Trifonov And The NYPhil

Adaptistration People 131While away on vacation, I’ve been following the news about Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov is joining the New York Philharmonic’s board of directors. I don’t know Trifonov but have heard his recordings and think he’s certainly superb musician and based on insight from sources I trust, he’s a good person but I simply can’t figure out why this is news or what the NYPhil’s board expects Trifonov’s presence to actually contribute (beyond the obligatory, yet benign, comments in the press release).

Fortunately, Lisa Hirsch published an article on this very topic over at Iron Tongue of Midnight that says everything I could hope to express and more; as such, I highly recommend you take a moment to read her commentary. It not only asks the questions that are likely on the mind of most inside the business and she offers up some meaningful observations as well.

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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6 thoughts on “Trifonov And The NYPhil”

  1. I wonder if he was nominated and pushed by someone on the board who they need to keep sweet. It’s hard to think of a principled reason to have a guest artist on the board, especially one with no apparent background in American nonprofit governance.

  2. I think this is a pretty straightforward PR gimmick, but I’m curious as to whether having a paid artist serve on an otherwise volunteer board presents a conflict of interest. Do cultural organizations draw up specific rules in their bylaws to bypass the apparent conflict? Or maybe Trifonov is waiving his appearance fees (cue laughter)? Any insight?

    • Those are all good questions. Most boards have some sort of conflict of interest policy but they vary from group to group. And although it isn’t unusual for orchestras to do business with a board member, those transactions and relationships are usually explained in a note via the 990. In addition to the artist fees you mentioned, it will be interesting to see if they contract his services directly or go through his management, thereby incurring those related fees (anywhere from 10 to 40 percent).

      • Maybe that’s it. The Phil doesn’t technically compensate Trifonov directly; his agency/management does, so Trifonov is free to participate in ancillary activities like board service.

        Eh. Pretty boring loophole to exploit.

      • That scenario wouldn’t be a loophole per se; similar relationships exist where the conflict of interest must be disclosed along with amounts involved. For example, it a board member is a VP at a company that provides a service, that relationship and amount are typically included in the 990 note.

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