Alex Ross Could Not Be More Right

There’s a wonderful article by Alex Ross in the May 16, 2022 edition of The New Yorker where the author declares the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra (SDSO) is one of “America’s Boldest Orchestras.”

Granted, he roped me in right out of the gate by framing the piece with a comparison of SDSO’s budget and the salary of Chicago Symphony’s music director.

The South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, the musical pride of Sioux Falls, has an annual budget of $2.3 million, which is microscopic by the standards of America’s leading orchestras. The Chicago Symphony spends more than that each year on Riccardo Muti’s salary. Nevertheless, the South Dakota Symphony is bolder and savvier in its programming than all but a handful of American ensembles.

The ever-sharp Ross chooses his words expertly. Describing SDSO’s programming as bold and savvy isn’t some attempt at being cagey, he goes on to walk readers through his rationale.

Since it’s a relatively short read, I won’t spoil anything else by highlighting more of the gems, just head on over and give the article a read.

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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