The Curious Case Of Currier’s Claim

There’s a terrific article by Brian Wise in the 5/20/2013 edition of WQXR.org that reports on the latest wrinkle in an ongoing lawsuit between composer Nathan Currier and the Brooklyn Philharmonic.
Adaptistration Lady Justice

  • In 2004, Currier apparently paid the Brooklyn Phil $72,000 to premiere one of his compositions (that’s just under $89k after inflation).
  • During the 4/21/04 performance at Avery Fisher Hall, Currier alleges that orchestra officials forced him to edit his piece for length during one of the intermissions because it was going into unbudgeted overtime.
  • Currier complied but the orchestra allegedly failed to follow his cuts and edited for length by their own design.
  • Currier claims the unauthorized cuts led to scathing reviews and as a result, he sued the orchestra for failing to deliver what it was contracted to provide.

Wise reports much of the suit’s merit hinges on interpretation of work rules related to intermission lengths as stipulated in the Brooklyn Phil’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

For most folks with more than a cursory length of time as an arts administrator, this entire kerfuffle is the type of problem that should have never occurred in the first place. Consequently, it would be surprising to learn if all of this wasn’t the result of some terrible communication (in all directions), lack of interest amidst a fee based earned income gig, and either sloppy CBA language or sloppy adherence to thorough CBA language (or all of the above).

If nothing else, Currier’s lawsuit demonstrates the value of embracing unambiguous language related to CBA work rules. Granted, flexibility is a popular buzzword when talking about master agreements and in some instances, it is the right approach; but it is far from an ideal universal solution.

Make sure you leave some time to read the comments after going over Wise’s article, some of them are a real hoot.

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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5 thoughts on “The Curious Case Of Currier’s Claim

  1. This is absolutely bizarre. The validity of his case stands on the complete breakdown of communication with administration. It sounds like the piece was so long it couldn’t even be completed in a single rehearsal. How did the operations director not anticipate the overtime problem?

    Also, it sounds like the piece was doomed from the start. 3 hours of variations?

  2. Exactly and totally embarrassing for the BPO. I cannot imagine ever getting into such a situation. Did these people not meet or talk ahead of time, even internally????

  3. Agreed and although it is a very touchy subject, this is ideal reason for orchestras to review internal policies regarding fee based event activity. Yes, it’s easy to treat for-hire sessions with less attention than what is usually directed to core offerings, but in the end, that only exposes everyone to these sorts of bear taps.

  4. I suppose Beethoven would have liked to have sued the orchestras for some of his premieres. On the other hand, the orchestra doing the famous premiere concert of his 4th concerto, 5th & 6th symphonies & Choral Fantasy might have wanted to sue Beethoven.

  5. Other funny element is the $89K after inflation, since the Brooklyn Phil’s prestige/value has risen over the last ten years beyond any possible inflation markers — you could not hire them today to do a three-hour performance for just $89K, assuming they’re still doing such things at all. 🙂

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