Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Whither the NY Philharmonic?

In the welter of bad news in late January, I missed a piece of bad news about the NY Philharmonic: After only five years in the job, Matthew VanBesien, the organization's president, is leaving for a position at the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan. The Society is the UMich equivalent of Cal Performances.

He is not going to be easy to replace. It was difficult enough filling Zarin Mehta's shoes five years ago; it is well known that the orchestra approached a number of people before VanBesien signed on. At this point, with a huge amount of money to be raised, a renovation to manage, and facing two years with a homeless orchestra, it will be even more difficult to find someone with the requisite experience (and stomach).

He is not the only important administrator to be leaving the NYPO. Also departing are Edward Yim, the vice president for artistic planning, and Lisa Mantone, the senior vice president who works on capital campaigns and the endowment.

Yim has been a supporter of and collaborator in the orchestra's programming, which I think everyone knows has become much more interesting and adventurous under Gilbert. Yim will become the president of the American Composers Orchestra.

Mantone is a critical person in raising the money needed for the orchestra's long-awaited (and desperately needed) renovation of Philharmonic Avery Fisher Geffen Hall.

And of course Alan Gilbert departs at the end of this season, with a gap year before music director designate Jaap van Zweden comes on board full time.

You have to wonder about all of this and what's under it. It's not entirely clear what happened with Gilbert, whether he is leaving under his own power or whether the board failed to renew his contract. Was VanBesien on the losing end of a power struggle of some kind? Is Yim leaving for a better opportunity, because he is less interested in working with van Zweden than he was with Gilbert, or because the board doesn't have long-term support for the kind of programing we've seen for the last few years? (Or some combination of these possibilities.)

Without someone in Mantone's position, the orchestra will have one more obstacle in raising the estimated $400 million still needed for the renovation, following David Geffen's $100 million.

And as if the news isn't bad enough, Lincoln Center is currently awaiting its new president, Deborah Spar, who joins later this month. So the orchestra will have three important vacancies and Lincoln Center will have a new person, albeit one with New York City-area fundraising.

The board has this to say about the turnover:
Members of both the Lincoln Center and Philharmonic boards said that the timing of Mr. VanBesien’s departure was fortunate because it would allow a new team of leaders at both organizations to move forward together, with Mr. VanBesien’s successor joining Ms. Spar at Lincoln Center and Mr. van Zweden at the Philharmonic.
What spinmeister in PR came up with that nonsense? There is no way that having so many new people coming on board at once is a good thing. In fact, that little paragraph reminds me of the board-level floundering that eventually destroyed the original NYCO.


MEW said...

My sense, from what I've heard and inferred, is that VanBesien wanted an easier job (and likes Michigan) and that the Philharmonic board was not behind Gilbert's programming (unfortunately). Also that the Board is not terribly functional these days and that the Philharmonic players will probably end up despising van Zweden. (Granted, they're hardly an easy bunch themselves.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

That fits in with what I have heard, and the fact is that nearly any job would be easier than the Philharmonic job. i have no idea what the board will do now, when very few people will want to touch the gig.

It is just sad that the board was not behind Gilbert's programming. Alex Ross write a great piece about how the group had an intellectual and artistic direction for the first time in decades.

Van Zweden seems like someone the players could very easily not get along with.