Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mr. Clean

Reading this article about Baltimore Symphony and its balanced budget makes me curious. Of course, what with the economic uncertainty that symphony orchestras face in this country, any posting of sustainability is encouraging.

In Baltimore Symphony's case, the budget was reduced to $24.3 million from $28.3 million the previous year. Cost reduction measures were taken across the board. BSO musicians volunteered $1 million in reduced pay and benefits and spear-headed a fundraising campaign called Music Matters. Music Director Marin Alsop contributed $50, 000 to that campaign while also donating back $100,000 in conducting fees.

"We're moving in a cautiously forward direction," said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham. "It feels very different from last year."

And now. Can this man be trusted? It's not that I doubt Meecham's managerial prowess, it's just that my family was on the receiving end of deceit. As I explained to a cellist friend in Chicago, my views reflect personal experience. And some of it is rotten.

In May of 2004, while Paul Meecham was Executive Director of Seattle Symphony, he notified my husband that they were to meet in order to discuss Ilkka's contract. Since 1986, my husband's employment as concertmaster for Seattle Symphony had been subject to a joint individual contract with the Opera and the Symphony and to two separate collective bargaining agreements between the Union and the Symphony and the Opera. As my husband's last written JIC was for the 2002/03 season, he continued employment at both the symphony and opera without a signed agreement. His continuation to serve as concertmaster without the signature was based on good faith, as the organization was regularly delinquent.

Meecham ushered my husband into his office. It was just the two of them; Maestro Schwarz had made himself unavailable for the occasion. It was then and there that Paul Meechum stated that Schwarz desired "new leadership". My husband asked innocently: Is my position to be taken by so-and-so? Oh no, she's not good enough to be in the running. And Meecham went on to explain that the orchestra would be auditioning various violinists for my husband's post over the course of the season, beginning fall of 2004.

Although colleagues were by and large fearful of this new managerial approach, something which reminds me of the Kapos in concentration camps, the Union filed a grievance against the symphony on my husband's behalf. Although the Seattle Symphony rejected my husband's grievance of wrongful termination, the case proceeded to federal court with the Union seeking an order that his tenure provision created a binding right to employment. The court compelled the symphony to enter into arbitration. However, the case was settled through mediation.

I hope Meecham's cleaning methods have improved. He was fortunate to have found an ED position after having been booted out of Seattle.

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