How Seattle fell to pieces over 104 heated emails

How Seattle fell to pieces over 104 heated emails


norman lebrecht

January 27, 2022

Doug McLennan has continued digging into the Seattle Symphony trainwreck which resulted in the ‘you’ve got mail’ departure of the Danish music director Thomas Dausgaard.

In an interview with Danish Radio, Dausgaard repeated: ‘I have felt threatened and I haven’t felt safe with going to work.’

McLennan pieces together the breakdown of his relationship with executive director Krishna Thiagarajan, culminating in a fraught meeting with the executive board:

Dausgaard printed out 104 pages of emails between him and Thiagarajan and notes he had taken of their conversations. He had them compiled in binders with copies for each board member. On a Saturday in February 2020, in the offices of a nearby law firm, he tried to make his case, says one board participant. It was, he says, an emotional, even distraught presentation. The emails documented dozens of ideas and initiatives and projects the music director wanted to pursue, and it appeared he had made no progress on them. He seemed particularly incensed by the lack of responses from Thiagarajan to many of his queries…

Read the full story here.


  • Amos says:

    When Georg Solti was appointed MD of the LA Philharmonic and realized that he had inherited an Associate Conductor hired by the orchestra’s manager without his input he simply resigned. The more I read about the situation in Seattle it seems clear that the MD lost the support of the new management and a significant number of orchestra members. How that translates into an unsafe workplace seems dubious at best. Although perhaps embarrassing the mature response would have been to honor your contract, demonstrate what the orchestra was losing and move on with your career.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      Solti did not inherit Mehta. Mehta was hired by the executive director as assistant AFTER Solti was hired as music director.

      Any conductor of Solti’s level and skill would have been insulted and quitting was the right thing to do and perhaps, given the impact Solti had on the CSO, a real loss in helping LA become as respected as the East Coast orchestras.

      Solti quitting however, did help Mehta’s career since he got promoted to music director.

      And as we all know, Solti became synonymous with the Chicago Sound featuring the brass section that was unequalled around the world.

      • Frank Carter says:

        The Chicago Brass Sound was well known years before Solti, going back to Reiner and Martinon. It may be that more people came to know the sound, but the Reiner recordings were legendary well before Solti’s name was even known in the US.

        • Old Man in the Midwest says:

          Of course that goes without saying. The RCA recordings by Reiner with the CSO are still important memorials to the orchestra’s sound,

          But the CSO never toured Europe and other distant countries until Solti arrived.

          Solti had already done the Ring Cycle recording with the Vienna Phil and was well known in Europe especially in London.

          Also, Solti was much more aggressive in letting the brass section go (often to excess)

          But like it or not, the reputation of the CSO sound worldwide is due to Solti.

      • Kenny says:

        Heard around the world?

      • TubaMinimum says:

        It would be interesting to see the alternate history where Solti stayed in LA. Mehta’s tenure did certainly help them in their rise to respectability in the hierarchy of American orchestras, but I always love a good “what if” hypothetical crystal ball situation.

      • Amos says:

        By inherited & hired by Ernest Fleischmann I meant hired after his appointment and without his knowledge. The last paragraph is a matter of opinion.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Unless you’re Riccardo Muti, an out of town conductor who only visits a few weeks a year has little chance of winning a dog fight with an executive director who actually resides in the town and consults with his/her board president on a regular basis.

    There will be many lessons to be learned in this trainwreck after the medics have been called in to rescue the injured and the debris has been cleaned up.

    Perhaps the older model, where conductors reside in the city where they work for 8 months a year and limit their guests appearances until summer months is the way to go during this Covid-cursed era that seems to be with us as we enter Year 3.

    Great ideas are only great on paper if they cannot be executed and if all parts of the leadership team are not on board with resources, logistics, and community support.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      “Perhaps the older model, where conductors reside in the city where they work for 8 months a year and limit their guests appearances until summer months is the way to go…..”

      Spot on, sir! That’s the way it should *always* be, Covid or not! A music director should be there to build the orchestra, give it a character that’s a combination of him AND the players.

      If a conductor does’t like the long-term commitment of a music directorship, just follow the Erich Leinsdorf model (after he left Boston) and be a full time guest conductor.

  • Alviano says:

    Sounds like the ED didn’t like the MD and wanted him out. ED had backing from the board because he brought home the bacon. Then Covid intervened to keep the MD away and the ED used the time to bring all around to his point of view. When MD came back, he felt unwelcome. None of this makes the MD a bad guy, but any new MD had better think hard about walking into the Seattle Snake Pit.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I don’t know if it’s any different anywhere else, but in the U.S. there are simply too many cooks hovering over the broth. The degree of bureaucracy in these larger arts organizations is enough to scare anybody away. When you have memorandums and press statements throwing around things like “exciting new platform for delivering . . . (whatever)”, you know the gigs up. My view – an unpopular one, probably – is to just shut up, play the music and the let the conductor get on with his/her real job.

  • Judy Shaughnessy says:

    Having played in a number of community orchestras I know well how orchestra boards can interfere with conductors and the musicians— making it hard for everyone to get on with their jobs.

  • Concerned Opera Buff says:

    Dictators of the baton like Solti and Karajan always had general managers of their choosing, so they did not have to put up with this type of stuff. It was their way, or the highway.

  • Not Worried says:

    Hardly in pieces. The musicians have had full pay since the fall.

    • dalet says:

      lol, when simply getting paid is the now the benchmark for how healthy an orchestra is…

      “Look honey, my paycheck didn’t bounce this month”

    • BRUCEB says:

      Oh, he’s not talking about the musicians — he’s talking about the important people.

  • Canuck Player says:

    I think what many people not from North America don’t realize is that in the larger orchestras, there really is no such thing as a music director. The person called MD is meant to be a publicity machine. Obviously some of their ideas make into programming, but the artistic profile of these groups is determined by the management staff, many of which have job titles that reference this purpose.

    • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

      Totally agree. Many of these administrative positions are “add ons” due to MDs not being on location to do the job that should be done by them and not be a lackey.

  • christopher storey says:

    I wouldn’t give tuppence for the chances of the Seattle surviving. By the time you’ve lost your conductor, and the Chief executive is having to have coaching to achieve even a modicum of peace with the musicians and support staff , and you have lost about 60% of your of your original workforce, the writing is not merely on the wall…..

    • SeattleFreezer says:

      Do you mean “the Seattle ED?” The orchestra is well-funded and well-loved. Executives should be invisible to the audience, except for occasional fundraising, but this one actively insults us from the stage. I hope his position is untenable, though I’m not wealthy enough to ensure it.

  • John W. Norvis says:

    Sounds like Thiagarajan was/in the process of righting a rickety, rudderless ship when the captain tried to resume the bridge he abandoned.

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    It is good that someone is digging in to this as the official explanation makes little sense. Daugaard also dissed the BBC Symphony so it is likely more than one person.

  • - says:

    The idiocy of the American funding system which allows a board of rich nobodies and their admins to lord over artists.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      Well, the problem is it’s the rich nobodies and their rich friends who are kicking in a lot of the dough that keeps the whole operation afloat.

      The true music lovers in the audience are not rich, and the most we can contribute is the cost of our tickets and some extra add-on donations that aren’t enough to….. pay all the back office staff needed to panhandle for donations from rich folks to keep the operation afloat. What could possibly go wrong?