Thursday, January 28, 2016

Management backs down (for now anyway) in FW

The latest reports from Fort Worth indicate that management will not be implementing its "concessionary" contract, a move originally intended to take place on Monday the 25th. This has been gleaned from yesterday's Star-Telegram, which is now mysteriously nearly hidden behind a paywall. The news has not been confirmed by any other sources.

Neither side has offered any definitive comment on the issue. It seems more than a bit strange that CEO Amy Adkins has remained mum.

I suppose that odder things have happened.

Jaap van Zweden
He must use Gergiev's razor...

In other Texas news, Dallas Symphony Conductor Jaap van Zweden has been appointed the next Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. He is best known (or loathed) for his meticulous and demanding rehearsal style. While this seems an "out of left field" choice, may van Zweden is just what the NYPO needs.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My favorite Mozart

Today marked the 260th anniversary of the birth of Mozart (as well as something like the fifth incarnation of my "Mozart Day Letter"). Much of the life of this eternal man-child, prodigious from almost the very beginning, remains shrouded in mystery. The myths are never-ending. I still read of the "rivalry" between Mozart and Salieri, the germ of which took root in the play by Pushkin as well as Peter Shaffer's modern-day adaptation, Amadeus. Most people's knowledge of Mozart the man is based upon that film. As beautiful (and well-acted and directed--of course, it's Milos Forman) as it is, the history is bunk. The truth is, that despite all the theories--chronic illness, bad pork, some kind of plague--we'll never know what or who killed Mozart.

And that doesn't matter, because we're left with the music. His works remain among the most widely played in concert around the globe (it's usually Beethoven and then Mozart with an occasional outlier in an anniversary year. In fact, in 2015 Mozart overtook Beethoven as the most performed, according to Bachtrack.

Mozart the composer was not truly groundbreaking, inventing (or at least perfecting) genres like Haydn with the string quartet and the symphony. But his strides in his bread and butter work--opera (that's where composers could strike it relatively rich if they had no patron)--he remains (in my opinion) unequaled. And opera houses seemed to agree in 2015 as well; three of his greatest hits: Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Magic Flute all hit the opera top ten.

The heck with statistics. I want to talk about my favorite Mozart and get away, at least for a day, from the dull roar of collective bargaining agreements. Of course, with Mozart having written in every genre, I'd have to insist that it's impossible to name one favorite piece; of course it's my blog and I can pick and choose as I wish.

The piano concertos remain the genre in which Mozart made the most contributions. Of course, he did write the first of them at the age of 11! By the end of his career (the final concerto was completed in 1791) he had fully integrated the classical form as well as undertaken great strides in his orchestration. No longer were the winds and brass simple filler at cadence points, but a true part of the compositional fabric. My favorite? This one is actually quite easy: No. 20 in D-minor, K. 466. I seem to be drawn to Mozart's minor key works, probably because I feel he is at his the peak of his harmonic inventiveness in them.

Other concertos. Mozart's four concertos for horn are among the early masterworks for the instrument, but the best of the others has to be the sublime Concerto for Clarinet, K. 622 (another work from his last year). Many players insist--and I agree--that it remains today the finest concerto for the instrument.

Chamber music. This remains tricky as one has to answer the question, How many in a chamber? That said, the most influential work (and my favorite) for smaller forces is the Serenade No. 10, K. 361, also known as the Gran Partita, a truly monumental work for 13 players. Composers as diverse as Dvorak, Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, and others have modeled works on Mozart's original. I keep struggling to find a favorite performance; rumor has it that there is either a Klemperer or Furtwangler (I can't recall which) out there...That said, I know that I need to get to know the chamber music much better. I guess that's why I own Mozart's complete works.

Symphonies. Easy peasy. No. 40, G-minor, K. 550. Part of three consecutive symphonies written in less than three months in summer, 1788.

Opera. This one is up for grabs in the minds of many. Some say Don Giovanni; others, including me, insist on Le Nozze di Figaro. I've probably seen DG more than any opera, period, even having attended a performance in the theater where it premiered in Prague (talk about flirting with history!). But, if only for the second act finale, Figaro is number one. All of that cascading music, which flows from one section to another (and with obvious tempo choices) is just a miracle. But of course, it is difficult to knock off the penultimate scene in DG with the trombones whisking the evil Don into the bowels of hell.

Vocal music. One has to remember that, besides opera, Mozart's contributions to vocal music are wide-ranging. He was even able to write masterful church music for his Salzburg employer's "brief" masses. But Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618, is--in all of its simplicity--among the most beautiful works composed for mixed voices. And one cannot forget the "Et Incarnatus Est" movement from the uncompleted C-minor mass, K. 427. This was allegedly written for performance by Mozart's wife and if so, she was one hell of a singer!

Of course there is the Requiem, K. 626, that work that "killed him." This much is known: there was a black-cloaked stranger, but it wasn't Salieri, who had nothing to do with the commission or the writing of the music. What we have in Mozart's hand remain sketchy at best--I've seen the facsimile of the manuscript. We don't really know who wrote what and many other attempts have been made to complete it "as Mozart would have." But we don't know that answer and we never will. So for me, I'll stay close to the original....

