on the record: May 2009 Archives
I have spent a good deal of my life looking at, and listening to, conductors--in concert, and on video or audio recordings. Young conductors have learned that eventually I will look at any video they send me, and so they send them! Between the concerts and rehearsals I have attended in my forty-plus years in the music business, and the videos that I have watched, particularly from conductors applying to various programs offered by the League of American Orchestras, I think it is certain that I have seen and heard more than 500 conductors at work, and possibly more than twice that many. I am often asked by conductors what I and others look for in these videos (and today it is mostly videos, not audio-only recordings).
I rarely use this space to talk about specific artists, though from time to time I have done so (Gustavo Dudamel, Gidon Kremer). But recently I encountered a pianist who so embodies the spirit that I have written about--the spirit of spontaneity and freshness and freedom in the making of music--that I cannot resist.
From time to time when I visit an orchestra, or when I talk with conductors or executives, I encounter a problem that seems to be growing and expanding like a bad weed. That is the phenomenon of board members, usually one person, trying to take over the programming of a professional symphony orchestra. This doesn't happen, of course, at the big major international-level orchestras, where there are very strong music directors and large administrative staffs. But it does happen in some of our smaller orchestras, and it often results in a mess.
Longtime readers of this blog will know that one of my pet issues in classical music is what I consider to be a loss of interpretive freedom on the part of the contemporary performer. The Zeitgeist of our time seems to dictate "fidelity to the printed score," when we actually have plenty of evidence that the composers of the 19th century did not expect that kind of rigidity. (If you want a surprise, go search online for Verdi's quotes about Toscanini--not very flattering.) I have written about this issue a number of times in this space, and from different angles; a blog might have been inspired by a particular performance that I heard, or a book I read, or just some general thoughts that flew into my head at a particular time.
Last week in this space, I wrote about what I considered to be the ideal size for boards of directors of most orchestras, particularly our smaller and mid-sized orchestras. But that size (roughly 25-35 people) presents potential problems unless the board is operated effectively. This week I'd like to offer some reflections on board operations, drawn from over four decades of experience. I became a member of the Board of Directors of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra in 1967, and there has been virtually no time in my life since that year when I have not been a member of a nonprofit board, usually music-related. And since 1981, I have managed institutions where I reported to a board. So I think I bring a fairly broad and perhaps unique perspective.