Tina Ward  

Artistic Leadership in Orchestras, Part I: Summary

Tina Ward
September 5, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

During a hiatus from performing with the St. Louis Symphony, Tina Ward spent a year studying artistic leadership issues in 18 orchestras, with the support of the Mellon Foundation. Her three-part series explores a wide variety of topics impacting artistic decision-making.

The first installment examines the concept of an orchestra's unique identity and its vision or mission statement. She explores the nature of artistic quality among her subject orchestras, and identifies limitations that are related to lack of finances and those that aren't particularly impacted by money. Finally, she discusses the role of the different constituencies (music director, musicians, and trustees) in making programming and personnel decisions.

- Ann Drinan

This summary is a compilation of information gathered in studying fifteen American orchestras and three European orchestras between September 2001 and August 2002. Orchestra budgets ranged from $500,000 to $38 million. In each of these eighteen orchestras, the individuals interviewed included Board members[1], staff, musicians and, when available, the Music Director. I conducted a total of 105 interviews of individuals representing the eighteen study orchestras. Only eight of these interviews were conducted totally or partially by telephone; all others were on site, in person. Additional information was also gathered about several other orchestras, but, because all constituencies were not interviewed, they are not officially included in the total of study orchestras, although I have drawn several specific examples from them.

My thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their generous support, and to all who gave so generously of their time and knowledge with this project.

The areas of inquiry related to artistic leadership and decision-making included:

  • Identity
  • Artistic vision
  • Artistic quality
  • Programming – repertoire, conductors and guest artists
  • Personnel decisions – Music Director, musicians and staff
  • Leadership development

Identity

A unique identity may be an artistic signature that the organization continues and perpetuates. Although this signature may originally be associated with a particular conductor, repertoire or sound, once the artistic identity is institutionalized, the organization can preserve it by choice of performers and repertoire (Vienna Philharmonic) and allow it over time to evolve. When asked, “If you had to distinguish yourself musically and culturally from any other orchestra in the United States, what would two or three distinctions be?” only a few of the American orchestras interviewed listed a distinct artistic identity.

The Eugene Symphony described its signature in this manner, “Our artistic identity is concerned with having vision, integrity, and meaning in what we do and in communicating the passion we feel for our music.”

Distinct artistic identity can be the result of a special mission (such as the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra) in which the identity is uniquely defined by the mission.

If the artistic identity is thoroughly understood and valued throughout the organization, then artistic personnel decisions become relatively clear. The orchestra is able to choose its own members so that they continue the sound and style of the orchestra, as is done in the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics or, as in the Cleveland Orchestra, the music director makes the final selection of musicians. Similarly, the choice of music director becomes guided by the identity already in place.

Strong cultural identities recognized and valued throughout the organization were also unusual. A few of the organizations studied did have well-defined cultural identities. Some listed the manner in which they did business as their recognizable identity, for example as a cooperative, with musician-management collaboration or, in the case of Orpheus, as a conductor-less ensemble with shared leadership. One organization considers the camaraderie and friendly working environment to be an integral part of its identity. These qualities are positively regarded by the organization and are frequently mentioned by visiting conductors and soloists.

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