That Odor You Smell Is Disaster Blowing In The Wind

As a board member, it’s difficult to get an independent assessment of the institution and its strategic direction during periods of labor distress. There’s a natural inclination to look inward and draw strength from colleagues while not letting too many outside voices become a distraction.

Having said that, you know things might be getting out of hand when a marquee level voice starts questioning your strategic wisdom.

Case in point, Riccardo Muti decided to weigh in on the Metropolitan Opera’s dispute with its artistic and technical labor unions, which include the orchestra musicians. The 1/12/2021 edition of operawire.com published his statement (dated 1/10/2021).

Keep in mind, this isn’t Muti’s gig and going public certainly comes with a certain amount of risk if he desires any future Met engagements. Nonetheless, here’s what he had to say.

 The closure of the Metropolitan Opera House and the dramatic situation of its wonderful Orchestra embodies a profound grief, not only for the city of New York, but for the entire cultural world. Without music and the musicians who bring it to life, civil society is doomed to spiritual poverty and barbarism. Music is not entertainment, but rather, an essential food for the mind and soul.

The Met, its Orchestra, along with its artistic team and technical crews are a heritage of humanity. The artistic world is in disbelief that the very existence of a great Orchestra like the Met’s could be in danger and even at risk of disappearing.

My appeal, as a musician, as Music Director of the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and as a citizen of the world, is to give back to the musicians of the Met the dignity which we all deserve and the hope that they can soon return to share with us their art. We must support them during this unprecedented and terrible pandemic.

The extensive and glorious history of the Met and its fabulous Orchestra cannot end in an artistic catastrophe. The world of Art, of Culture, and of Beauty would never forgive it! Moreover, future generations would suffer dearly the negative consequences.

– Maestro Muti

That’s just about the most tactful way of pointing out that as stewards of public trust, there’s a strong sentiment that you’re consciously robbing artists and technicians in your care of basic dignity…during a pandemic.

If this doesn’t give Met board members reason to pause and take stock of recent decisions and those responsible for leading them in that direction, can you imagine what it would take?

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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