Author Archives: David

Musician’s address to the Annual Meeting

December 8, 2011, MDSO bassoonist Victoria King delivers remarks to DSO’s General Annual Meeting

Click HERE to view the address on the DSOM website

Good afternoon, Governing Members, Members, Board Members, Staff and Colleagues,

I am Victoria King and am currently musician liaison to the DSO’s Governing Members. I have been a Detroit Symphony Orchestra bassoonist for 28 years.  

The bassoon is often referred to as the clown of the orchestra.  In order to play the bassoon well, one must be all thumbs. My left thumb alone operates ten keys.  With all of the work our opposable thumbs have to do, we bassoonists like to think of ourselves as being a little further along the evolutionary scale than other musicians. We therefore can be seen,  not as the clowns of the orchestra, but as the crown of the orchestra.

All clowning aside, we, the musicians, would like to thank all of you for several reasons: your generosity, your dedication, your enthusiasm. Whether your support comes in the form of your time, your attendance at concerts, or your donations, we want you to know that your participation has never been — and never will be — unnoticed and unappreciated. While most of you do not appear on stage or on staff, please know that you are a vital part of this Detroit Symphony Orchestra family.

We know you remember that, at this time last year, this institution was in extreme distress. Remembering last year is imperative so that everyone can step back and learn from all of our mistakes and strengthen our resolve — together — to never allow things to get to that point again.

There have been recent activities and happenings to celebrate. This institution means so many different things to so many different people — from our educational programs to our jazz concerts, for example — but let us not forget the name under which we operate: the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra — the musicians that comprise what you see and hear onstage at Orchestra Hall, in the community, on recordings and the internet, and around the world — is the true public face of what we are all about: the performance of great music by a great orchestra. This is our primary “product” and we must never lose sight of that. 

To be honest, we are concerned and will always be concerned about that product. While we remain committed to excellence, we can’t help but wonder if we will be able to attract and retain the best musicians in the future. At present, musicians are leaving at a far greater rate than they can be replaced.  The results of recent auditions have been mostly unsuccessful, a dramatic and telling indication that there is much work to be done to repair our reputation among those exceptional musicians whom we seek to fill the many open positions in the orchestra. We must have a stable team on stage to regain — and maintain — the ensemble’s distinctive sound and performing tradition that have made us unique and respected around the world. We all must do what we can to reverse this trend if we are to maintain an orchestra that is great, an orchestra that is relevant – an orchestra of which we can all be proud.

Rebuilding – whether it is an orchestra, a city — or even trust — is difficult work, but it can be done and it must be done.  With your attention, assistance, and goodwill, together we will rebuild — one step at a time — and it will be done.

Again, we thank all of you for all of the time, resources and energy that each of you have provided on behalf of this organization.

And thank you for this opportunity to share this with you and, on behalf of my friends and colleagues of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, we wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season.


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2011 Annual Meeting Summary

Released by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on December 9, 2011

This afternoon, DSO voting members, orchestra and staff met to sum up fiscal year 2011, a year that saw both a trying work stoppage and a triumphant comeback. Below is a summary of the statistics that accompanied those realities. The full press release outlining Fiscal Year 2011 is available here.

In place of a traditional concert season, DSO programming was limited to a six-week “Spring Season” (April 9-June 6), performances which saw sold-out and standing room only audiences. The total Spring Season audience totaled 40,456 (three times the expected number), meeting the Spring Season revenue goal of $456,000. In the abbreviated season, the DSO raised $9.92 million in annual, event, and project contributions and marked the achievement of revised season contribution goals. This is in contrast to $11.8 million raised in 2009-10.

Summer collaborations with the Eleanor and Edsel Ford House attracted over 5,600 attendees, exceeding the ticket sales goal by 46 percent and resulting in two sold-out concerts. The “Salute to America” concerts at Greenfield Village attracted approximately 26,000 patrons with sales of $490,726, putting it among the top five attendance years for the 19-year-old event.

These encouraging results have continued through these first seven weeks of the 2011-12 season. Through November 30, 2011, DSO reports fundraising of $5.1 million in gifts and pledges, putting the 2011-12 campaign 74 percent ahead of last year’s campaign through the same time period. Tickets sales are up 18 percent above the first seven weeks of the 2009-10 season and revenue is up 37 percent.

The DSO is reaching a broader audience than ever. Our brand new “Live From Orchestra Hall” HD webcasts have helped us share the DSO’s music with more than 25,000 people in 35 countries since April. Previewed in the May, and kicking off this weekend, the inaugural season of the Neighborhood Concert Series is expanding our audience base to six metro Detroit neighborhoods: Beverly Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Dearborn, Grosse Pointe, Southfield and West Bloomfield Township. More than 1,200 subscriptions have been sold, 80 percent of which have no recent DSO subscription history and a third of which have no recent DSO ticketing history whatsoever. And similar to the Spring Season, roughly half of the patrons buying single tickets to DSO classical concerts are new to the DSO.

The meeting was followed by a strolling dinner, generously provided by the Board of Directors in honor of the Orchestra.


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Governing Members Orientation and Town Hall Meeting November 17, 2011

Governing Members Orientation and Town Hall Meeting
November 17, 2011

Governing members (GMs), 2 musician representatives Randy Hawes and Vicki King, DSO staff and management including President and CEO Anne Parsons and Executive Vice President Paul Hogle mingled from 7 a.m. until 8 a.m. over breakfast.

SOS/DSO Governing members in attendance were David Assemany, David Kuziemko, David Faulkner and Denise Neville. Judy Doyle was unable to attend.

Welcome and Opening Remarks:

Jan Bernick, GM Vice-Chair Philanthropy, gave the opening remarks. The Governing members concept was patterned primarily after what was done by the Chicago Symphony. Other symphonies such as Atlanta and Baltimore had influence as well. The intention of the group is to present opportunities for leadership on behalf of the DSO. Active participation is a “huge part” of the concept behind the Governing members. GMs also are voting members. The DSO’s Annual Meeting is scheduled for December 8th, 2011.

The Governing members had over 50 new members last May and added another 34 this season.

Jan asked everyone present to introduce themselves and give a brief statement regarding their connection to the DSO. While this did take some time, it became very clear that this group is comprised of enthusiastic supporters of the DSO with a long history of involvement who were glad to be there in spite of the very early start time of 7 a.m.

