Category Archives: Blog
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.
Your SOS/DSO 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.
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
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.
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
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…
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.
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:
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!
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.
As of August 13, 2011
This information is taken from the DSO Website
Stanley Frankel, Chairman of the Board
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.
Ralph J. Gerson
Alfred R. Glancy III, Chairman Emeritus
Dr. Arthur L. Johnson
Richard P. Kughn
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
Janet Ankers, Volunteer Council President
George J. Bedrosian, Esq.
Mrs. Mandell L. Berman
Robert H. Bluestein
John A. Boll, Sr.
Richard A. Brodie
Gary L. Cowger
Peter D. Cummings, Chairman Emeritus
Stephen R. D’Arcy
Maureen T. D’Avanzo
Peter J. Dolan
Walter E. Douglas, Jr.
Laura L. Fournier
Mrs. Harold Frank
Herman Gray, M.D.
Gloria Heppner, Ph.D.
Nicholas Hood III
Ronald M. Horwitz
Sharad P. Jain
Michael J. Keegan
The Hon. Damon J. Keith
William P. Kingsley
Harry A. Lomason II
Ralph J. Mandarino
David N. McCammon
Lois A. 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
Marjorie S. Saulson
Lois L. Shaevsky
Mrs. Ray A. Shapero
Shirley R. Stancato
Michael R. Tyson
Ann Marie Uetz
Arthur A. Weiss, Esq.
R. Jamison Williams
John E. Young
David Handleman, Sr.†
* Ex Officio
by Haden Mckay, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
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.
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.
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.
by Frank Almond
July 6, 2011
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.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Michaela Boland
- From: The Australian
- June 04, 2011 12:00AM
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.”
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.
by Drew McManus, Adaptistration.com
Today’s headline is an excerpt from a piece by San Francisco Chronicle music critic, Joshua Kosman, in an article that was published on 6/19/2011. Kosman’s article is the latest in a growing chorus of voices within the extended field that are taking a much harder look at the root of problems among performing arts organizations since the economic downturn…
Kosman’s piece begins by examining one of the more dire situations at New York City Opera and then touches on everyone’s favorite anti-crisis, the Philadelphia Orchestra. But mid way through his piece Kosman acknowledges the real elephant in the room by looking inward.
How did these venerable, well-established institutions come to such a sorry pass? The same way Lehman Bros. and Bear Stearns did: through poor – and specifically shortsighted – leadership. And just like on Wall Street, the people making these decisions aren’t really the ones whose livelihoods are on the line.
In the article’s penultimate section, Kosman drills down into some specific examples of failed leadership.
No, the truth is that just like in the corporate and financial world, these failures began at the top, and go back a long way.
The history of weak management in Philadelphia is decades old, and includes mishandled decisions about recording contracts, embarrassing struggles to settle on a music director and the construction of a concert hall, Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, that is widely regarded as overpriced and acoustically poor.
And just to make sure he’s covering all of the bases, Kosman also acknowledges the very real cash flow and audience development problems faced by most groups. But he goes the extra mile by acknowledging the mutually exclusive nature of this reality as compared to a history of bad management.
And it’s just as easy to make vague protestations about prevailing financial conditions and the shifting patterns of culture consumption. Those observations are accurate as far as they go – money really is tight nowadays, and the role of orchestras and opera companies in American life really is changing – but they don’t account for all the arts organizations that are doing OK.
If you’re looking for more examples of Kosman’s perspective, stop by The Iron Tongue Of Midnight where author Lisa Hirsch points out a few more scantily clad Emperor’s. If that’s not enough, she includes a handy list of related opinions from around the culture blogging community and traditional media outlets.
Does this mean we should drag all executive boards and CEOs out and put them up against the wall? Of course not.
But the reality is that business practices and poor leadership are just as much to blame as the economic downturn for some of the larger powder kegs that have blown up since the economic downturn.
But that’s not how League of American Orchestras president Jesse Rosen sees it. Rosen took issue with one of the more poignant articles in recent weeks written by John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts president Michael Kaiser.
On 6/6/2011 Kaiser posted an article at his Huffington Post column that takes issue with the blame game when it comes to artist stakeholders and instead, encourages organizations to look inward before laying down a beat on the drums of labor war.
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.
Rosen to Kaiser: How Dare You!
Rosen’s video response (0:22 – 1:00) was to deny the value of accountability and openly scold Kaiser for even mentioning the notion.
Ultimately, any group experiencing extreme difficulties will have an enormously difficult time improving their situation if they fail to investigate whether or not the problems are the result of bad business decisions and a lack of accountability. Unfortunately, the League has yet to adopt measures to help members do exactly that and as any good doctor, engineer, investigator, or IT professional will tell you, willful shortcuts in the diagnostic process is an invitation to misery and disaster.
