John Axelrod

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14 May 2019
Cooperation not Confrontation
Diario de Sevilla

A recent Diario de Sevilla article by Antonio Muñoz Lobaton, though written perhaps with good intentions, is misleading and is somewhat biased from a board member who more than anyone represents the interests of the Comité d’Empresa.  It does not provide the readers with a complete picture so they can be informed before the elections on May 26.  He is right about one thing: quality does matter.

As I wrote in my recent interview, it is true the shareholders have yet to decide if the ROSS is a municipal orchestra in service only to the Teatro de la Maestranza and sustainable only on ticket sales and limited promotion (the current system), or if it will provide the salaries, staff and  conditions needed for an orchestra with the potential of international standards (my strategy for a world class professional orchestra).  It is not only the 5 star reviews from critics we have received that substantiate our quality.  Our successful tour in Germany is further evidence of those international standards.

And yet, despite the recurrent fiscal challenges and deep internal divisions facing the ROSS, it still manages under my artistic direction to maintain that high quality.  So it’s not totally believable the ROSS quality would totally suffer.  It is the deficit that is the issue.  That affects everything else.

Solving these problems can only be achieved by adding staff in marketing, promotion, subscriptions and sponsorship.  It means increasing and stabilizing  the subventions and meeting the same guarantees of solvency I asked when I was elected as Consejero Delegado.   Those guarantees were unfortunately not met.

But here is the reality where Mr. Lobaton, the Comité d’Empresa and others are misguided:  there is no one manager or person who can solve these systemic and internal dysfunctions.  It is an institutional problem arising from poor strategic vision, exploitation of labor laws, lack of administrative function, and unrealistic artistic goals.  It requires a commitment from the same board Mr. Lobaton is a member of to create that strategic plan to support whichever direction is decided.  One is sustainability on a limited budget with fewer posts and staff and perhaps absorbed into the Teatro itself to reduce both deficits, or one of world class quality, better soloists, a full orchestra playing the full repertoire, with an increased budget and a much brighter future.

But you cannot fit a square peg in a round hole.  The ROSS may have have a beautiful sound under my baton, but it has no administrative support to be sustainable on sales alone (no orchestra of quality is sustainable by only ticket sales), and the tax system in Spain does not encourage sponsorships for a company such as OSSA, which is not a foundation.  If the government is serious about its cultural assets then it will revise the tax laws to increase private and corporate deductions, and the shareholders will create a foundation for the ROSS that is tax exempt and attractive to donors and sponsors.

I tried my best to help achieve that strategic plan, but the systemic dysfunction, limited budget and internal divisions between the musicians and its leadership prevented any progress.  I suffered deeply from this but remain committed to Sevilla and its orchestra.  We deserve our chance to be among the best.  I would not write this if I did not believe we can be.  But everyone then must be serious about what it takes.

Let me also add I do not believe the Consejo leaders or anyone else are anti-union.  I know Fernando Francés and Antonio Muñoz Martinez.  They are smart, good people who care for the welfare of the workers of the city, region and its orchestra.  But like me, they also need to know now what they did not know then.  They are not always given a full deck of cards.   With better administrative oversight, especially over budget, personnel and legal matters, they can be better judges of what was, what is and what can be.

From my point of view, I know they do support and respect union values. How to explain then why the Comité representatives were not invited?   It may simply be the messengers, not the message.  As for these strong words of contempt and confrontation, the readers should know the very people Mr. Lobaton is defending have sadly contributed to an unhealthy internal conflict, threatening unity, quality and collaboration.  It is difficult to achieve strategic goals and not waste taxpayer money when they are obstacles to the communication needed to make progress.  If their argument is to preserve quality, you can believe me when I say they should spend more time practicing their instruments than their politics.

What we need is cooperation not confrontation . What we need is a deficit reduction plan. What we need is a decision about the ROSS’s role for Sevilla.  If the intention is that the ROSS, despite being the artistic ambassadors of Unesco‘s 1st city of music, is to only serve its civic duty and protect its existing salaries, then we should all stop defending quality because without increased budgets, administrative oversight, and added staff in marketing and promotion, then there will still be less subscribers and sponsors and all these same problems will occur once again.  If the elected officials recognize what has been accomplished these last 4 years and what still can be done, including next season programs, and the hosting of the international classical music awards (ICMA) the end of April 2020, and the potential for more tours and even recordings, then there is much more to discuss.

And the public should be part of that discussion.  They are the taxpayers, voters and subscribers.  Have they been asked? Do they want a world class orchestra performing in Sevilla and representing its city abroad?  An orchestra that encourages greater tourism, education and investment, continuing with its successful artistic direction, or do they only want an orchestra in residence to the theater, salaries paid by the taxpayer and sustainable only on ticket sales and limited budgets?  In either case, musicians for the most part are professional, and those who stay for their salaries alone will still provide the quality they can, provided ticket revenue can afford competent conducting.

But contempt and confrontation lead nowhere except to divisive results on stage and in the voting booth.  And in this case the ROSS musicians and staff, not only the politicians, must answer to the voting public.  Unfortunately I cannot vote.  But I will more than answer the questions asked and continue to argue for the sake of quality.  It is why I came to Sevilla in the first place. Our audience and the music we actually serve deserve no less.

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