Catch a listen to my own recording sometime. Oops, it was never distributed. Guess you'll have to visit and share a glass or two with me. Mozart and Riesling a good pairing? Only if the latter is dry.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

If you can't "do....." A (partial) tale of the mess in FW

Seriously, how did the Fort Worth Symphony get to this point? Players are up in arms about another pay cut. Management is insistent that it needs to happen in order to keep the organization solvent (no talk of a lock out, but the player's union has authorized a strike--if it comes to that.)

Detroit in 2010, could be anywhere today...
2010 wasn't really a great year for symphony orchestras in the U.S. The Cleveland Orchestra stuck early that year when negotiations broke down. In the fall, the Detroit Symphony was just starting what would become a near-crippling walk out. And the autumn began in silence as the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony imposed, according to Front Row D magazinea warning to orchestra management that the musicians were united in their opposition to cuts proposed during their contract renewal talks.

In November, musicians gave in to a very large pay cut of nearly 14%. At that time, FWSOA President Ann Koonsman (who would serve less than one year more) said, With this new agreement, the musicians are accepting a decrease in pay. None of us are pleased about that, and I ask the community to step forward and to increase their support of the Orchestra. The players were led to believe that management would step up its development efforts in order to restore what they had given away. Unfortunately....

Ann Koonsman, gotta love the pose....
In 2010, the head of development (that's the person directly in charge of raising donor dollars) was Amy Adkins. She was rewarded for her bang up job with a promotion--to the President's position! Yes, you read that correctly: the person who didn't raise enough money to balance the budget would become the head of the whole organization. In fact, she was the only person considered for the job, having been basically crowned by the outgoing CEO, Ms. Koonsman. Let's not even get into someone hiring their replacement...

One has to wonder a bit about Ms. Adkins, of whom it was said (again in Front Row, January 28, 2011), The Board of Directors is thrilled to announce Amy’s appointment as president and CEO. Her longtime dedication to the Orchestra, her love of music, and her ability to form relationships with key supporters makes her the perfect fit. Amy’s knowledge of orchestral management combined with her superb fundraising talents will ensure that the Orchestra has a bright future.

Knowledge of orchestral management? Where did that come from? Here's the backstory, as chronicled by Ms. Adkins herself (in a Front Row story from August):

She started college as a piano performance major at Texas Tech University, where she met her future husband, Alton Adkins. But while on a trip to visit a friend in New York City when she was 20 years old, Adkins took a little personal tour of the famed Juilliard School of Music that changed the course of her career.

"I remember hearing the level of playing coming out of those Juilliard rooms," she recalls. "I realized that I just wasn't at that level and that a performance career was not going to be for me."
 So let's get this right: is this an example of "if you can't do..."

And just like that, Adkins shifted her major from performance to music education. With her freshly minted education and music certification degree in hand, she began to teach music and choir in the Duncanville school district. After two years of teaching, Adkins was emotionally and physically spent. But she couldn't handle teaching after two whole years? (Sorry, I've been in the profession for 30. Every day is a joy.)

Enter Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, which, in the summer of 1993, engaged Adkins' husband as a French horn player. Alton Adkins has been with the orchestra ever since.

By 1995, Adkins had joined the orchestra as its education coordinator. Eventually, Adkins would take on the more influential position of development director, where she thrived. Thrived so well that the players took a huge pay cut right before she assumed control.

DFW International, one of the world's busiest
Granted, in 2010 the nation was coming out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  That said, the orchestra had a successful endowment campaign completed in 2008. Then there's Rick Perry's "Texas Miracle." Godsend or not, Texas was not hit as hard by the recession as the rest of the country. The price of a barrel of crude reached its lowest point in 2009, when it was $53.48. A year later, that same price had risen to over $71. The entire state was in a growth pattern which has yet to abate.

Since 2000, Fort Worth has been the fastest growing city in the U.S. The nation's 16th largest city, it is part of the number one tourist destination in Texas. Some 6.5 million people annually visit the Dallas-Fort Worth area. WalletHub has called it the number 1 city for finding a job. Visit the FW Chamber of Commerce website; Fort Worth, by all measures, is a happening place....

Fort Worth skyline: not just a cow town anymore...
By all measures except what it pays its orchestra. It's obvious that the blame must rest with management. They were given a huge concession in 2010. Five years later (this mess has been going on since last summer) management has demanded (there has never been any "asking") for more.

The buck stops at the top.

Monday, January 25, 2016

An update from Fort Worth

It seems as though, no sooner than I'd written about the Fort Worth crisis, there was more news in the air. The management determined that it would begin Monday (tomorrow) with concessionary terms, which cut musicians’ pay more than 8 percent and save the symphony $371,000 a year, this according to Andrea Ahles of the Star Telegram.

Andrea Ahles
Musicians were apparently ready for this action and met before Friday evening's performance to reject the plan.  KERA News reported “In 2010, we accepted a 13.5% pay cut, saving the symphony over $2.3 million to date,” the musicians’ union says in a statement. “Where did that money go? In the meantime, Orchestra management has had five years to come up with a plan for growth, but they have not. Instead, they have been depleting the Symphony’s contingency funds. Now, once again, we are being told to pay for a pattern of shortsighted management, cutting our salaries down to 2003 levels....

