Improving quality of orchestra organizations by personal development

Second day of the ABO conference in Leeds: One of the workshops dealt with the issue how orchestras tackle the problem of the abandoned retirement age in 2012, which is a special UK problem. But the presentations and discussions at least highlighted the issue of personal development for musicians, artistic appraisal and leadership skills within the orchestra.

Workshop on fresh ideas from Australia and New Zealand

Workshop on fresh ideas from Australia and New Zealand

The idea is that each individual (musicians/management) has a responsibility for the whole orchestra institution, but the management has to have “a 360 grade overview in 3D”. One of the key findings was that the principals, section and co-section leaders need artistic excellence but they should be better trained for their leadership role. There should be “new starters programs” for orchestra beginners at conservatoires. It’s not only about well performing, it’s about education work, chamber music, conducting, leading groups etc.

Artistic appraisal is only one management tool. It’s a regular process and dialogue on a day-to-day basis, not only once a year. It’s about unlocking potentials (appraisal = career review = professional development). Tricky is the jargon or wording to be used, because musicians may get scared when they hear “appraisal”.  Appraisal must not be negative criticism, it should be almost a positive experience. The attitude towards appraisal has to be changed. It’s about improving an organization, it’s not about giving management a tool for kicking employees out. Vocabulary should be especially respectful within the whole organization. Appraisal needs clear structures and responsibilities (section leaders, management and or music director).

Another workshop took a look to Australia which has 6 professional full time orchestras and New Zealand with 2 (in Wellington and Auckland). Barbara Glaser, CEO from Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, spotlighted a flexible payment scheme for orchestra players: 50 percent of annual income is guaranteed. All services (performances, rehersals, education work, chamber music, meetings etc. are paid extra. This makes balancing budget much easier for the orchestra management. Kate Lidbetter from Symphony Services Australia (a company build up by the six symphony orchestras) explained the “Artistic Reflection Kit” which is a very innovative and successful management scheme to enhance artistic vibrancy.

One afternoon session gave the next generation of musicians their say. What do they expect from conservatoires, what do they expect from the orchestras and how will their professional future look like?

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