Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Who would have guessed? Well, anyone who tried to make sense of next year's programming, like Marcellous did, or someone who has rung them recently, about anything, and didn't have half a day to spare.

From today's Crikey:

"Arts insider Dita Hunter writes:

All has not been sweetness and light for some time at the Sydney Symphony. Midyear the orchestra lost one of its key executives, Wolfgang Fink, the latest in a long list of thirty plus staff to have walked through the reign of General Manager Libby Christie.

Unable to hack Christie’s Ruddian micromanagement style, Fink, whose international contacts and experience have been one of the orchestra’s strengths and the reason some staff have hung in so long, quit to run the Bamberg Symphony, one of Germany’s best orchestras.

Other exits stage left are said to have included the Marketing Director, the Marketing Manager, the Customer Relationship Manager, the Online Manager, the Data Base Analyst, the Director of Commercial Programming, the Operations Manager and the Finance Director.
Now Christie has gone too.

The memo below shows that even the mild-mannered SSO chair John Conde and his board have had enough:

TO: All Staff
FROM: John Conde DATE: 11 November 2008.

The Managing Director, Libby Christie, has advised the Board that she will not be renewing her contract with the Sydney Symphony when her present term concludes in June 2009.
There is no immediate impact from this decision. Libby has made a significant contribution to the Orchestra and the advance notice is appreciated by the Board as it allows time for a thorough search and selection process for a new chief executive. In the meantime it is business as usual.
The Sydney Symphony is in very good shape and positioned well to cope with the inevitable stresses and strains that the present economic climate will bring. We now have in place a very strong senior executive team and I am sure we will manage well a change at the top without any disruption to the forward momentum of the Orchestra.
Libby has been Managing Director for six years, during which time the Orchestra has grown in strength, stature and financial performance. Under her leadership, the Orchestra has seen substantial change, emerging with a strong operational and business structure following our divestment from the ABC. Libby has also, in this time, overseen the appointment of our new Principal Conductor and planning for the early years of Mr Ashkenazy’s time with us.
I shall keep you informed throughout the coming months and look forward to your support.
John C. Conde, ao

Christie, daughter of former Commonwealth Bank boss Vern Christie, had a background in business -- Telstra, Optus and Asia Pacific -- so perhaps classical music was just not her forte. However that didn’t stop her from running a red pencil through important repertoire and substituting it with crowd-pleasing pap.

And there was worse: despite mounting subscriber dissatisfaction with the quality of his conducting and his choice of soloists, Christie refused to pay out the deeply unpopular previous Principal Conductor, Gianluigi Gelmetti.

Instead she rubber stamped his recent meaningless vanity tour of Italy, which chewed up over a million dollars of the orchestra’s reserves, did bugger all for the orchestra’s reputation and even less for her standing with musicians. But the arrival of renowned and highly respected Vladimir Ashkenazy has boosted morale and audience confidence. The orchestra now has a future instead of a dismal past few year."


Anonymous said...

Do you think the Crikey story is entirely reliable? Surely Gelmetti's appointment was not on Christie's watch, and any decision not to "pay out" Gelmetti cannot have been hers alone. And Christie must deserve some credit for Ashkenazy's appointment, albeit that it seems something of a stop-gap - her replacement will need to find his successor almost immediately upon appointment.

wanderer said...

Christie started in July 2003 after the very successful Mary Valentine (17) years. (I know Mary Valentine worked hard and long to secure and keep Edo de Waart.)

Gelmetti commenced 2004. The ins and outs of his appointment I don't know, nor about the issue of paying-out, but his term has been pretty unspectacular. While much of the article is from the hip, there does remain a long list of lost talent, particularly Fink.

I see the problem as one of appointing Managing Directors who have no, zip, zilch experience in the nature of the organisation they are to manage. Management style is another thing, and if, as it appears here, it is on the micro side (which is an arrogance), then this will only exacerbate the situation. Of the 7 Board of Directors, 2 have a background in the arts, and Christie is not one of them.

It is difficult. Like running hospitals. Doctors don't make good directors. Good directors don't know anything about Medicine.

Agreed about the need for some long term visionary. Challender left a gaping hole.

I did, by the way, find myself saying recently on the phone to a polite novice something along the lines of 'just how big is the too hard basket in there'.

Anonymous said...

Gelmetti was appointed on 26 February 2002 to commence in February 2004.

My doubts about the Crikey item are that it does seem to involve rather a lot of shooting from the hip and the memo from Conde, in particular, does not of itself sustain the analysis put on it. Instinct tells me that Crikey may well be right about the Italian tour, but as for any dumbing down of repertoire, that is a trend that is not really exclusive to Christie at the SSO. By all accounts these new groovy cross-over series are reasonably successful in their own right and have in the SSO's case attracted a new and previously unreached audience, though I can't say first-hand how well subscribed they are.

Personally, I've mostly found the telephone staff at the SSO quite helpful, though this time of year is a busy time as they are busy canvassing renewals. Even if they are not, I don't think that is a sacking or even a push-out-the-door charge against the General Manager.

I'm not saying I'm any great fan of Christie, and it's true that Christie is no Mary Vallentine, but then Vallentine presumably helped choose Gelmetti. That's one thing to be borne in mind: the lag time on decisions in the orchestral world is so long that laying responsibilities at the right doors can be tricky.

wanderer said...

..and I stand corrected on two Ls in Vallentine.

Any thoughts on "Arts insider Dita Hunter"?

Anonymous said...

W: I didn't presume to correct you - didn't even notice your spelling. No idea about AiDH.