It also needs to be noted that the FWSO completed its Millennium Campaign in 2008, raising some $28 million for the orchestra's endowment. Of course, it took eight years to get there rather slow going when compared to other non-profit entities. So, one could ask, "Where's the money?" Yes, it probably took a big hit along with the recession. But, as economists will tell us, the country has largely recovered. What's wrong with Fort Worth? All that CEO Adkins has to offer is excuses:

Adkins next to Lan Lang at a 2015 Gala
Um, if they can afford  to bring him in......
“No matter what we are doing to improve matters, the setbacks have erased everything we’ve done and then some,” Adkins said.

This year, she said, the deficit will grow to $650,000, partly because of increased rental costs at Bass Hall. (Bass Hall rental fees also continued to increase. Since 2010, the symphony’s rent has risen more than 23 percent, from $260,000 to this year’s expected payment of $319,000.) It seems to me that some renegotiation of that contract is in order.

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It must be noted that Bass Hall brags on its own website:

The mission of the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall is to serve as a permanent home to major performing arts organizations of Fort Worth and as a premiere venue for other attractions so as to enhance the range, quality, and accessibility of cultural fare available to the public; to promulgate arts education; and to contribute to the cultural life of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and the region.

Bass Performance Hall is the crown jewel of a city which boasts the nation's third largest cultural district. It is also an important symbol of one of the most successful downtown revitalization efforts in the country.

Built entirely with private funds, Bass Performance Hall is permanent home to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Texas Ballet Theater, Fort Worth Opera, and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and Cliburn Concerts. Each resident company operates independently from Performing Arts Fort Worth and manages its own programming schedule at Bass Hall.
  • “We often had to beg and plead for money at the end of every year to balance the budget, and many of those year-end ‘angels’ are either gone or not able to do what they once did,” Adkins said.
Something just plain doesn't add this:
  • “The bottom line is we have made up a lot of the ground we lost in 2008 and 2009, but our revenue still remains less than it was prior to the recession,” Adkins said.
Bad-faith bargaining has been happening across the country (note the culmination of the Hartford crisis. It continues to occur in places as wide-ranging as Colorado and Michigan (as if Flint's water woes weren't enough to deal with).

But tomorrow, let's talk about Amy Adkins and how she is not at all qualified to be the Chief Executive of the FWSO.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Meanwhile in Fort Worth

I've had to step back from chronicling the situation in Hartford. It's been exhausting. That doesn't mean that I am finished banging the drum for the HSO. One has to only hope that the powers-that-be come to their senses and realize that the "alliance" between the HSO and BPAC benefits only the latter. More will be seen about the true picture when the 2014 990s are released.

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1912, has a long and distinguished history. Disbanded in 1917 due to the First World War, it was reconstituted in 1925 and only four years later, Lela Rogers (Ginger's mom!) became Executive Director. The orchestra has played at Carnegie Hall (as both the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra and in 2008 as the FWSO), toured China, Mexico, and Spain. Ann Koonsman served 31 years as Executive Director starting in 1980. It was in the change of leadership that the house began to crumble.

The FWSO, "with their assured, rich-hued and impassioned account
of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony."
NY Times, January 2008

A few weeks ago, I wrote of the problems within the organization. As a reminder, the players agreed to a 13.5% pay cut to help pull the orchestra out from the nation's recession. The next time contractual negotiations began--the contract expired in July--management comes forward with an "offer" of an 8.7% cut, eliminating a 3.5% give-back in 2012 and then some.

The orchestra is allegedly running deficits between $200 and $400K. The major sticking point for me is that the former development officer who should have been beating the bushes raising funds to get the orchestra out of the red three years ago (Amy Adkins is her name) was promoted to the Executive Director's position in 2011.

Amy Adkins
I'm trying to figure out the pose... wrote of Adkins' ascendence to the head job in an August 2011 article, Amy Adkins takes fearlessness to new heights as leader of the FWSO. In it, Adkins put a bright face on an orchestra that had just gone through a bitter negotiation process, "I know this is a big job, and I would be lying to say I'm not just a bit intimidated, but I also hasten to say I'm not a fearful kind of person," says Adkins, whose orchestra résumé includes time as its education coordinator and, most recently, development director. "Honestly, becoming president was not something I first aspired to, but I just adore this organization and I feel so passionately about the people that work for it that I have become compelled to do this. It's become my calling."

"Clearly, establishing financial stability will be our No. 1 short-term goal," Adkins says. "We've got to increase our earned income by selling more tickets." Um, time and time again, it's been proven that there is little income potential from ticket revenues.

Adkins, who is also mom to sons Jacob, 14, and Benjamin, 10, says she feels like she is in fighting trim to take on the gargantuan role of orchestra president, thanks to a relatively recent obsessive pursuit of exercise.

"I've become a bit of a nut about it," she admits.

Her regimen involves going to the Larry North gym four times a week, often working with a personal trainer. And what's on the iPod of the president of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra? Sting, Coldplay, U2, Black Eyed Peas, Adele and an Irish band called the Script.

Of her exercise regimen, she says, "Cardio is never my favorite, but I've been introduced to kickboxing, and that's quite an experience. I never really thought of exercise as being so empowering, but it does give me so much more energy."

