Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Reflecting on Pinchas Zukerman's Announcement

This week, world-renowned violinist and music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Pinchas Zukerman announced that he will retire from his position with NACO as of 2015.

While it comes as no surprise to many of us - he is 63 this year -, the announcement jumpstarts the process that will have a very great effect upon the entire musical community in Ottawa: hiring the next musical director.

When it comes to selecting someone to fill Zukerman's shoes, one wonders if the search-committee will be looking to select someone similar to his reputation and age or someone much younger and, possibly, more unknown. Regardless, musicians both in and out of NACO will be affected.

Another question is what the starting salary of the new maestro will be. An article by Steven Mazey in the Ottawa Citizen dated May 27, 2006 reported that sources close to Zukerman estimated his salary was "in the $1 million range" which, I might add, is in large part paid for by the tax-payer. In contrast, according to census data collected that same year, the average earnings of 33,630 Canadians who declared themselves as musicians was $14,439. A staggering figure when compared to the, though speculated, salary of the music director.

Judging by the reaction on the Adaptistration blog about the contract renewal for President and CEO Allison Vulgamore of the Philadelphia Orchestra (currently going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy), one wonders if, though it received 48% of last season's budget from parliamentary appropriations, the National Arts Centre as a whole should strive to run a budget that's more reliant on programming like its southern partners are trying to achieve. Granted there isn't in any looming financial peril, but one would hope that they try and run a tight ship. (take a look at this great cartoon!)

The most significant potential for change here lies in the atmosphere that the next director hopes to create. Though the orchestra's purpose is to serve communities both local and national, their residence in Ottawa has a tremendous effect on how classical music is viewed within the city. During Mr. Zukerman's tenure, as with most professional orchestras over the past 15 years; NACO held strong the high-brow image of classical music which we see more and more, through various means, trying to be done away with. It is my hope that this image will go the way of the dinosaur not only for the benefit of the orchestra, but for the fringe benefits affecting local ensembles.

Anyway, let's see what happens.

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