Alsop Departs BSO At The End Of 20/21

Official news dropped yesterday that embattled Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) music director, Marin Alsop, will be stepping out of that position at the end of the 2020/21 season. She’ll move into the position of music director laureate and retain title as OrchKids founder.

Adaptistration People 152aThe 2/26/2020 edition of The Baltimore Sun published an article by Mary Carole McCauley that provides more details but by and large, there are no surprises. The timing is in step with music director departures and it is no secret Alsop hasn’t been lockstep with the orchestra’s executive leadership, a point highlighted in The Sun article.

The article also recounts the tremendous amount of animosity that unfolded during the search from 2007 that resulted in Alsop being offered the position.

Moving forward, the next music director could very well play a key role in making or breaking the BSO’s future. The orchestra recently released a much-anticipated 54-page internal report on the organization’s financial situation. Spoiler alert: they need a lot more money than they currently generate to continue current artistic activity.

There’s also the issue with Alsop’s compensation. She’s earned far more than peers at similarly sized budget institutions, a detail any incoming music director (and their manager) will be keen to reproduce.

If the BSO has any desire to bring that figure down, they may have to select a music director with far less experience and/or craft a very detailed job description with duties and responsibilities that are decidedly less than whatever can be verified with Alsop’s terms.

You should also keep an eye on the reporting structure. If a new music director reports to the CEO and not directly to the board, that’s a strong sign the BSO intends to not only pay the new music director less, but limit their influence on strategic planning.

Time will tell.

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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