Introduction of GM Committees:

Several committees comprise the GMs with Arthur T. O’ Reilly serving as the Chairperson. The committees and their corresponding Vice Chairs are as follows:

Communications – Frederick (Fritz) J. Morsches Build awareness of GMs, assist with DSO website and other written materials; in development is the GM newsletter High Notes

Membership – Maureen D’Avanzo Bring new members into the fold, look for prospective hosts for future GM functions

Engagement – Bonnie Larson Offer different events and opportunities for governing members to come together

Outreach – James Farber Outreach with musicians and the community; Dave Assemany is Chair of musician outreach

Philanthropy – Janice Bernick

Governance – Mary Mansfield This will help establish ways for GMs to communicate ideas to the board possibly through quarterly town meetings, for example. Since it is new, the scope and responsibilities are still being developed.

Each Vice Chair gave brief overviews of their respective areas of responsibilities and invited GM participation on their committees.

Special Presentation by Vince Ford, DSO Digital Consultant

DSO Consultant Vince Ford also worked this past year as Executive Director for Media Development for the New York Philharmonic. He restated the goal announced at the DSO’s December 2010 Annual Meeting which is “to make the DSO the most accessible orchestra on the the planet.”

During the past year, this goal was accomplished through patron engagement, digital distribution and culture change that includes, for example, lowering the price of ticket sales, the DSO Sound Card for students, Detroit’s Rush ticket program.

Under “Digital Distribution,” the DSO accomplished the following:
1. Upgrades to the website to make it more professional, user friendly
2. New Email Program: DSO Concert Insider sends out program notes and other concert announcements via email prior to upcoming concerts.
3. DSO YouTube channel
4. Mobile phone application: DSO To Go
5. Webcasts “Live From Orchestra Hall” Latest numbers show that these webcasts have been watched by 3,000 viewers and 30 countries world-wide

Remarks by Anne Parsons:

Anne Parsons spoke briefly about the how exciting, rapidly changing and fast-paced these times are for the DSO. Along with other issues facing the DSO, she stressed that “retention and attraction of top talent is most important.”

Due to lack of time, she was unable to address questions, but promised that all questions were important and would be answered at a later time. She turned the floor over to Paul Hogle.

Breakout Discussions – Paul Hogle

Paul cited some statistics about the recent successes of the DSO: Concert attendance is up 40 percent over 2009-10 pre-strike levels; 16 percent increase in classical subscriptions; the community concerts netted 1000 subscriptions in 30 days with an 80 percent of these subscribers having no former history of subscribing.

Paul Hogle organized the tables into groups of four and assigned each table a topic to be discussed amongst the GMS who were given 15 minutes.

These topics were as follows:

Goal No. 1: Artistically & educationally vital while becoming financially viable, resulting in being vigorously celebrated
(Cultivate DSO’s artistry/sound, build music education programs, articulate blueprint for financial viability, attract and retain outstanding artistic, volunteer and executive talent, capitalize on the DSO’s existing/emerging critical acclaim)

Goal No. 2: A Community Supported Orchestra
(Engage in activities that increase the value of the DSO to Detroit and community, grow DSO patron base, become patron-centric institution)

Goal No. 3: The most accessible orchestra on the planet
(Launch neighborhood series across suburban Detroit and reach a worldwide network through media, webcasts and other digital outlets)

Goal No. 4: Playing our part as a community gathering place sounding brightly from the Woodward Corridor
(Realize vision of the Max M. Fisher Music Center and optimize Orchestra Hall)

Each table met, discussed ideas regarding these goals and then presented those ideas to the group.

The meeting adjourned on schedule at 9:30 a.m.


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DSO Aftermath

This article first appeared in the 4th quarter 2011 edition of Keynote, the official publication of the Detroit Federation of Musicians.  It is reprinted here with permission.

SYMPHONY CORNER

DSO Aftermath

by Doug Cornelsen

In an article last September 23rd titled Debt Threatens DSO Turnaround, Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press  rehashed the problem of the flawed financing of “The Max,” the lavish 2003 addition to Orchestra Hall which has imposed an annual three-million dollar cost over-run on the DSO’s operating budget.  Mr. Stryker’s article tendentiously presents “The Max” money problem – a consortium of five banks holding a $54 million loan on which DSO management has long defaulted – as a new hurdle facing the DSO organization.  In reality, the overwhelming finance debts on “The Max” are at least eight years old.  Nearly two years ago, this column pointed out that, in the face of their self-created debt, management appeared alarmingly willing to cut orchestra costs as a means of saving money, thereby risking artistic standards.  In view of subsequent events, this Symphony Corner observation has assumed the understatement proportions of Noah saying, “It looks like rain.”

The 2010-11 DSO strike was terribly destructive artistically, a fact unmentioned in Mr. Strykers article.  Taking severe hits in the strike-ending contract were not only salary but also the size of the orchestra and length of season.  From a pre-strike contractually-required size of 95 musicians, the orchestra is now down to no more than 70.  Auditions are planned this season to fill only several of these positions.  (The world’s finest orchestras usually number slightly over 100 musicians.)  The DSO’s historic 52-week season will be 40 weeks this contract year.  The events surrounding the strike have caused some wonderful DSO musicians to leave for positions with 52-week orchestras — there are at least fifteen in America — and there has been a precipitous number of retirements.  The supreme irony is that for several million dollars, a mere fraction of the cumulative budget loss on “The Max,” the contract could have been settled with no strike and no musical damage to the orchestra.  When, during the strike, picketing DSO musicians chanted, “Built the Max, on our backs!” they were not kidding.

Michael Kaiser could be accurately called Dean of American Arts Managers. His stellar career rests on dramatic rescues of a number of arts organizations that were floundering when he took over.  President of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. since 2001, last year Mr. Kaiser founded an Arts Management Institute to train arts administrators.  A Kaiser precept for arts boards experiencing financial trouble is that they must not cut costs in a manner which damages their product nor their public reputation.  This frequent mistake, he says, precipitates more of a downward spiral, making ticket sales and fund raising even more difficult.  Mr. Kaiser also dislikes the tendency of arts boards to blame unions for their problems:  “It is impossible to blame unions for the lack of revenue for arts organizations when so many are doing such a poor job of managing themselves.”

Seen from a Kaiser perspective, DSO management’s post-strike thinking, as described in Mr. Stryker’s article, is eye-brow-raising to say the least.  DSO leaders, wrote Mr. Stryker, had three goals in mind as a means of “fixing the troubled finances for good…the musicians’ contract, the real estate debt and the endowment.”  Management considers the musicians’ contract successfully completed, but is now concerned about their ability to successfully fund raise with a $54 million unpaid loan hanging over their heads.  A Kaiser consultant might point out that six months of negative strike publicity culminating in a musically denigrative orchestra contract, followed up with a prominent news article trumpeting the DSO’s massive bank indebtedness, is not an optimal way for management to achieve their third goal, substantially rebuilding the sadly depleted endowment. It must also be mentioned (though Mr. Stryker doesn’t) that the DSO board’s reappointment of the manager who led the strike does nothing to inspire musician confidence in turnaround success.

