There Are Firsts And Then There Are Firsts

News is aflutter now about the Minnesota Orchestra heading to Cuba to be the first US orchestra to perform there since President Obama took steps to normalize relations between the countries in December 2014. That last part is emphasized because the more this news makes the rounds, the more that point gets glossed over; so much so that in some cases it is even getting left out (although most of those instances have since been corrected).

Adaptistration People 151However, the honor of the first orchestra to perform in Cuba when sanctions were still in place goes to the Milwaukee Symphony, which spent two days on the embargoed island in November, 1999. For additional historical reference, that was the same period in time when the Elián González business was unraveling across major news networks.

We referenced that trip here back in an article from 10/11/2005 where the music director at the time, Andreas Delfs, included their Cuba tour as one of several pioneering accomplishments. Moreover, you can find a wealth of articles about the tour from 1999 including a thorough overview by Bernard Holland in the 12/20/1999 edition of the New York Times, an article by Marian Dozier in the 12/16/1999 edition of the, and even a 12/16/1999 audio segment from NPR’s David Welna (although it is old enough that it seems to only be available in Real Media format).

So yes, it is genuinely wonderful that Minnesota is headed to Cuba; just be mindful when considering applicable modifiers.

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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