Successful Leadership of Orchestras and/or Opera Companies

If you want to understand how to lead successfully an Orchestra Organization or Opera Company, this post will be interested to you...


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Music Director in a Successful Leadership

Be an outstanding conductor with clear, deep and enthusiastic interpretations, that serves the highest musical and artistic levels, is not enough for a conductor that want to become a successful Music Director. In addition of these mandatory conducting knowledge, skills and experience, the position requires to develop the Opera Company or Orchestra in musical and artistic aspects with clear short, middle and long term goals. Moreover, the positions requires a clear focus in the development of how the organization is related with the community and vice versa. In fact, an orchestra or opera company is more than a group of musicians, it transcends, and it is made by the community. That is why, to lead an artistic organization, the Music Director requires three main focuses in order to be successful. First, the understanding and development of an Active Community Involvement with the organization. Not only developing striking seasons and good marketing strategies, but also with powerful audience/patrons/trustees/education development programs, and strategic partnerships that allow the orchestra/opera to be stronger in the fulfillment of its mission. Second, a respectful and fluent Board Interaction, where the Music Director’s leadership is used to inspire the organization in its mission, while is helping to define a clear artistic vision for the orchestra/opera company future. Third, the Musicians/Orchestra or Musicians/Singers/Opera Development, where the correct organization of repertoire, artists and the work at each rehearsal is critical for the seasonal development. Every great Music Director knows that lead an orchestra or opera company is more than select some works for a season, and a community focus is more than talk before a concert to “teach” the audience. Lead an orchestra is the understanding of the big picture where the community is placed in the center of the organization to serve every person in it. A service that is done by motivated people with enthusiastic music and artistic proposals at the highest possible level.


In the first place, the Music Director need to be a Community leader in order to encourage an active interaction of the orchestra/opera with its community and vice-versa. This interaction not only will give valuable firsthand information in the creation of successful seasons and marketing proposals, but also will give the clues about which kind of programs need to be developed by the orchestra to benefit the community. From audience and educational programs to trustees and partnership development, the Music Director must collaborate with the whole Staff and CEO, in order to give a clear vision to the organization efforts.


My work with the World Music Symphony Orchestra at Los Angeles California is a good example of it. As an orchestra created as the music representation of the whole Community; the goal of the organization was performed music from the countries where the communities settled around LA County were originally. The opportunity of listen to music from México, Colombia, Filipinas, France, Spain, Armenia, etc.; was an enormous community interaction generator. Not only in concerts but also in rehearsals where their perspective of their music was shared to the orchestra. This interaction not only gives us tools to increase the numbers of audience per concert but also to be aware of the educational programs that were not available to the community in terms of arts. That is why, always working with the support of the Azusa Conservatory of Music; we decided to create an amazing Opera Summer Camp for the Community in 2018 as a part of the season of the Orchestra. In it, the whole community (musicians, kids, parents, professors, politicians, business owners...) were working hard to produce, play, sing, act, create (scene and dresses), dance and LIVE arts. Were 2 months (with one intensive week) full of Art. With this program not only the community interaction growth in almost 450% related to previous programs, but also it allows the orchestra to think bigger to our 2019 summer version involving outside state sponsors and kids composing materials to be performed as a part of the opera performance. Now in summer, the San Gabriel Valley at Los Angeles County is focused in the arts and in the center of it the World Music Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Summer Camp - Collaborative Arts for the Community. With this program we are not only fulfilling the mission of the organizations, but also giving to them clearly vision to where they need to evolve; and all of this just because of the Active Community Interaction that I lead.


In the second place, a respectful and fluent board interaction is crucial for any Music Director in order to fulfil its role. Being the voting voice of the community at the orchestra/opera the board is a highly valuable resource for the organization definition of its mission. In it, the Music Director must be a remarkable leader, not only to inspire the board with his/her the artistic perspective, but also helping them to understand effectively how to translate into artistic and music programs the community necessities and desires. In addition, the Music Director, will give an important National and International perspective in terms of worldwide Symphonic/Operistic Development, an important tool to define the organization vision and its strategic development.