In spite of the front office, however, the orchestra is back to work for the winter season and, with a little effort, it’s possible to take a glass-half-full approach to the post-strike DSO.  As the old saying goes, it could be worse. Even with many DSO musicians gone the orchestra sounds thoroughly professional, partially due to the excellent skills of the host of subs now on stage.**  And there are few venues anywhere more sonically gratifying, for both performers and audience, than Orchestra Hall.  So listeners at DSO concerts will predictably hear creditable performances.

For musicians, if — IF! — management can keep the post-strike contract going, Detroit will still have an orchestra which offers a livable wage.  Though no longer upper echelon, it will remain an appealing opportunity for musicians direct from college or from smaller orchestras.  Especially in these times of shrinking employment, musicians who join the DSO during the next several years will be happy to have a decent job and will not be embittered by pre-strike memories.  For them, unpaid summers off, for example, will not represent management’s long-term failure to rebuild a quality summer season, but a time to play festivals elsewhere, or, with careful budgeting, to relax, travel, pursue hobbies — or practice for 52-week orchestra auditions.

And as far as that horrible Max debt is concerned, there is already a backstage rumor that the board is going to attempt some decisive action before year’s end.  But glass-half-full or not, it’s impossible to feel very good about the DSO these days. To try to do that, we need to look farther into the future, when some of the DSO leaders, to use Mr. Stryker’s term, take actions which set the Detroit Symphony back on a road of significant recovery and finally recreate an organization of which all can be proud.  Accompanying this vision of the future is Emily Dickinson’s famous poetic description of hope, which perches in the soul, and sings the song without the words, and never stops at all.

*    It could have been worse indeed.  Management’s most noxious proposals were deflected at the settlement negotiations by the DSO musicians negotiating committee along with Local 5 President Gordon Stump and Attorney Leonard Leibowitz.

** Some of the substitute musicians are Syracuse Symphony members, whose board of directors  demolished their orchestra with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy last April.    


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Update – November 5, 2011

On October 5, the DSO Governing Members were invited to a reception at the home of DSO Board Member and Volunteer Council President Janet Ankers and her husband Norm Ankers. SOS/DSO Governing Members Judy Doyle, David Assemany, David Kuziemko, and Cornelia Pokrzywa were in attendance. David Faulkner, Melissa McBrien and Denise Neville were not able to attend due to scheduling conflicts. When Denise called the DSO to decline the invitation, she was surprised to find out there was a wait list due to limited space. We hope that Governing Members meetings are as well attended as the parties.

So far there is nothing to report regarding Governing Members activity. The first meeting is on Thursday November 17th. We are looking forward to engaging in dialogue with the other Governing Members. At the meeting we will address the concerns and questions you have brought to us, and report back to you. SOS is prepared to participate fully once the Governing members have decided how to best support the DSO.

In the meantime, SOS continues to meet with DSO board members, management and staff, and musicians. As a result, SOS is developing a better understanding of the inner workings of the DSO as an organization.
Please stay tuned. SOS has faith in the DSO’s vision for the Governing members. We will report on future developments as they unfold.

Gratefully,
Your SOS/DSO Governing Members


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Governing Members

Thanks to the wonderful generosity of our members, SOS has met its first fundraising goal. Your combined donations have allowed SOS to sponsor seven seats among the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s brand-new leadership group, the Governing Members.

We are eager to get to work with the other Governing Members in the “substantive, hands-on” way that is the DSO’s intention for this group.

As an SOS member, you are encouraged to give us your input, ideas and feedback so that we can take it to the DSO via this new group.

Come back to this page for information on Governing Member activities.  We will post updates as soon as we have any information to share. You can still donate to support our effort.  Remember, all donations will go directly to the DSO through SOS, giving our members a voice in the future of the orchestra.


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Cut Time Simfonica at the Carr Center


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

DSO ANNOUNCES INAUGURAL COMMUNITY SUPPORT MONTH

(DETROIT, November 1, 2011) — The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) has announced November, 2011 as its inaugural Community Support Month, which will kick off with the opening of the DSO’s Paradise Jazz Series on Thursday, Nov. 3. This effort marks the first concert-based fundraiser in DSO history.

As the DSO establishes its identity as a community-supported orchestra, Community Support Month is aimed at greatly expanding the Annual Fund donor base and providing each ticket buyer with more meaningful opportunities to make Annual Fund gifts to the DSO.

“I think everyone understands that ticket sales account for a smaller and smaller portion of our annual operating costs and the DSO’s vitality and sustainability relies heavily on the engaged support of individual members from our community,” said Anne Parsons, DSO president and CEO. “Investment in the DSO through participation in our Annual Fund validates that what we do for music, musicians and audiences alike truly matters. This regular support also helps keep the lights on and our education programs running throughout the year and for years to come.”

Concert goers can make a contribution via envelope, pledge card, by phone, or even by text from anywhere, including right from Orchestra Hall. Each donor will receive access to the Herman and Sharon Frankel Donor Lounge, on the evening of their gift and a parking voucher. November is the first of two Community Support Months this season. The second will take place in May, 2012.

Videos of board members, donors and Detroit moguls will open each concert during Community Support Month, with the featured patron explaining why they support the DSO and what role the organization plays in the future of Detroit.

Community Support Month festivities are scheduled the following concerts.

November 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27

December 2-4

May 3, 4, 6, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19

About the DSO

The internationally acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the fourth-oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, is known for trailblazing performances, visionary maestros, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and an unwavering commitment to Detroit. Esteemed conductor Leonard Slatkin, called “America’s Music Director” by the Los Angeles Times, became the 12th Music Director of the DSO during the 2008-09 season. The DSO offers a performance schedule that includes Classical, Pops, Jazz, Young People’s, Neighborhood concerts and festivals. The DSO makes its home in historic Orchestra Hall, one of America’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, and actively pursues a mission to impact and serve the community through music. For more information visit www.dso.org.

