No rules for management at least

Daniel Wakin posted an article on the Budapest Festival Orchestra on his New York Times blog:

Mr. Fischer’s orchestra, he said, has three cardinal virtues, established at its creation: an emphasis on the players’ individual creativity; few rules, for maximum flexibility; and unusual programming.
… The no-rules rule means no long-term contracts, no overtime and auditions that end up with five or six finalists who play with the orchestra.

Oddly enough, my orchestra, which has plenty of rules, also has
auditions that produce finalists who play with the orchestra before
being hired (which I assume is what was meant). But it was the “no
overtime” and “no long-term contracts” that caught my attention.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of attending a meeting in Salzburg on orchestras. It was the second (and last) of five sessions on issues in the performing arts sponsored by Alberto Vilar and hosted by the Salzburg Seminar. It was mostly orchestra managers from Europe and the US; I was the only labor representative. One panel discussion featured the manager of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, who mentioned in passing that his orchestra required all its musicians to re-audition every two years, causing an audible gasp throughout the roomful of managers. The next panelist, a young orchestra manager from South Africa, remarked that he had been wondering why, every two years, all these Hungarian musicians came to audition for his orchestra. It brought down the house.

I’ll bet the “no-rules” rule doesn’t apply to the orchestra’s musicians. I’ll bet they’re expected to be on time, to be appropriately dressed at concerts, to give up other work for the orchestra, ad nauseum. I’ll bet there there’s a whole handbook of rules for the musicians. I’ll bet there are unspoken rules as well. For example, I’ll bet there’s an unspoken rule against complaining about working conditions, and that violations lead to non-renewal.

No doubt the lack of job security , or indeed any limits on the conductor’s power, is an artifact of the post-Communist labor market for musicians and/or a reflection of some truly lousy labor laws. I doubt that Hungarian musicians are any more trusting of conductors, or less desirous of stability in their lives, than are their counterparts in Berlin, Vienna, or the US.


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