That energy -- and sense of empowerment -- may serve Adkins well as she navigates the job.
 Obviously it hasn't helped very much as the orchestra (despite a $28 million increase in its endowment at the end of Koonsman's tenure) may be going from bad to worse. But look on the bright side. The current concessions are only half what management took away in 2010!
But I digress--a lot.

Bill Clay, Principal Bass
Only a week ago KERA News reportedFive years ago, Fort Worth Symphony players agreed to slash their salaries in tough financial times. Now, with new contract talks, they want those cuts restored. Bill Clay is the principal bass player with the Fort Worth Symphony and speaks for the players. “Our proposal has come down by over $1.25 million and management on the other hand hasn’t moved from their financial proposal since October,” Clay says. Two days ago, that same station offered this: The Fort Worth Symphony says it has issued its final offer and musicians will vote on it this week, but it’s not clear if they’ll accept it.

So it's yet another example of management taking the hard line and expecting the players (um...they're the ones making the music and racking up glorious reviews) to acquiesce. Just like the lockouts in Atlanta and Minnesota. Oh wait, neither of those turned out the way management intended. Chief executives were fired and the community won. But, but, worked in Hartford after all!

The musicians of the FWSO are taking the issue into their own hands. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted that Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra musicians voted on Tuesday to authorize a strike after the symphony’s management said it planned to implement a “concessionary contract” this month. “The musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony met [Tuesday] afternoon for a strike authorization vote, and the vote was passed virtually unanimously,” said Scott Jessup, spokesman for the musicians union.
The vote does not call a strike but authorizes the union’s negotiating committee to do so.

FWSO pickets outside Bass Hall
This was brought about by the symphony's decision to implement a new contract on Monday with financial concessions including an 8.4 percent cut in total wages. “The difference with this latest offer is that the Symphony has stated that they will not bargain with us anymore by calling this their ‘last, best, and final,’ offer,” the union said in a statement. “Management says they will implement this offer on January 25, forcing us to work under the conditions they impose.”

Management has shot back with an immediate response, again blaming the economy. Adkins maintains that the symphony has comprehensive fundraising plans that are ongoing and targeted. And just because the city’s economy is growing, she said, that doesn’t necessarily mean more symphony supporters. Really? “We often had to beg and plead for money at the end of every year to balance the budget, and many of those year-end ‘angels’ are either gone or not able to do what they once did,” Adkins said.

American Federation of Musicians Local 72-147 Secretary-Treasurer Stewart Williams argues that symphony management does not have a sustainable financial plan and that cuts should not be necessary when the economy in Fort Worth is doing well. “The cuts didn’t fix the problem five years ago, and they’re not going to fix it now."  Management should have put a plan into place five years ago to stabilize its operations, he said.

And Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya? As usual, mum's the word...

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Only a couple of things can occur once one side or the other decides that it's no longer willing to sit at the table, and they don't amount to moving forward. Either management imposes a lockout (and again I have to note how well that hasn't worked) or, in fewer cases, the players strike. Such actions have threatened organizations such as the Chicago Symphony (very briefly) and the venerable Metropolitan Opera. In the latter, matters did get precariously close to the breaking point but federal mediation and the efforts of Peter Gelb (I can't believe I'm praising the guy) saved the day.

While the music hasn't died in the FWSO, it is only a matter of time. Again, there are no winners, only losers: the musicians and the community. Then there is any community pride and goodwill that might have been engendered since 1912.

It's the "vision thing" or, in this case, the lack of it.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hartford: It's over but it's not pretty.

Not much of a party...
As I previously predicted, the labor relations stalemate has ended with the musicians caving in to the demands of management. Very little has changed in the eventual settlement and the players have made almost unconscionable concessions to keep the music playing.

The "boots on the ground" have come out in great number to report on the resolution.

Mara Lee
Mara Lee, who has made considerable and insightful contributions to this issue in the Hartford Courant, writes that Its money problems are not over, but the vote by Hartford Symphony Orchestra's board Tuesday – after musicians' vote Monday to accept significant wage cuts — means that a major institution will continue to be part of the region's cultural landscape. Some of the principals in the drawn out negotiations (which should have begun before the previous contract expired, not a year after) commented in Ms. Lee's article:

  • Steve Wade, an oboist, said that some musicians cried as they spoke during four hours of discussion Sunday night, while others expressed anger, before voting on management's offer. He declined to say what the vote tally was, but said it was not unanimous. The vote reflects that we want to be on stage for a long time," Wade said.
  • Stephen "Steve" Collins, Director of Artistic Operations and Administration: said the wage concessions will reduce what had been a projected $900,000 deficit in 2016 to about $500,000. He said management also has a plan to cut $350,000 in overhead and to raise an additional $350,000 annually. The orchestra raised $2.5 million last year. "This is definitely a challenge. We cannot do this alone. We need the community's support," Collins said. "This agreement we've come to conclusion with the AFM, it's not a silver bullet, it's one piece of the puzzle."
Steve Collins, a musician who
sold his soul to the Bushnell
The puzzling thing to me is Steve Collins himself. He come from a performance background, having played in the percussion section for a number of small time New England orchestras. As one of our readers recently commented, Steve Collins was hired largely for this purpose: to sit across the table and extract punitive cuts from people he should view as colleagues, brothers and sisters.Something in his career must have driven a wedge between himself and musicians.

