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Orchestra asks audience to vote for next music director

The Windsor Symphony Orchestra in Canada is choosing a new music director from a shortlist of seven. The Process, totally transparent, is outlined in the city newspaper. Even more open, the orchestra invites friends to vote on its Facebook page.

Leading the field at this moment is Steven Jarvi of Kansas, but that could change…


And it won’t be like this in Berlin…

UPDATE: They picked Robert Franz.



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  1. Brilliant…and perhaps a step in the right direction…

    • Not sure about that. The concert goers don’t always know enough about music to know who is the best music director for an orchestra. People can se if the possible conductor is charismatic, if is charming or nice when speaking with the audience but don’t know if he rehearses or conducts in a useful way…

      • I completely agree. This is not ideal.

      • Not an answer…but at least a step away from what seems to be the more typical tyrannical board paradigm…

        • 1. this is not new, North American orchestras have been doing this for decades. The audience, however, does not make the ultimate decision. That would be sheer lunacy. It’s just a marketing technique for the beauty-pageant style music director search, usually undertaken by smaller municipal orchestras, as is the case here.

          2, Pamela, have you not heard of the phrase the ‘tyranny of the majority’ or are you against protection of minority rights?

          3. that’s the sound of your head exploding from cognitive dissonance.

          4. no surprise Windsor is undertaking this as they are still teetering on the brink of financial collapse.

          • Just a hint — when one is truly comfortable with their position, @Doug, there is no need to lob a little hand grenade…

            Allow me to rephrase — in the current sturm und drang of the posts on orchestral management conflicts, this is the first mention of an alternative that I am aware of — be it lightweight, as in a “beauty pageant” as @Doug suggests, or not. IMO, anything that provides a balance to the possibility of tyranny by the board is something that should be considered…

  2. This one could be a blow for democracy and human rights, or it could be blowback. Recall that in the 1960′s a hippo, I believe it was, in the the Rio de Janeiro zoo was elected mayor, and in 1988, in an almost “dejà vu all over again”, Macaco Tiao, a monkey at the same zoo came in third in the mayoral election with almost a half million votes. (Or, as H.L. Mencken once said, “democracy is the theory that the common people deserve to get it, good and hard”.)

    Now, if they held a special election on the orchestra CEO or manager, that might be different.

  3. Ghillie Forrest says:

    “Once the search committee makes its decision, there will be a recommendation to the board of directors. If approved, the candidate will be offered the position. Upon acceptance, the board will make a public announcement.”

    That’s the only reference to selection (aside from identifying what looks a well-constituted committee of eleven) that I can find in the linked article. The headline of this piece makes it look as if the general populace of WIndsor (and anyone else who cares to vote) is deciding this position. For one thing, I can’t think of a conductor or candidate who would accept such a process. For another, I did not even find a reference to Facebook in the article.

  4. The poll the WSO (me, specifically) put up on Facebook this morning is all in fun. Now that all the candidates have had a chance to perform with the orchestra, we put the poll out on Facebook as a way to taking a ‘popular vote’. This poll is in no way being considered by the Music Director Search Committee.

    The Search Committee has gone to great lengths to survey the audience attending each concert. Surveys were given to each audience member at the twenty performances that featured one of our candidates. Those surveys were also available online for audience members to complete. The results of those surveys will play a key role in the determination of a new WSO Music Director. We do want the public to have a say, but in order to do so, one must have seen one of the candidates perform.

    The Poll on Facebook is in the spirit of fun and linked to nothing other than the end of five months of audition concerts. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me –

    - Shelley Sharpe
    Communications Manager
    Windsor Symphony Orchestra

  5. I possess a small 1938 book on conductors and conducting (in Dutch), which opens with a phrase that goes something like this:

    “Neither the orchestra nor the public have a correct image of the conductor; the orchestra being too close, the audience too far away from him.”

