Author Archives: Ann Drinan

Women in the Symphony Orchestra

Posted on May 3, 2019 at 11:45 am by Ann Drinan
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Recently Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic, interviewed his colleague Evangeline Benedetti, who retired from the orchestra’s cello section in 2011 after 44 years. I found the interview extremely interesting, as Ms. Benedetti was only the second woman to receive tenure in the NY Philharmonic, and had to wait to receive notification about the outcome of her audition by snail mail. The interview was first published in Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians’ union (AFM Local 802), and Polyphonic has reprinted the interview with permission.

Allegro captioned the interview as being in honor of Woman’s History Month, which got us at Polyphonic wondering what other articles we have in our archives about women in the symphony orchestra. We did a search and a few items should be of interest.

The most compelling is “An Endearing Legacy,” an article by Julie Ayer, violinist with the Minnesota Orchestra, about how the Spokane Symphony created two endowed chairs in honor of her mother and sister. In addition to a loving tribute, Julie also presents an overview of the history of women in North American symphony orchestras.

Robert Levine, Senior Editor at Polyphonic and principal violist with the Milwaukee Symphony, did an informal survey in 2009 of gender and principal positions among ICSOM orchestras - “Age, Gender and Orchestras.” The results were indeed most interesting, and makes us realize we haven’t come quite as far as we’d thought. Robert notes that “the closest thing to gender balance across the field is in the principal second violin position; almost half of ICSOM orchestras have a female principal second.” But that’s where inequality starts, as only 1/4 of ICSOM orchestras have a female concertmaster.

Yvonne Caruthers, former Senior Editor at Polyphonic and cellist with the National Symphony, interviewed Jennifer Montone as part of her spotlight on the Philadelphia Orchestra. Jennifer addressed the issue of gender equality in discussing her appointment as principal horn with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

We also took a look back at the Harmony archives (Harmony was published by the Symphony Orchestra Institute from 1995 to 2003, and the archives reside on The April 1998 issue had a special section titled Women in the Symphony Orchestra.

  • Women Conductors: Has the Train Left the Station?” by Marietta Nien-hwa Cheng, a conductor who comes from a town in southern Ohio. She presents a brief history of women conductors, an overview of the obstacles facing women conductors, and then tells her own story about the path that led her to become a conductor.
  • Gender and Leadership: A Review of Pertinent Research,” a discussion with Northwestern psychology professor Alice Eagly about her research in the role of gender in leadership issues, and how this research pertains to the symphony orchestra organizations.

Finally, the October 2002 issue of Harmony published an article by Penny Brill, violist with the Pittsburgh Symphony titled “A New Avenue for Musicians’ Outreach: Music and Wellness,” which describes four areas of activity that the PSO had taken in the area of music and wellness. A breast cancer survivor herself, Penny goes on to describe the PSO’s work with the Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure.

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Introducing Jake Runestad

Posted on March 20, 2019 at 10:21 am by Ann Drinan
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A few weeks ago I got a call from concert pianist Jeffrey Biegel, who wanted to tell me about a new consortium commissioning project he’s working on. At the end of a rehearsal with the Minnesota Orchestra, a young composer approached him about a piece he’d like to write for piano, chorus and orchestra. Jeffrey was intrigued and, after several discussion meetings, the piece began to take shape. The young composer, a student of Libby Larsen and Donald Fraser, was Jake Runestad. Jeffrey suggested I get in touch with him.

Jake and I spoke a few days later and I found his project fascinating. I suggested that he become a guest blogger for Polyphonic and take us with him through the process of creating such a large work. He readily agreed and his first post follows.

Jake holds a Masters degree from Peabody and has an impressive list of commissions from a variety of ensembles, including Seraphic Fire, the Baltimore Concerto Orchestra, the Grammy-nominated Peabody Children’s Chorus, and the Lunar Ensemble. His newest opera, The Abbess and the Acolyte, was performed at the Virginia Arts Festival, and his Lux Aeterna for SSAA choir was recently selected as a winner for the Essentially Choral Reading Session with Minneapolis-based VocalEssence and conductor Philip Brunelle.

The piece he is writing for Jeffrey Biegel is titled Dreams of the Fallen, and is based on poetry by an Iraqi war veteran, Brian Turner. Jeffrey is hard at work finding orchestras to join the consortium, and the project has already raised over $4,435 on Kickstarter, surpassing their goal.

I’ll let Jake tell you the rest of the story.

Ann Drinan

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League Conference: George Cohen on Negotiating

Posted on July 31, 2019 at 8:00 am by Ann Drinan
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George H. Cohen, formerly AFM counsel, is now the Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), which was founded in 1947. He gave this presentation to a large roomful of managers, with about 10 musicians present. It was a pleasure to hear his biting wit take on a serious issue.


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2011 League Conference: Peter Pastreich on Orchestra Management

Posted on July 28, 2019 at 2:00 pm by Ann Drinan
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Peter Pastreich, former Executive Director of the San Francisco and St. Louis Symphonies and currently Executive Director of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Peter is a well-known management consultant in the orchestra field. Peter is often asked to consult by musicians, and likes to help musicians to think about these issues.

I published an article based on his remarks to musicians at the 2009 League conference. Here are his current thoughts on the state of orchestra management, presented to a musician-only session at the conference.


