#TBT A Messy Mystique Of Our Own Design

In the wake of the Metropolitan Opera’s PR disaster that is the James Levine disgrace, the field as a whole has a debt to pay with owning up to and dismantling the Maestro Mystique culture it worked to build and perpetuate over the last 70 years. There’s a superb article in the 3/13/18 edition of the New York Times by Zachary Woolfe that examines this very issue.

Adaptistration People 211For those unaware, conductors have been elevated to the status of all-powerful artistic leader by way of deliberate public relations campaigns. Orchestras and operas used mystique to help create the cult of celebrity around music directors, which in turn was used as effective bait for hooking large donors.

While it did help attract donors, it also created an executive leadership position with little to no oversight populated by individuals with little to no training and/or understanding about creating safe and inclusive workspaces. If you tend to believe that absolute power corrupts absolutely, then it doesn’t take much to see how this dark path cultivates the worst among its travelers.

Add to this volatile mix, the culture of for profit artist managers willing to bully, cover-up, and protect their high dollar conductor clients and you have the sorts of explosive results like the Levine disgrace.

Ideally, this issue deserves a very public examination at the upcoming Opera America and League of American Orchestras conferences. We’ll see if that transpires.

In the meantime, we’ve examined this issue on and off over the years and it’s certainly been a key aspect of the annual orchestra compensation reports.

Simply put, Maestro Mystique is undeniably one of the most influential factors that drives music director compensation to record breaking highs nearly every year. Here’s a collection of Maestro Mystique articles along with some compensation report articles that examine some of the most extreme compensation instances.

Conductors Are To Waiters As Composers Are To What?

“Culture Palaces For Air-Kiss Orgies Among The Superrich”

Just In Case You Forgot How Deep Of A Public Perception Hole We’re In

2017 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Music Directors

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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