Katie Pellico, Assignment Editor for WTNH, quotes from the musician's press release, Unfortunately, up to this point in time our management team has been unwilling to make a similar gesture, a fact that makes it much harder for us to accept the salary cuts that are demanded of us. If we do agree to these concessions, we need to see that the values of the management we work for are aligned with ours.
Really? I find that very difficult to believe....

An anonymous piece in the Courant is just plain idiocy; offering "Five Reasons to Be Happy the Hartford Symphony will play on, the article (editorial?) notes:

1. It's a win. A major Connecticut institution isn't shutting down.
2. We're No. 2. Obviously, we aren't Boston, but Hartford has the second-largest symphony in New England. [And that's something to brag about? "We're number two! We're number two!]

3. It's a lesson. The musicians are making painful concessions to preserve something good. State legislators ought to pay attention. [The author(s) obviously have another agenda here.] 

4. It's like the NFL playoffs."The Battle of the Batons" starts Thursday night. For four performances, the three finalists for assistant conductor will square off. [No, it's not like the NHL playoffs at all. This is insulting to the music and the musicians. Of course, the parent organization decided to call it a "Battle of the Batons," possibly in hopes of attracting all of those Bruins' fans.

5. It's a chance to something different. They're staying, so why not go? All student tickets start at $10. If you're under 40, Thursday evening Masterworks tickets start at $28. Rush tickets for senior citizens -- available an hour before the show -- are half price. [It's great music, offered by dedicated musicians. That why you go.]

Several things are still in flux, reports Hartford The symphony has also committed to reducing expenses and increasing fundraising by $700,000, Collins said. He said that could be achieved in part by renegotiating vendor agreements and looking at employee efficiencies. He said those efficiencies do not include planned layoffs at this point. The remainder of the 2015-2016 symphony season will proceed as planned, Collins said. "There may be some modifications to specific programs", he added.

As a closing thought on this sad chapter in the lives of the orchestral musicians of Hartford, I must point readers to Drew McManus's recent post. He succinctly summarizes the aftermath: Although the concessionary settlement may be in place, the HSO’s greatest threat to long term sustainability remains unchecked; in particular, the relationship between the HSO and Bushnell Performing Arts Center (BPAC) and its influence on maximizing revenue.

Bushnell: the one-sided dalliance has to go

About David Fay, the Bushnell, and its role in this dispute, McManus states,

No One Can Serve Two Masters

As mutually exclusive 501(c)3 organizations, the HSO and BPAC compete for the same board and donor resources. In turn, the unearned income from those resources contributes to the majority of the orchestra’s revenue. In short, these are among the biggest chips in the revenue game.

The lynchpin in that board sourced revenue process is an institution’s CEO.

Although a nonprofit board is entrusted with the legal authority to hire, oversee, and hold a CEO accountable for results, the reality of that relationship plays out with less clarity.

Inside many nonprofit performing arts organizations, board members often lack enough direct nonprofit management expertise to carry out those duties effectively. As a result, the CEO tends to fill a dual role as someone who reports to the board, but also educates them on how the business operates.

Moreover, the CEO is also a key figure in recruiting the best available board talent and inspiring those individuals to maximize unearned income potential.

In the HSO’s case, installing a CEO that serves in the same position at what would otherwise be a competing institution invites a nothing short of a conflict of interest.

* * * * * * * * * *

The musicians are obviously the losers in the Battle of Hartford. The winner(s)? Look to the top.

Why, it's David Fay!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Hartford Symphony's Value Is Greater Than Its Music

Maybe in the Chorale; Not so in the HSO.
I've written a great deal about the Hartford Symphony, so much so that some might accuse me of ulterior motives. I have no skin in the game. I don't know anyone in the Hartford Symphony or the city of Hartford (unless you're talking about a loose connection with my auto insurance policy, issued by--drum roll please--the Hartford. I've never even been to Connecticut; some day I'll remedy that. I hope to be able to hear the Hartford Symphony.

But I thought I'd step away for a moment and allow someone "on the ground" offer his thoughts on the impasse (I think of it more as a crisis). This from Robert Thorson, a Professor at UConn's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in the Hartford Courant, January 6:

Prof. Robert Thorson
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra must not be silenced. Something must be done to clear the impasse between management and labor, or in this case between the symphony's board of directors and its unionized musicians.

My life would continue normally if the orchestra were muffled. But it would be diminished. Not because I attend many concerts. But because I would wake up each morning knowing that my state's capital city supports minor league Yard Goats, but not major league music....

Happily, the HSO impasse is less about music than money. This has always been the case with public orchestras. Indeed, the HSO was founded in 1934, not by a professional musician, but by a prominent local businessman, Francis Goodwin II, who understood the symbolic value of bringing a "real" orchestra to a rising city. And it was founded not by philanthropic largesse, but by a federally funded jobs creation program to help struggling musicians get through the Great Depression. The history lesson is clear. Public financial support is essential, then and now.

