Managing expectations

I very much enjoyed being on the Diane Rehm show this week, with Alex Ross, Orli Shaham, and Fred Bronstein. And I’m grateful for all of you who said you’d listen, or who commented on the show on Facebook and Twitter.

Certainly I understand anyone who wished the discussion had gone deeper, or that the cast of characters had been different. If I were putting my own show together about the future of classical music, I might well do it differently. And I’m sure Alex, Fred, and Orli would, too.

expectations blogBut that doesn’t concern me. It’s Diane’s show. She has to put it together in a way that makes sense to her. While — let’s not forget — she’s also planning nine other shows that week. Since she does two hour-long segments each weekday, on two perhaps very different subjects.

For each segment she has to find an assortment of (she’ll hope) well-informed and well-spoken guests. Representing varied points of view, and balanced between those who can be in the studio, and those who have to Skype in from elsewhere. (Fred and I were in the studio, Alex and Orli Skyped.)

Given that the future of classical music might not be her home ground, I thought that she and her producer, Alex Botti, did a good job putting the show together. In Alex Ross they got a critic (quite a distinguished one). Fred Bronstein ran two big orchestras and now runs a big music school (which gives the show two specialties for the price of one). Orli’s a musician. And — however you’d classify me — I’m known for speaking about the subject of the show.

So that’s a nice mix. And let me stress a word I’ve used a lot: show. Diane, however serious her subject matter (cf. the segment before the one I was on, which was about Israelis and Palestinians), is in the business of putting on shows. And I thought she did that wonderfully well during the hour I was with her. She kept things moving, kept the discussion fresh with new topics, and tied it all up with a lively ending (something I think I don’t do often enough when I give talks).

So bravo for her. I’ve taken part in too many panel discussions, over the years, that bog down because they’re not moderated with a firm enough hand. Could we have gone deeper into any subject we discussed. Of course. But maybe if we did, the show wouldn’t have been as good radio, which would have meant the deeper discussion might not have been effective.

My own MO, when I do these things, is simple enough, honed over many years. I plan a few soundbites, for the things I most want to say and for things I think I might be asked. That’s to help me hone in on the center of my thoughts, and to stop me from speaking too long.

And then I sit back and let things take their course. Without thinking I need to take a stand on everything that’s said. It’s not my show. I’m not in charge. So it’ll be what it’ll be. On this show I felt relaxed and comfortable, for which I credit Diane. She kept the ship sailing, in a very friendly way. And brought in warm, thoughtful people who were a pleasure to listen to (even if I disagreed with some of it, as I’m sure my colleagues on the show might disagree with me).

One oddity. Orli and I know each other, but had no chance to say hello during the show, or during breaks. Didn’t seem right to say, “Hey, hi, Orli,” because that takes time, and might come off as a kind of name-dropping. Alex and I go way back, but because I was asked at the start to respond to him, I could work in something that showed we know each other.

Fred, then, was the only one of the panelists I hadn’t met. We talked a lot, off-microphone, before and after the show, and I’d say that it’s good he’s at Peabody. He seems like just the kind of leader a 21st century conservatory needs.

Anyone interested can stream the show here.

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  1. says

    Greg — as an ED of an orchestra known for doing things a little differently here in Oakland, CA (for which I can currently take little credit as I only joined them a year ago), I appreciate not only your thoughtful and considered viewpoints, but also the fact that you are actively out in the media talking and engaging on these subjects. I encourage you to continue the good work and congratulate you on making such an gargantuan effort to put yourself out there in a respectful and humble manner.

  2. MWnyc says

    Good post, Greg – especially about the issues involved in putting together a radio segment on this topic for a general-interest public radio audience (as opposed to a bunch of classical music geeks like us).