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Detroit Symphony Orchestra Musicians

The Musicians. . . Orchestra Roster

These links are taken from, and will direct you to, the webpage of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Musicians.  Check out their excellent webpage at http://www.detroitsymphonymusicians.org

_____________________________________________________________

FIRST VIOLIN BASSES FRENCH HORN
Kimberly A. Kaloyanides Kennedy Alexander Hanna+ Karl Pituch+
Acting Concertmaster Stephen Molina++ Bryan Kennedy
Hai-Xin Wu Maxim Janowsky Corbin Wagner
Assistant Concertmaster Linton Bodwin Mark Abbott
Beatriz Budinszky* Stephen Edwards David Everson++^
Marguerite Deslippe-Dene* Craig Rifel
Elias Friedenzohn* Marshall Hutchinson TRUMPETS
Joseph Goldman* Richard Robinson Stephen Anderson#
Laurie Landers Goldman* Kevin Good
Eun Park* HARP William Lucas
Adrienne Rönmark* Patricia Masri-Fletcher+
Laura Rowe* TROMBONES
Greg Staples* FLUTES Kenneth Thompkins+
LeAnn Toth* Philip Dikeman#^ Nathaniel Gurin++
Sharon Wood Sparrow Randall Hawes
SECOND VIOLINS Jeffery Zook
Adam Stepniewski++ BASS TROMBONE
Alvin Score PICCOLO Randall Hawes
Lilit Danielyan*^ Jeffery Zook
Ron Fisher TUBA
Hong-Yi Mo* OBOES Dennis Nulty +
Robert Murphy* Donald Baker+
Bruce Smith* Shelley Heron TIMPANI
Joseph Striplin* Brian Ventura++ Brian Jones+^
Marian Tanau* Geoffrey Johnson §
PERCUSSION
VIOLAS ENGLISH HORN Ian Ding++^
Alexander Mishnaevski+
James VanValkenburg++ LIBRARIANS
Caroline Coade CLARINETS Robert Stiles+
Glenn Mellow Theodore Oien+ Ethan Allen
Shanda Lowery-Sachs Douglas Cornelsen
Hart Hollman Laurence Liberson++ LEGEND
Han Zheng Shannon Orme +   Principal
Hang Su ++  Assistant Principal
Catherine Compton E-FLAT CLARINET #   Acting Principal
Laurence Liberson ##  Acting Assistant Principal
VIOLINCELLO ^   Extended Leave/Sabbatical
Robert deMaine+ BASS CLARINET *   These members may
Marcy Chanteaux++ Shannon Orme voluntarily revolve seating
John Thurman within the section on a regular
Robert Bergman* BASSOONS basis.
Carole Gatwood* Robert Williams+ §   African-American Orchestra
Haden McKay* Victoria King Fellow: Made possible by the
Úna O’Riordan* Michael Ke Ma++ National Endowment for the
Paul Wingert* Marcus Schoon Arts.

CONTRA BASSOON
Marcus Schoon

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Interview with Detroit Symphony violinist: “We went on strike because we didn’t want the orchestra to be destroyed”

By Shannon Jones
10 October 2011

One year ago, on October 5, 2010, the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) struck against massive concession demands, including a more than 30 percent pay cut and drastic changes in work rules. The strike ended in April of this year, with musicians forced to accept a large pay cut and other concessions.
DSO musicians picketing on the first day of the strike

On the anniversary of the walkout, this reporter and WSWS Arts Editor David Walsh interviewed DSO violinist Marian Tanau at Orchestra Hall in downtown Detroit. The Romanian-born musician, a member of the negotiating committee for the striking musicians, reflected on the strike and the current situation facing the orchestra.

The DSO strike took place under conditions of a general and ongoing attack on arts funding in the US and internationally. Faced with declining ticket sales and falling private and corporate donations orchestras and opera companies are continuing to impose deep cuts.

Since the end of the DSO strike, the world famous Philadelphia Orchestra has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and musicians at Colorado Symphony have been forced to accept an effective 14 percent pay cut in the face of a financial crisis at that orchestra. In June, members of the Pittsburgh Symphony agreed to a new three-year contract containing a 9.7 reduction in wages.

Meanwhile, management of the DSO seems determined to pursue the same reckless course that provoked the strike last year. In June, the DSO Board of Directors announced the renewal of the contract of DSO President Anne Parsons for three-years. The management team headed by Parsons spearheaded the attack on musicians. While demanding drastic cuts from the musicians, Parsons received some $400,000 in pay and expenses in 2009.

CLICK HERE to see the entire article and interview with DSO violinist Marian Tanau…


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DSO announces Soundcard all access student pass

To purchase, call the Max M. Fisher Music Center Box Office at 313.576.5111.

Available Concerts will be posted on September 24, 2011.

* Soundcard is valid for Classical, Pops, and Paradise Jazz Series concerts performed in Orchestra Hall. Membership is valid from October 8, 2011 – June 17, 2012. Tickets are issued up to two weeks prior to each concert. Cardbearer must present a valid student ID to will call attendant or usher upon arrival. The name on the student ID must match the name on the cardbearer’s account. Cards and tickets are non-transferrable. Admittance is subject to availability and seating is at the discretion of the Box Office.


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Help SOS work with DSO Leadership to save the orchestra!

Save Our Symphony is committed to preserving the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as one of the world’s finest. Unfortunately, the current state of the organization is such that it is not able to support the orchestra at that level. The decisions of the last several years demonstrate that DSO leadership puts the institution ahead of the orchestra. This has—and will likely continue to—result in an exodus of musicians leaving the orchestra, with those remaining unsure of their future and the future of the DSO itself. The strike and cancellation of nearly the entire 2010-11 season inspired many DSO fans like you to ask what they could do to ensure the future of the DSO.

We believe that together we can make a difference:

The members of the DSO Board of Directors shape the institution and sustain it through extraordinary donations of both dollars and time. We applaud them for this, and would like to offer them the benefit of a new perspective: that of ordinary audience members. To do this, we need to obtain seats on the Board and among the DSO Governing Members. Individually, most audience members do not have the resources to obtain these seats as they come with a substantial financial commitment. Together, we can accomplish this goal, build our voice, and make a difference.

If you want to have a voice in the future of the DSO, please consider making a contribution to SOS. Any amount that you are able to give is welcome. These dollars will go directly to the DSO, funding positions for SOS members among the Governing Members and Board of Directors. Your contribution not only gives you, through SOS, a voice at the organizational level of the DSO, it also helps DSO, Inc., to rebuild. As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity, all contributions to Save Our Symphony, Inc are tax-deductible according to law.

SOS will work actively and collaboratively with the DSO leadership to bring about the changes necessary to return the DSO to its former level of artistry and excellence and keep it there for future generations. SOS will hold quarterly meetings where contributors at any level will be welcome to bring their concerns, suggestions and experiences to our notice. SOS members on the DSO Governing Board or the DSO Board will then take your input to the DSO.

