The Elaine Calder interviews: Two parts, both audio and transcribed

Outgoing Oregon Symphony president Elaine Calder

Editor’s Note: In June and July James McQuillen and outgoing symphony president Elaine Calder sat down for two interviews, during which she talked about the problems she faced when she arrived at the symphony, what she did to address them and how things look going forward.  We posted those interviews in two separate parts. This post unites the two and adds a slightly edited transcription of the second interview. 

By James McQuillen

In June, Elaine Calder announced that she would resign as president of the Oregon Symphony, a position she has held since 2007. During her tenure, the symphony has weathered significant financial crises on its way to the kind of artistic and organizational success that proven elusive for many struggling American orchestras. In this, the first part of a two-part conversation, she talks about the state of the symphony when she took over, the way things stand now, and the roles of music director Carlos Kalmar, the administration and the musicians in keeping one of Oregon’s leading cultural institutions on an even keel.


James McQuillen: Elaine Calder, thank you for taking the time to chat. We’re chatting, obviously, because you’ve announced that you are leaving the Oregon Symphony; you’ve been with the symphony since 2006, first as a consultant, I understand, and then the next year formally—

Elaine Calder: President from July 2007.

I was wondering if you could describe first what you saw as the state of the organization when you were applying for the job, and your sense of what your job was when you took the job.

I remember leaving a meeting of the search committee fairly late in the process—I came down here several times; they were really careful, they did a good search. I remember leaving a meeting fairly late in the process and saying to somebody, “It looks like you need to raise three million dollars by November.” I can’t really remember why that was the number, or what terrible thing was going to happen in November if the orchestra didn’t raise three million by November—and it didn’t, and nothing terrible happened. So I guess I was wrong, but I got sort of back, “Yes, yes, you know, we’re going to, we understand.”

The August before I got officially hired—I think I was hired in September—there were massive layoffs in the office. Ten people, ten full-time people, were let go, including Carrie Kikel, who had been here for a long time doing PR and was really liked by the journalism community. And the staff were told they were now going to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, and they were no longer going to get paid parking. And we were going to shut down our phone room, which we’ve since reinstated [using] outsourced telemarketers, because that was going to save money and we wouldn’t have to contribute to health insurance and all the rest. So I knew it was going to be a pretty demoralized staff.

When did I first hear the orchestra? It must have been in September. That really excited me. Even then—I say, as though six years ago they were nothing—they were really good. I was really impressed at what they were doing, and that matters to me. I had spent a long time talking with Carlos in Chicago at some point in the summer, and I really liked what he was doing. So I thought, the art is great, but I’m going to walk into a demoralized group of people and a board that was really anxious for change, and were coming up with any number of ways in which we could change, not all of which were necessarily feasible, just because of the way our business works. I suppose you could do anything, but there are things you’d better not try.

So I knew it was going to be shaky, I knew it was going to be hard. But—I said to the staff this morning, either it’s my original personality, or my personality has been formed because this is what I’ve done all my working life, but I work best when I’m struggling. That’s what I’ve done. So I wasn’t terribly worried about it. It actually got much worse later on, much worse.

In 2008-2009?

‘08, ’09, it was worse for everybody then, right? But if you weren’t strong to begin with, ‘08 and ’09 really dealt a body blow.

And you said that this is what you’ve been doing all your working life, but you don’t have specifically a background in orchestral—

I’d managed the Edmonton Symphony for six years.

Oh, you did? I didn’t know that.

Yes, I managed Edmonton for six years. I was at the National Arts Center in Ottawa on a short-term contract for nine months, cleaning up a real mess there, where actually Pinchas Zukerman reported to me (although I don’t think Pinchas ever realized that). I had the orchestra there, but I wasn’t really managing the orchestra—the NAC is like a mini-Kennedy Center, you’ve got orchestra, you’ve got two theaters (both languages), you’ve got dance, you’ve got all kinds of stuff. And I studied piano for a long time, a long time, right into university, although I had no talent, and that was clear to everybody including me. But music has been a part of my life, and I have some understanding what it is our musicians do and how they go about doing it. A lot of orchestra managers in this country used to be clarinetists or French horn players, whatever, I never worked on that side.

So what were some of your insights into what it was necessary to do on the artistic side when you came in as president?

