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Category: Orchestra Economics

Millennial America

2 Peter Sachon

Orchestras need to offer compelling reasons for millennials to make live symphonic music a part of their lives.  After all, millennials are the largest generation in human history, and at nearly 90 million people they will very soon make up the vast majority of our orchestras’ stakeholders, constituents, audience, staff members and supporters – and

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Why you don’t want your orchestra’s name to start with “M”

0 Robert Levine

First Minnesota, then Milwaukee, and now … Memphis: Following in the tumultuous footsteps of its Nashville counterpart, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra announced that it is facing a financial crisis that will require “aggressive steps” to complete the current season. “The Memphis Symphony Orchestra celebrates decades of accomplishments thanks to a committed group of patrons, musicians

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Baumol’s common cold

0 Robert Levine

Musicians who have had the privilege and pleasure (dubious, in some cases) of discussing the future of professional orchestras with experts of various stripes are all too familiar with Baumol’s Cost Disease. The best description comes from the economist who came up with the concept, William Baumol: Any economic activity affected by it will tend

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Armistice Day on the Northern Front

1 Robert Levine

There’s been what intelligence analysts call “chatter” for a few weeks about a settlement in Minnesota being close. I heard some new chatter in the past couple of days, which led me to to set up a Google watch on the news. About twenty minutes ago, the official news came through, after some preliminary reports

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Another missed opportunity

3 Robert Levine

The great Israeli diplomat Abba Eban famously remarked, after the 1973 Geneva Peace Conference, that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The same could be said of the Board of the Minnesota Orchestra. At their annual meeting yesterday, the Board passed on the perfect moment to let the current board chair

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Bringing Down the Sky: From Great to Good in Minnesota

3 Michael Manley

I. The Tornado and the Plow Horse I recently plugged the words “Salieri” and “Festival” into Google, which limped back with a meager Salieri Opera Festival of 2010, presented by Fondazione Fioroni in Verona, Italy. Curious, I added “2013” to the search, and Google came back with only three results, none of which led to

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Paul Boulian: The Economic Reality of Orchestras

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For this Editor’s Choice I decided to look back at some interviews we recorded in years past. There are some real gems here. The one I chose to feature this time around is a conversation between Paul Boulian and Greg Sandow discussing the economic reality of orchestras. Though it was recorded in February 2009, it

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No good news from the Northern Front (with update)

0 Robert Levine

Today is what most observers are assuming is the deadline for a settlement in Minnesota that will keep Osmo Vänskä and the November Carnegie concerts in the picture. It doesn’t appear that negotiations are going well, though. One indication of that is the management offer of last week, made with great public fanfare and certainly

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Why not try negotiating? (with update)

1 Robert Levine

It’s clear that crunch time is coming on the Northern Front (aka the Minnesota orchestra labor “negotiations”). The board has said that they’re willing to indefinitely delay the unveiling of their shiny new $50 million toy lobby, to see the prospect of ever going back to Carnegie Hall evaporate, and to watch Vänskä walk. The

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On Star Wars and the Baby Boomers

0 Peter Sachon

It was recently announced that John Williams will compose the music for Star Wars: Episode VII.  This is great news for fans of his music all over the world, and it could be great news for smart orchestras too.  A new Star Wars movie is the sort of cultural event that has largely untapped possibilities

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Bought and paid for

4 Robert Levine

The Minnesota Orchestra leadership released a “financial review” yesterday. Most of the coverage, though, focused on remarks made by MO board negotiating chair Richard Davis, who told the Star Tribune editorial board that he was prepared to say bye-bye to music director Osmo Vänskä, the upcoming Carnegie concerts, and the opening of the newly-renovated Orchestra

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About that New Republic article

0 Robert Levine

It’s not surprising that a recent article by Philip Kennicott in the New Republic by the title of “America’s Orchestras are in Crisis” got some favorable play in the musician community. The writer, who is Art and Architecture critic for the Washington Post, focused very heavily on what he believed was the League of American

