Artistic Policy: A Collaborative Product
One of the really interesting issues that I keep coming
across as I visit a wide range of symphony orchestras in
First of all, the skills of conducting and program-building
are not the same - and the latter is not taught very seriously in the conservatory.
I have known many conductors who made wonderful music but whose programming
skills were, shall we say, limited. And since programming is what people buy
tickets to hear, there is a marketing reality that must infuse the thinking of
program-making, and that is certainly not always a conductor's expertise. Even adventurous programming can be more
easily "sold," if the management has bought into it from the earliest stages of
conception and has thought through with the
music director how to sell it.
Then there is the area of engaging guest conductors. In the
old days, this used to be the purview of the music director - but more and more
orchestras are putting this responsibility in the hands of the management
(almost always with consultation from the music director). Again, in my view,
this is a good development. Many conductors don't actually get to see a lot of
other conductors in action, and good administrators do try to get around - and they
also have a wide range of information available to them. Orchestras avoid the
sticky issue of podium trades ("you conduct my orchestra, and I'll conduct
yours") and any other conflicts (conductors promoting other conductors
represented by the same agent). And, in my view, every orchestra begins its
search for its next music director the moment it hires a new music director -
at least by becoming familiar with the talent pool of conductors available at
the orchestra's level.
One thing I have not witnessed, but have heard about from people who have witnessed it, is the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's "war room," where programming meetings go on for hours meetings that include Music Director Robert Spano, the executive director, the artistic staff, the marketing and development staff, the librarian, and a number of others who have a stake in the final programs. They argue, cajole, tease, challenge, and stimulate each other, and the final programs represent the best of all of those minds. That to me is the ideal approach to programming, adapted to the size and skill set of any specific orchestra. The old-style music director who says "programming is my responsibility, and here are my programs," is, I think healthily, becoming a thing of the past. Programs made collaboratively, with a range of inputs, are far more likely to actually relate to the community in which the orchestra lives. In the best of all worlds, one would never have to ask the question "who has the final authority," because programs would emerge organically from the discussion. If there needs to be a "final authority," it is the music director. But in my mind, the need for there to be a "final authority" is already indicative of a flaw in the process.