Well, of course I came in talking about diversifying the programming, and I had just done a couple of really successful concerts in Edmonton with Michael W. Smith, the Christian gospel artist. We made a ton of money, and I mentioned this to David [Stabler], and the community went, oh, you can’t do that with the orchestra.

I do remember that.

We never actually—we were doing gospel already, but…

Just to give some background for listeners, this came out in an early interview—

November, December, I think?

—with you about possible programming initiatives, and it was specifically the idea that the Oregon Symphony would back Christian rock.

That was an example I gave.

That was an example.

And then yesterday, Barry [Johnson] credited me with Antony and the Johnsons, and Rufus Wainwright, and who else? Thomas Lauderdale’s gonna go, “Wait, those ideas all came from me! Those are my friends!” But my point was, coming in, I looked at what we were doing, and was surprised at how little entertainment we were providing—meaning, concerts for different segments in the community, where people are coming to see a major artist, a band, and the symphony is making that possible for them, and supporting the band or the major artist, but it’s not a classical program with Carlos. And in fact, when I dug in a bit, Don Roth had been doing that back in the ‘90s here. We had been doing special concerts, single-ticket concerts, two decades earlier, but we stopped doing that. So I was probably focused much more on the popular side than on the classical side, which is very much Carlos’ responsibility.

I was able to do a couple of things. Somebody had laid down a law somewhere that you couldn’t spend more than x on a major artist, and I went, no no no, that’s crazy. There aren’t many major artists—there’s about five—but you bring them in, they go away with a lot of money, and they leave you with a lot of money. And people are really happy to see them. One of the things I did early on that I’m still really proud of was the first concert of 2007—we presented Van Cliburn. That was one of his last concerts anywhere, and it was wonderful to have him here. People were outside the Heathman Hotel clutching LPs for him to sign. The national pride in that man was still alive, 50 years later, in Portland. It was wonderful. To me it’s those kind of community connections that will help make music accessible to a large number of people, a much larger number of people than we sometimes think.

So when you talk about doing pop-oriented specials—and, frankly, doing pops—you were basically operating within a niche that had already been carved out. Did you feel like people were comfortable with that, that there was no potentially moving into resources that should have been devoted to classical programming?

No, I didn’t get that sense at all. One of the things I did when I got here was I ate a lot. I was taken to breakfast, I was taken to lunch, I was taken to dinner, and basically what it was was board members introducing me to people who felt very strongly about what we were doing, and what we were doing wrong, who wanted to have a chance to tell the new president, so she could get it right. And one of the things I heard over and over again, at that time we were doing 17 classical weekends, and November would roll around, and there would be three classical concerts in November, three weekends out of four. And what I heard was, “Elaine, there’s a lot going on in this town. I want to go to the opera, I want to go to the ballet, I want to go to the theater. Sometimes we like to go to a football game, or have dinner with friends, and I can’t go to every one of your concerts. If you wonder why you’re losing audience, it’s because maybe you’re giving people a lot of choices, and they’re picking as much as they want to do.”

So you’re taking your audience—I think when Jimmy was here we used to do 12 classical programs, then it got up to 17—so you’re taking that audience and you’re spreading it across a greater number of concerts. We were playing to 54 percent houses the first year I was here. That’s awful. That’s the other thing I kept hearing, “Do anything you can to fill up the hall, because there’s nothing more depressing than sitting in a 2800-seat cavernous hall that’s half empty.” And it can’t be great for the musicians either—it wasn’t, the musicians told me that.

So in fact—these are from the list of achievements presented in the press release about your leaving—38 percent increase in ticket revenue, and average paid attendance up from 54 percent in ‘07 to 74 percent in 2012. How did you do that?

In some cases, choked off supply. We were doing 50 classical subscription performances when I got here, we now do 40. That gives people less choice, and that fills up the hall. We did a lot of various forms of onboarding. The last couple of years we’ve been working with a terrific guy in New York, Jack McAuliffe, who works as a marketing consultant to orchestras across the country for a really reasonable fee, and he took us through what he calls the onboarding process.