The board of directors wants to cut musician salaries by 30 percent.
(Actually it is more than that.) In turn, the musicians claim that the root cause of financial trouble lies with the board's vision. Surely the truth lies in both camps. The musicians can hardly go on strike. And the board can hardly shift to another product line. We, as listeners, need them, as much as they need us.

Let the music continue.

Kuan, Is she this happy now?
Although Music Director Carolyn Kuan has offered to reduce her own salary, one has to wonder if that is enough. As the HSO made its final offer, Mara Lee reported on Friday that HSO Board Chairman Jeffrey Verney did not return a call for comment. Apparently, neither did "Artistic Director Steven Collins (who) declined to be interviewed about how the final offer differed from last week's comprehensive proposal."

One word about Kuan's benefits. They include a rental apartment, a rental car, and travel costs. From Ms. Lee's article: Kuan's salary in 2013, according to tax forms charities file, was just over $154,000, although she also received $24,240 in nontaxable benefits, including the cost of renting her apartment, automobile rental and travel costs. Kuan, who became the symphony's 10th music director in 2011, signed a six-year contract last year that begins in June. These are all things associated with the current "absentee landlord" type of conductor. Take several jobs but live wherever you like. Don't make a commitment to the community in which you serve and, in kind, serves you and your musicians.

Management continues to lament the difficulty in maintaining its donor base. Honestly, that shouldn't be difficult in a city with an much insurance money as Hartford. But, of course, who in their right mind would want to offer financial support to an organization that has proven itself an administrative nightmare and a financial black hole?

My thoughts? The musicians will cave because they have no choice. This obviously isn't a full-time job for an of them; those are reserved to the Music Director (who must have work elsewhere) and administrative personnel. We're not going to see "the day the music died" in Hartford, but it will certainly be performed by musicians who see the value of that work gravely diminished.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Kuan finally speaks up but says very little...

Carolyn Kuan
There have been no statements issued regarding the negotiations between the Hartford Symphony and its musicians. However, this appeared on the WNPR site this morning. Having been railing about this issue for days, I would be inclined to say, "It's about time." But really, is there anything of substance to this?

Statement From Carolyn Kuan, Music Director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra:

I have always believed that orchestras exist to serve their communities. I have been tremendously grateful for the support, enthusiasm, and dedication of our audience, donors, and community over the past five years.

It has been a privilege to work with the Hartford Symphony musicians, who are not only tremendous artists, but are also passionate, caring and beautiful human beings--on whom I can depend and for whom, I can be there. Together, along with our incredibly dedicated staff, it has been an honor to make a difference in our community. Making a difference: that has been what drives us as an organization, and I have always believed that if we do the right thing — serve the community — support will come.

In the past five years, we brought awareness to issues of conservation and environment with "Life: A Journey through Time." When Governor Malloy talked about Connecticut having a greater presence in China, "Yellow River Cantata" brought the China Consulate General to our stage, and the news of Hartford Symphony's performances was broadcast throughout China. We actively seek to serve and collaborate with local organizations from The Wadsworth (Coney Island exhibit, Sunday serenades and a variety of other programming), Hartford Stage (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Hartford Chorale, Goodspeed Opera, Nutmeg Ballet, The Hartt School, University of Connecticut, Farmington High School, Arthur Murray Dance Studios and countless others. We perform masterworks as well as introduce world-class artists of unusual instruments such as sheng, koto, kamancheh, bagpipe, beatboxing, and more. In our desire to serve Hartford, Playing with Food was created in response to Mayor Segarra's call for more people to visit downtown restaurants.

In ways both big and small, and with impacts ranging from artistic to societal, Hartford Symphony makes a difference in our community. It is our highest aspiration to continue our service: we want to do more and we can do more.

But first we must resolve our present contract challenges.

Given the urgency of the situation, I want to personally recognize the substantial cuts being asked of the musicians of the HSO and offer publicly to share their sacrifice by reducing my salary commensurately. I had intended to do this privately, but I am hopeful that making this gesture public might help, in a small way, to resolve the present crisis.

I truly love this orchestra and this community, and hope all of us who care about Greater Hartford, culture, and a higher human spirit can now come together to help, and find a fair and workable solution.

Most of this statement is full of empty platitudes and the conductor obviously doesn't choose to take a stance one way or the other. But we read that Carolyn Kuan is willing to take a 40% pay cut to keep the music playing? Forgive my cynicism, but I'll believe it when I see (or hear) it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bushnell: Show me the money!

As the Hartford Symphony approaches the (literal) zero hour, I've stepped back a bit from reading about last ditch efforts to save the HSO. Yesterday, I offered part of a letter from an HSO musician, trumpeter Jay Lichtmann, who wrote Mr. Fay has promised to use the Bushnell's development office to help raise funds for the symphony, but little has been done on this front. The orchestra's debts continue to mount while sizable new financial commitments have been made.

From Alliance; noun
1. the act of allying or state of being allied.
2. a formal agreement or treaty between two or more nations to cooperate for specific purposes.
3. a merging of efforts or interests by persons, families, states, or organizations: an alliance between church and state.
4. the persons or entities so allied.
5. marriage or the relationship created by marriage between the families of the spouses.
6. correspondence in basic characteristics; affinity: the alliance between logic and metaphysics.