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It’s getting weird up there…

0 Robert Levine

It is possible to say with assurance that something is happening in the Minnesota Orchestra labor war. Just what that something is, on the other hand… Yesterday there was a flurry of activity. First there was what appeared to be a new proposal by management, with a new deadline. Then there was a statement by

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Red line in Minnesota gets redder

0 Robert Levine

I promise that some day I will post on something other than the Minnesota Orchestra labor dispute. But, at the moment, it’s the most important thing happening in our field. The news yesterday from the Northern Front was not encouraging. The first item was that Minnesota Orchestra management has apparently set a kind of deadline

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What we should hope isn’t next for Minnesota

0 Robert Levine

There was a flurry of press reports last week on the state of the Minnesota Orchestra lock-out; most about the apparent involvement of George Mitchell as mediator. Norman Lebrecht also reported on some back-and-forth between musicians and management, although other reports disputed the accuracy, or at least completeness, of what he’d written. Since then, there’s

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Mediation in Minnesota

0 Robert Levine

The Minnesota Orchestra lock-out – the longest second-longest formal lock-out in our industry’s history – may have entered a new phase, according to Graydon Royce of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: The Minnesota Orchestra’s management and musicians — now in the 11th month of a bitter labor lockout — are quietly talking again behind the scenes.

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League Conference: A Conversation with Peter Pastreich

0 Ann Drinan

The final musician session was a conversation with Peter Pastreich, a well-respected manager in the orchestra world, having served as Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony for 21 years. Prior to that he served as Executive Director at the Saint Louis Symphony, the Kansas City Philharmonic and the Nashville Symphony. More recently he came

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No Time At All

0 Peter Sachon

Just like Rip Van Winkle, American orchestras have been asleep for twenty years. Season after season of the same repertoire, played again and again for generations until the idea of an orchestra participating in modern musical life seems outrageous. Last week, the League of American Orchestras focused their annual conference around the idea of “Imagining Orchestras in

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Labor of Love: A Primer in Symphony Orchestra Musician/Management Relations

0 Gerald Elias

You might think musicians would be at the top of a symphony orchestra’s food chain. So did I. When I joined the Boston Symphony violin section in 1975 at the tender age of 22, fresh out of college, bursting with enthusiasm, I was under the naïve misconception that the management of the orchestra worked for

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Modern Times

2 Peter Sachon

Half of the fun of watching Mad Men is observing how dramatically American society has changed since the 1960’s.  The characters’ constant drinking and homophobia make us blush, and we notice how far attitudes have shifted towards everything from smoking to sexism.  Our lives in America have changed so thoroughly since then that looking back

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Improving the Orchestra’s Revenue Position: Practical Tactics and General Strategies

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My Editor’s Choice for this go-round is from 1997—sixteen years ago. Here’s a little background just to put it in context. Our website, Polyphonic.org is part of the Orchestra Musician Forum, that was created in 2004 when Paul R. Judy made a gift of the financial and intellectual assets of the Symphony Orchestra Institute to

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A normal strike

0 Robert Levine

It’s a measure of just how bizarre is the state of labor relations in the orchestra field that only now, months into the most brutal negotiating season in memory, are we seeing the the first “normal” labor dispute – by which I mean a strike (and not a lock-out), not immediately settled (and thus more

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Breaking Up with Beethoven

0 Peter Sachon

Go out to hear an orchestra concert tonight and chances are the orchestra will be playing Beethoven.  The most recent Orchestra Repertoire Report, from ’09 – ’10, details that 137 orchestras in America performed Beethoven’s music 457 times that season.  His ninth, seventh, and fifth symphonies were ranked first, second and third respectively among the

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Big Tent Thinking

3 Peter Sachon

History is filled with people who have tried to define art.  They have all been wrong, and there is no reason to suspect we are any better at it than they were. Changes to what experts call “Art” happen all the time.  There was a time when people questioned whether photography constituted fine art.  Some