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League Conference: New American Music Innovation Panel

Posted on July 25, 2019 at 9:00 am by Ann Drinan
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Panel members: Patrick Castillo, Director of Artistic Planning, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; Delta David Gier, Music Director, South Dakota Symphony; Paul Gunther, Principal Librarian, Minnesota Orchestra; and Aaron Kernis, composer.

Aaron Kernis spoke first – he is the founder and leader of the Composers Institute in Minneapolis. A bit of history: he was part of a group of composers who were writing commissions for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in 1989, then he had the first composer residency, and then he was new music advisor for the Minneapolis Orchestra for ten years. They expanded the program into four or five states in the Midwest, and now it’s a week-long educational opportunity for composers on a national level. Music Director Osmo Vanska insisted on adding a public concert at the end of the institute week.


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League Conference: Plenary Session Speeches, Part 2

Posted on July 22, 2019 at 5:09 pm by Ann Drinan
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Deborah Borda, President and CEO, Los Angeles Philharmonic, was the third speaker at the June 7th plenary session. She presented an interesting view of technology and innovation in her remarks titled “Toto, We’re Not in Leipzig Anymore.”

First she explored the importance of innovation and being able to identify which innovations are important. In 1879, the Pony Express had folded and Western Union dominated communications via the telegraph, the modern, cutting-edge technology of the time. However, Western Union leaders declined to get involved in the new-fangled telephone and the rest is history. “And how sad – the poles were already up.”

Jump to the 1970s, where Steve Jobs had traded shares in his company for access to Xerox’s technical think tank. There he saw something revolutionary that Xerox declined to follow-up on – the new invention was the computer mouse and again the rest is history.


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League Conference: Plenary Session Speeches, Part 1

Posted on July 6, 2019 at 11:19 am by Ann Drinan
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The opening Plenary Session on June 7 presented three speakers discussing “Creating an Environment for Innovation.”

Larry A. Wendling,  Ph.D., VP of the Corporate Research Laboratory at the 3M Center in Minneapolis opened the session with a historical video of the evolution of 3M from a failed mining company to a highly successful, large multi-national company.

He noted that the company isn’t about Scotch tape and Post-it notes, but rather that their business model involves science-driven innovation. He went on to compare scientific and musical creativity, suggesting that the way 3M creates business value from innovation may be directly applicable to the American orchestra.

His definition of innovation is, “The coupling of science and technology to a societal or market need, in a creative fashion, to produce something novel or unique having value.” Therefore, science is of no direct benefit to society until it becomes a product, much like music is of no benefit to society until it becomes a concert. Doing scientific research without a practical benefit is like musicians playing only for themselves. The key is to create value from either science or music, rather than regarding either as the end in itself.

He went on to say that, for the American orchestra, musicians must provide value (i.e., something customers will pay money for). So we must understand the needs of our customers, do this well and repeatedly, and build customer loyalty.

The film clip he showed had a brief portion about 3M’s William McKnight, one of the top 10 CEOs in the history of corporate America. In 1948 he articulated the “McKnight Principles:”  1) Hire good people and let them do their jobs in their own way,  and  2)  Tolerate mistakes.


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Jesse Rosen’s “Red Alert” Speech at Conference

Posted on June 21, 2019 at 4:47 pm by Ann Drinan
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The Plenary Session on Wednesday morning, June 8, was titled Red Alert and began with a most interesting address by Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League.

Below are highlights from Jesse’s speech; his speech will be published separately as an article. You can watch a video of the entire plenary session by clicking here.

Jesse: The  League is committed to making sure that orchestras continue to thrive – we want them in our world, safe and healthy. On March 20, the YouTube symphony,  representing  33 countries, played to an audience of 33 million people, shattering the previous record of 11 million for a U2 concert. So symphonies are not dead.

But how can we not only succeed, but also thrive? There’s been an increase in deficits, bankruptcies and closings. The average orchestra deficit in 2005 was $193,000. In 2009 it had gone up to $697,000. In 2008, 50% of orchestras reported deficits; the very next year that number had increased to 70%. Many signs suggest that for orchestras, this crisis simply accelerated existing, long-term negative trends. Detroit, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Honolulu, New Mexico, and Louisville, are all examples of organizations with a past history of fragility. The recession has merely brought home and exacerbated the long-term structural problems that many orchestras have been facing for some time.


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2011 League Conference

Posted on June 13, 2019 at 8:31 pm by Ann Drinan
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I attended the 2011 League of American Orchestras Conference in Minneapolis last week (June 7 - 9) and have much to tell about what I experienced. I’ll be turning my notes into blog posts over the next few weeks, letting you experience a bit of what Conference is all about. One of the most frustrating parts is when they break into “Toolboxes” and have 15+ sessions happening simultaneously. I’m always interested in way more than the two I can attend. (more…)

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Flash Mob of Bach’s B Minor Mass at Union Station, New Haven CT

Posted on May 9, 2019 at 2:12 am by Ann Drinan
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This YouTube video features several of my colleagues from the New Haven and Hartford Symphonies as they participate in a “flash mob” at the train station in New Haven on Friday afternoon, April 29th at 6:10. The purpose was to advertise the upcoming performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor in late April by the Yale Schola Cantorum, presented by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

Pay close attention to the bottom line of the train schedule board — I’m sure it’s never mentioned Yale’s Sacred Music program before!

The violinist featured so prominently, with the human music stand, is Yaira Matayakubova, a member of the Hartford Symphony.

I personally love having the timpani up in the balcony — such a surprise!

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