Sunday, November 29, 2015

Triifonov to Join NYPO Board of Directors?

The question mark shouldn't be in my post title, of course. The NY Philharmonic announced the other day that the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, who was recently featured in a series of Rachmaninov concerts, is joining the organization's Board of Directors. My choice of punctuation reflects the look on my face when I think about the appointment.

What, exactly, does Trifonov have to offer the NYPO and its board that it doesn't already have? Well, the board already includes three famous performers, all older than Trifonov: pianist Yefim Bronfman and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.

Here's what the press release says:
“Daniil Trifonov will be an outstanding addition to the New York Philharmonic Board of Directors,” said Chairman Oscar S. Schafer. “He is a brilliant pianist who, since his debut in 2012, has thrilled our audiences and established a strong rapport with our musicians that critics and audiences have noticed. His insights as a young musician who travels the world will bring an immensely valuable perspective to the Board at a time of growth and expansion for the Orchestra.”
I won't dispute that he's an outstanding young pianist; he has strong technique and has engagements all over the world, both as a recitalist and orchestral player. But think about what the NYPO chairman thinks: he'll have valuable perspective as a young musician who travels the world.

I am stymied. Trifonov certainly will be traveling the world: his upcoming engagements are in Stockholm, Munich, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Rome, Cologne, Barcelona, London, and Los Angeles, with multiple concerts in some of those cities, not always on consecutive days.

Those are the locations for his concerts from December 8 to the end of February. He has from 1 to 10 days between cities, usually 2 or 3, meaning he gets to town, rehearses or tries out the piano, performs, and leaves in a fairly short time frame.

So what is it that the NYPO Board imagines he will do for them? Do they imagine, with his concert schedule, that he will even be able to attend most board meetings? I suppose he can Skype in, but that doesn't exactly get you in touch with the pulse of what's going on in NYC.

Here are some reasons people are invited to join arts organization boards:
  • They're wealthy donors and they'd like to participate in organizational decision making.
  • They know rich people and they're good at using their rainmaking skills to bring large donations to the organization.
  • They're civic-minded and they've got business or arts experience that is useful to the organization in practical ways. (Remember my comment that Ruth Felt would be getting lots of board invitations because of her success at running SF Performances for 36 years?)
  • They're famous people who are genuine fans of the organization or the art that the organization promulgates. (Note the presence of Alec Baldwin on the NYPO Board, and, of course, Bronfman and Perlman.)
  • Take a look at this document, from the Association of California Orchestras.
I can't imagine that Trifonov is going to somehow become part of the NYPO branding. That should consist of the following:

New York Philharmonic, est. 1842
American's Oldest Professional Orchestra
Alan Gilbert, Music Director
Esa-Pekka Salonen, Composer in Residence

Or see the graphic at the top of this post!

A friend suggested, on Twitter, than Trifonov would have insight into young people and what they want. I dispute this. People who grow up to win international piano competitions have usually spent most of their lives from a young age practicing, as in, playing the piano 4 to 8 hours a day. They have to do schoolwork, but their social lives are usually impaired by all that practing. Trifonov went to a conservatory and spent his college years practicing and preparing for competitions. 

Really, he's not in any way representative of young people. He's had a very unusual life. What can the NYPO get from him that they can't get by talking to a few hundred New York area young people? Or surveying a few thousand NY area young people?

Updated and slightly reworded on November 30 to include Joshua Bell.


Frank Cadenhead said...

It's just his "name" Lisa. I'm sure he will do absolutely nothing except the occasional photo-op.

YTT said...

Josh Bell is on the NY Phil board too, FYI. -- There seems to be a trend of musicians joining the boards of classical music institutions (see: Eric Owens, others): the idea is the musicians are showing themselves to be invested in the futures of these (on some level) struggling institutions, or, as Eric says, have some skin in the game.

vlhorowitz said...

Doesn't it make sense to see some or more prominent, skilled, enthusiastic musicians in these positions ? While youth promises nothing, Trifonov isn't your average Joe either. Yes, he lives in Cleveland and in Moscow, but New York is an international brand, responsible for more than the flavor of the month. What would your typical 23-year-old know about what people are hearing and experiencing in other parts of the world, dealing with different characters and maestros every other night, concertmasters, private events, donors, the undercurrents here and there, etc ?
Trifonov has spent his entire life in a practice room. But this is the case with every musician. He's built a good brand for himself, winning the necessary prizes, composing, winning over critics, not making headlines for the wrong reasons -- this is something New Yorkers should be able to appreciate.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks, YTT - I missed Bell's presence. I am looking around at other orchestra boards to see how many outside musicians are serving on boards. Results to follow.

Frank, I have to agree with you.

vlhorowitz, I don't think it makes much sense! Take a look at the document I linked to, about the makeup and responsibilities of orchestral board members. If an orchestra wants to appoint an advisory group of prominent musicians, sure, but board members have significant legal responsibilities toward the organization whose board they sit on.

I am not convinced that performers have a special awareness of what people are hearing and experiencing in the cities they tour to, because they don't spend much time in any one location and what time they have is spent on practicing, performing, rehearsing, and sleeping.

And it's not people in other parts of the world who are supporting the NYPO with donations, or buying tickets and attending concerts at Avery, er, David Geffen Hall. It's people who live within, say, two hours of the orchestra. Those people are the NYPO's customers.