One secretive agency supplies America’s worst music managers

One secretive agency supplies America’s worst music managers


norman lebrecht

November 25, 2017

It is reported that the Catherine French group headhunted Michael Henson for Minnesota, Stanley Romanstein for Atlanta (allegedly) and now the destructive Janelle McCoy to the Oregon Bach Festival.

If you want to know more about the Catherine French group, this is what you get.

But the record speaks for itself.


  • Simon says:

    I’ve dealt with the. Creepiest folks imaginable.

  • Olassus says:

    I found this:

    2500 Q Street NW, Suite 623
    Washington DC 20007

    And this:

    “Catherine French works with not-for-profit music, arts, and education organizations in the areas of executive search and leadership development. We specialize in retainer search for arts executives and … fill exective director, general manager and vice president positions nationwide. While most clients are music organziations, we also work with presenting companies, music schools, performing arts centers and educational non-profits.”

    It’s probably just her, one person, despite the “group” name.

    • Olassus says:

      There were two people in the group two years ago:

      Catherine French, Principal
      Lead Consultant; and

      Christopher Wingert
      Managing Director

      This email is undated:

    • Olassus says:

      More about her, from 2016:

      Catherine French is an independent consultant working with not-for-profit music, arts, and education organizations in the areas of executive search and leadership development. Her association with classical music and music management spans more than forty years. She founded the Catherine French Group in 1998 and, as lead consultant, she assists symphony orchestras, opera companies, music presenting organizations, festivals, schools of music, and other performing arts organizations as they recruit chief executives, artistic leadership, and senior management personnel.

      From 1980 through 1996, Catherine French was chief executive officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League (now League of American Orchestras), the national service organization for orchestras. She joined the League as assistant director in 1974 and subsequently served as vice president for public affairs, chief operating officer, executive vice-president, and president. At the League, she worked not only with orchestra executives but also with leaders in the fields of opera, dance, theatre, art museums, performing arts presenting, music education, and the music industry throughout the United States and Canada. As one of the founders of the International Alliance of Orchestra Associations, she developed a broad network among music administrators around the world. In June 1997, the League conferred on her its highest honor, the Gold Baton Award, for her years of service to music and orchestras.

      Ms. French began her career with Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra in New York City and was appointed executive director of that orchestra in 1970. In 1972, she was named manager of the New Jersey Symphony.

      An active volunteer for a variety of arts and cultural organizations, Catherine French is Past Chairman and a member of the Board of Trustees of The Washington Chorus, Vice Chairman of the Board of Overseers of The Curtis Institute of Music, and a member of the Board of Directors of The New York Pops. She served as Board member and Treasurer of the Festival of North American Orchestras/Spring for Music. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University and a member of the President’s Advisory Committee of Manhattanville College. Ms. French has served on panels, committees, and task forces for the National Endowment for the Arts and Independent Sector. She is a past president of the National Music Council.

      Catherine French graduated from Manhattanville College with a degree in music history. She lives in Washington, DC.

  • Has-been says:

    With respect, Catherine French is one of the most respected people in the Music business. She has worked at every level, orchestra manager, Executive Director of the American Symphony Orchestra League and finally running the Catherine French Group which has helped fill many positions over many years.. A headhunter simply seeks out the appropriate candidates for a given job, does the initial interviewing to be sure a person has the required qualifications and then presents the candidates to the board or executive committee who make the final choice. Many companies in all fields work with ‘head hunters’ to find the best person for a job. The is nothing secretive about the process or company in question. The fact that some people do not work out as hoped for is not the fault of the head hunter.

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    Oh, Norman. She’s not secretive. She’s been around for decades, was Head of ASOL for decades and managed the ASO for Stokowski before that.

    She doesn’t publicise because she doesn’t need to.

  • Has-been says:

    Further, for the record, neither Michael Henson or Stanley Romanstein were recruited through the French Agency.

  • DrummerMan says:

    She handles at least 15 – 20 searches per year, either CEO, development director, marketing director. But never ever for the very top orchestras. For example, she had nothing to do with recent hirings for LA Philharmonic, NY Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony. She is not involved with the current searches for Houston, Minnesota or Fort Worth. I’ve heard from someone quite knowledgeable — ie., another executive search person — that Ms. French gets so many assignments because she charges less.

  • Anthony Boatman says:

    The Catherine French Group is currently managing the search for our orchestra’s next executive director, and we are totally pleased wih their professionalism, efficiency and thoroughness. We would not hesitate to recommend them to any other orchestra.

    • Olassus says:

      A revealing comment: you are ready to recommend based on process not result.

      • Anthony Boatman says:

        I’ve worked with the CFG as both a hiring employer and candidate, and have nothing but positive things to say about them. Sure, sometimes placements don’t pan out, but any reputable search firm (including CFG) will re-do a search, usually for expenses only.

        I can assure you after 30+ years in orchestra management a lot boils down to chemistry, and what works well with one orchestra doesn’t blend at another. Most of the time, a good search process sorts this out, but, alas, sometimes not.

        • DrummerMan says:

          I also have 30+ years of experience in orchestra management – not counting a year or two when I was “in between jobs.” Inherent in all of this is that you have a board doing the hiring for someone in a highly specialized field like orchestra management and the board members know virtually nothing about the field, only that they like listening to classical music. Of course one could say the same about most every nonprofit. I’m sure that the search committee for a medical center CEO, for example, would include some members who are not doctors.

          No one can define “chemistry” which is why these orchestra searches often wind up being a beauty pageant. A board would rather hire an orchestra CEO who managed a $10 million budget orchestra but finished in the red five years in a row instead of hiring someone who managed, say, a $800,000 budget orchestra and finished in the black five years in a row.

          I was the number 2 person (General Manager) of an $8 million dollar budget orchestra. When the board president asked the full board to accept the hiring recommendation for our new CEO from the search committee, he actually: “Please vote for him He has such a nice wife and two little kids.” In case you’re wondering, the CEO lasted a year, then quit in disgrace as the orchestra nearly filed for bankruptcy. That was his first, and last, job as a CEO.

          Mr. Boatman, I had sent my resume to Ms. French regarding your orchestra, the Boise Philharmonic. She has never once put my name forward for any position she’s been handling. Sure enough, I got a “Dear John” email from her a few days after I’d applied. I hope you have great success in finding a new ED.

  • Kali says:

    Might someone “in the know” provide the details of this agency finding Janelle McCoy for the Oregon Bach Festival?

  • MacroV says:

    Catherine French is a legend in the US orchestra management field, esp. for her time at the ASOL (one of the more unfortunate acronyms that they finally changed). I do find it disconcerting, though, that so many organizations outsource their hiring of management staff to consultants instead of doing it in-house. I guess the largest orchestras feel they understand what they want and have the institutional capacity to do it themselves.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Obviously some of these managers placed by the French and Assoc. accept the job knowing that they will only be there for a few years with the mandate to make cuts that will not help them win a popularity contest.

    Interesting to note is that these candidates that wind up in the positions to do the cutting are not industry “lifers”. They know full well what they are getting into, take the money, do the dirties, and move on.

    The large orchestras want industry lifers that have solid contacts, know the artistic personalities they will handle, and want stable long term labor management relations and a proven track record of working well with a unionized orchestra.

    So no need for a search firm. There are usually only a handful of candidates that fit the bill.

  • trolley80 says:

    “Catherine French is a sleazy unethical scumbag.”
    -Anonymous guy on the internet

  • Daniel Laufer says:

    Cathy French had nothing to do with hiring Stanley Romanstein in Atlanta. I know this for a fact since I was on the search committee.