This "alliance" has always seemed to me to be one that could only benefit the Bushnell Center, while it actually should be the other way around. If the arts center and its CEO, David Fay, really cared about the future of orchestral music in Connecticut's state capital, the development office would have leapt into action. So far, there has been little, if any effort in this regard.

So it's not an alliance. Merriam Webster offers these "near antonyms": breakup, dissolution, disunion; division, parting, separation, severance, split; alienation, divorce, estrangement. But none of those work as they imply that there was a real "alliance" in place. 

Or this?
As the labor situation has continued to escalate and the threat of a shutdown is imminent (midnight tonight), I have begun to receive reports from sources close to the symphony. One writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, wonders why nothing has been written about the organization's endowment. Well here's an answer from the HSO's 2014 IRS 990 form which indicates "investment income" of $1.35 million. What that tells me is that there is a pile of money laying around somewhere collecting all that interest. 

N.B. If one digs just a little deeper into the 990 information (check out part X) one discovers total assets of $9.8 million, which includes over $9 million in investment securities.

Eschewing altruism, one has to wonder exactly what's in this alliance for Bushnell? My source asks, What was in it for that organization? What profits, pluses, benefits. If you analyze this situation it is obvious that the answer to above questions is: none. When the merger happened, Bushnell was presented as a savior. Here we had a ailing company (HSO) joining with a strong company in promoting and distributing the arts. It seemed that HSO was the ONLY side to reap all the benefits. My question exactly.

Among the selling points to the HSO in the "alliance" (increasingly it seems nothing of the kind) include development monies of which only about 25% of the promised total has materialized. The other strong selling point were the savings the Symphony would receive on hall rental, according to my source. The HSO paid up to $60,000 a week for Bushnell rental for its concerts. Another one? The HSO was to pay only small administration fees to the Bushnell, therefore it let go of several of its employees thus saving some money. 

The reality of the situation is staggering. The Symphony is STILL paying the $60,000 per week fee! The administrative costs paid to Bushnell are around $300,000 per year. The HSO is bleeding money which goes directly to Bushnell.... Interestingly enough, The three board members who pushed for merger the most resigned or "retired" from the board a the end of last season.

There seems to be a lot of money to be made,
but where is it going?
There's more to this but will require some real "boots on the ground" investigation.

Now, here is what I've gathered about Steve Collins, the Executive Director pro tem. (Let's call the position what it truly is....):

In the summer of 2015 the musicians and management were already in contract dispute, the new contracts were not issued, the donations were not coming in, the situation was dire. Yet, Steve Collins uproots his whole family, his freelance musician wife [If you don't know what freelancers make, talk to me] and two young children and moves them to Glastonbury where he buys a $450K house. It seems like unwise move, right? Some of you mentioned in the blog that Steve Collins is really "the man in charge".  I hope not, I hope he was just as misinformed and played with as musicians. The alternative is just too terrible to comprehend. Many of us know him from the times long ago when he was a musician and spoke a slightly different language. It will be interesting to know see what happens to Collins' career after the HSO is no more. If he stays with the Bushnell...well we will have our answer. It seems to me however that Mr. Collins is a puppet in Mr. Fay's hands.

Maybe I'm getting jaded in my old age. I have been around the block more than once, with educational institutions and a number of non-profits. As a shameless plug, if you want to help a musical organization get out of a hole, talk to me about that too.

If this is true, then the ED pro tem got a pretty sizable raise from his position in Waterbury. Of course, I don't know what $450K buys in Connecticut. Here in Dubuque, the city fathers and mothers spent that much on a public restroom (I wish I was kidding).

Dubuque's infamous $450K bathroom
No, the toilets are not gold plated...

One last point that I've been thinking about and my source also questioned involves educational programs, i.e. getting symphony musicians into the schools. I understand that there has been a lot of this in the past but not a single performance yet this year. If things in Connecticut work like things in Iowa, such programs are usually supported through grants from arts councils, corporations, foundations, etc. If this is the case, Bushnell is in violation of the terms of these grants. It's like restricted endowment funds; you can only use it for its intended (or "granted") purpose. Renege on that agreement and the money has to return to its original source.

This is one convoluted mess. On the one hand the HSO is getting ready to fold. On the other hand, Bushnell continues to reap profits on the back of the HSO and, in kind, its musicians. The real winner in this "alliance" (I really need a better word) is obvious and its not the orchestra, the musicians, nor the community.

In all of this, Mara Lee, writing for the Hartford Courant, tells us that Conductor Carolyn Kuan did not return a call requesting a comment. When Atlanta faced a long and ugly lockout, conductors Robert Spano and Donald Runnicles were adamant about the situation. Osmo Vanska almost single-handedly brought the Minnesota Orchestra Association to its senses and hastened the departure of then-ED Michael Hensen. And Carolyn Kuan (who just received a raise and a six-year contract extension) is mum.

Tomorrow is the Ides of January: sadly fitting....