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The Riot Stuff

0 Peter Sachon

  Orchestras should raise their voices to be heard amid the din of noisy modern culture and promote themselves as socially conscious public institutions. They need to embrace a more inclusive posture in society, and demonstrate an identity more nuanced than silent anonymous conservative tuxedo-clad white male.  While the price of participating in American culture

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About that $6 million deficit…

2 Robert Levine

The Minneapolis StarTribune is reporting that, at tomorrow’s annual meeting of the Minnesota Orchestral Association, the board will report a deficit for 2011-12 of $6 million on expenses of around $31 million. That’s a pretty impressive number, not least because it’s so much worse than the previous three years and yet so close to the

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Why no impasse in Minnesota?

2 Robert Levine

One of the continuing mysteries of the Minnesota Orchestra dispute (for me, at least) was why the management chose to lock out its musicians rather than declare impasse and impose its proposal. Drew McManus believes he has an explanation: On the surface, the MOA executive committee’s public angst over the lack of a musician offer

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An assumption too far

2 Robert Levine

A friend in the Twin Cities suggested to me that my assumption that Pinchas Zukerman and Edo de Waart had somehow requested and/or received clearance from their personal managers before agreeing to participate in the benefit concerts I wrote about here was not only unwarranted but likely offensive to the two gentlemen in question. After

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Managements not part of the reality-based community

4 Robert Levine

The musicians of the locked-out Minnesota Orchestra and the locked-out Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra got some helpful press today from Minnesota Public Radio: Locked-out musicians at the Minnesota and St. Paul Chamber Orchestras have been warning of a dangerous decline in artistic quality if they accept new contracts sought by management. They say the severe

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Who’s Afraid of Popular Culture?

1 Peter Sachon

A recent missed opportunity for orchestras in New York City came in late October in the form of Comic Con.  The New York Comic Con is an annual New York City fan convention dedicated to comics, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys, movies, and television.  Comic Con is an event that brings more than 100,000 people

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When bad boards happen to good orchestras

1 Robert Levine

There’s a very interesting story going around the Twin Cities, but this one’s about baseball. Apparently the management of the Minnesota Twins has decided that they need a retractable roof after all, for about a $100 million price tag. The chances of public funding are essentially zero, so the management is planning to reduce player

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The curious incident of the Boards in the night-time

1 Robert Levine

These have been dreadful times for the musicians of the orchestras at the epicenter of the current epidemic of radical salary-slashing. Those orchestras’ audiences have been affected too, as have businesses in the areas around the concert halls. For students of labor relations, though, these have been very interesting days. No doubt pathologists during the

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Minnesota nasty

0 Robert Levine

Minnesotans are known for being averse to conflict, generous to arts and educational groups of all kinds, and generally plain-spoken (unless, of course, such speaking would lead to conflict). So, on top of the ongoing Minnesota Orchestra lock-out, this comes as a shock, even if not a surprise: The Twin Cities’ distinctive status in the

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The rest of the ugly

0 Robert Levine

Although the guts of the Minnesota proposal (and the damage done by it) lie in the economics, there is plenty of other stuff not to like as well. In particular, there are loads of changes proposed to work rules; far more than one would expect in a normal negotiation, much less one in which the

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Minnesota by the numbers

1 Robert Levine

In an act of remarkable generosity, Drew McManus not only obtained the actual proposal made to the Minnesota Orchestra by management but posted it on his Adaptistration website. I know he’s planning on some analysis, but it was too tempting a document for me to resist reading and writing about any longer. So here are

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My kingdom for a decent news article

0 Robert Levine

ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge has joined the ranks of those writing about the underlying causes of the current situation in our industry, although of course he is hardly new to the party, having written extensively about the problems in the orchestra business for Senza Sordino over the years. It’s an interesting piece in many respects;

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The reason why

5 Robert Levine

It seems inherent in human nature to look for someone to blame when bad things happen. Bad things have been happening in our field of late (or at least to a higher-than-usual number of orchestras), so those on the receiving end – who are mostly, although not exclusively, musicians – look for an enemy who

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Gold in them thar toobs?

