Monday, February 17, 2014

Mortier Speaks

Anthony Tommasini chatted with Gerard Mortier the other week, and boy, is it ever interesting. Here's the money quote:

Mr. Mortier repeated a point he had made in 2011: It was a miscalculation on both sides, his and the board’s, to assume that fund-raising would spike once he arrived, since he was little known to New York arts patrons and had spent his career running state-subsidized European institutions. It seems inexplicable that the board of a major New York opera company and one of the most experienced arts administrators in Europe did not understand how the finances worked in their different domains.
Is that the understatement of the year or what? And is it really inexplicable?? As it happens, it's apparent that the NYCO board had no idea of how to run the company, which you can tell just by reading a few articles about the company's demise: the board couldn't do the math to figure out that the year with no performances would be a financial disaster, they ran through the endowment as though it didn't matter, and, well, bankruptcy, you know?

Not only that, NYCO had the example of what happened in San Francisco when Pamela Rosenberg, an experienced arts administrator in Europe, came west from Germany, but evidently the board didn't read the papers any more than they did the addition. Rosenberg hated fundraising, she spent money like there was no tomorrow, working conditions resulted in a number of serious injuries on stage, she alienated the union workers, and she headed back to Europe before her contract was up. There were any number of artistic highs during her tenure, but she failed at ensuring the financial health of the company. That got left to David Gockley, who has done a sterling job of solidifying SFO's finances.

Meanwhile, Mortier claims credit for the acoustic renovation: does he deserve this? I really don't know, but I wish Tommasini had addressed this point in the article. Who persuaded the vile David Koch to pony up for the renovation? Mortier also says planning was well under way for his first NYCO season, and also that a great deal had been negotiated for new offices. Can any of this be verified?

I'm also suspicious about blaming the board except for Susan Baker, who was of course the big Mortier advocate, and reputed to have more than her share of responsibility for the disaster.

I'm sorry to read of Mortier's illness, and I wish him well, but it's a little hard to tell what's real and what's smoke-blowing in this interview.


Dr.B said...

Perhaps we should design a curriculum titled "Managing Musical Arts Institutions American Style." This might provide a path forward.

I forgive Pamela because of Saint Francois. It was the operatic event of my San Francisco experience.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Ahahaha, isn't that the job of the BOARD? Sigh.

I loved Rosenberg's programming, though I had to admit defeat at St. Francois. This surprised the heck out of me, because I love Messiaen. But I went to the last performance, so I didn't have a chance to try again.

When I got home that night, I'm told I looked stunned, not in a good way, and I subsequently told a friend this:

Makes Parsifal look like Die Fledermaus.

Henry Holland said...

Lisa, I think I've made my thoughts about the NYCO debacle clear, but I thought this was interesting:

Looking back, he acknowledged one serious error: It was wrong to keep City Opera waiting a season while he completed his contract in Paris

Well, that and the whole "Maybe I'm going to Bayreuth, maybe not" thing.

I wish I had been able to go to the SFO St. Francois but my usual money woes intervened.

I'm told I looked stunned, not in a good way

You had that same look after the LAO Die Gezeichneten! :-)

Lisa Hirsch said...

No, I did not! I liked Gezeichneten, unreservedly, and had none of the issues with it that I had with St. Francois.

CK Dexter Haven said...

To the list of successful European arts administrators who could not translate their skillset to the US, add Willem Wijnbergen (aka the former Concertgebouw head who led the LA Phil for about a year in between Earnest Fleischmann and Deborah Borda).

A retired LA Phil musician I know calls him "he who shall not be named."

I think he's had some success since then at smaller organizations, but that was one trainwreck of a year.

Henry Holland said...

Hahaha, I misread your reaction then!

BTW, the new recording of the LAO performance is terrific, Conlon just "gets it". I love the whole opera, of course, but boy oh boy, the last 15 minutes or so! When Alviano goes insane and starts babbling about being a jester at the local fair > that incredible music at the end, wow.

Lisa Hirsch said...

You did!!!