Today is a big day in the Connecticut arts scene. Absent major musician concessions, tomorrow the Hartford Symphony will begin the process of “clos[ing] its doors – for good.” Today’s firm deadline has been repeated in the press again and again and again.
Less clear, however: what management means by shutting down. Not giving concerts? (A lockout?) Bankruptcy? (What kind?) Dissolving? Or destroying the old organization to create a new one in its wake? No one in the mainstream media has asked.
Here are some more questions that have been bugging me:
Why was a shut-down not discussed until very, very recently? In their newly released FAQs, management claimed the reason was
because the HSO did not have a final plan in place (including a musicians’ contract) to stabilize its finances, coupled with the damage of negative publicity, a number of major donors and supporters expressed concern and advised they would not continue their significant support. This situation shortened the prospective “life expectancy” of the HSO from years to months.
Honesty: sometimes not the best policy, apparently. Also, it’s so fricking frustrating to see a Major Minnesota Mistake (TM) made again: different financial outlooks shared with different constituencies.
How many were “a number” of donors and supporters? Was the Hartford Symphony so weak that the loss of those donors crippled the entire organization? Did management know that, or were they blindsided? Who assessed the future prospects of the orchestra with these donors? In the absence of these donors, was there any discussion of a last ditch community-wide campaign to save this organization, a la the Milwaukee Symphony? Is there a consensus moving forward that even if musicians give concessions, this situation of relying on a small pool of donors is dangerous to the institution? And…unsustainable?
Almost two years ago, in March 2014, the Hartford Symphony began paying the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts to provide management services. Is it coincidence that the contract ends this summer? It could be. But in hindsight, the timing looks odd. If any of this was preordained or even worked toward, when did the planning start?
Why, in April of 2015, was music director Carolyn Kuan offered a six year contract? It lasts until May 2022! Did Hartford Symphony leaders not realize what was coming, less than a year ago? If they did realize, they were being disingenuous. If they didn’t realize, they were being dumb.
Why, in November 2015, did newly installed chairman of the Hartford Symphony board Jeff Verney say in the Simsbury Patch…
“I look forward to working closely with the Board, the HSO artistic and management team, and especially our world-class musicians to bring orchestral music to ever-expanding audiences.”
That was only two months ago. Did Mr. Verney naively believe that world-class musicians would swallow enormous cuts in compensation and not resign? Did he not know closure was on the table? If not, why not? If he did, why didn’t he at least hint at it?
Why did HSO director of artistic operations Stephen Collins say that hiring a new assistant conductor is “a real investment in the value of the orchestra“? That quote isn’t from last month or last year. That is from TODAY. As in, the day before the orchestra starts to close, if concessions aren’t made. What the hell?
If the Hartford Symphony ceases to exist, what happens to the endowment? Here is a 2012 article to ponder: “Bankrupt But Endowed.” Under various legal scenarios, who would control the Hartford Symphony endowment? Does it remain in limbo? What organization gains access to it? Might the Bushnell Center get access to it?
What kind of legal expenses is the Hartford Symphony looking at as they close up shop? Who will pay those?
And most of those questions point to this one…
Is a revamped, cheaper, and more “sustainable” Hartford Symphony on its way? How about an orchestra that is smaller in scope and ambition? A pickup orchestra available to be hired for corporate events and donor parties? An orchestra that has fewer big classical events and focuses on more pops-friendly shows? (Minnesota peeps, does any of this sound familiar to you?) Based on what has happened so far, it would make sense. The Bushnell probably wouldn’t mind this turn of events, in the end. Such a group would be more useful and more relevant to what they do. When Jackie Evancho came to town, she employed a combination of recorded music and live accompaniment from Hartford Symphony players. Said orchestra could even play larger-scale classical music…once in a while.
In the absence of answers, and mainstream media investigation (which won’t occur), the people of Hartford are left with a lot of questions. If anyone involved with the Hartford Symphony wants to go on the record about anything, or wants to correct any of what I wrote, please do; the comment section is open, as it always is.
I’m not from Hartford. But I love orchestras. (I love well-run orchestras.) I love when managements and musicians are working together. I love when people set aside their egos to serve the art, which in turn serves the community, which is what all of this is about, ostensibly. And so I get concerned when entities in the field don’t answer obvious questions. It sets a bad precedent for the next dispute.
Regardless of how this week turns out, the Hartford Symphony is on the verge of major change. Doesn’t the community have a right to understand how?