Second Thoughts

Second Thoughts
By Henry C. Mayer

Meet Henry Fogel, and A Second Look at Our Orchestra's Situation

After the Allied Victory in North Africa, Winston Churchill announced: "It is not the end; it is not the beginning of the end, but it may be the end of the beginning." One could hopefully say the same about the many-sided situation involving our orchestra, which has done so much to put our city on a unique and honorable place on the music map of the United States.

You have probably read about the coming to our city of Henry Fogel, Executive Director of the Chicago Symphony, as mediator in the orchestra's present difficulties. But you may not know – and you need to know – that Mr. Fogel is donating his services. Recently Louisville Music News conducted a telephone interview with him and this article will share with you all his most relevant insights about this situation which affects us all.

You will appreciate Mr. Fogel and his unique contribution better if we begin with some relevant information about his distinguished career and skills in attentive listening. He is now in his tenth year in the Windy City and in only one of them has the orchestra not lived within its budget. His previous experiences with orchestra management were with the New York Philharmonic and the National Symphony. He has been a labor-management consultant for orchestras in sixteen cities. In 1993 he became the only non-British member of the blue ribbon committee that reviewed the funding policies of the various orchestras of London.

Henry Fogel

What brought him here? The situation here required a mediator and he was one of two names which our orchestra players considered acceptable. He accepted this challenge because, in his words, "I recognize the importance of the Louisville Orchestra in this country. It is one of the unique orchestras in America through its history of recordings of American music, and it is one of the things that carries the name of Louisville around the United States in a meaningful and wonderful way for the city. And I would hope that the people of the Louisville area recognize what an asset that they've got in this orchestra and that they will support it. ... I have over 25 Louisville Orchestra recordings in my own personal record collection."

Fogel had been here about two months, a period which he described to the Courier-Journal's articulate critic Andrew Adler as "difficult but productive." We invited Fogel to spell out his choice of these adjectives.

"I guess by difficult what I mean is when you have two almost diametrically opposed points of view about a problem it is not always easy to bring about a resolution. It requires that both parties make ... sacrifices of their beliefs. And I think the beliefs were deeply held and deeply felt on both sides. And I think it was difficult for both parties to have to give up some of the things that they believed in and held on to in order to reach resolution. By productive I mean that we managed to get it done because I think in the end both groups really wanted to see this orchestra continue."

What is the hardest task for you personally in relating to this situation?

"There are a number of difficult tasks. One, frankly, is finding the time. I have a full-time job managing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. ... In addition to that, I like to believe [that I have] an ability to understand other people's perspectives and points of views. And when you're in a situation like this and you hear diametrically opposed points of views about a number of issues and you recognize that the people who hold those points of view arrived at them with real integrity and deep belief and you can see how they got there, and then part of my job will be to try to filter out the facts and try to persuade, in different cases, different groups of people that they might be wrong about a point of view that they hold. That's always somewhat difficult to do."

Fogel declined to rank the issues in this dispute in order of difficulty. He was then asked what were the positives which might make an agreement possible.

"The Board (57 members) clearly is dedicated to this orchestra or they wouldn't be volunteering the time and the money... to keep it going. (Each member donates $10,000 in cash and in-kind services annually.) The musicians are dedicated to it both because by nature that's what musicians are – they need to make music and they want to make music – and it also represents for them a source of income.... So I think that, my hope is that everybody's will that the orchestra succeed and thrive will drive us toward a long-term resolution."

We then asked Fogel about the study he plans to make about the orchestra's situation. He felt it was too early to talk about involvement by other people in the project, however, he did relate that "I am planning to spend some time over the summer talking to both musicians and board members and members of the management and, frankly, to the mayor, to sort of get a feeling about what the most productive way to structure this study will be. But I'm fairly certain that we will put together a committee that is equally comprised of musicians representatives and board and management representatives, which I will chair, which will really try to take an in-depth look at the organizational structure of the orchestra, its place in the community, its finances, its potential, and try to see if we can bring to a longer-term resolution some of the issues that are still in the long-term, let's say, unresolved."

What follows are some second thoughts about this situation for which this writer is responsible after extended conversations with some of the principals among the board, management and the musicians. In keeping with our agreement with these persons, we are not identifying them. They do not appear in any order of importance.

Louisville Music News would be seriously remiss if we did not emphasize the constructive interest and valuable input of Mayor Abramson, who is a season holder. There are a significant number of donors but space prohibits listing them. One would hope that our mayor would continue to play a leadership role as this situation unfolds and that as federal funds become no longer available, that some public funds from sources nearer at hand will be. In this connection it may be useful and also serve other worthwhile purposes if serious consideration can be given to identifying the orchestra on a statewide basis. The image of Kentucky can only benefit from such a move and this writer ventures to say that this is an organization about which all Kentuckians can take pride in its being able to continue.

We are getting untold benefits in having Fogel among us, but he will need all his experience and evident talents for attentive listening and thoughtful responses in the weeks that lie ahead. Musicians, board members and management apparently agree that Fogel has developed a process which can let all concerned speak and listen and hopefully lead to resolution of this many-sided difficulty. Our readers need to remember that Fogel is a mediator and not an arbitrator; he can strive to craft an agreement and make suggestions but not impose a solution. In the long run, that may be highly beneficial because improvement in intracommunication is a genuine need if not indispensable to the future of music in our city.

Our orchestra is the key to Louisville's musical future. Important as Fogel's dedication, talents and energy are, so are the ability and will to communicate clearly and accurately not only by the principals to each other but also to members of their own groups. There is simply no substitute for good will and mutual understanding.

There's plenty of hard work ahead. The coming expiration of the Stagehands' contract with Kentucky Center for the Arts and its aftermath will have art impact, to be determined on the orchestra situation. The coming of the new music director and his impact is at present an unknown factor but we understand that he has been kept apprised of this many-sided situation. The basic key to the orchestra's future is the status of ticket sales to the Masterworks concerts. A new music director will no doubt bring some upsurge in sales, but will this be a honeymoon period or will it lead to significant ticket sales over a longer period? Certainly his skill in developing and presenting programs with a wide appeal will figure in answering that question.

Ticket sales increases are not the only financial unknown. Sizable and significant donations have been affected by the growing decline in home-based firms in this community. There is a divergence about the quality and effectiveness of the orchestra's marketing and promotion efforts; right now, they are reviewing applications and resumes for what has to be a highly sensitive position. It is all important for all concerned — players, management, board and audience ~— to be well-informed and understanding about what it really takes to have a profitable marketing and promotion effort on a continuing basis.

The current orchestra budget is $4.6 million for the year. Of this total, $2.5 million is allocated for salaries. Given salary cuts for the past two years, one would think that the budget cannot remain static. We have lost several highly talented staff persons who left for reasons of salary and who have not been replaced. The status of these situations reflects the orchestra's situation. While the orchestra situation can be improved, it cannot be done overnight. That, however, does not mean it cannot be done.

All these considerations apparently explain why Courier-Journal critic Bill Mootz's most recent article could only be couched in guardedly hopeful terms. One certainly does not wish to minimize what a tremendous asset Fogel is for us in this situation. However, he cannot do what we — all of us — can and must do for ourselves. So the future of our orchestra is in our hands.

Let us go forward together.

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