Artistic director is ousted in US orchestra shambles

Artistic director is ousted in US orchestra shambles


norman lebrecht

June 07, 2022

The long and the short of this story is that the well-known pianist Anne-Marie McDermott is no longer artistic director of Santa Fe Pro Musica, a leading organisation in New Mexico.

If you want to know why, you’ll need to read this fabulous piece of local journalism by Mark Tiarks, showing how a successful arts org can tear itself apart in a matter of months.

Read here.


  • music lover says:

    Sad story.Anne-Marie McDermott is a wonderful pianist.

  • Fritz says:

    The old sad song – board hires an untested/incompetent administrator who promptly alienates the artistic staff (and in this case, also an important donor), and yet it’s always the artists who leave.

    • BrianB says:

      Seattle Symphony, Dausgaard; Exec Director Thiagarajan. ‘Twas ever thus. These things prove B.H. Haggin’s Law: you can’t keep a bad man down.

  • drummerman says:

    Just one more example of idiots on a board destroying their very own organization.

    Back in the day, apparently Mark Twain had some sort of squabble with a school board. Don’t know the specifics. He wrote: In the beginning, God created idiots. That was for practice. Then he created school boards.”

    Substitute the words “arts boards” for “school boards” and you get the picture.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Whenever I hear of a board destroying their very own organization, my thoughts immediately return to (the former) New York City Opera. While always on the financial edge, it was an important part of the fabric of cultural life in NYC. Sadly, those who destroyed New York City Opera are not those who valued it most.

      • Violet Valery says:

        And inforgivable mismanagement combined with ego in the the last CEO who flushed the legacy of Sills and Rudel down the drain.

  • Matt says:

    The story says that she quit, not that she was “ousted”

  • Minnesota says:

    McDermott had it right: “High School-ish”

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    Has anyone else noticed that many musicians of Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center end up running or creating other festivals?
    They set up the festivals as far away as California and even Hong Kong, and bring CMSLC musicians in for performances. This is no criticism, really, but I cannot help but wonder if administrative boards choose them specifically for this reason, that they’re suited to perform as directors and/or that they can bring it the CMSLC players.

    • William Osborne says:

      No surprise about Pro Musica.
      The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, for example, is often practically the summer home of the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center. The Santa Fe Opera also hires very few local musicians. Probably far less than 5%.

      Meanwhile, the salary for tutti string players in the New Mexico Philharmonic is $3000 per year even after 30 years of service. And even though the orchestra serves a metro Albquerque/Santa Fe area of about one million people. The orchestra has bankrupted several times.

      Why has this happened? Santa Fe has been occupied by second homers from the wealthy coastal states. This influx has so raised prices that the Hispanic and Native people who give the city its culture can no longer afford to live there. The second homers import musicians from their home states for a sort of summer camp adventure. Due to these trends, the city has become a plasticized, Disneyfied playground for rich people playing an artsy version of cowboys and Indians surrounded by imitation Taco Bell architecture. It’s painful and disgusting to observe. All part of the USA’s system of centering the arts around wealthy people.

      • Richard says:

        In offering all fairness, you do not get the same caliber of musicians in the New Mexico Philharmonic.
        Everything has a price. What are you selling? I wouldn’t go to the New Mexico Philharmonic to hear a concert. I wouldn’t go to the Modesto Symphony either in California. What are you selling? Who is buying?

        • Anon! A Moose! says:

          Thing is, if donors backed local musicians instead of bringing in out of town ringers, if the NM Phil had an extra million a year in its budget, and that were put towards musician salaries, the quality would massively go up.

          I’ve seen this my whole life kicking around the country; idiots think the only good players are from NY, LA, Boston, Philly etc. and if you choose to get a job in “flyover country” they think you’re chopped liver, even though they themselves probably couldn’t tell the difference in playing.

