Earlier in July, ArtsJournal blogger Diane Ragsdale challenged elements of Michael Maso’s acceptance speech given at the Theatre Communications Group conference in Boston. He replied to Ms. Ragsdale’s retorts with a blog post of his own, wanting to address the important issues she had raised and to clarify any previous misconception. Here is a rough video of his speech if you wish to view it:
The heated discussion that ensued as a result of his speech caused our arts management internship class to contemplate the role of the arts organizations we are currently interning with and defend whether or not we felt they are truly helping or hindering the quality of life and work of performing artists. Here is my reaction based on my experience with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Strathmore:
There are several indications that members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, both musicians and staff, have established a long-lasting, healthy relationship with one another and consider the organization home. Working as the BSO at Strathmore development intern and interacting with BSO musicians has allowed me to experience the BSO’s passionate and dedicated leadership and organizational teamwork firsthand.
“It Takes a Village,” a Symphony article released in 2009, describes the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s collaborative turnaround efforts in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and national recession. “In a remarkable collective effort, the entire Baltimore team – administration, music director, musicians, board, and members of the extended ‘family’ – worked together to turn the orchestra’s situation around.” The strength of their working relationship and sense of community remains apparent today.
Perhaps the strongest advocate for the musicians and their work is the BSO’s illustrious conductor and music director, Marin Alsop. Since her appointment in 2007, Maestra Alsop has led the BSO into a more forward-thinking and modern position within the field and society. In 2008, she partnered with the Naxos record label and brought the BSO online through iTunes. Maestra Alsop has also played a major role in the formation and success of:
- The “Rusty Musicians” program, a side-by-side performance opportunity for amateur musicians that has received international attention. (2010)
- The BSO Academy, an intensive, week-long learning and performance experience for adults. (2010) — I love the participants’ reactions and quotes! You can read more in the NY Times feature, “Playing with the Orchestra in Baltimore: Band Camp for Grown-Ups,” or in my previous post under the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra heading on my blog.
- OrchKids (an El Sistema based year-round during- and after-school music program for at risk youth in Baltimore City), to which she has donated $100,000 of her own money to ensure its success. (2008)
- The innovative, Off the Cuff series, an in depth look at a single piece of music, which involves discussion, demonstration, and a performance of the work in its entirety.
- The behind-the-scenes Webumentaries program, also known as the BSO Webumentary Film Series with Marin Alsop. (2007)
- And prevalence of the BSO on National Public Radio broadcasts, including “Performance Today” and “SymphonyCast,” and her featured spot on NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” known as, “Marin Alsop on Music.”
The passionate teamwork and dedication displayed by the musicians, conductor, board, and staff, have ultimately made these endeavors a great success.
When the orchestra experienced a growing deficit due the most recent national recession, BSO musicians initiated a fundraising campaign and agreed to a reduced salary and benefits for several years in a row. Paul Meecham, the CEO/President of the BSO, has been supportive, yet firm in terms of financial management, which he has referred to as, “tough love.”
Founded in 1916, the organization has navigated almost a century of change and growth, including the emergence of the field of orchestra management as a formal discipline. Although the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra may be unique in the sense that they are one in a small group of professional, full-time (year-round) orchestras in the United States, it is clear that the success of the organization rides on the musicians’ and staff members’ love of their work and the organization as a whole.
Everyone has had to work hard and make personal and financial sacrifices to live and work in nonprofit arts, but at the end of the day, the emotional reward, feeling of accomplishment, and relationship with the music, artists, and community, make everything worthwhile. Everyone at the BSO wants the orchestra continue to evolve and succeed.