    Taking both sides into account, then, doesn’t seem like such a bad idea…

    • There’s something missing in that formula … namely, that there is a very good reason why the conductor is closer to the orchestra than the audience. After all, the orchestra is producing the sound, the music, together with the conductor (ideally). The audience is the “consumer”, orchestra + conductor the “producer”. While there have been many orchestras in recent history which performed with no conductor, there has never been a conductor who performed without an orchestra… (hmmm…)

      Orchestras ALWAYS have more of a “correct image” of a conductor than the audience could ever possibly have! And orchestras are always very quick to realize whether a conductor is helping them to make beautiful music, or merely trying to impose some kind of authoritarian control over them.

      • Even if it might seem so, the formula doesn’t actually say that the truth is somewhere in the middle. While audiences generally have a very limited idea of the actual effect (or lack thereof) of a conductor on an orchestra, the opposite is sometimes also true. But I do agree that orchestra musicians have a much more refined impression of what a conductor is capable of, even though individual appreciations may vary widely.

  6. Sir:

    I am relieved to learn that this “vote” is “all in fun”, and not a serious means of choosing a conductor. Surveying people who have actually attended concerts, whilst still excessively populist for my liking, does seem a more sensible method, at least so long as the people responsible for reading the surveys consider the quality of the observations as opposed to the quantity (i.e.: give greater weight to views that demonstrate musical insight).

    Nonetheless, I still think it pertinent to point out that the “vote” is seriously deficient and unrepresentative in that it disenfranchises anybody who is not a user on Facebook. If this process had been truly “totally transparent”, it would not *require* voters to have to sign up to the terms and conditions of one specific third party (in this case, Facebook). Therefore, I sincerely hope that *no* account will be taken of the results of that “vote”.

  7. Reggie Benstein says:

    Isn’t this all a little juvenile ? If I were one of the candidates I might be mortified.
    Places this orchestra on a lower level I’m afraid.

  8. Rixivomregulus says:

    Sorry : why do not simply the orchestra members vote???
    Aren’t they most effected by a decision like this?

  9. Rather than giving me, an unwashed concertgoer, a “vote” in the selection process, I would rather see more transparency in the MD selection process. Who are the candidates? Who are the finalists? How are decisions arrived at? What are the REAL criteria? Who demands too much pay? How about putting the face-to-face candidate interviews on-line for all to see?

    I trust expert opinions, perhaps too much and to my determent. Mine are mere opinions, not very expert. What I don’t trust is the secrecy, shadowiness, and vapid, bland, and empty cheer-leading dished out by the PR flacks when the Grand Announcement of the new “maestro” is handed down.

  10. Thielemann. I don’t see Thielemann!

  11. Let it be known (and, unfortunately this is a true story) that once a search committee chair promised the players–in a public forum–that “the next music director would look good from behind.” Another member of the committee was more concerned about a “full head of hair.” I wish I was making this up.

  12. As one of the candidates involved, let me say that in fact the procedure for the application for the job at the Windsor Symphony Orchestra was one of the most thorough I have ever been involved in. They wanted 8 references – all of whom they contacted. I had to do 2 education projects, met with three different groups from the office, the manager, the head of operations, had 2 informal meetings with Board and orchestra members, conducted three concerts and had a three hour interview which was taped and filmed! I also had to sketch out an entire season—of 20 different programs! I knew instantly that the facebook thing was a bit of fluff—and I can see that they should have made that more apparent. Had they done so, it would not have alarmed people and the fun would have been more apparent. It appears however, that ticket sales are up already because of this little facebook idea. As ever, I really appreciate the ethics of your readers in these matters!

    Kevin Mallon

    • Benjamin Gordon says:

      Dear Kevin,
      thanks for your post. Are the conductors compensated for their concerts, or did the orchestra get a partial season of conductors for free? Were the conductors both hired as guests and as “finalists” for the music director spot, then I think it’s a win-win situation for the conductors. I can imagine how much work went in to your concert programming, and I’m sure you will later be able to put your efforts to good use with another orchestra, should the WSO choose another candidate.

      • Hello Benjamin,

        In answer to your question, yes, the conductors are compensated for their concerts. This is the usual pattern when an orchestra looks for a new music director: a call is put out, a short list of applicants is chosen. These candidates are then invited to guest conduct, and one is chosen to become Music Director, to start the following season, or the one after that.

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