        • William Osborne says:

          Yes, everything has a price–especially in the USA. The point here is that musicians should be offered competitive salaries to live and work in New Mexico and other parts of the country where wealthy donors aren’t concentrated. This can only be accomplished with public arts funding.

      • bermsherm says:

        Can confirm. I watched the Californians waving cash under the noses of of people who had no idea they wouldn’t be able to buy back into their traditional homesites. All crime isn’t illegal.

      • Bridgette says:

        Well said my friend… Many communities are being ruined by my second homers… it is happening in Sarasota which is a small art community but nonetheless it had successfully developed until ‘they’ decided they wanted a ‘little Miami’… Ruined true flavor of the town, have torn down everything organic to it… a disease indicative of society $…

      • Michael C says:

        You make some very valid points. It’s really too bad that “affordable” living & housing costs can’t be maintained in these areas & it’s because the greedy wealthy don’t want to pay a living wage to anyone so that THEY can get Overpaid !

      • Steven Ovitsky says:

        There will be more than 80 musicians at the 2022 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. About 15 of them also play regularly with Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

        • William Osborne says:

          Hello Steve. I believe the number of Lincoln Center players varies from year to year. More to the point, how many of the musicians for the 2022 season live full time in New Mexico? What can be done to increase those numbers while maintaining quality? It’s important, because it is full time resident musicians who truly build cultural communities.

  • innocent bystander says:

    I can’t help but feel like the whole story is not being told and key details are being left out. Much of this reads like a high-schoolers’ gossip account of lunchroom drama, with little factual evidence.

  • bermsherm says:

    Based on the article, I think Bingham emerges as the only one who knows her business. I’d guess she’d continue to starve this group out until the incompetent and the superannuated are replaced.

  • william osborne says:

    A classic problem with the USA’s private funding system. Organizations are founded and run by a person (in this case a married couple O’Conner and Redman.) The organization becomes so directly connected to them that no one else can run it. They are also often reliant on a small number of big donors, or even just one as in this case.

    In Europe, the situation is different. Arts organizations belong to governments and have far more organizational depth than the individuals associated with them. They also have the wider solidity of public funding. Problems such as with Santa Fe Pro Musica are very rare.

    • Jerry H. says:

      But then doesn’t the government have a say in what is performed, who is hired, etc.?

      • psq says:

        No, absolutely not in Germany. For example, the appointment of Simon Rattle as the Principle Conductor of the Berliner Philharmonic was decided by a vote of the orchestra’s members. Ditto Kirill Petrenko.

      • Don Alvaro says:

        Hardly. European orchestras rarely bow to the kind of pressure that private donors put on US organizations.

      • William Osborne says:

        No. State orchestras and opera houses generally have an artistic director who determines the programming. They are established professionals who work in conjunction with the Music Director and the orchestra members.

        Auditions are generally judged by the other ensemble members and the conductor.

        • Lausitzer says:

          And this is a constitutional right. Government officials in Germany not necessarily like the artistic decisions of “their” institutions, but they just have no chance to demand things like a populist opera schedule. The freedom of the arts provisions prevent such meddling effectively.

  • Enrique Sanchez says:

    Power + influence + ego (face) + hunger = Little room for progress. Such an frustrating old story.

  • Greg Bones says:

    Stick to the facts, instead of click baiting your audience, Norman. AMM was not “ousted”. She quit. Kind of a big difference. And if your voice wasn’t being heard as the new Artistic Administrator, the Board didn’t respect you, and with Founder’s Syndrome staying alive and well within the organization lurking behind the new ED, you would quit, too.

  • Diana Silverman says:

    As a nonprofit specialist, I would like to note Boards are frequently I’ll informed about their role in addition to subject to infighting.

    A nonprofits finances are the primary responsibility of the Board. The Board has fiduciary and organizational policy responsibility. Job descriptions and organizational charts are supposed to clearly show who is responsible for what within the organization.

    This sounded like a small organization run on whim and personality in need of change because it is very dependent one 1 man.