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Who's who in Hartford

When the "alliance" between the Bushnell Center for the Arts and the Hartford Symphony was originally announced in March 2014, Both groups were at pains to insist that (1) this was not a “merger” (both boards, for instance, would remain intact), and (2) that this new deal, which had been discussed on and off for years, was not being entered into, because the orchestra was “ailing.” (Steve Metcalf, WNPR, September 2014). It was further stated that David Fay, head of the Bushnell, would be both President and CEO of the orchestra (HSO) and interim CEO Carrie Hammond was relieved of her duties.

The Bushnell Center
Come Friday, will they need to drape it in black?
Metcalf also posed a number of questions, some of which have been--unfortunately it seems--already answered:
  • Will the partnership result in new approaches to programming and repertoire?
  • Is it realistic these days to hope for an increase in HSO activity, including performances outside the Bushnell itself?
  • Will the hoped-for new administrative stability mean the HSO will be able to attract significant new donors?
Steve Metcalf
It must be pointed out that the orchestra was, in fact, "ailing" (floundering might be a better term). Donations were down, musicians had made large concessions in their 2010 CBA, and (apparently--although it can't be discovered in the symphony's IRS 990s) there were--and continue to be serious cash flow problems.

By the way, the answer to all of the above questions seems to be a resounding "No!"

But there's more. In attempting to answer all of these questions and sort out the stalemate between orchestra and Bushnell, one has to figure out who is really in charge. David Fay is listed as President and CEO of the HSO but appears to be a figurehead at best. The real "talking head" for the organization is Steve Collins, who was appointed Director of Artistic Operations and Administration (sounds like an Executive Director to me) for the HSO in August 2014. This appointment itself seems incongruous with the announced agreement between Bushnell and the HSO which noted, (in a press release directly from the HSO, March 2014) In addition to the back-office services, The Bushnell will provide principal management during the initial term of the arrangement, including fundraising, governance support and the services of David Fay, who will serve as an interim CEO for the HSO in addition to continuing his ongoing duties as CEO of The Bushnell.

Jay Lichtmann, a long-time (since 1982) trumpeter with the HSO, voiced concern over the "alliance" in an August letter to the Hartford Courant: Mr. Fay has promised to use the Bushnell's development office to help raise funds for the symphony, but little has been done on this front. The orchestra's debts continue to mount while sizable new financial commitments have been made. Music Director Carolyn Kuan has recently signed a six-year contract with a raise; the HSO is hiring an assistant conductor; and salaries and benefits of HSO administrative staff have been increased.

So the HSO shed itself of a real CEO and created a new position for Steve Collins, as well as raises for the conductor and HSO administrative staff (I thought Bushnell was the "administrative staff").

Steve Collins
Is HE in charge?
But really, who is Steve Collins? In this time of ready made information, one has to only turn to a LinkedIn profile.

A percussionist, Collins earned a Bachelor of Music Degree in Performance from the Hartt School, University of Hartford, in 1989. It's not readily apparent that he has ever held a professional position in that field. His employment history contains the following:
  • 1994-2003: Project Manager, Collins Construction Company, New York/New Jersey. I cannot locate any current information for this company.
  • 2003-2008: Consultant, various (no specifics listed): Worked with various orchestras to positively impact performance, innovate new programming, and streamline operations.
  • 2003-2009: Education Director, New Haven (CT) Symphony. In most orchestras of this size, these kinds of positions are usually only part time, hence the overlap with "consulting".
  • 2009-present (sic): Executive Director, Waterbury (CT) Symphony.
  • August 2014 to present: Director of Artistic Operations & Administration, HSO.
Now, I'm all in on "experiential learning" in career advancement (in many ways, I am a product of the same), but it seems a huge leap from Education Director to basically the leader of a much larger organization. And, in terms of the management agreement originally announced in the press, Bushnell hasn't followed through in its end of the bargain. According to nearly everything that has appeared in the press, Collins seems to be the guy in charge.

There's so much more to report as all of the information is staggering. CEO Fay actually came to the Bushnell from the for-profit sector with actual degrees in communications (BA) Wheaton College, and theater arts (Northwestern). It appears that he still remains active outside the activities of the Arts Center, as there are numerous companies capitalizing on the Bushnell brand. But that has to be for another day.

The Board of Directors seems eerily quiet as does conductor Carolyn Kuan. She has said nothing about the crisis. After signing a new six-year contract extension she has lots of skin in the game. The only person (besides the musicians, and no one is talking to them) talking is Steve Collins and he's saying that $750,000 in wage cuts over four years (proposed by the musicians), didn't "begin to address the depth of the financial crisis." It's been made very clear that the "final" deadline is only two days away. That is when, according to Collins, the HSO (or is it Bushnell--my head is spinning) will determine "exactly how we proceed in shutting down the organization."

Michael Pollard

For now, I will let an HSO musician have the last word. From Michael Pollard, a violinist (since 1975) and negotiating committee member for the American Federation of Musicians, "It's a tragedy, really, it's a shame it had to come to this."

UPDATE: This just in from WNPR, via WBUR-Boston:

Steve Collins: Unfortunately, we see no alternative but to close the HSO if we can't reach a satisfactory agreement with the AFM that provides a stable financial platform. We have identified and committed to extensive reductions in overhead expenses and increased goals in fundraising that exceed the concessions we seek from the AFM. We are hopeful we can reach an agreement Thursday night and continue to maintain a commitment to good faith bargaining.