Pros and cons of freelance musician structures at orchestras

Posted on: May 26, 2011

Wednesday (5/25) on New York Times online, Vivien Schweitzer writes, “In a turbulent economy that has carried a wide range of organizations, including arts groups, banks and newspapers, to the brink, orchestras are being forced to re-examine their missions and structures to accommodate a changing fiscal and social landscape. … A reliance on freelancers is growing increasingly prevalent in many industries. Some first-rate orchestras, like the New York ensembles Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Orchestra of St. Luke’s, have long had freelance structures. … While the freelance model can be perilous for musicians, the upside for orchestras is a more flexible operating system. The rotating work force of the excellent Orchestra of St. Luke’s, for example, makes it easier to survive challenging times. ‘One of the things that makes us resilient is our flexibility,’ said Katy Clark, the orchestra’s president and executive director. ‘We don’t spend what we don’t have. We don’t guarantee work to our musicians and don’t require that they turn up. Even though you might think this would be anarchic, we have very stable personnel to an amazing extent.’ Another benefit of freelance orchestras, Ms. Clark added, is that they tend to have more inclusive management styles and thus suffer less labor friction.”

Posted May 26, 2011