0 Robert Levine

Think “orchestral institutions” as “artists” in this article and some interesting questions emerge: Are we finally entering the age of the digital cultural entrepreneur (DCE)? That is, has it now become possible for a gifted artist or writer to control the reins of his or her career from a laptop, scheduling gigs, selling books or

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Didn’t work

0 Robert Levine

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has pulled the plug on its attempt to emulate the Metropolitan Opera’s successful series of live broadcasts to movie theaters: When the Los Angeles Philharmonic launched its series of live broadcasts to cinemas in 2011, the organization touted it as an innovative program intended to broaden the popular reach of the

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Ground Zero for the Payless model

2 Robert Levine

Every negotiation cycle seems to have one negotiation that symbolizes the trends underlying what happens in that cycle. I had thought that last season’s epic battle in Detroit would serve that role for this round. But I think I was wrong; it’s looking as if Minnesota will define the era. And the Minnesota negotiation is

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A bad settlement in Atlanta

0 Robert Levine

The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony voted to ratify a tentative settlement that was pretty much what ASO management (or perhaps the Woodruff Center) wanted all along: Symphony Orchestra accepted a new collective bargaining agreement Wednesday, barely averting a postponement of the fall season. The deal will cost players $5.2 million in compensation over two

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That was quick

0 Robert Levine

Maybe not the shortest orchestral strike on record, but likely close to it: They entered the negotiating room in the Chicago Symphony Association’s lawyer’s office at 2 p.m. Monday, and by about 6:45 p.m. a tentative agreement had been reached in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first musicians strike in 21 years. The orchestra announced shortly

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Norman doesn’t get negotiations

0 Robert Levine

It’s not surprising that Norman Lebrecht was right on top of the Chicago Symphony strike. It’s also not surprising that much of what he wrote missed the point or was simply wrong: Chicago is where the present inflationary cycle started when Henry Fogel, the former manager, caved in to a union demand for a $104,000

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Are orchestras really non-profits?

0 Robert Levine

According to the IRS, we are. But according to this article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, we don’t seem to fit any of the models for how non-profits are funded: What follows are descriptions of the 10 funding models, along with profiles of representative nonprofits for each model. The models are ordered by the

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Community outreach – ideas for guidelines

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It appears that a big reason that the Detroit Symphony potential settlement fell apart was a dispute over $2 million for community outreach. I am sure there is more to it than that but if there is still a spark of hope embedded in that concept it is worth taking a closer look. The term

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Picking the meat off the carcass

0 Robert Levine

Very, very sad: Heritage Global Partners has been selected by Chapter 7 Trustee, Richard Yanagi, to conduct a live auction of assets of the Honolulu Symphony. The Trustee’s Motion to engage Heritage Global Partners is currently subject to final approval from the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Hawaii. Following approval, the bulk

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WTF was that all about?

2 Robert Levine

That’s also the punch line to a very funny story David Sedaris tells about a slug going door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions, but I digress. Sunday’s story in the Detroit News gave the distinct impression that the DSO management was prepared to: …move forward with a newly assembled group of players that would include only those

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More details on the Detroit negotiations

0 Robert Levine

The AFM put out a press release yesterday (February 20) which contained some interesting details on the most recent negotiations: Although Senator Carl Levin and Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert had stepped in last week to help broker an agreement, DSO management did not show up at face-to-face meetings with the arbitrators until the third

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A substitute orchestra in Detroit?