There was a big study done, probably now about eight years ago, that involved a number of major orchestras, mostly in the East, and when the consultants were through studying, they found  that on any given night, 38 percent of the audience was there for the first time. It was a staggering number—this was the so-called Churn study that went, you’re actually really good at attracting new people; what you’re not very good at is keeping them. And the reasons you aren’t keeping them are all kinds of things, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with the music, but what you’ve got to do is get them coming back, and once you’ve got them coming back two or three times, they turn into—a percentage of them, not all of them—but a reasonable percentage will turn into regular subscribers or attendees.

So we started formally onboarding with Jack about three years ago now, I guess, but before that I was doing my ticket stub offer, especially when the recession hit.

Specifically, that was to invite people to bring back the stub from a concert—

For another ticket, either to come and hear it again for yourself, which some people did, or give it to a neighbor, a friend, your cleaning lady, I don’t care who, and invite them to come and hear this concert if you enjoyed it.

What was your sense of how successful that was?

Oh, we’d have Monday nights after a Saturday and Sunday where there were 500 to 700 people using ticket stubs. That’s almost a quarter of the house. I don’t think it hurt at all—I don’t think that we were giving away tickets that would have been bought, and I think we were giving away, and getting in return, an enormous amount of goodwill.

Carlos and I have worked together very closely; I think in the last couple of years he’s really got the programming right. I think he’s really figured out how to program for this—or any—community; he’s been doing the same thing at Grant Park.

That leads to a question I wanted to ask you, and that is that the relationship between the management side and the artistic side, in people’s shorthand perception, is that the artists want to go out on a limb and experiment, and the management points to the box office and points to the checkbook, and that’s it. To what extent is that true, to what extent is it not in the development of your relationship with, specifically, Carlos?

I’ve worked with oh, six or seven really, really good artistic leaders. I won’t go anywhere where I’m not working with a good artistic leader. And I figure even if we’re jointly responsible for the company, we both report directly to the board, my job is supporting—although that’s not always the case with orchestras. In a lot of cases now, the music director reports to the president. It’s not my job to say no, ever. It’s my job to say, maybe not now? Maybe not until we’re ready? Let’s think about how we can do that differently, can you postpone it for a year? We’re looking at a couple of things next season, and we went through the exercise of, should I go to Carlos and say, can we make changes to the program next year?” Because these are looking really expensive. Then, of course, he came out in the program book talking about the things he was most looking forward to, and there they were. And I went, okay, I’ll tell him about that, just so he knows that that goes through my mind, and the management team’s mind, and then we decided not to, and it’s now our job to make it really successful.

There has to be mutual respect. More than that, there has to be mutual understanding. Respect is one thing; I can respect nuclear physicists, I don’t have a clue what they do or how they do it. You’ve got to have some understanding of how the partner is thinking and working, and what they’re trying to achieve. And you’ve got to have an artistic leader who understands at a high level the relative severity or not of the financial situation, and how much they can hope to push.

Both of you are strong personalities, and to a certain extent that’s necessary for a thriving relationship for a major institution like this. I’m wondering if you can describe—not necessarily give specific examples, but describe your interactions with Carlos and how they’ve resulted in the organization functioning the way that it does now.

We rarely have taken worries about the other one’s role or responsibilities in the organization to each other, but there have been a couple of times when we have. One I can’t speak about in detail, but he came to me and said, “I’m just hearing too much unhappiness about something that is basically not getting done.” It doesn’t mean that it was getting done badly, it was just not getting done. “Elaine, you’ve got to deal with that.” And I did, not because he asked or told me to, but because he put his finger on a problem that basically I’d been avoiding. And that can be helpful.

I like these relationships of equals, and I describe it two ways. You got a right brain and a left brain working together, which most organizations don’t have, and it’s the one person in the organization that you neither report to nor reports to you. So you don’t scare them if you say, “I’m worried about something,” and you don’t have them go, “My gosh, she can’t be any good” if you say “I’m worried about something.” You can actually talk fairly candidly with each other. I’ve always worked—almost always, not quite—I’ve mostly worked in these relationships, and I’m used to them and I like them. We’ve been in and out of each other’s houses a lot; I’d say we’re good friends.

The transformation in the orchestra that I’ve most frequently written about is the quality of the sound and the quality of the programming. On the artistic side, that has come partly because Carlos is very talented and very demanding. He has a reputation as a tough boss—and, I believe, so do you. So I’m wondering if there’s a similar transformation going on in the office as there is on stage.

