It strikes me I should just automate my autumn blog entries using a contract dispute MadLib.
[NAME], the CEO of the [CITY OR STATE NAME] Orchestra, has recently threatened [ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER] percentage cuts in musician compensation, because of [THE ECONOMY / “THE NEW MODEL” / A LACK OF SUSTAINABILITY]. In his role as CEO, he earns [ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER EXPONENTIALLY HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER] every year, and yet has puzzlingly few symphonic accomplishments to show for it. In the run-up to the dispute, [CEO NAME] has given public indications that he is more interested in the [NAME OF HALL THE ORCHESTRA PLAYS IN or PARENT ORGANIZATION THE ORCHESTRA HAS BEEN ABSORBED INTO] than in the [CITY OR STATE NAME] Orchestra, and also has an undeniable weakness for pops shows. [INSENSITIVE QUOTE DEMONSTRATING A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE ISSUES]
In 2012 (…and 2013…), the star of the MadLib was the Minnesota Orchestra’s Michael Henson. In 2014, we all enjoyed the antics of Atlanta Symphony President Dr. Stanley Romanstein, Ph.D. (Both have since moved on from their respective organizations.) Now American orchestra lovers have a new name to learn: David Fay is the man in charge of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, as well as the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
The Hartford Symphony, however, is a more….recent acquisition.
*ominous thunderclap in distance*
First, let’s back up. According this biography, Mr. Fay received a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication from Wheaton College and a master’s degree in Theater Arts from Northwestern University. At various points in his career, he was executive director of Toronto’s Pantages Theatre, Director of the Weinstein Center for the Performing Arts at the National College of Education, and President and CEO of Fox Associates in St. Louis, Missouri. He was also executive director of the Will County Exposition and Auditorium Authority, where he worked to re-develop downtown Joliet, Illinois, among other projects. He joined the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts as CEO in 2001.
If you’re getting the vibe that his resume is more theater-y and real-estate-y than symphony-y, you aren’t alone in your vibe-getting. As the Hartford Courant put it in April 2001:
So. Fast-forward a bit to our next exhibit. Here are some excerpts from a 2006 Courant article about the relationship between the Bushnell and orchestral music, leavened by my reactions in GIF format.
Reflecting on the Bushnell’s legacy of visiting orchestras, Fay said, “It appears that the economics of continuing to do it with audiences are not being sustained. They are, in fact, going the other direction.” …
Fay is enthusiastic about a January recital by 26-year-old violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn, one of the Bushnell’s few scheduled classical performances by a visiting artist next season. He gets even more animated about the prospects of new commissioned works and a symphonic concert of video game music, similar to a Bushnell program last year of music from the “Final Fantasy” video games.
“It’s about the symphonic music of today. Just like Mozart wrote for court entertainments or Beethoven wrote for any numbers of entertainment, which then became what we refer to today as classical music. Over time, it gained a stature of its own,” he said.
“In time, we’ll look back and say what are the great symphonic suites of the late 20th century and the early 21st century? Some of them will live in this entertainment or video game world but will take on a classical sense of their own. That’s where I draw a comparison to the classical composers 200 years ago.”
“Every effort that the Bushnell makes is for building new audiences for the Broadway shows. No effort was put into building or maintaining the classical music subscription base,” said a former Bushnell employee who worked at the hall until recently and didn’t want his name used. “Everyone on the staff of the Bushnell sees classical music as a loser: as a money loser, audience loser, time waster, and a sucking-up of resources.”
“The rejuvenation of classical music can’t take place without the strong support of trustees and someone on the staff who’s completely devoted to and familiar with classical music,” Suisman [a Bushnell trustee] said. “We must face the reality that employees at the Bushnell are taking on works in other areas, from Broadway to children’s shows, as well as major educational programs. The staff has their hands full.”
Well. Obviously, under these circumstances, the last thing the Bushnell would ever want to do is assume management of the Hartford Symphony.
I think you know what happened next.
WNPR neatly described the partnership as, “The Bushnell would essentially take over the management of the orchestra.” The Bushnell’s contract to provide these management services lasted for two years.
Various stakeholders characterized the deal differently. The Courant article claimed the partnership occurred because the symphony was “ailing.” Interestingly, said article went so far as to discuss music director Carolyn Kuan’s impact on the budget.