0 Robert Levine

In a front-page article in the Detroit News, Michael H. Hodges is pessimistic about the future of the DSO: …outsiders warn that suspending the season involves a leap into the unknown, one that not only threatens the orchestra’s current hold on audiences and donors, but could put the 2011-2012 season and the orchestra’s entire future

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A suspension bridge to nowhere good

0 Robert Levine

The future of the Detroit Symphony may well ride on the DSO board’s definition of the word “suspend“: The crisis surrounding the Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike hit a new peak Saturday, increasing the possibility that the financially crippled orchestra may not play a single note of music this season. The musicians rejected management’s final contract

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No settlement in Detroit

2 Robert Levine

There’s a management offer on the table, and a management-dictated deadline to accept it or the else, but there’s no agreement between the negotiating teams: Detroit Symphony Orchestra management made what it calls a final offer to musicians tonight, requesting an up-or-down vote on the contract proposal by 5 p.m. Thursday. The move — which

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Detroit inches closer to edge of cliff

0 Robert Levine

This is not the end, but it doesn’t inspire a lot of hope either: The musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra have rejected management’s latest contract offer, setting up a showdown that could lead to the cancellation of the rest of the 2010-11 season by the end of the week. With nearly 50% of the

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It's the silly season

0 Robert Levine

It’s nice to know that the management of the Louisville Orchestra think that something about the orchestra is valuable. Too bad it’s the name and not the musicians: In a sign of how far apart the two sides remain, an attorney for Louisville Orchestra Inc. has threatened legal action if its musicians continue to operate

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And they could sell tickets to staff meetings!

0 Robert Levine

Labor law bars managements from implementing the governance solution outlined by Bertold Brecht: After the uprising of the 17th June The Secretary of the Writers Union Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee Stating that the people Had forfeited the confidence of the government And could win it back only By redoubled efforts. Would it not

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Tea leaves in Detroit

0 Robert Levine

Two items in Detroit’s newspapers yesterday make me think that things are not going well there. The first was in the Detroit Free Press: Management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra reiterated today that it would make a new contract offer to its striking musicians this week and would request a response by Feb. 11. Citing

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Detroit Update 1/23/2011

0 Robert Levine

According to the Detroit Free Press, there were negotiations today: The musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra returned to the bargaining table this afternoon to try to settle the contentious strike that enters its 17th week on Monday. DSO board members received an e-mail from management today saying that talks had resumed, said

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More Detroit

0 Robert Levine

The war of words heated up during the time I was writing the previous post: Musicians’ spokesman Greg Bowens disputed the $40.1 million figure, saying, “That must be another example of the fuzzy math that got the orchestra into the deficits it’s in now.”… Bowens declined to address most other issues in management’s Saturday morning

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A press blackout with a very short lifespan

1 Robert Levine

Detroit Symphony management and musicians met all day Thursday under a press blackout: The status of contract talks between the musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra remained unclear early this afternoon in the midst of a news blackout by both sides in the dispute. The parties met all day Thursday in an effort

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AFM wins in court; won't matter much

0 Robert Levine

The AFM (or at least its lawyers) had a good win in labor law land the other day: The AFM has won a significant victory affecting orchestra media negotiations. The AFM has consistently taken the position that orchestra managements who are signatory to AFM media agreements (such as the Symphony, Opera or Ballet Audio Visual

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Movement in Detroit: PS

0 Robert Levine

It’s understandable why the musicians might be wary in light of DSO management’s public statements regarding their new “offer”: DSO officials said it would up the orchestra budget to $36 million, $2 million more in player pay and benefits than its late November offer. But the offer is contingent on musicians accepting work rule changes

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Movement in Detroit?

0 Robert Levine

Maybe: The striking musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra traded barbs and accusations on today while a settlement to the 15-week-old strike remained elusive — even as management appeared to sweeten its offer for the first time since November. The musicians called a news conference to accuse management of threatening to cancel the

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Why orchestra management is hard

1 Robert Levine

Joseph Horowitz doubled down on his remarks about musician compensation in a later blog post (analyzed by Drew McManus here): If I sound unsympathetic to the musicians, it’s because I’ve heard one too many times the strident union litany blaming ignorant boards and incompetent managers. Running an orchestra is a thankless task. I’ve done it.