I think so. I think the similarity is that we both have really high standards, performance standards, and we want to work with the best. The group of people I have in the ofice, I’m just as proud of them as I am of the orchestra. They get much, much less recognition, of course, and that goes with the territory. But this is a really, really good team of people. They’re all really smart, they all know what they’re doing and they’re all here because they support what’s going on out there. Did I upset a few people along the way? Sure. Sure I did. But that’s my job.

How does the staffing compare? You mentioned the layoffs at the time you came on—how does the staffing compare to the way that it was at that time?

There’s been a lot of turnover, although the artistic operations group is pretty well intact. The development team, I don’t think any of them were here when I got here. The graphic design office, that was here, that group was here. One of the great things about impressing people like you who write about us is that we become a much more attractive place to work, both on the platform and in the office. And getting out of debt, that was another thing. Most people have more sense than to join an organization with a nine million dollar accumulated deficit, that people think is a black hole and is going to close any moment. It doesn’t look like long-term security.

So let me jump ahead to that question, that there was 7.2 million dollar—

When we erased the debt, that’s what it was.

—and you largely drew on the endowment?

The unrestricted funds, not the permanently restricted endowment. Unrestricted monies.

Did that decision basically come down to doing the math?

EC: It was more than that, it was really tied to the recession, to the collapse of the stock market. This is what I talk about, ‘08-‘09, there was the morning in October ‘08 when I and the board chair at the time and the CFO all woke up going, “We’ve just breached the covenants of our line of credit.” Because we were allowed to borrow up to 70 percent of our unrestricted funds, and the value of those funds had dropped to below the value of the bank line. So we were in breach, and banks don’t take too long to figure that out. So we went to the bank and said, “We know we’re in breach. We’re going to convert to cash.” Because banks will always lend 100 percent of what you’ve got in cash, and that was enough to hold us for a bit. And then it became clear that now we’d bailed out of the market at what turned out to be probably just about the bottom of the market; it make no sense at all to do anything other than pay that thing off.

We had talked about it for a couple of years, and I had board members who said, “Look, we’ve made so much money off the stock market! Why don’t we take some of that money and pay off at least some of the bank debt?” There was always concern that this would look somehow suspicious in the community. But suddenly when everybody had lost a big chunk of their holdings, what we were doing seemed kind of inevitable, so in one respect it was the right time to do it. In another respect, if we’d done it two years earlier, we’d be so much better off today. Hindsight is terrific.

You mentioned that there’s been turnover in staff, and people have had to accept changes. The same is true on stage, and that brings me to the other major players in the organization, which are the players. They’ve had to make concessions; could you, first off, describe what some of those concessions have been?

The big ones: they gave back a big chunk of money, kind of a one-time chunk, at the end of the 2008 season, and then what we did was that we shortened the season by three weeks. The season had been 41 weeks, it’s now 38 weeks, so they lost three weeks’ work. And we were making an 8.5 percent pension contribution, and we took that down to 4.5 percent. That was actually their proposal, to do it that way. I, of course, did my lecture on, “It’s really important to save for the future,” and John Cox said, “Elaine, why don’t you let us decide what we do with our money? We’d rather do it this way.”

I had always shared these things [she holds up copies of financial spreadsheets] with anyone in the organization who wants to see them, and I’ve made a practice of having meetings with the musicians two or three times a year, explaining to them what’s going on financially. And we have musician members on the board who have access to all the information the board does, and so by the spring of 2009, when I said we were in serious, serious trouble, and “We’ve got to get a chunk of money out of the budget—out of you,” they believed me. And Bruce believed me—Bruce Fife, the head of the local. Those negotiations were really about: what’s the best way to do this? What’s the way that will do the least amount of harm and preserve what we all believe in? It was really fine on their part, and these are not American orchestras’ most highly-paid musicians by a long shot.

And you also had to—they had to—accept reducing the size of the orchestra.

That had already happened. When they moved into the Schnitz—I always call it the Schnitz, so rude to Arlene—there were 84 musicians. At some point in the ‘90s, that had gone up to 88, which is approaching, still isn’t really, full size, but it’s getting a lot closer. By the time I got here, there had been some concessionary bargaining that had reduced it back to 84. Katherine George resigned the first year I was here, she was the pianist, and I said, “Carlos, you know, you’re playing with 76 musicians.” “Oh, am I?” “Yeah, count ‘em up.”

