The Latest Instance Of Peer Review Problems

The 3/22/2017 edition of the Indianapolis Business Journal published an article by Lindsey Erdody that reports on an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) musician is accusing music director, Krzysztof Urbansk, of age discrimination.

What’s interesting to note is Erdody’s examination of the internal process used by the music director and general manager, which reportedly contributed to current problems.

Adaptistration People 190Unfortunately, difficulties related to age discrimination and failing to follow a contractually mandated artistic review process seem to be a regularly recurring theme for the field.

In fact, we’ve examined this issue on several occasions over the past decade and they all tend to boil down to a similar root cause: the individuals responsible for initiating and implementing a peer review process are either ignorant of those details or choose to ignore them.

Some of the more well-known public instances include the Phoenix Symphony and Utah Symphony & Opera. Regardless of the outcome via the ISO’s situation, the solution for helping marginalize these issues remains unchanged from when we last examined it in 2010:

  1. Know the peer review process. Ignorance of the law does not excuse and music directors need to be familiar with their respective peer review language. Music directors, executives, and musician representatives need to have someone intimately familiar with peer review language explain and review the procedure at the onset of tenure along with regularly scheduled review periods.
  2. Follow the process. The rogue hero is a Hollywood script device, not a real-life role model. If displeased with the process in place, make those concerns known to executive management so they can be addressed in subsequent bargaining sessions. There’s no guarantee anything will change but that’s the point where change is addressed.
  3. Prevent the need for the process. It’s much easier to point fingers than be a source for inspiration to help bring a musician out of negative artistic standards cycle. The more music directors strive to create a musical environment that relies on preventive maintenance than invasive action minimizes the need for peer review; and in the few cases it is warranted, the process runs at optimum efficiency.


If you aren’t already familiar with peer review (also known as artistic review), it is the process by which an orchestra can dismiss a musician for failing to meet artistic standards.

There are a pair of articles here from 2010 that provide everything you need to know about the topic within the context of problems that arise when music directors are ignorant or choose to ignore the process.

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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