The bottom-up theory of institutional accountability

Buried in an article in yesterday’s Courier-Journal article about the state of the Louisville negotiations (which are being mediated by Ralph Craviso, as discussed in this post) was this gem:

In an essay that appeared on the Forum page in The Courier-Journal last month, orchestra board president Chuck Maisch laid responsibility for the orchestra’s woes at the feet of the musicians.

“When our musicians declined to relinquish or delay their scheduled pay increase (as was stipulated in the prior contract) to help avoid bankruptcy, the board was forced to file for court protection to keep this organization from permanently shutting down,” Maisch wrote.

It’s not very often that one sees such plain talk from someone reporting on the arts. But Elizabeth Kramer, who wrote the article, nailed this one. What the board and management of the Louisville Orchestra have done, by “[laying] responsibility for the orchestra’s woes at the feet of the musicians,” is to completely abdicate their fiduciary and moral responsibility for the state of the orchestra and instead blame the disaster in Louisville solely on those who have the least control over the orchestra’s affairs – the musicians. It’s like saying the French Revolution was the fault of the sans-culottes.

With that kind of attitude, it’s not surprising that the board’s attorney – without even consulting the board -rejected the musicians’ offer yesterday to reduce musician costs by $750,000 in the first year with a five-year pay freeze, as well as to cut the size of the orchestra. Of course, under this new theory of “accountability,” he had no choice. Clearly the musicians have not yet fully accepted the extent to which they are at fault for the institution’s problems.

I wrote in the post I referred to earlier that my biggest fear about Craviso wasn’t that he would be pro-management, as his management-side background led some to believe he would be, but rather that the LO management and board would simply refuse to budge – for him or for anyone else – from their insistence that the orchestra be downsized to the level of their competence. Being able to say “I told you so” has seldom felt so ungratifying.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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