Miraculously, the attrition had come about basically in the string sections. If you lose one of your three flutes, you’ve got to replace them. If you lose one of your 30 violinists, you can hang on. I said, “Can you go forward with this for a while?—on the understanding that when you do Mahler, or Wagner, or anything that needs a bigger band, we will hire. It’s not like, no, this is all we’re going to have forever. And when we need a pianist, we will hire” (we have several pianists that we use regularly). And he said, “Yeah, I can do that. I didn’t realize there were only 76.” So that was part of the bargaining, that we have a side letter; the contract still calls for 88, and we have a side letter that we will work from now until 2014 with 76 in the permanent orchestra.

It’s one of the musicians big aspirations, to get back to 88. It does a whole bunch of things for them. They are probably playing harder on that stage, and certainly having to dig harder, the strings, than they did at Carnegie to get the same—in fact, Carnegie is bigger than the Schnitz, though you’d never guess, but it actually has more seats. They have an easier time filling the space. SO it makes it easier for them, gives them some opportunities for rotation, and it just sounds better.



In the second part of the interview, Calder talks about about the complexities of funding the orchestra and the ways in which Portland does and doesn’t represent a unique situation for a 21st-century symphony president.


James McQuillen: Thanks again for having another chat. One of the things I wanted to talk about this time was the funding situation, since that’s such a crucial part of what you do. One hears about the so-called “funding community”, and you imagine a cabal of suits.

Elaine Calder: (Laughs) Don’t I wish!

What does the funding community actually look like?

Well, I’ve said at the RACC presentation at City Hall that 84 percent of our funding comes from individuals, which is really a massively high percentage.  Less than three percent of our funding comes from government; less than three percent comes from the corporate community; about eight percent, eight to ten percent, comes from foundations; and that’s it. The rest is people.

The funding community? Well, there are the big foundations—there’s Miller, Collins, Meyer, Murdock Trust, and Oregon Community Foundation. And Paul Allen, up in Seattle. And they certainly share information, they meet on occasion—in different combinations, not all of them together all of the time—but they definitely talk, they definitely exchange information. There are national organizations like Grantmakers for the Arts, which they belong to, and so research studies and things come out of there. So in many ways they are probably the most informed of our funders, they really understand the field, they understand not-for-profit cultural organizations in general, they have a really good understanding of our financials—they probably look more closely at them than just about anybody else—so that’s that community.

Government is RACC, civic money coming through RACC, and tiny amounts of money coming from the state—tiny—from the Arts Commission and the Cultural Trust. The NEA we apply to regularly, we seem to get funding every couple of years (again, it’s tiny)… And corporate support: we have maybe a dozen, by and large financial institutions, who provide corporate support. There’s the Breakfast of Champions, every November, that BCA [Business for Culture and the Arts] organizes, that celebrates corporate giving in this community. But we’ve lost so many headquarters to other cities, we’re not seeing the kind of corporate support you get in cities like San Francisco, for instance, or Minneapolis.

And that’s something I wanted to ask you about: what makes Portland unique as far as that’s concerned, when we don’t have a Boeing and a Microsoft, or that kind of corporation, to rely on for a major source of financial support?

We don’t ever want to be reliant on one or two, but we don’t have a big community of corporate supporters, and the corporations or the businesses supporting us here don’t have enormous budgets for support of arts organizations the way they do (or did) in Minneapolis, where Dayton Hudson—this is decades ago—led a whole commitment to supporting the arts in that community. Or wherever a major bank is headquartered, more money flows there than it does back here at the regional office.

So we’ve got some big corporate supporters here—or big corporations here. They’re in Hillsboro and Beaverton. And Nike, I think, is a big community supporter, but their focus is on something that’s much closer to running shoes than it is to musicians. And that’s fair, that’s what they are. Intel, we get a lot of support from Intel, not in the standard sponsorship way, though. But they—and you can talk to my colleagues at the other major arts organizations—they’re buying a lot of tickets. They seem to have decided that finding a way for their employees to engage in arts activities is a good thing. We’re happy with that.

And then, how does Oregon compare to other places you’re familiar with as far as state support goes?

