In turbulent times the quality of leadership assumes a greater significance. This issue is a testament to that.
In the political realm there are many examples of leadership running the gamut from outstanding to execrable. Perhaps the most significant illustration in modern times of the significance of leadership is the ascent into power, in 1933, of very different men in two countries facing very similar economic crises, the United States and Germany. And the very phrase “poor leadership” might well bring to mind the name of one or more present-day candidates for high office.
During recent crises, we have seen many examples of poor leadership of orchestras. I feel fortunate, therefore, to be able to bring you Greg Zuber’s article about James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera, which highlights his incredibly long tenure there—and the new heights of artistic achievement that resulted, bringing renown both to the orchestra and to the company.
The cover article about the Grand Rapids Symphony focuses on a different kind of leadership. The musicians involved in their extended contract negotiations, including author Paul Austin, did more than change the debate across the table. They did so without creating rancor and acrimony. They sparked increased public support for the orchestra, as evidenced by the successful attainment of the orchestra’s endowment campaign goals. Based on the starting point of those talks, one could easily have imagined (and as an interested observer, I certainly did) several vastly inferior alternative outcomes.
Chairperson Bruce Ridge has reminded me on occasion, when I’ve asked for his advice about a prospective article, that Senza Sordino functions in part as an historical record for ICSOM. It isn’t just a tool for communicating with our colleagues now; it’s also a way of communicating with our colleagues in the future. Therefore I feel it is fitting and proper to devote as much space as I do to recognize all that Bruce has accomplished as Chair of this organization.
Taking the helm in the aftermath of the bursting of the dotcom bubble, he navigated the difficult and uncharted waters during and after the great recession. The steady chorus of negative news about orchestras swelled to a full-throated roar. But Bruce had a plan. He would change the tenor of the discussion. Working both quietly behind the scenes and vividly in public discourse, he reframed the conversation, so that self-defeating rhetoric did not become self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of listening to how some orchestras (and by implication all orchestras) were failing, we would hear about the ways that many other orchestras were succeeding. “Orchestras are dying” became “orchestras are an important part of our communities.”
Bruce also greatly enhanced ICSOM by building alliances. As a good unionist, knowing that a great deal of our strength stems from our solidarity, he created the Calls to Action. In the depth of these crises faced by orchestras, the “network of friends” that Bruce likes to refer to answered these calls, with visible financial support that was fundamental to the resolution of many of these crises.
He also sought out new partners, such as Americans for the Arts and Randy Whatley, who have helped to reshape the way that some ICSOM orchestras achieve success both during and after negotiations.
We live in a digital age, and while some decry hours lost to cat videos on Facebook or the decline of personal interaction, the reality is that social media, and the Internet more generally, have fundamentally altered how and what we learn about. Bruce has recognized this and worked hard to ensure that ICSOM keeps pace and stays relevant.
I first became an ICSOM delegate in 2008. From that first time in San Francisco, Bruce’s addresses have consistently been a highpoint (often the highpoint) of the conference. I have “grown up” knowing only one ICSOM Chairperson. It is hard to conceive of someone else leading this vital and important organization. But at least it is easy to conceive of what superb leadership of ICSOM looks like.