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Kaiser (on a) Roll

Not surprisingly, the man who wrote the book on how to save failing arts companies (The Art of the Turnaround) is in demand in this time of recession. Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, has become a weekly fixture on The Huffington Post, where he writes factually (meaning, these days, rather seriously) about arts funding issues.

Today, he talks to the inimitable Norman Lebrecht on BBC Radio 3 (you can listen live on the internet at 4:15 EDT, or for a few days after the broadcast) about his program to help struggling companies (some 350 have applied so far), his forecast for the future, his background as a singer, etc.

One of Kaiser’s main tenets is that in order to succeed, companies should cut costs but not programming. I wish more people were listening to him. The 2009-10 season is filled with examples of companies cutting their most interesting or unusual ventures (the Met’s “Ghosts of Versailles,” to name one) and replacing them with shows calculated to do well at the box office. This may work in the short term in terms of maintaining ticket sales, but it’s not the best way to convince prospective donors, or artists, that you are offering something exciting and artistically important.

By Anne Midgette  |  August 4, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  interviews , music on the Web  
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Maybe I'm not smart enough to understand the logic of the leap from the Met's "Ghost of Versailles" to WNO's Porgy, probably programmed at least three years ago. Give WNO credit -- they're also doing Hamlet.

Have you looked at the Baltimore Symphony's season for next year? They're bleeding badly and yet they plan to offer a more interesting mix of programming than any orchestra in this area has offered in years.

So, anyway, how interesting is the NSO's programming next season....?

Posted by: newcriticalcritic | August 4, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

And, speaking of artistically uninteresting, anyone have any comments about WETA-FM? I thought WGMS was dead and buried, but, no, they've just moved down to 90.9.

Posted by: newcriticalcritic | August 4, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Newcriticalcritic, you’re smart enough to sense that the American taxpayer is being duped culturally despite the new Adminstration and promises …

Also remember that Michael Kaiser will not be at the Kennedy Center much longer and Sharon Rockefeller will not be at WETA-TV and WETA/WGMS much longer either. (I imagine that Michael Kaiser wanted the MET and the $1.5 million salary that goes with it; but I’m happy, personally, that Peter Gelb will be there for many more years.)

And keep writing your letters to Sharon Rockefeller and her (rubber-stamp) board of directors. After several nights featuring long works by Vivaldi, Telemann, and early Mozart on WETA/WGMS, last night the summer intern apparently rebelled and slipped in an American classic that wasn’t supposed to be programmed for another ten months:

George Chadwick Symphony #2 in B-flat Major, Op. 21 Albany Symphony Orchestra | Julius Hegyi (conductor) New World Records 339.

Posted by: snaketime1 | August 4, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

PS. Anne Midgette is partially wrong. Ghosts of Versailles was not going to be the highlight of the next MET Opera season that Janacek’s 'From the House of the Dead' and Shostakovich’s 'The Nose' are going to be, in the productions by Patrice Chéreau (anyone see Queen Margot?) and William Kentridge. Peter Gelb had the wisdom not to cut either production, while I imagine that Michael Kaiser would have done so if he had been in the position.

Posted by: snaketime1 | August 4, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm also missing the Porgy and Bess connection. Was this supposed to replace something?

As a ticket buyer and a donor, I expect the companies I support to spend my money wisely. I'd rather have a few scaled back performances, or even a modest season, than see a company spend itself into the ground. I do look at how business is run, and when I invest my money in a company, I consider artistic quality, value to the community AND business practices. If I see deficits on balance sheets or other bad business practices, I won't give.

Are there compelling examples of companies who have seriously suffered because they've cut back? Mr. Kaiser makes a good case for his own successes with turnarounds, and clearly drives home his mantra of "invest in the arts, invest in the marketing," but I don't recall examples of companies that cut back and then died as a result. I'd be better persuaded by Mr. Kaiser's argument if I could understand how his argument extends beyond his own work. Any data or anecdotes about the negative impact of cost-cutting in the arts would be most welcome.

Posted by: anony2 | August 4, 2009 10:38 PM | Report abuse

I utterly agree that cutting adventurous programming and replacing it with safer, box office-friendly programming is the worst thing an arts company can do when they're in a financial pinch.

Such a company is almost subliminally saying that they're no different from other companies, so why should they be supported? Another "Traviata?" Then why should I give my money for that when I can just listen to it on i-Tunes or watch the DVD?

The Met made a terrible decision to replace "Ghosts of Versailles" with yet another "Traviata" (and such a doctrinaire production at that). They panicked, like most arts companies do, pulled the plug on something artistically significant, and will pay the price by being taken that much less seriously.

If I were a donor to the Met, I'd have to question the commitment of the company to being culturally vital and current...

Posted by: knightstale | August 5, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Might one not also say that the excellent San Francisco Opera suffered a panic attack this season (Il Trovatore,
Il Trittico,
The Abduction from the Seraglio,
The Daughter of the Regiment,
The Girl of the Golden West, and
Die Walküre)?

What happened to the excitement of Pamela Rosenberg’s 'Animating Opera (TM)' Project or David Gockley’s even finer and incipient 'Animating American Opera (TM)' Project?

(And didn’t the new MET snag William Kentridge to direct a modern opera for the company before the San Francisco Opera did? Think of all the new and young audience members the SFO could have picked up after the recent William Kentridge blockbuster at the SFMOMA.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | August 6, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

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