Concern over the symphony’s financial stability and its limited staffing was underscored in the past two years after conductor Carolyn Kuan was appointed in 2011. Kuan, considered an innovator whose new performance and collaborative initiatives has attracted a more diverse audience and additional donor potential, has had other new ideas that have been stymied because of limited staff and money.
But a few months later, in September 2014, Kuan was interviewed by the Courant and said:
Well first of all, let’s realize that we didn’t enter this arrangement because we were ailing, or out of any kind of desperation. Attendance is up, donations are up. Having said that, we saw that a lot of what we talk about for the future – more community outreach, cultivation of new audiences and all the other ideas we have – we literally don’t have the manpower to accomplish these things by ourselves. So this seemed like a partnership that could be exciting. We thought we could complement each other. I don’t know exactly what the structure will be in two or three years, but I do believe in our ability to figure it out.
In the same interview, Kuan was asked about the biggest challenges of her tenure. She cited administrative churn at the top:
Well, as an organization we’ve been through a lot of changes in a short time. That much change in a short time was unexpected, and certainly made things more difficult.
Despite any difficulties, this April, Kuan signed a truly remarkable 6-year contract extension, as this article details. Her tenure will extend into 2022.
Soooooooooo. Sh*t’s getting weird. Let’s recap:
- The CEO in charge of the orchestra can’t prioritize the orchestra because his first loyalty is to the performing arts center.
- The CEO has a real passion for Broadway and real estate development.
- Less than ten years ago, the newspaper found a former employee willing to share several juicy quotes about how the Bushnell saw classical music as a “loser.”
- Despite this, the Bushnell recently signed a contract to provide services to the Hartford Symphony.
- The music director is potentially (?) criticizing the local newspaper.
- The music director is saying that, a year ago, the orchestra was neither ailing nor in a desperate position.
- The music director has just signed a six year contract extension.
And I think you know where the MadLib goes from here.
According to this July 2015 article in Broadway World:
In 2014-15, [Hartford Symphony] Core musicians earned a little over $23,000. In 2015-16, these musicians are being asked to accept under $15,000 a year, a figure that represents a 40% reduction in wages.
They’re also being asked for more scheduling flexibility. In the case of Hartford, that phrase means scheduling services during the day, which will make it difficult or impossible for musicians to take the second jobs they need to have in order to, you know, subsist on the Earth.
And to finish, here’s one more visual aid that I stole from the satirical Woodruff Center for Orchestra Lockouts Facebook page:
Even more sigh-worthy is the fact that when you Google “David Fay Bushnell” in an attempt to understand more about his work and career, the first result is an article in the Courant about Fay’s recent engagement and the designer ring he presented to his fiancee.
Soooo. I think I have all the information I need for now. That’s not to say there aren’t more stories to be told. I’m sure there are, and hopefully the press will dig into them. I doubt you get to a cliff like this without some amazing behind-the-scenes stories. What about Fay’s interest in real estate, and the iQuilt project that features prominently under the Bushnell website’s About tab? What are the financial consequences – positive and/or negative – of the partnership between the Bushnell and Elephant Eye Productions? The AP reported that the Hartford Symphony is thinking of creating “musical dialogues” in which “audience members … talk to musicians.” What does that offering look like? What’s the proposed “digital institute” all about? WNPR recently described what the public knows:
Speaking of things around the corner, the Bushnell – even as we speak – is quietly trying to assemble an ambitious digital “institute” that would equip the hall, and therefore its users, with state of the art technology for doing these very things and more. I’m a little startled by the price tag for this project – reported to be in the several millions of dollars – but I would be foolish to comment on, much less stand in opposition to, a bold, big-picture initiative like this without knowing a whole lot more about it. I hope that in the coming days the Bushnell will see fit to share the details with everybody.
Here, though, is the most pressing issue of all: do the patrons of Hartford want their symphony orchestra managed by an organization that doesn’t appear to have much expertise in managing symphony orchestras?
The answers are still out there. But for the time being, I believe that an afternoon of Googling has revealed enough information to…
Automate the MadLib!
David Fay, the CEO of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, has recently threatened 40% percentage cuts in musician compensation, because classical music is a money loser, audience loser, time waster, and a sucking-up of resources. In his role as CEO, he earns $392,000 every year in salary and benefits, and yet has puzzlingly few symphonic accomplishments to show for it. In the run-up to the dispute, Mr. Fay has given a wide variety of public indications he is more interested in the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and its Broadway offerings than in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, and also has an undeniable weakness for pops shows. “We have to stop being so precious about the music.”