To that end, what’s missing in this business are processes those other professions have relied on to implement meaningful oversight. In the medical field, they call them autopsies and given the uptick in institutional corpses right now, it would make sense to examine those cases with an eye toward identifying items suitable for inclusion in institutional oversight processes throughout the field.
Anything less is an invitation to make things worse before they can get better.
• Recognition once annually in a DSO Honor Roll
• Personalized DSO Donor card
• 10% off all purchases at the Shop @ The Max
• Invitation to DSO Open Rehearsals
• All previous benefits, plus:
• An invitation for two to attend the annual
Donor Appreciation Event
• Opportunity to purchase single tickets during Ticket
Priority Week, one week before the general public
• All previous benefits, plus:
• Two complimentary tickets to a Detroit Symphony Civic Youth Ensembles concert
• All previous benefits, plus:
• Invitation to a backstage tour
• Season listing in Performance magazine
Donors celebrated at $2,500, $5,000, $7,500, and $10,000+
• All previous benefits, plus:
• DSO Concierge – priority access to DSO concerts and events
• An invitation for four to attend the annual Donor Appreciation Event
• Two single-use valet parking passes
• Two complimentary passes (admit 2 each) to the Herman & Sharon Frankel Donor Lounge
• Listing on the Annual Fund donor wall
• Invitation to travel with the DSO on national and international Patron Tours
*The opportunity to be nominated as a Governing Member, including an invitation to attend and vote at the DSO Annual Meeting with a donation of $2,500
* Membership to the Herman & Sharon Frankel Donor Lounge with a donation of $3,000
* Complimentary unlimited valet parking at Orchestra Hall with a donation of $7,500
Donors celebrated at the $15,000, $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000+
• All previous benefits, plus:
• Personalized, signed DSO recording
• Opportunity to sit on-stage during a DSO rehearsal
• Invitation to the Annual Maestro’s Circle dinner
• Opportunity to dedicate a concert in your name or in honor/memory of a friend or family member
Sunday, 12 June 2011 14:56
Written by Andrew Druckenbrod
Pittsburgh Symphony, Inc. and orchestra members of Local 60-471 of the American Federation of Musicians have reached an agreement for a new three-year contract nearly three months ahead of schedule.
The current three-year pact was set to expire Sept. 4 and the new contract, ratified Saturday night, takes effect Sept. 5 and runs through Sept. 1, 2014.
The agreement calls for a 9.7 percent wage cut in musicians base salary the first year: in 2011-12 the annual base salary will be $100,110, down from $110,764 in this season. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s fiscal year runs from September to August.
The musician’s base salary will remain the same in the second year of the contract. The final year will be a “wage-opener,” for which PSO musicians and management will examine the possibility of an increase in salary. The musicians also agreed to contribute $100,000 to the orchestra’s annual fund in the first and second years of the new contract.
In the past 18 months, several major American orchestras have faced financial turmoil. In April, the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra ended a bitter six-month strike. In January of 2010, Cleveland Orchestra musicians staged a one-day strike.
Anne Parsons signs new contract, will remain CEO of Detroit Symphony through 2014
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has renewed the contract of President and CEO Anne Parsons through 2014.
Parsons, 52, agreed to continue at her current pay rate, which reflected compensation and benefits adjustments made to her contract in early 2009 as part of cost-cutting efforts, the DSO said in a release.
According to its tax filing, in 2009 the DSO paid Parsons $299,679 in base pay, after a 10 percent cut, and total compensation of $414,541 with benefits. One of those reported benefits is living in a Grosse Pointe home owned by the DSO.
Parsons joined the DSO in April 2004 as president and executive director. She was named president and CEO last year. Before that, she held general manager and orchestra manager positions with the New York City Ballet, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and worked for two years with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.
In 2008, Parsons led the search for a new music director, bringing Leonard Slatkin to Detroit.
During Parsons’ tenure at the DSO, the organization has raised more than $74 million, attracting new or increased support from many donors. During that same period, donations from the board of directors have tripled, the DSO said.
As the DSO’s top executive, Parsons became a polarizing figure during the DSO musicians’ recent strike.
She became the face of mismanagement alleged by the striking musicians and of DSO management’s efforts to permanently restructure the fixed costs of one of the top orchestras in the world. Throughout the six-month strike, however, the DSO board supported Parsons.
“Anne has everything the DSO needs at this critical point in its history, and we are honored that she has decided to continue to lead the organization toward its collective pursuit of a viable and successful future,” DSO Chairman Stanley Frankel said in a release.
“Not only is she an industry veteran of 30-plus years with proven expertise in navigating challenging economic climates, she (is) a crusader for the arts with deep connections within the national funding community.”