Oh, aren’t we 49th or something? We’re really low. I remember being in Connecticut—I was there from 1999 to 2001—and John Rowland was running for Governor. And Rowland came to address the Hartford arts and lecture society/community, and was standing backstage before going out to talk to the audience and said to one of his aides, “How much is Connecticut putting into arts funding anyway?” The guy said, “Well, John, it’s a million dollars,” and John said, “A million dollars? I’m going to double it.” He just went out and said he was going to double arts funding in the state, because it’s such a small amount of money. Oregon’s not Connecticut, and it’s not the 1990s.

So what are some of the specific challenges, then, that come along with having such a substantial portion of the support come from individuals?

It’s all about relationships. You’ve got a lot of relationships to maintain; it’s very labor-intensive. When hard times come and you start cutting back, you really have to remind yourself that if you cut back on development, you’re reducing the number of touch points in the year, and that’s what’s essential to fundraising with individuals. At the smaller donation level, computers have made it possible to have seemingly personalized relationships with a huge number of people—personalized mailings and all the rest. And our development staff are really good at group events like open dress rehearsals, where three or four hundred donors will turn up, and they’ll try to say hello to everybody. But major giving—and by that I mean anything above about a thousand dollars a years—you really want relationships with those people.

And how typical is it for people who make major donations to want them targeted in a certain way, say to fund a chair in the orchestra, to pay to keep Carlos here…

We don’t get a lot of people wanting to target their money. We will sometimes ask people to make a special gift, but we try to make it clear that unrestricted operating support is what really matters—funding the core business is what really matters. And if we think it’s important to do CD recordings or radio broadcasts, we’ll ask people to make special gifts, and they will.

We’ve just hired Diane Syrcle as our new executive VP for development, and certainly I think she’s going to look at whether making more targeted appeals within the framework of annual operating support will be attractive to people. But people saying, “I want to endow a chair,” that’s really rare, and that’s really an endowment gift or a planned gift; that’s big money. People are usually—the common sense is, use this where it will make the most difference. They trust us.

So relative to other orchestras that we could name, the Oregon Symphony has done reasonably well through some very difficult times. How is that happening, and what specifically about Portland makes the situation here unique—compared to, say, Detroit, Louisville, Colorado?

They’re all different, so I can’t really generalize. But, well, we’ve never had a 52-week contract; our musicians have always worked seasonally. St. Paul Chamber Orchestra right now is trying to get weeks and weeks and weeks out of their contract, which would take musicians’ compensation down dramatically, way more than we negotiated in 2009—and I start by talking about musicians’ compensation because it’s the single biggest line item in the budget, and it’s the one everybody looks at, but our musicians never started out at a very high level. So it wasn’t a matter of “well, do we really need them 52 weeks, no, we don’t, let’s cut a big chunk back.”

And the other thing is this broad range of support. That means there’s a lot of work and a lot of relationships, but on the other hand, if you’re really reliant on some major funding from, say, big corporations, and something like October 2008 happens—that was one of the things that went wrong in Detroit, was that they were getting a ton of money from the auto industry for a long time, and then that evaporated. Well, then what do you do? It takes a lot of thousand-dollar gifts to make up for that. So our broad base of support probably was a help, and our kind of modest starting position was a help.

It think the biggest thing, though, was the fact that the orchestra and the staff understood what was happening, understood that we absolutely had to respond, that this was not a blip, this was really nasty, what was going on in the world. And they sat down and worked with us to find the best possible solution rather than fighting across the table. That was the difference. We weren’t fighting. And I really give the orchestra’s leadership a lot of credit for that. They really did come to the table going, “OK, big problem, let’s figure out how we can make it work.” And in a way, the orchestra world is always looking for a new model. How about coöperation? That would be a new model. And we’re not alone in that—I don’t want to make us out to be unique. There are orchestras around the country that have figured out that working together is better than constantly fighting.

Are there things happening with other orchestras that you’ve identified recently that you think could work here, that you’d like to get going here?

One of the things I looked at several years ago, and we’re implementing here, was started by Nashville, and that is a kind of integrated approach to marketing and development. We made a big investment in Tessitura, which is the database system that the Metropolitan Opera developed several years ago now, again with the help of the Murdock Trust, and that enables you to do that. That means that everybody in development and marketing has access to your record in the same way. What we’re doing now is a much more individualized approach to the patron when they’re buying tickets. We’re assigning patron services representatives to you, and you should always be hearing from the same person. I don’t know really whether we’re as far along as Nashville is with that, but it’s making a real difference, I think, and I get a lot of compliments from people on our customer service. And we took all of it back in-house. We had outsourced telemarketing for several years, and we’re getting really good feedback on that.

