It only took one calendar year, but the Palm Beach Symphony (PBS) may be emerging from a season of “living in interesting times” following the public announcement that executive director Michael Finn is leaving his position.
The PBS started making headlines in May, 2012 by making waves over an executive decision to bring in current students and recent graduates from The Juilliard School for concert event and in-school services. The result was a very disgruntled group of rostered musicians who felt like they were getting muscled out of work they believed they were not only capable of performing but entitled to as rostered musicians.
The entire plan fell apart in less than a month when Juilliard backed out of the proposed residency and distanced itself from the entire ordeal.
Barely a week later, additional fireworks erupted between Finn and musicians; this time around, music director Ramon Tebar was involved. This dispute focused on musician allegations that Tebar was going to replace most of them for the following season and as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.
By December, 2012 the PBS hiring controversy was back in the news following the musicians’ fears coming to fruition with most of them not being hired back for the 2012/13 season. The entire mess ended badly when Finn put his foot down by authorizing the release of a public statement asserting that the dismissed musicians were artistically unfit and since the orchestra wasn’t operating with a collective bargaining agreement that provided any checks and balances in the artistic review process, they were simply going to remove the musicians.
Fast forward six months (and the introduction of a new PBS board president) and an article by Jan Sjostrom in the 5/16/2013 edition of the Palm Beach Daily News reports Finn’s decision to leave based on “philosophical differences.”
Maintaining a labor environment of mutual respect is a prerequisite for stakeholder peace during economically tough times and periods of transition. Consequently, if there’s a lesson buried somewhere in the year long PBS debacle it is this: during good times, an old school decider style approach to stakeholder relationships is risky business; embracing it during tough times is categorically foolish.