R – E – S – P – E – C – T!!!

It has been an interesting couple of weeks on the orchestral front, and not necessarily for good reasons.  One thing is for sure – if there are any knee replacement specialists in the Denver area they are about to make a killing.

The latest orchestra to face the Black Hole is the Colorado Symphony.  Hot on the heels of last week’s depressing news about there financial situation is this bombshell of an article essentially reporting on open warfare between the Board and the musicians. To say it is a very dangerous sign is almost too obvious to mention.  There are serious questions being raised about the fiscal viability of this organization.  But the money is not the real problem.  The problem is respect.

I read that article and it’s like a bad movie being repeated.  The immediate aftermath will feature the usual knee-jerk reactions.  Outraged musicians from across the country will rail about the horrible CSO Board.  The CSO Board will rail about musicians who don’t understand basic economics.  The CSO administration, those actually in charge of keeping the ship upright, will be caught in the middle, making it nigh unto impossible for the CSO to function and keep any positive profile in the community.

Unfortunately,  what is missing in all this is respect.  Respect for what the musicians do day-by-day and the sacrifices they have already made.  Respect for those Board members who donate their money and time to a large non-profit organization.  And, worse of all, what is missing is respect for those who labor day in and day out behind the scenes in the administration with the mandate of keeping the orchestra running but who are now caught between those other two forces.

“Board members were really so mad,” he said, “because, unfortunately, our musicians are sometimes so stubborn.”

In addition, (Young) Cho said, board members feel like the musicians often place the blame on them for the orchestra’s financial struggles, even though the board has covered many of the orchestra’s budget shortfalls in recent years.

“Board members are sick and tired of the musicians’ complaining,” he said.

Mr. Cho, while you might be frustrated I would like to point out that these musicians you mention are trying to make a living.  They are not making $200K a year.  They have families to support and their futures to worry about.  Perhaps you should think of that.

Pete Vriesenga, president of the Denver Musicians Association, said the musicians have been extraordinarily cooperative, considering that they accepted a 24 percent pay cut in 2009 and this most recent one.

“At that point, you would hope you’d be respected by the board,” Vriesenga said.

Mr. Vriesenga, I agree with you.  I do wonder, though, whether in the past, when perhaps the current crisis could have been avoided, there might have been initiatives taken which would have led to a brighter future for the CSO. I don’t know of course, but I suspect that this may be the case. And if the Board has been covering budget shortfalls then they deserve respect for that.  That having been said, I repeat that I agree with you.

Yet once again a major orchestra finds itself in this situation.  Instead of approaching this problem creatively and with a spirit of co-operation what we are witnessing is the implosion of this institution using the tried and true method of the scorched earth policy.  Unfortunately, this is one policy that will work extremely well.

Unless all the stakeholders of the CSO sit down immediately and find some common ground, some new streams of revenue, and most importantly some respect for each other, their march through the next few months will closely resemble that of General William Tecumseh Sherman heading towards Atlanta.  Some would argue that the South still hasn’t recovered from that.

Perhaps those stakeholders should review their history books.

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