Conductors are like reverse ostriches. We are constantly popping our heads up out of the sand, looking around, and trying to determine what orchestras are coming available, who’s looking for a new Music Director. We want that next job, the next claim to fame, etc. Buried deep on the New York Times website I noticed a little ditty. It seems that an orchestra that I am familiar with is parting ways with their M.D. Perhaps I should…….
CAVEAT EMPTOR!!! The orchestra in question is the Columbus Symphony. I’ve conducted there a couple of times and I enjoyed my experiences. I like the people, we made some wonderful music, I found some great sushi, it’s in the MidWest. Sure, there’s that whole issue of Ohio State. My dad is a Michigan grad, and no matter how low the Wolverines fall I’m still going to hate the Buckeyes with a passion I usually reserve for the right wing of the Republican party. And speaking of which, despite going for my man Barack in the last election I still think Ohio has some explaining to do about the previous two votes. These are all factors one must consider before throwing your hat into the ring.
But here’s the biggie – just spend 5 minutes doing a google search of the orchestra. Read the first paragraph of everything that pops up. The expression “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” gets a real flogging. The orchestra is in terrible fiscal shape, morale must be at an all time low, and they’re trying to right the ship in the middle of the worst economic downturn since Hoover. To make matters worse the outgoing M.D., Junichi Hirokami, is for all intents and purposes getting axed for calling it like he sees it. He looked around, saw a bad situation, and spoke out on behalf of the organization and, most importantly, the welfare of his musicians. The response: “Sayonara, Junichi!” Did I mention what morale must be like?
Mightily depressing if you ask me, and not any situation I would be eager to walk into. I don’t doubt that even if my Cubs hat went sailing in the direction of the Columbus Symphony that it would be quickly knocked out of the venue for a myriad of reasons, but I hope I would have enough sense to stay away from this round to begin with. It just seems rather depressing.
I am hopeful that Junichi has other things to do. From all accounts he’s a fine musician and I am sure he’ll be able to fill the suddenly open dates in his performance calendar. I am less hopeful about the long-term health of the Columbus Symphony. If the Gods are willing they will get their fiscal house in order, but I suspect that the psychological scars of the last couple of years might never fade. When traumatic things happen to non-profit organizations these groups rarely fully recover. I’ve had the chance to observe a couple orchestras that went through a strike period within the last decade. Not one of them is back to pre-strike levels of fiscal and community support. That should be a lesson to all of us. In the non-profit world bad publicity is exactly that.