So apart from the funding landscape, what are some of the things about Portland that make running this orchestra unique culturally? You mentioned, the last time we talked, Thomas Lauderdale.

Yes, Thomas is a feature in and of himself. My colleague at the Winnipeg Symphony called me the other day and wanted to talk to me about Carnegie, because they’re going in 2014, and how did we raise money. So I was going through the various things we did that could be done anywhere, and said, but we did have this one secret weapon, and that was Thomas Lauderdale. And she went, “Oh, that’s right, they’re there, aren’t they?” I said, Yeah, Thomas is on our board. Thomas really got behind Carnegie in a big way. So yeah, Thomas is unique to us.

I don’t know, Portland likes to think it’s unique. Every time I go to a new American city and discover that you can actually take light rail in from the airport, I think, Isn’t that odd? In Portland, you kind of think that Portland is the only city that does this. You can do it in Minneapolis, you can do it in Cleveland.

What makes it unique here? Well, we’ve got the largest concert hall, with a couple of exceptions across the country. Some of the midwestern ones are bigger, but our concert hall is bigger than any of the Big Seven Orchestras’, and in a smaller community. That makes it unique, that makes it a challenge.

I think—I can’t really say how Portland is unique, but it is very different running arts organizations in the West than it is in the East. We’re a much more democratic society. That’s got nothing to do with politics, that’s got to do with social attitudes. We’re much less dressy than people are at, say, the Toronto Symphony. Our donor lounge, at intermission, or afterwards, is not full of 40 identical mink coats, and you have to check the initials before you leave to make sure you got the right one. People are just less hidebound, socially, than they are in the East, and I think much easier to get excited. That’s what I’ve liked about being here—and Edmonton, same thing in Edmonton. And you have much more access to extremely wealthy people in cities like this.

So taking a look at the similarities, then, between Portland and cities of similar size with orchestras, and they share many of the same challenges, what do you see the orchestral landscape looking like in, say, five years? Any guesses?

No, you know, people have been talking about the demise of the American orchestra for as long as anyone can remember. I don’t think they’re going to go—I mean, yeah, there are cities where orchestras are going out of business, and almost inevitably they rise again in some new form, trying to find a way to make it work the second time around, and eventually they turn very much back into what they were before. I think Denver is a case in point there.

I think everyone is doing what we’ve been doing, which is diversifying their programming. I was going to say, except Cleveland, but no, even Cleveland. I mean, Pink Martini has played with the Cleveland Orchestra now, on a Friday night, and then they have a big party in their gorgeous lobby afterwards.

Orchestras are definitely letting their hair down all across the country, backing artists like Brandi Carlisle that they wouldn’t have gone near even in the fairly recent past. I think we’re all recognizing that the market for the core classical repertoire is not enormous, and sustaining these large, costly organizations on the strength of that small niche audience is just not possible. So you’ve got to find other segments in the market, and I think we’re all doing that, and we watch each other—and we tell each other, “Hey, we did a show with so-and-so, and it was a huge hit, you should give her or him a try.” Occasionally we’ll give warnings that something promising didn’t work. Yeah, we share information.

And I think there’s a growing focus on community engagement. St. Paul was the leader in that. You know, “we’re going to take our orchestra out to churches and community centers, and no ticket is going to cost more than $25, and we’re really going to engage our community, and then miraculously, out of that, contributed income was going to flow.” And that hasn’t happened.

So the National Arts Marketing Conference in Charlotte in November has a pre-conference session called “Monetizing Your Community Engagement,” because people are beginning to realize that community engagement is wonderful, but it doesn’t pay the bills, and people don’t rush to support it financially. It’s a great thing to do, but… And our orchestra’s been really good at doing it on their own. We have groups of them go out at holiday time, Christmas time, and perform in small ensembles for nursing homes and hospitals, libraries and schools and so on. We don’t have to do anything for that. They do it themselves. So I think there’s more awareness of the need to connect with your community, more awareness that you’re going to rely on a single market segment—the pops was the first big one, of course, but now it’s gone way beyond the pops.

