The Music Director Search: Integrity and Commitment

In last week's blog, I began a discussion of some of the questions I am most frequently asked by orchestras engaged in music director searches. This week, I am continuing that subject.

What do we do when we start getting local pressure for a candidate?
It is shocking to me how often this happens. Sometimes it's a relative, sometimes it's a close friend, sometimes it's a well-meaning person who just loves the work of one conductor and pushes that name over and over again. It is really up to the music director search committee to hold firm, to apply identical standards to all candidates being looked at and discussed, and not to bend those standards just because someone (even a big donor) wants them bent. Once you start down that road, you'll never get off it. If you are involved in a search, you will easily find dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who are 100 percent certain that they know the right next conductor for you. They don't. Only a well-functioning committee that does its homework, and that rigidly applies the same standards to all potential candidates, is going to come up with the right decision. It takes a strong search committee chair, backed by an equally strong board chair, to resist the various pressures that will be applied on behalf of people's favorites.

What is the appropriate contract length for a music director?
I continue to believe, again particularly for the small and mid-sized orchestras, that three years is the right length--though nothing is carved in stone here, and your orchestra may wish to vary that a bit. That is the length that has been fairly traditional, and I think it continues to make sense.

What should we do if our first choice is not available and we are not thrilled with the other choices?
Keep searching. If there is a single person involved with a symphony orchestra about whom the majority of people should be "thrilled," it is the music director. And if you start out not being thrilled, it's likely to go downhill from there. But the likelihood is that if you do your homework carefully and thoroughly you will have more than one candidate who will thrill you. For the smaller and mid-sized orchestras in America right now, the supply and demand ratio favors the orchestras, not the conductors. Orchestras like those in Boise (Idaho), Lafayette (Indiana), Columbia (South Carolina), Chattanooga (Tennessee) and similar communities have all received between 200 and 300 applicants in recent years (some of them even a bit more than 300)--and that is without doing recruiting, which you should also do. With a pool like that, thorough research will bring you a selection of final candidates that are all on a high level.

Should the music director conduct all concerts?
I think the answer to this depends to a large degree on how many concerts your orchestra gives. If it is quite a small orchestra that gives four concerts a year, a case can be made that the music director should do them all. But once the number gets much above that, I feel that it is always advisable to have one guest conductor a year--and if the number is much more than a dozen, more than one guest conductor. The variety is good for your musicians, for your audience, and for your institution. And the music director should not choose the guest conductors; the executive director should do that. Find conductors whose musical strengths are different from the music director's. Remember that you are starting your search for the next music director the minute you hire your new one!

October 2, 2009 12:34 PM | | Comments (1)



Why do you think that the music director should not choose guest conductors? Is this to avoid any possibility of a "podium trade?"

There are a few reasons that I believe music directors should not solely choose guest conductors (which is not to say that they should not have important input - they should). One is "podium trades," which are horrifyingly common. Another is that a great majority of conductors do not actually go to other conductors' concerts with regularity, and the management of the orchestra has access to better information, and the opportunity to see and hear other conductors. Yet another is that there have been a number of cases where music directors have made certain that guest conductors are inferior to them. And yet another is that conductors, even when being totally open to musical quality with no non-musical issues muddying their view, often tend to automatically lean to conductors who have similar musical viewpoints - when in fact what is healthy for an orchestra and an audience is the variety of conductors who are completely different from the music director.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by on the record published on October 2, 2009 12:34 PM.

The Music Director Search: Residency and Balance of Skills was the previous entry in this blog.

Artistic Authority in Orchestras: A Tricky Balance is the next entry in this blog.

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