Big Changes In Store For Chicago

The rumors were confirmed yesterday by way of official news that Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) president Deborah Rutter will become the new president of the Kennedy Center in September, 2014. This is probably some of the best news the Kennedy Center could hope for following the departure of former president Michael Kaiser but that gain comes as a loss for the CSO, which is now in the unenviable position of needing to secure a new executive leader during a time when pickings are what some might define as slim.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-066Due to Adaptistration’s Professional Disclosure policy and that the CSO is a client (details), there’s nothing much about the CSO side of things that will be discussed here. At the same time, that doesn’t apply to the Kennedy Center and Rutter’s increased influence via the dual executive role as artistic and administrative director adds an interesting variable into the mix.

Arguably (but not by much), Rutter managed to lead the CSO through a time of profound artistic transition where the institution could have easily fallen off its current perch as a destination ensemble and artistic force to be reckoned with. If she can bring the same degree to acumen to the Kennedy Center, then there is a strong likelihood that the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), which operates under the auspices of the Kennedy Center, can become a tough competitor for talent and donors with the CSO and its peer institutions.

Consequently, it will be fascinating to see where both groups are five years down the road. Perhaps the NSO will begin hiring away and/or recruiting principal talent out from under the CSO.

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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