This is your opportunity to help ensure the future of one of Detroit’s cultural gems. Through the support of your voice and dollars, SOS will continue its mission: “To promote and support the world-class artistic excellence and stature of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and to hold its management and board of trustees accountable for their fiduciary responsibilities to the public trust including the preservation of this great orchestra and its future.”

Please help SOS bring the voice of the audience to the DSO. Contributions can be made to:

Save Our Symphony
PO Box 2403
Birmingham, Michigan 48012

Donations may also be made with your credit card or PayPal by following this link:

Support the DSO!

Thank you for your continued support. We hope you will consider a donation to SOS. Remember, your donation will go directly to support the Detroit Symphony Orchestra!


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DSO Governing Members Program

From the DSO website:

Launched this spring, the new Governing Members program has attracted over 20 new members who join 85 legacy donors at the $2,500 and up level. Inspired by the DSO’s movement to address the deeper engagement of its leadership-giving patrons, the majority of these donors graduated to the $2,500 level from the $400 and up range of giving. Seven of these donors had either not made a gift in recent years or had never given a previous gift to the DSO’s Annual Fund. As the Spring Season concluded, Governing Member giving exceeded $1 million.


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Detroit Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors

As of August 13, 2011
This information is taken from the DSO Website

Stanley Frankel, Chairman of the Board

Executive Committee

Paul M. Huxley, First Vice Chair

Marlies Castaing, Second Vice Chair

Glenda D. Price, Ph.D., Secretary

Arthur A. Weiss, Treasurer

Lloyd E. Reuss, Officer At-large

Clyde Wu, M.D., Officer At-large

Phillip Wm. Fisher, Officer At-large

Lillian Bauder, Ph.D.

Penny B. Blumenstein

Lynne Carter, M.D.

Ron Fischer

Herman Frankel

Ralph J. Gerson

Alfred R. Glancy III, Chairman Emeritus

Kelly Hayes

Dr. Arthur L. Johnson

Richard P. Kughn

Bonnie Larson

Melvin A. Lester, M.D.

Arthur C. Liebler

David Robert Nelson

James B. Nicholson, Chairman Emeritus

Bruce D. Peterson

Bernard I. Robertson

Jack A. Robinson

Alan E. Schwartz

Barbara Van Dusen

Directors

Ismael Ahmed

Rosette Ajluni

Robert Allesee

Daniel Angelucci

Janet Ankers, Volunteer Council President

Floy Barthel

George J. Bedrosian, Esq.

Mrs. Mandell L. Berman

Robert H. Bluestein

John A. Boll, Sr.

Richard A. Brodie

Marlies Castaing

Gary L. Cowger

Peter D. Cummings, Chairman Emeritus

Stephen R. D’Arcy

Maureen T. D’Avanzo

Karen Davidson

Peter J. Dolan

Walter E. Douglas, Jr.

Linda Dresner

Marianne Endicott

Jennifer Fischer

Sidney Forbes

Laura L. Fournier

Mrs. Harold Frank

Barbara Frankel

Paul Ganson*

Herman Gray, M.D.

Brigitte Harris

Gloria Heppner, Ph.D.

Nicholas Hood III

Ronald M. Horwitz

Sharad P. Jain

Mark Jannott

Renee Janovsky

Chacona Johnson

Michael J. Keegan

The Hon. Damon J. Keith

William P. Kingsley

Harold Kulish

Harry A. Lomason II

Ralph J. Mandarino

Florine Mark

David N. McCammon

Lois A. Miller

Ed Miller

James C. Mitchell, Jr.

Sean M. Neall

Faye Alexander Nelson

Arthur T. O’Reilly, Chairman, Governing Members

Robert E. L. Perkins, D.D.S.

William F. Pickard

Marilyn Pincus

Stephen Polk

Marjorie S. Saulson

Lois L. Shaevsky

Mrs. Ray A. Shapero

Wei Shen

Jane Sherman

Shirley R. Stancato

Stephen Strome

Michael R. Tyson

Ann Marie Uetz

David Usher

Arthur A. Weiss, Esq.

R. Jamison Williams

John E. Young

Lifetime Members

Samuel Frankel†

David Handleman, Sr.†

* Ex Officio

† Deceased


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Detroit in the Crosshairs

by Haden Mckay, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Click here to see the article on the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians Website

On April 9, 2011 the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra returned to the stage of Orchestra Hall for the first of two triumphant concerts. Just one day earlier, a vote to ratify the DSO’s new four-year contract had brought an official end to one of the longest strikes in North American orchestra history. Readers of Senza Sordino and visitors to the website detroitsymphonymusicians.org are already well aware of the past year’s events in the Motor City. The six-month work stoppage took a painful toll on the members of the orchestra and their families as well as Detroit’s music lovers, and the future of the venerable institution is far from assured. At the same time, the members of the DSO hope that their struggle will have done more than just help one orchestra survive a crisis. Ideally, symphony boards and managements everywhere seeking to tame deficits will draw valuable lessons from Detroit about what not to do.

While blessed with an outstanding concert hall and proud musical traditions, the Detroit Symphony had historically faced financial challenges as it maintained top-ten status in the United States. When the world financial crisis hit in 2008, the DSO was already weakened by a narrowing of its donor base, declining ticket revenue and the burden of real estate debt from its 2003 hall expansion. Management asked to reopen the orchestra’s contract during 2009, but discussions broke down when management refused to consider an agreement with any extension in term or even partial recovery of givebacks. The stage was set for a confrontation upon contract expiration in August 2010.

Given the magnitude of the economic downturn in Detroit, musicians knew that they would need to sacrifice to keep the DSO viable. The fundamental problem in what played out—and what turned a concessionary contract negotiation into a conflagration—was the decision of the DSO board and management to use the crisis to try to impose sweeping changes on the institution and working life of the musicians. At various times in the negotiations the musicians were confronted with proposals to eliminate tenure, remove the librarians from the bargaining unit, hire and retain new musicians at sharply lower wages, remove orchestra representatives from board committees, freeze the orchestra’s pension plan while withdrawing from theAFM-DPF plan, perform unlimited free media services, and institute an extreme version of service conversion (developed without any musician input although a comprehensive strategic plan had just been jointly written and adopted) up to and including assignment to non-musical duties for weekly scale.

