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Atlanta: The only sane man in the asylum

October 5, 2014 by norman lebrecht

18 comments.


Douglas Hertz, chairman of the Woodruff Arts Center that has engineered the lockout of musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, has given a frank, self-exposing interview to the local newspaper. As they say in the ASO, it aint real til it’s Hertz. Sample quotes:

 

douglas hertz

 

On public support for the musicians: “I disagree that the public has sided with the musicians. I think the artists’ friends have sided with the artists. But I think the corporate community and the philanthropic community understands, like any businessperson would, we’re not going to make an investment in a business that keeps losing money.”

On charges that Woodruff wants to diminish the ASO: “It’s frustrating, because the whole allegation, whether it’s by musicians or supporters of musicians, or journalists who want to take the musicians’ side — I’m using ‘journalists’ pretty loosely … for them to allege that the WAC doesn’t want a fantastic symphony orchestra, or the governing board doesn’t want to take care of the musicians, is so far off base if they looked at the facts.”

“It makes you wonder, you know,” Hertz said, “are we supporting a bunch of crazy people.”

On music director Robert Spano’s support for the musicians:“Again, we’re criticized for not wanting a great symphony, right? But we signed Robert to a five-year contract (that’s just beginning) with a raise. And Robert’s getting paid. And we signed (principal guest conductor) Donald Runnicles to a three-year contract. He’s getting paid. So don’t criticize WAC management or the WAC governing board for not wanting to put our money where our mouth is. Maybe Robert’s feeling a little bit guilty because he’s getting paid and the musicians aren’t. But he could be a big help in solving this.”


Comments (18)

  1. Jeffrey Levenson says:

    Looks like this could be protracted with this clueless guy.

  2. Dick Rosenbaum says:

    Lucky his name isn’t Richard.

    1. Ken Meltzer says:

      Open the door (of Symphony Hall), Richard!

  3. Nick says:

    There is one answer in that interview that is truly frightening for the future of the ASO. I quote –

    On feedback from the musicians, seconded by Spano and Runnicles, that management controlling the number of full-time players would destroy the ASO’s sound:

    “Well, it’s my impression that our symphony orchestra got the same artistic reviews over this past year as they have had in previous years. We had 116 separate musicians that played with our orchestra (who were) not part of our (88-musician) complement — 116 additional musicians who sat in just last year. Yet no one’s told me that artistically that we were any better or worse.” End Quote.

    Now we know why the Board believes it can have a smaller orchestra and make up numbers with freelancers.

    He also mentions all the fund raising efforts of the governing board. “It makes you wonder, you know,” Hertz said, “are we supporting a bunch of crazy people.”

    The Chairman calls the artists a “bunch of crazy people”? This man is a disgrace, a prime example of what is wrong with the Board oversight system in many non-profit arts organisations in the USA.

  4. Neil McGowan says:

    I wonder if Hertz were put in charge of something he understands – like a baseball team – he would be arguing the case for fielding only half a team for the next match?

    Here’s the deal, Douglas. They play. You manage. You’ve mis-managed – and it’s time for you to go.

    1. Bystander says:

      Ironic that Hertz is a of the Atlanta Falcons.

  5. Tony Mitchell says:

    Any one have the salaries paid to Hertz and the other board members? I found an article in Forbes that says the previous CEO was making $743,000! Get rid of that position and you are half way to clearing the deficit!

    1. MWnyc says:

      He almost certainly receives no pay at all. Rather the opposite.

      In the U.S., the members of the Board of Directors of a not-for-profit organization almost invariably serve on a volunteer basis.

      Indeed, you usually have to pay for the privilege. Board members are expected to make generous annual contributions to their organizations.

  6. harold braun says:

    Oh my,what a moron!He should promote mud wrestling shows!

  7. suzanne says:

    “We’re not going to make an investment in a business that keeps losing money.” That is NOT the definition of philanthropy.

    1. Doug says:

      Exactly. My mentor in the orchestra ‘business’ , a conductor incidentally, (I’m both a manager and a musician) used to say brazenly to the entire Board of Directors: “if you want to make money…sell shoes!”

