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Leadership by waving something other than a baton

0 Robert Levine

There was one of those scary “model your leadership on the collaboration between conductor and orchestra” blog posts in the Baltimore Sun the other day:

Musicians took furloughs and pay cuts that came to a 12.5 percent reduction in compensation. Administrative folks took pay cuts of up to 15 percent. But none of this would have worked if music director Marin Alsop hadn’t also sacrificed. She had already donated $100,000 to start the BSO’s OrchKids educational program, Smith reports. Recently she kicked in another $50,000 as part of a program in which the community would contribute funds proportional with concessions made by the orchestra.

True, she can afford it. For the fiscal year that ended a year ago, BSO paid her more than $700,000 in salary, benefits and artist fees, records filed by the BSO with the IRS show. But donations of $150,000 still represent a substantial dent in her net compensation and substantial resources redirected to the orchestra and the organization.

…By sticking with Baltimore and an orchestra she helped build and by giving back substantial dough in tough times, she showed that it really is the art and not the money that matters in the last analysis. That kind of example from the top is a lesson corporate CEOs could profit from. And the whole scenario of shared sacrifice ought to make donors and patrons confident that their money is being spent wisely.

Of course it’s likely that musicians wouldn’t have taken the cuts they did without what’s known in our business as “equality of sacrifice” on the part of orchestra leadership, so it’s not as if her givebacks were completely out of the blue; they were, in fact, necessary to make the concessions “work,” as the post’s author points out. There’s certainly no question that Alsop has been walking the talk to an extent unusual in our business, which is very much to her credit.

But it’s rare to read a column about conductorial leadership that actually gets something right. Most such columns are scary precisely because most outsiders completely miss just how feudal the relationship between conductor and orchestra is at its core.

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