Predictably, DSO members were unified in their opposition to such tactics. They saw a threat not only to their own institution and working lives, but to professional musicians everywhere. Once the strike began on October 4, 2010, the musicians attracted public attention and support from Detroit and far beyond. Most observers seemed to realize that too-drastic cuts, especially combined with harmful changes which didn’t even address the money problems, would make it impossible to retain and attract the top musicians who would ensure the DSO‘s continued high quality. With the help of generous guest conductors and soloists, the musicians organized and performed more than twenty successful concerts in and around Detroit. Local music lovers made contributions and formed a powerful audience advocacy group, Save Our Symphony, which is still very active post-settlement. Overwhelming financial contributions from fellow professional musicians, largely ICSOM, OCSM and ROPA members, made a huge difference in enabling DSO members to continue their struggle. President Gordon Stump and Secretary-Treasurer Sue Barna-Ayoub of Local 5 provided unhesitating and seamless support.

Meanwhile, the bargaining process itself was at a near standstill. Despite the expertise of Counsel Leonard Leibowitz and attempts to assist from community leaders and politicians such as Governor Jennifer Granholm and Senator Carl Levin, months passed without any progress. In the end, the involvement of business leaders Dan Gilbert and Matt Cullen seemed to break the deadlock, and a tentative agreement was reached on April 3. Of course, by then most of the season had been lost and millions of dollars in ticket revenue refunded to patrons. Several orchestra members had taken other positions. Trust within the institution had been badly damaged.

The new DSO contract is detailed in an ICSOM settlement bulletin. While it is deeply concessionary, the agreement does not contain any of the proposals from management’s grab bag listed above. It is frustrating to realize that without those unreasonable demands, the entire strike and its fallout could probably have been avoided. Essentially, the bargaining team spent the better part of a year fighting off changes that should never have been put on the table. The DSO musicians were glad to ratify the agreement and to bring their utmost professionalism back to the stage. The future will bring continued challenges. One major goal will be to bring about greater board understanding of how to preserve and enhance a great symphony orchestra.

The musicians of the DSO owe a great debt of thanks to their fellow ICSOM members and leaders, as well as the national AFM officers who provided support at key moments. We are honored to be the host orchestra of the 2011 ICSOM Conference this August and look forward to meeting many friends and colleagues.


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Detroit-Brooklyn discussion expands on NPR

Click here for the story on Model D – Detroit’s online news magazine

Is Detroit poised to become the next, gulp, Brooklyn (by that, we guess they mean a welcoming environment for creatives and cutting-edge entrepreneurs)? NPR”s Tell Me More interviewed Detroit native and 71 Pop founder Margarita Barry and new Midtown resident Scott Harrison, the director of patron engagement at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Their message to Michel Martin listeners? While Detroit’s problems are oft-covered and obvious, the quality of living in neighborhoods like Midtown is comparable, at least, to that found in any other cosmopolitan American city — at a fraction of the cost.

Excerpt:

So, I mean, I think within a 15 to 20 minute walk of where I live, I can find just anything, whether it’s food, whether it’s culture, whether it’s entertainment, whether it’s shopping. You know, we don’t have the big box stores. If I need a Target, sure, I’ve got to get in the car and drive, but, I mean for day to day, six out of seven days of the week I’m sufficient and content just in my area.

Listen to the story here.


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Not breaking news (from Detroit)

non divisi
by Frank Almond
July 6, 2011

Click here to see the original article on insidethearts.com

Yesterday, the Detroit News published a piece by Lawrence Johnson that examines some of the continuing problems at the Detroit Symphony, especially the ongoing trend of departing musicians. I was especially intrigued by the quotes from Tony Woodcock and DSO Executive Director Anne Parsons, who’s management style reminds me more and more of Dick Cheney. Or maybe Brownie.

For example, Ms. Parsons proclaims that the departures and resignations “are individual decisions of people who chose not to make a commitment to Detroit and to the DSO. People who don’t want to stay with it shouldn’t stay with it.” Perhaps it would be helpful for Ms. Parsons to tally up the collective years of service of the musicians that have already left, and then define the word “commitment”. Ms. Boisvert performed as concertmaster for 23 years, then made an “individual decision” to bail out before the race to the bottom was complete. It seems to me that these musicians aren’t leaving for insignificant reasons, they’re leaving because they believe the current top management is populated with incompetent jerks who don’t care if they stay or go, who publicly stated as much during the strike, and who’s behavior (and public statements) continue to reflect that attitude. Further, the musicians were presumably as astonished as everyone else when the DSO board decided to extend Ms. Parsons’ contract, thus validating the pervasive culture of non-accountability that is the hallmark of so many failed businesses.

Tony Woodcock seems to inadvertently point the finger at DSO management as well when he points out the “need to address the long-term financial health of the organization, which was not resolved at the end of the strike. In particular, the management of substantial debt, the need to grow a much depleted endowment and to build sustainable sources of income at the box office and with their major donors.” He goes on to emphasize the importance of ”rebuilding relationships within the organization — musicians, board, staff — which have been severely affected, so that some sort of alignment comes into place. This will give them the foundation for the next major strategy: their relationship with their community.”

All very true. And each issue he cites is a direct result of catastrophic management decisions over many years, culminating with the labor dispute. Those problems don’t snowball because the musicians show up every day and play really well.

During the strike the DSO management and board chair often emphasized how easy it would be to replace any departing musicians, since (to them anyway) the pool of great talent is so large. Aside from the stunning ignorance of that idea, I wonder how much of that “great talent” will be attracted to an institution that many feel has become the shining example of a “new model” to avoid.


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Lack-of-trust-remains-an-issue-at-DSO

Lawrence B. Johnson/ Special to The Detroit News

From The Detroit News: Click here to see the article on detnews.com

When Detroit Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Emmanuelle Boisvert suddenly announced her resignation in May, principal second violinist Geoffrey Applegate saw 25 years of artistic commitment go up in smoke.

“After Emmanuelle’s last performance, I went home and burst into tears,” said Applegate, a 31-year DSO veteran who became the latest in a spurt of departures from the orchestra when he announced his retirement June 21.

“It was like getting divorced or death. Emmanuelle and I played together for 25 years,” he said. “You become psychic. You could be blindfolded and know what each other was going to do. I’m not sure I want to go through all that again. We had one of the strongest string sections in the world.”

During the six-month strike and its aftermath, what had been a standard trickle of turnover for reasons other than retirement — one musician or none leaving each year between 1990 and 2007 — has become a surge.

In the first six months of this year, six musicians have resigned, and two more have retired. Musicians who left, as well as others who remain, cite a pervasive lack of trust in management, uneasiness about the debt-ridden orchestra’s future and anger at music director Leonard Slatkin for what is perceived as his sympathy with management during the strike.

Among the disaffected is violinist Lilit Danielyan, who recently resigned after 11 years with the DSO. She cited a lack of mutual trust and respect between the musicians and DSO President Anne Parsons as a primary reason for her departure.

