Monday, December 19, 2005

Breaking Up, Part 2

I posted last week about the breakup of the Audubon Quartet in a welter of court actions and bankruptcies.

That posting generated some comments, including the following from Michael Renardy, whose Web site includes documents relevant to the situation. Mr. Renardy wrote the following, to which I'm responding here because I have enough to say that I don't want to bury my remarks in the comments:

I see a lot of comments like these: Since Ehrlich now has the reputation that he is willing to sue his colleagues, has he really salvaged anything? Baloney, I say. At least outside the "genteel world of chamber music" there are worse things than willingness to sue a colleague. Embezzlement, for instance. Sexual harassment. And the manner in which Ehrlich was "dismissed" would have left people guessing about all of those.

Unless he fought back, that is.

First, the most important point in my original posting was the first one: the Audubon quartet did not have an appropriate business contract, one that would properly define acceptable behavior for all quartet members and that would provide a mechanism for member evaluation and other personnel matters, including when to mediate or arbitrate a dispute and, if necessary, an acceptable process for dismissing a member.

Second, to again repeat myself: I have seen nothing indicating that anyone in the quartet asked for mediation or arbitration, which, in my opinion, should always be used early enough in a problem to avoid resorting to the courts.

Both of these represent signifcant failings on the part of the Audubon to conduct themselves in a businesslike manner, where there's a degree of predictability about internal process and where there are clear bylaws for all to follow.

Regarding people guessing about sexual harrassment, embezzlement, and other possible problems: really? In the case of embezzlement, I'd definitely expect criminal proceedings against the perpetrator. I might expect civil proceedings in the case of sexual harrassment.

Needless to say, given the personality issues here, had proper procedures been in place, everybody could have come out of the situation looking better than they currently look. And even without, there are plenty of mechanisms whereby appropriate public statements from the Audubon would have clarified to situation sufficiently that no one would be wondering what had happened. "Fighting back" ought to have been unnecessary, and I fail to see how a lawsuit putting the other quartet members into bankruptcy was necessary or desirable. From where I sit, it looks like revenge.

Finally, I cannot for the life of me find on line a letter that ran in the NY Times Arts & Leisure section yesterday, but the writer, who is evidentally familiar with the economics of chamber music, opined that the judge who valued the Audubon at $1.6 million was setting an arbitrary value with no support in the real world. If he's correct, that would make the monetary award to Ehrlich insupportable.

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