Friday, March 15, 2013

More on the SFS Situation and Especially David Herbert

Janos Gereben has a story up in SFCV that you'll want to read; it's an excellent and fair-minded look at the frustrating situation that has developed. Drew McManus also takes a look at what's going on, characterizing the issues as "a bunch of deserving winners snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."

It's hard to disagree with that characterization, so I am not going to try. Drew spells out accurately the fact that we have a great orchestra, with the right conductor, and a chief executive who has kept the orchestra in good financial shape, with a huge and increasing endowment, through tough economic times.

The one thing I might conjecture is that everybody - and I mean everybody - is likely still off-balance and upset following Bill Bennett's collapse and death only a couple of weeks ago. The tour seems to have set off the musicians (note Dave Gaudry's remarks about "never going on tour without a contract"), and I wish everyone had just decided to wait until after the tour (which would undoubtedly result in accolades) and until there was some time to adjust to losing Bennett.

SF Mike's great posting on the strike shows Alexander Barantschik among the picketers. He has a great job and makes $518,000 annually, not the usual salary class of people you find on picket lines. It is a little difficult for me to feel sorry for him.

As for David Herbert (deep breath)...sorta the same. It is a big surprise that management released his salary figure ($214,000) and the fact that he gets an additional six weeks of paid vacation over the standard ten, for a total of sixteen (16). Note that the orchestra offered him a bonus and a salary increase during negotiations; Herbert has decided to head for Chicago anyway.

Now, Herbert's letter talks about access to practice space and the expense he incurred by having to rent his own studio and buy a set of instruments. I am sympathetic about this; Tim Day & Robin McKee, and Peter Wyrick & Amy Hiraga can soundproof studios in their houses, but timpani are big and noisy, plus there are specialized timpani such as Kraft timpani and 18th-century style timpani. This is an additional burden, indeed. (I can't tell you a thing about the cost of buying these except to guess that the Kraft instruments have got to be custom order and the old-style instruments aren't used by every orchestra in the world. It's also true that string players routinely spend hundreds of thousands on their instruments, though if you're Christian Tetzlaff, you're playing an instrument that cost as much as a loaded Prius, rather than a Rolls.)

The question does arise as to what SFS has done or is doing to give Herbert adequate access to the Symphony's instruments. Is there an adequate practice room? When is it open? When does he prefer to practice? What is access like? Does it need to be pre-arranged? Does it increase the orchestra's security costs? I have no answers, and I have no idea what is standard among orchestras. I have no idea what the discussions with Herbert have been like. I'm just damn sorry he is leaving.


CK Dexter Haven said...

One of the SFS Musicians' primary complaints is that they feel they should be paid the same market value of players of their class (i.e. LA Phil, Chicago Symphony, NY Phil). If they truly believe that, then they should stipulate that Brent Assink deserves the same pay as, say Deborah Borda, Deborah Card, and Bejun Mehta (before he stepped down).

I haven't followed Mr. Assink very closely, but by all accounts he has done a good-to-great job with the SFS. If everything I read about him were true (including his salary compared to other top orchestra execs), he is underpaid compared to his contemporaries.

Some people think orchestra execs shouldn't be paid as much as they are. Other people say that musicians shouldn't be paid as much as they are. Regardless of what you think, the market is the market, musicians and execs alike.

What's good for the goose should also good for the gander.

Michael said...

One difference between the Chicago and San Francisco situations is that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra owns Orchestra Hall, while the City and County of San Francisco owns Davies Symphony Hall.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Aaaaah, that is important and bears on SFS's ability to make changes to Davies to accommodate David Herbert, thank you.

Unknown said...

Small point but....the former executive director of the New York Philharmonic was Zarin Mehta, brotgher of Zubin, not Bejun Mehta who is a singer.

CK Dexter Haven said...

Larry -- thanks for that correction. My bad for not realizing it myself before hitting "publish."