“The atmosphere at the DSO is not optimistic or enthusiastic,” she said. “(The orchestra) is poorly managed, and I am afraid that very soon the DSO will become a community or regional orchestra. But management is acting like nothing has happened. It is heartbreaking.”

As for signs of bad management, Danielyan said: “The evidence is right in front of our eyes. The musicians are leaving. Show me any top 10 orchestra in U.S. where musicians are leaving and retiring so rapidly.”

Parsons acknowledged the tension between management and musicians and said a certain amount of upset goes with any transition. The departures, she said, “are individual decisions of people who chose not to make a commitment to Detroit and to the DSO. People who don’t want to stay with it shouldn’t stay with it.”

In recent meetings with the musicians, Parsons said, she and Slatkin “both told the orchestra how much we cared and how we wanted to move ahead together. Everyone has been through a very difficult time. Are there wounds? I know there are.

“So you work together,” she said. “You try to open communication.”

DSO board member Mel Lester, a retired Franklin physician, endorses Parsons, whose contracted recently was extended.

“She’s a devoted and competent executive who knows the business and cares about the musicians,” he said. “When you go through these rough times, someone is going to take the brunt. I’d say 20 percent of the musicians are unhappy. The unhappiest speak the loudest.”

Tony Woodcock, president of the New England Conservatory and former president of the Minnesota Orchestra, sees the spurt in departures from the DSO as an indication that “financial reality and organizational challenges facing the (DSO) undermine optimism for the future.

“Their immediate strategy needs to address the long-term financial health of the organization, which was not resolved at the end of the strike,” he said. “In particular, the management of substantial debt, the need to grow a much depleted endowment and to build sustainable sources of income at the box office and with their major donors.”

The DSO is in negotiations with a consortium of banks over a $54 million real estate bond that’s in default, while the unrestricted portion of the orchestra’s endowment has fallen to $16.6 million from $19 million in February. Endowment principal has been used to make up more than $9 million in revenue shortfalls since 2008.

Ratified in early April, the DSO’s new three-year contract saw the musicians’ base salary drop to $79,000 from $104,650 per year, the number of work weeks fall to 36 from 52 and the number of contracted musicians decrease to 81 from 96.

Woodcock underscores the importance of “rebuilding relationships within the organization — musicians, board, staff — which have been severely affected, so that some sort of alignment comes into place.

“This will give them the foundation for the next major strategy: their relationship with their community.”

Bassist Marshall Hutchinson, who remains with the DSO but expects more of his colleagues to leave, said many musicians are not convinced of the board’s commitment to preserving a top-notch orchestra. Still, he said, “There are a lot of dedicated people who care about the orchestra on the board and in the community.

“Hopefully, when the new season begins (in October), we’ll see all this stuff in the rearview mirror. This could be a very exciting time.”

Indeed, Slatkin, who recently was conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic on tour in South America, said in an email: “The best of times are ahead of us.”

He said the two key issues now are keeping the musicians who have stayed and attracting new talent. “As far as replacing those who have left, we have a schedule of auditions set,” Slatkin says.

“We will also be involved in more active recruiting of musicians from around the world. To show the commitment, I have been authorized to actually hire more musicians than specified in the contract should an audition provide us with more than one winner.”

During the strike, some musicians felt Slatkin did not speak up for them and even sided with management, and the music director has yet to regain the orchestra’s confidence, said oboist Shelley Heron, who will continue with the DSO and serves as a musicians’ representative on the DSO board.

“I think many musicians don’t really have a clear picture of where Leonard wants to take the orchestra, so we are cautious and questioning,” Heron said.

Slatkin said he recently spoke to the orchestra about his role during the strike. “It may not have satisfied everyone, but it did go a long way in clearing the air,” he said. “They know that I am not going to let the artistic quality slip away.”

Lawrence B. Johnson is a cultural writer and critic. lawrencebj@gmail.com


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Symphonies learn the score

Click here for the original article in The Australian

WHEN the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April it sent a shiver through classical music groups worldwide.

The Pennsylvania-based orchestra is considered one of the five best in the US but faced with what its chairman described as a “fantastic imbalance” of costs versus income, the board sought drastic action.

Orchestra management projected a $US14.5 million structural deficit through declining earnings from ticket sales, a drop in donations and an increase in both operational costs and pension obligations.

A fortnight earlier, in Britain, public funding for the arts was slashed by 15 per cent as part of new austerity measures, leading orchestras there to scramble for their lives.

Back in the US, the Louisville Symphony is bankrupt and the Syracuse Symphony and New Mexico Symphony have shut down.

Orchestras worldwide are having a white-knuckle ride due to shifts in the global economy and their Australian counterparts are looking on with trepidation.

A spokesman for the orchestra’s union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Howard Manley, says: “The circumstances of the Australian economy are substantially [better] than most other Western economies.”

Yet he says there’s no question “things are incredibly tight”.

Last year Adelaide Symphony Orchestra members campaigned loudly against the erosion of their playing entitlements, Orchestra Victoria is in serious financial difficulty and NSW’s Opera and Ballet Orchestra annually contributes a $1m loss to Opera Australia.

Australia’s funding system is aligned historically with that of Britain. For the state-based symphony orchestras, box-office and commercial earnings account for a significant proportion of income, but underpinning this is a mix of federal and state funds. However, in the face of those public funds remaining largely static the boards of Australian orchestras increasingly have sought to mimic the US philanthropic model to accommodate increased costs.

In common with American orchestras, audiences in Australia are declining too as they age. Increased pops programming is viewed as one way to expose new audiences to orchestral music, but the jury is out on whether pops audiences necessarily go on to take an interest in the core classical repertoire.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Sydney Symphony in particular have embraced the pop business, with recent concerts of computer-game scores, concerts by Burt Bacharach and the Beach Boys, Disney movie scores, and the tunes of ABBA. Musical comic Tim Minchin undertook a national tour supported by the bigger orchestras.

The MSO last month posted a slight surplus of $31,420 for the past calendar year, while Sydney Symphony recorded its third successive deficit, albeit a smaller one than the year before, of $236,769. For the MSO, box-office revenue is considerably down, but so is expenditure.

The MSO’s managing director, Matthew VanBesien, says it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions about his orchestra’s future from its present programming and the 2010 financial results, given the closure of its home auditorium, Hamer Hall, for renovations that began halfway through last year. He says classical programming has not been eroded in favour of pops programming: “The commercial things we do don’t replace core activities.”

But The Australian’s music critic Eamonn Kelly has called on the orchestra to speed up the process of appointing a new chief conductor, a role left vacant since the acrimonious departure 18 months ago of Oleg Caetani.

