The Music Director Search
Bruce Ridge, bassist with the North Carolina Symphony and President of ICSOM, served as the Chair of his orchestra’s Search committee when they were looking for a new Music Director. Bruce has agreed to share his expertise in this area, and to solicit articles from other orchestras with innovative Music Director Search stories to tell.
In this introductory article, Bruce explains the elements he believes are essential to a successful Music Director search, and describes the additional topics he plans to cover in his column.
The Critical Role of Inclusiveness
A Music Director search is one of the most significant moments in the history of an orchestra. No other event presents a greater opportunity for an orchestra to reach out to its audiences and advance as an artistic institution. In some orchestras, this is a moment that only happens every few decades. In others, it can occur much more frequently. But in every case, a Music Director search provides a singular opportunity for an orchestra to connect with its community, and to build positive relationships with all of the various constituencies that make up the governance of the orchestra.
No other event in the life of an orchestra enables such an inclusive process among the management, the Board members, the musicians, and the audiences. Despite the conflicts that occasionally exist between these constituencies, they all share a common goal when it comes to choosing the next artistic leader of the organization – to find the person who can become the face of the organization and lead the orchestra to a new level of artistic excellence and community service. In fact, all of the various constituencies that comprise the organization are searching for someone that can lead a transformation, and inspire the musicians, staff, Board, and audiences to a new and even deeper level of commitment to the ideals upon which all orchestras are founded.
A successful Music Director search can lead to almost limitless positive results for an orchestra and its community:
- 1. The musicians can be inspired to reach for a greater level of artistry in their performances.
- 2. The Board can be inspired to reach for a deeper level of commitment and dedication.
- 3. The staff and management can be inspired to be more creative and effective in their work.
- 4. And, perhaps most importantly, the community can be inspired to understand and embrace the crucial role that a symphony orchestra plays in the life of their city.
But how can we measure the success of a Music Director search? Success is best measured over time, though an atmosphere of success can most certainly be created immediately through press accounts and the promotion of the decision. The burden of achieving the goals of the search will largely fall upon the shoulders of the person hired. But that person must be supported by an ambitious management, dedicated musicians, and an inspired community in order to lead a transformation of the orchestra.
A successful search can mean:
- 1. a renewed interest on the part of the local press in the orchestra
- 2. sold out audiences for concerts
- 3. a motivated Board that increases its contributions
- 4. an inspired business community that increases its donations to the orchestra
The measure of a failed search, however, can be immediate. Simply put, if a new Music Director is announced without the support of all of the various constituencies that make up the community of the orchestra, then the search will inevitably be deemed a failure. An atmosphere of inclusiveness must surround every step of the search, or the organization risks squandering what might be the best opportunity for the orchestra to take a giant leap forward.
Paramount in the concept of inclusiveness must be the musicians of the orchestra. They will be, of course, the first and most visible (or audible) measure of success for a new artistic leader. A pact of trust must be formed between the management and the orchestra. The musicians in far too many orchestras have learned the name of their new Music Director from press accounts. This, without exception, cannot happen if a search is to be successful.
But of all of the various constituencies that form an orchestra, perhaps the most neglected element in these searches is the audience itself. An orchestra’s audience is the orchestra’s community. The Music Director search is a chance to invite them to feel that they can play a role in the decision-making process of the organization to which they are asked to contribute in so many ways.
Over the next few months, we will discuss many aspects of Music Director searches in this forum. Our topics will include (in no particular order) and will not be limited to:
- 1. the decision to initiate a search
- 2. the Music Director search and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)
- 3. the make-up of a search committee
- 4. creating a profile for the new Music Director
- 5. working with the press and “free media”
- 6. “open” searches vs. “closed” searches
- 7. musician surveys and musician involvement
- 8. Board involvement
- 9. staff involvement
- 10. audience input
- 11. measuring the candidates
- 12. involving the community
- 13. making the decision
- 14. planning for the announcement
- 15. promoting the decision
- 16. the future of the orchestra
- 17. troubleshooting
All of these elements are crucial to a successful search. Some of these topics require volumes to properly discuss, and others merely sentences. But while a Music Director search provides a unique opportunity for success, it also provides a unique opportunity for failure. Everyone involved in your organization must be educated about the potential benefits, and risks, of your Music Director search.
In my role as Contributing Editor to the Orchestra Musician Forum website, I will also be inviting guest columnists to contribute their thoughts in this area. It is my hope that by having a detailed discussion of how a Music Director search can transform any symphony orchestra, we might further our discussion of the role that orchestras can and should play in the healthy life of every community.