Graydon Royce and Jesse Rosen for helping build an interesting conversation.

Listen To The Program

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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