A Curious Letter from Fort Worth

Yesterday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an interesting letter regarding the ongoing Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) strike.  It came from Mark G. Nurdin, chairman of the executive committee for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association (FWSOA).  This is, essentially, the voice of management.

And I found it to be, well… problematic.

I have no interest in smearing or attacking Mr. Nurdin… a man I’ve neither met nor corresponded with. But as someone who has worked in nonprofit management—particularly arts nonprofit management—for many years, and as someone who serves as President of the Board of a music group here in Minneapolis, I feel I must respond to his points. Continue reading

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What *Does* it Take to Be a Professional Orchestra Musician?

Same song, different verse… yet another round of labor disputes is rippling through the world of classical music.  Earlier this month the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra went on strike, and today the venerable Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra went on strike too. [Edit: Scant hours after this posted, the musicians of the great Philadelphia Orchestra also declared a strike… although it was resolved 48 hours later.]

Something I’ve noticed… each time news of a strike, lockout, or even difficult negotiations breaks out, there’s a chorus of people unfamiliar with the business of running an orchestra who, after hearing a couple of sound bites bandied about in the press, decide musicians are wildly overcompensated.  Again and again, these people ask, “Where can I get a job with 10 weeks paid vacation, full benefits and $70K, $100K, [or whatever the so-called ‘inflated’ salary is that’s been ripped out of context and floated around by the press]?”

When we’re lucky, these folks are asking this as an honest question.  When we’re unlucky, it’s simply a sarcastic retort meant to belittle the musicians.

A few thoughts. Continue reading

Unexpected, Wonderful News from the Minnesota Orchestra

I’ve just received wonderful news—wonderful news that I would never have thought possible two years ago, and I can scarcely believe even now.

Good news regarding the Minnesota Orchestra.

The Orchestra held its annual meeting this afternoon here in Minneapolis, where it reported on the financial and artistic successes of the last year. As would be expected at such an event, there were reports of exceptional concerts, mentions of all the famous performers who had graced the stage, and of course confirmation that the organization ended the year in a strong financial position.

But the exciting news goes beyond these achievements, as notable as they were.

Today we were treated to powerful, undeniable proof that showed how thoroughly the organization has healed from the disastrous labor dispute that nearly ripped it apart.

And seeing this proof positive of how far the organization has come, and the spirit of generosity and cooperation that is now filling Orchestra Hall… well, it all but moved me to tears. Continue reading

A Texas Brawl Is Brewing

Another day, another orchestra labor dispute.

I have to say, this continues to astonish me. Here we are, yet again, with the classical music ensemble of a major metropolitan area facing yet another labor battle with its management. Once again, the same tired arguments are dragged out, based on the same murky numbers and the same sloppy appeals to conventional wisdom—classical music is dead and there’s no money for the arts.  Once again, we’re told that only by imposing sacrificial cuts on unionized musicians and workers right this very minute can management save the organization from bankruptcy.

It wasn’t enough that we saw this exact same pattern happen with the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera, San Diego Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Binghamton Philharmonic…

…now we’re seeing it happen in Texas, with the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO).

I’m losing patience. And my willingness to be polite.

A news story in the Ft. Worth Weekly has a useful account of what’s happening now. Allow me to share a few thoughts. Continue reading

A Confounding Development in Philadelphia

I’ve seen a lot in my time as a classical music writer/blogger. I’ve covered a number of labor disputes involving orchestras and opera companies, and have seen a number of bone-headed, tone-deaf actions as a result. As this point, I assume I’ve pretty much seen it all.

And yet, I continue to be surprised.  It seems that there are still plenty of labor disputes plaguing the world of classical music, and they continue to generate breathtakingly bad ideas.

Let me share the most recent—one that unfortunately has transpired in Philadelphia, the home of one of the United States’ most celebrated, venerated orchestras. This one is a whopper. Continue reading

Astonishingly Bad Analysis of the Minnesota Orchestra

Approximately two weeks ago, Twin Cities Business published a story about the Minnesota Orchestra that is, to be blunt, terrible. The entire purpose of the piece is to raise questions about the sustainability of the Orchestra’s future, based on suggestions that the recently-signed contracts with the musicians and Music Director Osmo Vänskä are overly extravagant.

Every aspect of this piece is bizarre—its underlying premise, its use of evidence, its timing, its assumptions, and its overall approach to non-profit management.

With respect, the only questions it truly raises are those pertaining to why it was published in the first place.

Emily Hogstad has debunked several points over on her blog, Song of the Lark, and her points are well worth reading. But the piece irritated me enough that I’m going to post a rebuttal of my own. Continue reading