And what about taking—you’re talking about things that are taking the orchestra out of the concert hall and out of traditional formats, what about taking it to the broader community in terms of getting the music online, on the airwaves, on recordings…

People used to—big orchestras used to—make money from recording, and I don’t think anyone’s making money from recording. We did, we actually did make some money last year from our Music for a Time of War; we got a check from Holland for a couple of thousand dollars. And we’ve sold them here to people, and made a little bit of money, and I know Michael [Parsons] at Music Millennium has been selling our CD and making some money, but it’s not the solution to a million-dollar budget gap, to have a recording contract. But they are useful for reputation, and broadcast is obviously the way to go; that’s why we decided to go for a broadcast fund and get back on the air after six years of not broadcasting.

We can’t tour the state. We’re called the Oregon Symphony, we can’t tour the state, nobody has the money to take us around. But we can reach most corners of the state through All-Classical, and of course now we’re being heard all over the world through All-Classical, which is great. Should we be streaming on our own website? Possibly, but with All-Classical putting our stuff up, and people being able to access it on their computers is a good intermediate step. Again, how do you monetize that? Maybe there will be a session at the conference—“Monetizing Your Radio Broadcast.”

And how do you assess whether or not you’ve monetized it? I mean, how do you assess the benefit that you’ve gotten from a reputation boost like Music for a Time of War?

It’s hard to say, really hard. I think you feel it most internally. I think the orchestra is happier and prouder than they were two or three years ago, and I think that that translates into performance, and I think that is felt by the audience. Are we getting invited to go to Carnegie as part of their presentation series of major orchestras? No. But I want [Clive] Gillinson at our next performance, since he missed us last time. It hard to tell, but whether you can tell or not, having a reputation for excellence matters, no matter what business you’re in or who you are. It’s just important.

So would you say now that you’re leaving with a sense of confidence about the way things are with the orchestra and the near future?

Yeah, I am. Longer term, who can tell? None of us know what’s going to happen, other than that it’s coming, whatever it is. But in the immediate future, no. I was at a concert the other night, and  couple of musicians were saying, “Oh no, what are we going to do when you leave?” And I went, “Look, calm down, it’s  OK, we have great people in the office, they’re all really good at what they do, and they’re doing it. It’s getting done. Don’t worry about it.”

And this will be a really attractive job. There’s where reputation helps. Who can you attract to this position? Reputation helps, and Portland helps, and having broken even three years in a row and having worked with the orchestra to get concessions rather than taking a strike, all of those things help.

Where are you in the process now of—

Of the move? I’m getting no sleep now, because they’re three hours ahead of me, so I’m literally getting up at 4:30 and reading the stuff they sent the day before, and talking to them, usually online, but sometimes on the phone.

So are you essentially on the job already?

They’re finalizing their 2013 season, and if I want to have any say in what’s going on, I’ve got to be, so I’m doing what I can. Which is, as I say, early in the morning and weekends. I’m going to take a week’s vacation in August and go there and meet with them. It is helpful to have worked there before, because I know how to read what they send me, I know what they’re doing, I know what questions to ask. It’s not like learning a new business and a new community.

And what stage is the Oregon Symphony at right now in finding somebody to replace you?

I know the board had a discussion about it … at the last board meeting, which was, what, the end of June, wasn’t it? I think they’re going to make an interim appointment—you should. You can’t let anarchy prevail. So I think they’ll make an interim appointment, I hope it’s from the staff, I think those are the best.

Carlos and I have both given them the name of someone that we think would be fabulous. That doesn’t mean this person wants to come here, but we think they should start by talking to them before they rush out to do a national search, which is time-consuming and expensive. I’ve been hired myself that way in the past, and I’ve hired that way myself in the past.

I think they believe that having somebody who’s run an orchestra before would be useful, so we know the landscape. It’s not a big industry. So if you can identify one or two or three people, start with them. That’s what I hope they’ll do. But Terry [Terrence R. Pancoast], our chairman, has been away for two weeks, so nothing has happened in his absence. I think it’ll get moving pretty quickly.

People are accepting that I’m going—you see how clean the office is? All these files, they’re in date order, you can go in there and figure out what I’ve been doing. The way you leave is really important, because it’s how they remember you.

Thanks for the time.

You’re most welcome.

And good luck.

Thank you.

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