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The times they are a'changin…

0 Robert Levine

I went to my local Borders today to kill some time while a prescription was filled. It’s a bi-level store, but I hadn’t gone downstairs since last year this time, as it was mostly CDs and it’s been a long time since I could count on finding something I wanted to listen to on a

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The moralistic approach to orchestra scheduling

2 Robert Levine

Interlochen Public Radio did a piece yesterday on the DSO strike; in particular the service conversion proposals that management has put on the table. The whole thing is worth reading. But I was particularly struck by comments made by Joseph Horowitz: …there are those in the industry who argue this discussion is way overdue. Joe

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The price was right

0 Robert Levine

One of the most damaging misconceptions about orchestras is that we raise money because we don’t make enough on ticket sales to cover the total expense of the concerts. The reality is very little of the fixed expenses of orchestras is covered by ticket sales, which typically cover, at most, the marginal expenses of putting

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Another take on Met HD

0 Robert Levine

After having written about the LA Phil’s upcoming experiment with broadcasting live to movie theaters and comparing it to the Met HD project, I was interested to come across another take on the whole concept from a Canadian professor of management: Recently I attended my first Live in HD broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s das

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Ice Bowl

0 Robert Levine

Long orchestra strikes come to resemble a labor relations version of the infamous Ice Bowl; a painful and slow grinding out of points in horrible conditions that caused almost as much pain to the spectators as to the players on the field. Detroit shows some signs of becoming almost as infamous in the history of

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Price it (right) and they will come

0 Robert Levine

Say “Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra” to an orchestra activist and the discussion will likely turn to that orchestra’s innovative approach to hiring and firing musicians without the institution of the Music Director. But more important to our field has been their approach to the problem of ticket prices, as described in an article in the

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Conductors say the darndest things

0 Robert Levine

There’s been a certain amount of piling-on in response to comments that conductor James Gaffigan made on his blog a few weeks ago (h/t to Adaptistration and oboeinsight). After providing us with some details of his recent guest conducting, and news of his new apartment in Lucerne, he proceeds to some rather unfortunate remarks inspired

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Grass Growing HD

1 Robert Levine

Color me skeptical: In a bold venture that the Los Angeles Philharmonic hopes will boost its “national brand” recognition and help raise the profile of classical music from Manhattan to Orange County, the orchestra next year will transmit live performances of three of its concerts to more than 450 high-definition-equipped movie theaters throughout the United

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Wassup in Detroit?

1 Robert Levine

The Detroit Symphony went on strike a little over four weeks ago, although negotiations broke down several weeks before that. That puts the strike clock at around 11:45PM, by normal standards – negotiations seem to begin to get serious, during an orchestra strike, after about six weeks. Why is that? Why not sooner? I think

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Time to go short?

0 Robert Levine

When I first came into the business, the conventional wisdom (as expressed by Len Leibowitz at many ICSOM conferences) was that it was in musicians’ interests to propose one-year agreements and let management pay for the privilege of several years of labor peace and not having to deal with negotiating committees.

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WE PLAY, WHO DOES PAY?

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“We play, you pay” is an not-so-old slogan amongst orchestra musicians. It simplistic and misinformed message does not benefit the field or respect the potential value-added skills of my colleagues. We need our field to have a deeper understanding of how the orchestra as a business runs, especially for all aspiring and current professional orchestra members. Otherwise, ignorance leads to fear of any change.

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Bad cases make bad models

1 Robert Levine

The NY Times has a story on what appears to be the inevitable strike in Detroit scheduled to start Monday: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has weathered decades of strikes, deficits, criticism over its racial makeup, mediocre concert homes, cuts in state aid and canceled tours. It has always bounced back, rescuing and restoring its beautiful

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