WHAT DOES A MUSIC DIRECTOR DO?


Photo by Jeff Wheeler

Photo by Jeff Wheeler

A week or so ago, the MOA Board floated an idea to bring back Osmo Vänskä as Principal Guest Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra. They would give him 8-10 weeks for conducting and no administrative responsibilities. My first thought was geez, that’s a corporate trick. Hire someone to do most if not all of a manager’s duties and responsibilities but don’t give him the title or the pay. My second thought: who’d they have in mind for Music Director? Then my anger kicked in. This Principal Guest Conductor idea is essentially a slap in the face for Mr. Vänskä, who had been the Music Director for ten years before resigning October 1, 2013 when the Board and musicians could not reach an agreement, and truly an insidious, cruel move on the part of the MOA Board if they were serious about it.

I thought it might be interesting to compare the two positions so you can get an idea of what the Board’s offer truly means. When I researched conductors, one area I needed to learn about for Evan Quinn in the Perceval novels is the job of music director and if it was something Evan would want. First it means he’d have his own orchestra, his own musical instrument. But along with that comes duties and responsibilities that he might not want for a while as he settles in Vienna, Austria.

.

 

MUSIC DIRECTOR

 

PRINCIPAL GUEST CONDUCTOR

Primary conductor and artistic leader of symphony orchestra. He or she has three main areas of duties and responsibilities: Primary guest conductor of a symphony orchestra. He or she has one main area of duties and responsibilities:

 

1) CONDUCTOR: responsible for conducting the orchestra, developing programs for the orchestra, hiring musicians for the orchestra (or letting them go).  The Music Director must have the technical skills regarding the orchestra’s instruments, musical analysis, mastery of musical styles, and advanced aural skills.  He must also have advanced conducting skills including baton technique, rehearsal technique, podium presence, the ability to communicate with the musicians and lead them effectively and gain their respect. She must also have extensive and insightful knowledge of music as well as the arts and humanities in general including a comprehensive knowledge of repertoire, the history of music, language skills and knowledge of visual arts, literature and drama.

 

1) CONDUCTOR: responsible for suggesting her program(s) to conduct and to work with the Music Director and orchestra staff to finalize the program(s). Lead rehearsals and conduct the concerts.  In addition, since guest conductors could be candidates for a Music Directorship, they also must be able to be responsible for everything the Music Director is responsible for under all three areas of duties and responsibilities.
2) ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: as the artistic leader of the organization, he needs to possess qualities of personal discipline and integrity, and the ability to advance the orchestra’s and community’s needs over his own. He must be able to establish an artistic vision for the entire organization.  He must also possess the necessary administrative skills to be able to work with all departments and the musicians, the knowledge necessary about governance, unions, etc., and a thorough grounding in professional ethics.

 

 
3) COMMUNITY ARTISTIC LEADER: must understand how the organization works as an institution in the wider community, serve as an influential community advocate for music and music education, and have an aptitude for good public and personal relations.  

 

For a more detailed description of the duties, responsibilities, traits and skills necessary for a Music Director, please visit the League of American Orchestras website and the article there entitled “Traits and Skills of a Music Director.”  I have not listed everything here, only the major duties and responsibilities.

Now, Mr. Vänskä has already worked for the MOA for ten years as the Music Director.  He exceeded expectations in his performance of this job. He is, without a doubt, qualified to once again serve as the Minnesota Orchestra’s Music Director.  Why offer him anything else?

The only reasons I can think of would be 1) money and 2) another Music Director candidate.  I would add another reason if Michael Henson were remaining as President and CEO of the MOA, but he’s leaving in August 2014; i.e. a difficult working relationship between Mr. Henson and Mr. Vänskä, since that has been mentioned at times in the media.  Regarding that last point, the two men would have far less contact if Mr. Vänskä were a Principal Guest Conductor.

So, money.  The MOA paid Mr. Vänskä a little over $1 million per year before his resignation.  I think it’s reasonable to expect the MOA Board to balk at paying him the same amount considering the financial situation that they have.  The Board will want to save money wherever they can.  I am not privy to any discussions of pay and shouldn’t be.  But I would speculate that the Music Director’s salary will be an important consideration in whether or not the Board rehires Mr. Vänskä or not.

Is there someone else?  Rumors swirled for a while that there was someone else that the Board was considering, someone Mr. Henson favored, but I don’t know who that candidate might be.  Any candidate, at any time, needs to take a hard look at the organization’s governance, the people who serve on the Board and in executive management positions, as well as the musicians in the orchestra he would lead.  There could be three or four candidates who are wonderful musicians and conductors, but their personalities also need to fit the organization and the community.  I think Mr. Vänskä has shown during his tenure as Music Director that he fits the orchestra and the community.  I am not privy to his relationships with Board members or even with Mr. Henson.  As with any job, the people involved need to be able to work together.

In conclusion, to offer Mr. Vänskä the job of Principal Guest Conductor at this time would be a good way to offend and insult him professionally and personally after he has served the MOA as Music Director for ten years.  I hope the MOA Board realizes this, and they work with Mr. Vänskä to find a way for him to return as Music Director that meets both the MOA’s financial and artistic needs as well as Mr. Vänskä’s….

Osmo Vanska and MO, Nov. 2011

Osmo Vanska and MO, Nov. 2011

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s