My experience as Music Director of the Huila Philharmonic, can explain clearly this board interactions that effectively served a whole state with more than 1 million people of population. Appointed as Music Director of this new Huila Philharmonic, I helped the Board in the creation of a clear vision being aware of organization place and value from a Colombia and Latin-American perspective. In addition, I showed the Board effective ways to serve wisely the whole talent pool that was in the state, while being a place of artistic excellence that challenges and help the experienced musicians of the region. Moreover, I encourage the board to consider the youth engagement and new audiences’ development critical focuses for the viability of the project. With a careful design of concerts with broad repertoire and relevant training programs, the orchestra not only hosted for first time in the whole country an international YOA Mission (Orchestra of the Americas (2016), but also arrange national and international masterclasses, and regular collaborations with organizations as CorpoSanpedro, SurColombiana University and the Cultural Section of the Colombian Central Bank. There, the perfect cooperation of my regional leadership, my international music networking and effective board teamwork, were crucial to develop the successful programs.


In third place, the Musicians/Orchestra or Musicians/Singers/Opera Development is another main focus in a successful Music Directorship. In it, the conductor needs to understand clearly the strengths and weakness of the orchestra/opera members as individuals and as ensemble in order to define the aspects to be developed with its coherent steps. In this aspect the broad professional experience of the conductor with his networking and worldwide knowledge of current artistic developments is crucial, because this will give a point of reference where he/she will compare their work. Based in the unique characteristics of each musician and the available resources (artistic and administrative), the Music Director needs to organize the seasonal work wisely. During this year, the puzzle of challenging but possible repertoire, concerts proposals, type of rehearsals and related music activities; need to be organized in a coherent and progressive way in order to have a successful music and artistic development. Being help by complex thinking theories and proved rehearsal techniques stated in my Bachelor Thesis “Motivation in Rehearsal Techniques” (Barbosa-Vásquez 2015), my work with the Symphony of the Huila Conservatory is a good example of this focus development.

Starting with a multilevel orchestra that involved youths’ students with experienced musicians, the first goal was obtain an orchestral clear blended sound that allows the orchestra to approach more complex repertoire with consistency. The repertoire selection with this musician/orchestral approach was focused first, in the clarity of melodic lines and accompanied grouping based in the unification of the sections, with folkloric music from Colombia and the whole world (valses, bambucos, tangos, polkas); second in the dynamic contrast and balance skills with music of Beethoven and soloists interactions; and third the unification of bow techniques in the Strings with Grieg, and Dvorak music. In addition, the broad repertoire was careful selected from the community and audience development perspective, a fact that also motivated the musicians due to their work become important for the whole community. Moreover, due to the possibility of combine, according to orchestra necessities, tutti rehearsals with sectional rehearsals leaded by the principals (Conservatory professors) with clear and progressive goals per each rehearsal created by me; the orchestra in less than a year increased their performance level in a way never seen in its previous 20 years. The first invitation to the orchestra to the most important festival in the region arrived (Festival Folclórico y Reinado Nacional del Bambuco), people attending our concerts increased in almost 250%, and the people interested in being part of the orchestra or collaborate with it increased enormously.


Since I started my professional music training at the age of 14, I was clear that the music can change the world. In fact, the understanding of the orchestras or opera companies as community organizations instead of just artistic organization, is the seed that can generate this change. In it, a perfect interaction of the previous explained 3 focuses, led by a good Music Director, will create an environment where the values of the orchestra/opera (teamwork, passion, respect, discipline and hard work) will permeate the community as was done in my projects at Los Angeles CA-USA, and Huila-Colombia and at 3 continents as guest conductor and art leader.

©Barbosa-Vásquez/Academic

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