Qualities of successful orchestral leaders may vary depending on what role the leader plays in an orchestra. The conductor must have knowledge of music and its repertoire, conducting technique, and a specific podium presence. The artistic director must possess various administrative and artistic skills. Whatever the person’s title however, a leader does not work alone: collaboration is essential. From my experience, one should be able to communicate to its staff, press, and artists on a regular basis. S/he must be confident, creative, flexible, and intuitive.
Given the challenges of today’s orchestras, our industry sees some organizations struggling to keep up with demand in technological advances, education programs, financial plans, and audience behavior. In these situations, arts managers should base their solutions to the individual needs of their organizations. They should push their organizations towards becoming community-centric while looking for ways to create relevance and new engagement with audiences. For example, the Detroit Symphony is excelling with their live concert webcasts and interaction rates on Twitter. I have held a few conversations with them on that medium and, although I live in Maryland, I feel a connection to their organization. Because Detroit has listened well to what the community wants, and needs, they have been able to develop great programs to educate and allow larger access to what they have to offer.
Orchestra leaders should take note: strong and competitive arts organizations are led by people who are confident in their mission, and have the creativity to refute the norm of other stagnant organizations. They should be unafraid of putting their plans into action. Communities need flexible leaders who, like artists, do not continue to do the same things year after year. Economic environments do not stay stable, so allowing one’s intuition to adjust, and forecast when needed, proves an important skill. New situations continually arise, and being able to draw from past experience or reaching out to other mentors for support is a helpful reflex.