Saturday, November 10, 2007


Last night's SSO concert may have concluded part I of the mini-Brahms festival, but it was the latest issue of Backstage which caught my attention and especially the article by Michael Crusoe (principal timpanist).  Backstage is the periodic publication of the players organization.  Periodically, enthusiastic members of the orchestra hand out copies of the publication at SSO concerts. 

I won't recount the whole article right here, but I will draw your attention to a few select quotes from the eminent Crusoe.  His article is especially interest given some of the conversations that have swirled around the Northwest about the health of its orchestras. 

Crusoe muses:

"Every major city with a professional sports franchise has a local radio show featuring sports talk.  When a team has a losing season with some regularity, or is otherwise inconsistent in its performance, the blame for the team's quality ultimately rests with the owners.  Managers and players may receive their share of criticism, but the sports community (fans) usually end up questioning the owners' commitment to putting together a winning team, along with their knowledge and willingness to do so."


"In other words, if a team is to perform better and/or play up to its potential, the motivation must first come from the top.  This fact is just as true when it comes to symphony orchestras...

"It doesn't start with the music director or the musicians.  If music directors are left to their own devices to run the organization, you will have a dictatorship motivated by personal agendas that can short-circuit an orchestra's growth and its potential to achieve the highest level of performance.  If musicians were left to their own devices to run things, you could have anarchy and chaos that would yield the same results."

Crusoe comments on board leadership:

"Musical standards are progressive and ever evolving.  They don't rest with any one individual's ideas or perceptions of how things should be.  This fact illustrates not only the importance of an orchestra's board being well informed in its leadership roles, but also the reason its crucial to have open and objective communication throughout all levels of organizations such as ours."


"We are here to serve your musical needs.  Like the example of the sports fans, your voices should be heard as well.  We we need to know that you want a great orchestra.  If you knew the Chicago Symphony or the Berlin Philharmonic were coming to Benaroya Hall next week, would you be excited and enthused at the prospect?...But the question to also consider is whether such anticipation and excitement exist toward your own Seattle Symphony. "

Given the controversy that has swirled around the Seattle Symphony its easy for me to read each word as polite dissent.  But then again, maybe I am reading too much into his article.  In any case, the article presents some useful questions for every American orchestra not in Chicago, New York, Boston, Cleveland or Philadelphia. 

P.S. I will give a full accounting of Vladimir Feltsman and SSO's Brahms excursion after I hear part II tomorrow. 

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