Conducting one's business
The Washington Post's On Leadership blog yesterday featured the conductor Roger Nierenberg, who, with his program The Music Paradigm, is making a specialty of pointing out the ways in which principles of conducting can be applied to business success.
But to hold up orchestras, and their relationship with conductors, as a business model is to subscribe to an idealized view of classical music as a happy sphere of beautiful golden tones. It doesn't reflect most orchestras' reality. Orchestras are notoriously dysfunctional places, often filled with talented people suffering from acute frustration at their lack of autonomy or of artistic self-expression. And the conductor of stereotype is an autocratic figure who doesn't care if his musicians are happy or not.
(read more after the jump)
This is changing. The role of the conductor is becoming increasingly entrepreneurial, and orchestras are starting to see the need for a new business model. Marin Alsop is a better model for a conductor of the 21st century than, say, George Szell (and, as has been observed on this blog before, this has a lot to do with her sense of her social responsibilities, more than her music-making).
Another classical ensemble that's become a business model is Orpheus, the conductor-less chamber orchestra, which has also written a book, Leadership Ensemble, presenting lessons from the orchestra to the business world. The hitch in their argument is that I tend to feel that their music could be improved if they actually had a conductor.
In short: orchestras with conductors have not traditionally been the happiest places for their employees; orchestras without conductors do not necessarily make the best music; and yet orchestras are being presented as holding keys to business success. This is partly because they can wave the flag of artistic creativity so newly prized in management circles -- even if creativity doesn't play that much of a role in an orchestra's actual operations or even activities. And even if orchestras themselves appear to be in considerable trouble.
Edited to add: This post, and the comments, prompted a thoughtful blog post from Jim McCarthy.
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