Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Autopsy Results

The human tragedy behind any orchestra collapsing is more than just your ordinary loss of a job. In any other field you just look around and find another place of employment, but not so in music. Take your typical symphony orchestra and try to figure out how many of their musicians in reality could find a similar job in an increasingly competitive situation. An individual might have earned his/her position years ago, but sooner or later the 'orchestra syndrome' would have set in and in most cases this person's playing would have become less accurate and controlled than before (see my blog entry on May 29, 2005). The percentage of success might be in single digits, and I would be surprised if it exceeded 20%. In addition, many have families and it is not easy or possible to uproot. In the Northwest Chamber Orchestra's case, most members were covered under the local ballet company's health plan, but not all. My heart goes out to those individuals who were relying on those benefits, some even with little children.

It is interesting that just a few weeks before declaring bankrupty, the side of NWCO's board that ended up losing in the battle of control, were trying to coerce the organization into hiring a new Southern California-based executive director, with very limited managerial experience, at an expense of over $80k per year. When this faction lost, they used the old 'burnt ground' tactic. Knowing that they were defeated, the Third Reich leveled Warsaw, and Paris almost met with the same fate. It is hard to imagine that these people, well aware of the orchestra's financial situation, were ready to increase expenses and just a bit later the organization folded.

Mr. Goth
óni might have been too cosmopolitan for Seattle with his musical ideas. After all, no other person here has been in such worldwide demand, from China to Africa. Tastes vary, and unfortunately this town still prefers the Pachelbel Canon, the Four Seasons, the Nutcracker and the likes. A person says: 'I know what I like.' The correct interpretation of this is: 'I like what I know.' The person behind impulsively hiring Mr. Gothóni five years ago should have been well aware of the inherent challenges and complexities of this arrangement. Of course, some people wisely wanted to keep a relationship with Joseph Silverstein, a legend in the American music scene, as he knew how to better appeal to the ordinary audience members' taste. In hindsight one might ask: would the NWCO have suffered the same fate, if Mr. Silverstein had been appointed music director and Ralf Gothóni appeared as a frequent guest?

There is a good story on the web in 'Adaptistration' titled 'Throwing in The Towel' , by Drew McManus, about this subject. Of course, it would be too much to expect an unbiased perspective from the local dailies. I haven't read them in years, but it has been brought to my attention that one on-off-on-again music 'cricket', close friends with a former, dismissed executive director of the organization, has written outright inflammatory articles on the issue. What the paper didn't print, however, was a 'this-says-it-all' email from Mr. Goth
óni, sent on March 20th 2006:

Thank you for giving space for the bankruptcy information of the NWCO on March 17th.

If your paper would have given once a while the same space the concert reviews and interviews, this lovely chamber orchestra might have gotten more audience and maybe even survived.

Ralf Gothóni

Preliminary autopsy results thus show the cause of death to be homicide.