“Urgently locating an outstanding new leader is the most important artistic and administrative issue the MSO board and management face,” Kelly says.

Sydney Symphony managing director Rory Jeffes declined to discuss the challenges facing his group, which has not managed to parlay the popularity of its chief conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy into either a surplus or increased audiences, which have shown no growth for five years.

Greg Sandow, an American lecturer and author of Rebirth: The Future of Classical Music, says the crisis affecting classical music in the northern hemisphere could spread to Australia.

He says careful examination of financial reports is necessary to see if occasional small surpluses are in fact concealing actual structural decline, which is what he suspects is under way.

The last great shudder of nervousness about the decline of classical music audiences was in the 1960s, after which the industry made a strong recovery.

Sandow says since the 90s, audiences have been declining in the US for both cyclical and non-cyclical reasons. “Now that orchestras in America are starting to haemorrhage and die, they are starting to come out with numbers,” he says.

Philadelphia has had a 40 per cent decline in 20 years that has accelerated in the past five years, he says. The number of subscribers, the ticket buyers who underpin orchestra programming and funding, is declining.

“The core of the audience is people who got into it when they were young and they’re not being replaced,” Sandow says.

And he says the same people who go to the concerts are those who donate money, “so the donor pool is drying up the way the audience is drying up”.

Sandow has also observed donor fatigue, where philanthropists grow cranky about mismanagement or an orchestra’s poor performance and remove their support.

Among the orchestras that have shut their doors and dismissed players there are some groups that have survived due to radical restructuring, which is where Sandow sees the future of the industry. Columbus Orchestra, by way of example, staved off closure in 2008 and retained 53 full-time players by reducing salaries by 27 per cent. Detroit Symphony Orchestra is engaged in similar talks with players.

Sandow argues that players in America’s top orchestras have traditionally been well paid, with salaries above $100,000, and the cuts are having an invigorating effect. “It’s interesting to talk to young musicians about this; they don’t see it as a problem, they’d consider themselves lucky to get any of these positions,” he says.

Historically, however, because of the status and the good pay, few of them could secure such jobs.

Sandow says that if the Philadelphia Orchestra were to suddenly discharge all its musicians and replace them with young players on contract, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up for in pizazz.

“I wonder if that wouldn’t be more exciting to hear,” he says. “It might really surprise people.”


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Unions, Classical Music, and All o’ That

A couple of weeks ago, Greg Sandow was quoted in The Australian as follows:

Sandow says that if the Philadelphia Orchestra were to suddenly discharge all its musicians and replace them with young players on contract, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up for in pizazz.

“I wonder if that wouldn’t be more exciting to hear,” he says. “It might really surprise people.”

Sigh. I wish people would stop and think before they say things like that. He’d just throw out an enormous body of accumulated knowledge and playing experience to reduce costs and possibly gain “pizzazz.”

Is there any evidence that the Philadelphia Orchestra lacks, um, pizzazz or excitement? Has Greg heard the orchestra play in the last few years? Does he understand what goes into orchestra building?

But getting back to the idea that a reasonable way to reduce costs is to break unions (as, perhaps, NYCO is about to try) or to talk the musicians into taking enormous cuts or to generally blame union and musician wages for the financial difficulties faced by some arts organizations today (see Detroit, see Philadelphia, see NYCO, see the quiet threats emanating from David Gockley’s office at San Francisco Opera).

First, let’s remember the division of labor at opera companies and symphonies:

  • The musicians and singers are paid to put on concerts and operas.
  • The nonmusician union members are paid to make costumes and sets and wigs and move stuff around the stage.
  • The administrators are paid to raise enough money to pay for putting on concerts and operas, and to perform myriad administrative tasks with some degree of smarts.

If an opera company or symphony orchestra finds itself in financial trouble, it’s rarely because the musicians can’t play and the costumers have forgotten how to sew. (If you know of such a case, please provide details in the comments.) It’s invariably because the administration has failed in some way or there has been a major economic downturn. They haven’t raised enough money, there’s been some kind of major leadership failure, they have incurred new costs for some reason – and so on. And it’s important to keep in mind that the administrators were involved in union negotiations, and signed the contracts with their eyes open.

We are currently in a serious economic downturn, and coming out of it very slowly – read Paul Krugman’s column and blog at the NY Times, if you need more information about that. Or keep an eye on the unemployment numbers. This has affected every arts organization in the country.

NYCO and the Philadelphia Orchestra are poster children for weak or incompetent administration. At NYCO, the board made at least two terrible mistakes: the appointment of Gerard Mortier, evidently without due diligence about what kind of budget he would want, and the renovation of the NY State Theater at Mortier’s request, which left the company with their usual bills to pay, no place to perform, and no income. Mortier skedaddled without ever coming to NY or staging a production, leaving the board scrambling to find a new director. They wound up with George Steel, who had about as much experience running an opera company as do: several months at Dallas, which was preceded by great success as the concert presenter at the Miller Theater. Maybe Steel is the third big mistake; hard to say at this point. He’s in a terrible position, where he’ll get blamed for mistakes other people made. Honestly, you’d have to be a miracle worker to pull them out of the current skid.

Oh, I forgot about the way NYCO has run through its endowment. Once valued at $55 million, presumably at the height of the boom, the endowment is down to $9 million. That’s the fourth terrible mistake. They’ve also got an inexperienced board president, appointed just a few months ago, who says things about not disclosing their finances. As a non-profit, hello, you are legally required to release financial information to the public. Don’t talk about keeping things under your hat. It only makes you look bad. So, let’s call this the fifth mistake.

The Philadelphia Orchestra has been having various problems since the 1990s, when they stopped contributing to the musicians’ pension plan. I’d call that a long-term governance issue. They’ve had music director issues, with Christoph Eschenbach coming and going rather quickly; a successor has been found, but he is not in place yet. So there’s been weak, or no, musical leadership. I understand there have been problems with the administrative leadership as well, with Alison Vulgamore appointed after a chaotic period with no general director. (Oh…and it is not good that she is taking a big pay raise when the orchestra has just declared bankruptcy.)

Guess what? The Philadelphia Orchestra could try to lower its costs by firing all its musicians, and it would still have the higher costs of the Kimmel Center over the Academy of Music, the low ticket sales, the problems in their administrative leadership. And they would have a gigantic public relations failure on their hands too. I bet most of their audience would flip out if the orchestra replaced 100% of its musicians with recent conservatory graduates. The loss of good will would be immense. I myself would never set foot in their hall or give a penny to an organization that had done such a thing, and I know that I am not alone in that.


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