When Sanctity Risks Becoming Sanctimonious

The 5/19/18 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article by David Patrick Stearns that reports on a Philadelphia Orchestra concert being disrupted by protesters demonstrating against the orchestra’s decision to carry out their upcoming tour of Israel in the wake of deadly violence along the Gaza border.

What caught my eye was Steans’ account about how the orchestra’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, handled having the concert disrupted when protesters interrupted the performance.

Two of the protesters that entered the hall led music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to slam his baton on the podium and walk off the stage.

Adaptistration People 179This sort of reaction comes across as unnecessarily pettish from a professional that has risen to such career heights as Nézet-Séguin.

Moreover, any professional that operates in a public setting and paid a multimillion-dollar annual compensation package should be able to handle a disruption, regardless the reason, with a certain degree of grace and dignity.

Case in point, when protestors disrupted a St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert on 10/4/14 there were no reports of guest conductor Markus Stenz behaving in similar fashion.

If nothing else, this goes to serve as a reminder that we live in an age of heightened public agitation. As a result, it should come as no surprise if public protests continue to rise.

While orchestras won’t likely find themselves at the center of those controversies, their stakeholders need to be prepared to handle negative attention and interruptions with behavior suitable of distinguishing themselves, and the field as a whole, in the annals of public relations.

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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