The following are my own musings on the state of the institution for which I work, and that I have no knowledge of any information that would be considered confidential.
I feel like the Oregon Symphony is poised on the edge of a precipice this week (not that this is unusual this time of year – when the vernal equinox comes around, the collective wills of the orchestra gird their loins and prepare to step into the breach and gather their breath for the home stretch of regional touring and the remaining, very demanding classical series programs). We still have no contract in place for the season we’re currently playing (we’re “playing and talking”), and I’ve heard no word on when we’re likely to have a settlement (the contract committee is being very discrete and circumspect on this matter). Our schedule this year has been one of the most chaotic and unpredictable I’ve ever encountered in 10 years with the ensemble – there literally has been no day in any series week that I have not had to check my palm pilot at least three times to figure out what I was doing the next day – and our programming has been the most intense and unfamiliar since I arrived 10 years ago.
On top of it all, yesterday we got the word that our President, Bill Ryberg, is leaving for the Palm
Springs Beach Opera after only two years here in Portland. It feels like the collective wind has been knocked out of the sails of the players at this news. It is literally like being in a gale force wind in a small sailboat and suddenly having your seasoned, steady captain thrown overboard by a rogue wave. Bill has been a stalwart presence from day one – firm, reasoned and confident, with a banker’s grasp of finances and fundraising, and a musician’s grasp of the needs of an ensemble which is becoming more world-class with every passing season.
I’m really wondering where the symphony will go from this point – there are only two choices: up or down. Staying the course really won’t work – we have to either cut our deficits and increase our funding support or start cutting down the institution even more than it has been already. We have many new players who are or will be joining the orchestra, including three major principal positions: flute, oboe and trumpet, all of whom cannot negotiate their personal contracts because we have no base rate of pay specified for this season, never mind ’06-’07, and many of our newer members are already heading out on the audition circuit to find better paying jobs with more stability. Have we peaked in terms of talent? We have our ablest veteran players still in place, though retirement may come calling if the future starts looking more uncertain. Our new hotshot members are looking for other opportunities, and those of us in the middle are taking all of the side gigs that we can in order to put some money away for a rainy day (or season).
Does Portland want or need an orchestra of our quality and length of season? That’s a question that must be answered at the deepest gut level by our board and staff, and by our civic leaders and societal pillars. The answer? Stay tuned…