Thank you, Drew, for inviting me to be a guest contributor now for I believe the fourth time (counting TAFTO). Sometime I have played it safe by sharing thoughts on the practical (and not particularly exciting) side of orchestra management. But last year I tackled more ambitious “what the much maligned orchestra business model really is” and “whether it’s really dead” topics (plus one more related article from Drew here), and I felt like it might be useful to revisit some of these issues in light of what has happened in the past twelve months.
Sunday’s Charleston Post and Courier quotes a former board member of the Charleston Symphony as saying “The current business model has proven over 10 years not to be viable.” The recent travails and controversy at the Pasadena Symphony provoked a considerable amount of national discussion, including Terry Teachout asking, in The Wall Street Journal, “What, if anything, justifies the existence of a regional symphony orchestra in the 21st century?”
Yesterday I took a stab at describing the traditional concept of the “model” orchestra and today I ask whether this model still has validity in 2010; in doing so, I am going to make some sweeping generalizations. Please remember that, to a large extent, all orchestras are local—your orchestra is affected by and responds to the unique challenges and opportunities created by what is going on in your community. Also keep in mind that the orchestras I gave gotten to know well tend to be neither huge nor tiny; it may well be that trends are different on either extreme.
Recently it has felt like there are plenty of people out there suggesting that “the model” for how orchestras operate should be taken off life support and declared dead. This is followed by a call for orchestras to reinvent themselves as radically different (and often radically smaller) organizations. I don’t know that that this is a new phenomenon (remember “The orchestra is dead, long live the community of musicians”?).
Welcome Back! Yesterday, we talked about trying to raise money after the concerts are done. Today I want to focus in on accountability, performance reviews, and tactical planning.
One topic I hear a lot about in the orchestra world is accountability. In a very obvious way, musicians are accountable every time the orchestra plays. They are held to extremely high standards; when they make a mistake, it’s often out there for everyone to hear.