  8. Michael B. says:

    Time for a dose of hard, cold reality. It is very easy to sit and throw rocks at management, who have definitely made plenty of mistakes. The reality is that there is less and less interest in symphonic music each year in most of the United States. Orchestras like Atlanta basically exist to provide safe, familiar, ultra-comfy programming to an aging and decreasingly relevant slice of the local elite–Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius–repeat ad infinitum. This is music by Dead White European Males in an increasingly multicultural city. They haul out a few works by African-American composers for the obligatory Martin Luther King day concert and then such composers are banished to the sidelines for the remaining 364 days of the year.

    Further, there is no political will to provide public support–classical music essentially lacks any political constituency in the United States. The arts in general, including classical music, are seen as an effete, namby-pamby, unmasculine frill. The limited amount of public support that goes to the arts increasingly goes to formats and genres that are seen as more welcoming to the public as a whole.

    If orchestras like Atlanta are going to survive, drastic changes will be required. It is likely that salaries will have to come down considerably and the union will have to go. There will have to be a broader range of repertoire and a lot more outreach to young people and under-represented audiences. There will have to be ways of involving the orchestra in the intellectual life of the community and more cooperation with institutions such as the local universities. Soloists should either be drawn from the orchestra itself or up-and-coming local talent–no more soloists of the Yo-Yo Ma or Joshua Bell stripe mailing in performances of over-performed warhorses.

    The reality, unfortunately, is that Atlanta was always a second-rank orchestra at best. All those Grammys are meaningless–they were won by a scheme of bloc voting. No one who really cares about classical music would ever have considered Atlanta on a par even with the best orchestras in the United States, not to mention the Berlin Philharmonic or the Concertgebouw.

    1. Ken Meltzer says:

      “Orchestras like Atlanta basically exist to provide safe, familiar, ultra-comfy programming to an aging and decreasingly relevant slice of the local elite–Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius–repeat ad infinitum.”

      I don’t know how anyone who has followed the history of the Atlanta Symphony, particularly during the tenure of Robert Spano, could make such a generalization. The Atlanta Symphony is one of the leading major American orchestras in commissioning and performing new works. I invite you to look at our repertoire over the past decade.

  9. suzanne says:

    One could agree with everything you’ve written and still conclude that Douglas Hertz is the wrong person to be running Woodruff. His comments don’t indicate any inclination, for ex, to involve an orchestra in the intellectual life of the community or instigate more cooperation with institutions such as the local universities. In my professional experience the people who expect an orchestra to make money are the same ones pushing for more warhorse performances with celebrity names – and are least likely to back the sort of drastic changes you suggest.

  10. Michael B. says:

    Yes, some new works have been commissioned, performed, even and recorded–but they are all cut from the same basic cloth of innocuous, non-threatening American neo-tonalism (I shall make a partial exception for some of the music of Jennifer Higdon). Most of this stuff serves as amiable curtain-raisers to get on to the main business–the music by Dead White European Males that makes up the vast majority of the programming, not merely at Atlanta, but at most American orchestras.

  11. David Davenport says:

    Anyone who uses the tired cliché Dead White European Males has nothing of consequence to say.

  12. William Safford says:

    “This website is for subscribers; please Sign in or Get Access to read or post comments.”

    As for the quote: “But I think the corporate community and the philanthropic community understands, like any businessperson would, we’re not going to make an investment in a business that keeps losing money.”

    That betrays his fundamental misunderstanding of what a nonprofit is all about. *Shaking head.*

  13. Tony Mitchell says:

    One no one seems to have mentioned is that WAC seems to be placing all the blame for the deficit on the ASO. What about the other 3 entities? The High museum just had a huge expansion. Do they not incur any debt? Hopefully an independent auditor will be brought in.

    One thing I don’t follow is that there are two boards of directors. One for ASO and one for WAC. It seems to me that some expense cutting could be done there. Even if they do not get a salary, I’m sure those two groups generate some expenses.


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