Friday, March 04, 2005

Batons and Balance Sheets

Dear Reader, I’m still struggling with this blog page technical stuff. Sometimes it just doesn’t do what it promises. Please be patient during my learning phase.

My last (and first) post dealt with key symbolism and while it was quite clear to me then, it took a note from Alex Ross, and later, in one of those incomparable moments of dazzling insight, to really muddle it. To make it brief, I didn’t consider the too obvious fact that we each hear differently. That fact deflated my thesis, but also tossed the often accepted “list” of key characteristics, such as noble, deathly, ethereal, etc. that are attached to keys- as soon as we ask, “as heard by whom”? Given that, there is no logical extension to perfect pitch either. Nobody mentioned it, but what about “keyless, non-tonal”, or “atonal” music? Well, the scenery was interesting, but I was driving too fast. Let’s take another trip.


Conductors and the Orchestra Business

St. Louis. More and more orchestras are hiring conductors for non-musical desiderata. I was living in St. Louis teaching theory, conducting, and orchestration as an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) during the time the SLSO was searching for a new conductor. In April 2002, Hans Vonk, who had been suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, stepped aside as music director, shortly resigned, and died in August, 2004. The search for a replacement began in Summer 2002.

So, what did they look for? - someone who could get along musically and personally with the orchestra and management; someone who was experienced, preferably young, and could project a feeling of energy and enthusiasm-traditional stuff; but equally important, it had to be someone who would participate in the St. Louis community. It took almost three years before they signed David Robertson to a three year contract. “In today’s symphony environment it is vital to have a music director who brings a multitude of qualities to lead an orchestra…. I know he will become very active in this community and will be a tremendous ambassador for St. Louis.” said Randy Adams, SLSO President and Executive Director.

What does that mean? Well, aside from conducting, it means raising money for the orchestra from arts and business groups, being visible at community events, etc. But, a key requirement was that the conductor was to be a baseball fan and would attend the games and root for the St. Louis Cardinals! I’m not making this up. No one said how many Cardinal players are required to attend SLSO concerts.

Chicago. A few miles north, in Chicago, Daniel Barenboim decided that he would rather dedicate his time to music than to fund-raising and other extra-musical duties, and resigned. As you might expect, the management is looking for a conductor who, in addition to the musical responsibilities, will raise money and appear to be a model Chicagoan.

“…Beyond being a superior conductor, a fine musician and a strong leader who's respected by the orchestra, he or she should be thoroughly familiar with how American orchestras function in a changing social and economic landscape. And the next music director should be willing to help the organization stump for funds, a role Barenboim has declined to play but one that has become essential.’" Chicago Tribune 02/27/05- Bravo, Mr. Barenboim.

These examples are clear admissions that orchestra management, there and elsewhere, is unwilling or incapable of doing its job and are redefining the role of a conductor-who is becoming a music director and assistant to the executive director. And, like administrators in every facet of American life, these businessmen have somehow become the baton wielders.

Mr. Ormandy, please stay at rest.

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