Wednesday, January 04, 2012

NYPO Names New Executive Director

Following what was apparently an exceptionally difficult search, the NY Phil has named Matthew VanBiesen as its new executive director. He'll come on board in the spring some time and will overlap a bit with Zarin Mehta, who is retiring after quite a few years at the orchestra. The overlap is smart, believe me, with a job of this complexity and visibility. Also very smart is that he won't be directly involved in the current labor negotiations.

Dan Wakin's story contains one odd bit: the orchestra won't discuss any of the terms of VanBiesen's contract. Hello, the salary will come out in a 9900 in a couple of years, plus, anyone with some knowledge of orchestra management and access to Adaptistration can figure out the range by just looking at the pay for the executives at the BSO, LAPO, SFS, PO, CO, and CSO. It'll be in the $650K to $1M range, but probably not more than the $807K that Zarin Mehta is earning.

VanBiesen is coming to the NYPO from Melbourne, where he has only served for about two years. The orchestra he runs currently receives half its funding from the government, while the NYPO gets, well, I assume approximately nothing from government sources. Just noting that this didn't work out so well at San Francisco Opera, where Pamela Rosenberg simply had no idea of the fund-raising demands of her job and evidently strongly disliked that particular responsibility.

VanBiesen previously served in Houston, and it looks as though he did an impressively good job there: he took over during a terrible time for the orchestra and everything improved greatly under his leadership. He will have a few challenges in NY too:
While relatively inexperienced and a leader of organizations with less than half the Philharmonic’s $69 million budget, Mr. VanBesien faces enormous challenges: persistent and large deficits, labor friction, hefty pension liabilities, the lack of an established summer home like the Boston Symphony’s at Tanglewood, and competition from orchestras visiting Carnegie Hall. Problems even extend to the orchestra’s widely scorned auditorium, Avery Fisher Hall: Philharmonic officials say the hall needs renovations, which will displace the orchestra for an extended period, according to plans in the works with Lincoln Center, which owns the building.
I have no idea how long the next renovation of Avery Fisher Hall is expected to take, but 18 months of camping out didn't hurt San Francisco Opera back in the day. I have many complaints about Lotfi Mansouri's leadership at SFO, but how he managed the retrofit of the opera house and the workings of the company during the retrofit aren't among them.


Henry Holland said...

*Another* Avery Fisher Hall renovation?!?!

My car is dying. It's been a great car, but it's 12 years old and it's getting to the point where I'm going to have to keep pouring money in to it just to keep it running, money better spent on car payments for a new dark blue Mini Cooper with a Union Jack on the roof.

How often are they going to try and renovate that mistake at Lincoln Center? Why not use the money to seed the funding for a new space?

Lisa Hirsch said...

New hall = $500 million to $One billion, that's why. Assuming they could find somewhere to put it.

Henry Holland said...

Wait, you mean Manhattan is a small island that's packed to the gills already? What about putting it in Staten Island?


I remember the Met spent at least a decade claiming they were going to build a 800 seater behind the Met so that they could do baroque and chamber pieces. Obviously never happened.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the cost of the incredible-looking new opera house in Copenhagen: $500 million US. Wow. Of course, an opera house is more complex than a symphony space, but still. Disney Hall cost $274 million.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Huh, Disney was only $274 million? I thought it was a whole lot more than that.

CK Dexter Haven said...

The $274M figure for WDCH is correct.

Lillian Disney's original gift was for "only" $50M. At the time the donation was announced in the late 80's, everyone thought it'd be more than enough, but for various reasons, the cost jumped to $274M, which at the time was an unheard of amount.

BTW: Gehry's complex design gets much of the blame for the increase in cost, but in fact, a big chunk of the cost runup was due to changes in building codes (specifically, more stringent seismic requirements put in place after the '89 Loma Prieta and '94 Northridge earthquakes).

Anyways, the buzz was about how expensive WDCH was to construct compared to previous concert halls. In addition, while WDCH was still under construction, the Getty Center opened for $1.3 Billion and The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels opened for $190 Million, so there was a lot of sensitivity to $$$$$ being spent on such things.

Probably more than you wanted to know, but I'm sure you are much better off for it . . .

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hell, no, I love this kind of information, complete with the numbers - so big thanks.

Gehry's design was worth every penny. I love the building, inside and out.

Henry Holland said...

To add to CKDH's excellent post, the parking garage alone cost $100 million (!!!!). This likely included excavation costs, soil remediation etc. Having parked in that thing a number of times, for a $100 mil they got a nightmare of a labyrinth.

When it looked like the concert hall itself might not get built, the city was prepared to take over the parking garage. Now that Eli Broad's awesome looking museum is going up next to WDCH, I wish they do something with that parcel where that ugly parking structure is, next to the Colburn School.

Too bad Frank Gehry's project across the street from the cathedral/Ahmanson looks like it's never going to happen.