Muddy Thinking | Letters | Chicago Reader

News & Politics » Letters

Muddy Thinking

by

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

comment

To the editors:

Lewis Lazare's "Culture Club" article in the July 2 issue of the Reader, discussing the Orchestral Association's planned renovation and expansion project, was marked by both muddy thinking and with some genuine distortions which merit comment.

The most significant example of what I would call muddy thinking is the negative tone that he employs concerning the fact that the plan is based on financial projections that "remain untested." It should be obvious that any business that makes any long range plan will base it on projections made at the time of the plan. Good businesses make projections, which they base on the strongest fact base they can put together at any given time. They then continually update those projections with new information as it arrives, and if necessary adjust their plans accordingly. But no business could ever make a plan, nor affect a major change, if it were unwilling to act upon its projections. Lazare presents this as if it is a high risk type of behavior, when in fact logic would tell him that it is the only way to run a business. Since in seven out of the past eight years the Orchestral Association has operated in the black, one of the only major orchestras in America that can say that, I believe that the track record of our ability to make realistic projections is a strong one. We have made conservative projections, and have taken into account all of the trends and factors that we see in audience development, contribution history, and rate of expense growth. To imply that it is unusual or highly risky to base a plan on projections is to not understand how a business operates.

Lazare states that our projected $40,000 surplus for this year is "certainly not a goal that encourages excessive optimism for the orchestra's finances." This shows a failure to understand the goals of a nonprofit organization. Our job is to present the finest music in the best way we can with a balanced budget. We are not supposed to have large surpluses. In a climate where virtually all of the other major orchestras are projecting very large deficits for the current and coming years, and we are projecting a small surplus, optimism seems justified.

The most disturbing aspect of Lazare's piece is its conclusion, where he states, "Fogel concedes that Barenboim's image and his dubious involvement in the community are issues that need to be addressed and will be." This is an unfortunate example of Mr. Lazare's tendency to put his thoughts in the mouths of other people. I "conceded" no such thing. In my phone conversation with Mr. Lazare, I gave him many examples of Daniel Barenboim's very strong involvement in the community. He was the featured speaker at a key luncheon of Urban Gateways, appeared at a great many luncheons of corporate and social leaders talking about his plans for the Orchestra, conducted open rehearsals of the Civic Orchestra at Northwestern University, has had two open town meetings with subscribers and donors to the Orchestral Association where he answered questions for over an hour at each one (and committed to one every season), appeared at fund-raising dinners and events for other Chicago charitable organizations, personally initiated and expanded our involvement with the Art Institute by sparking a series of chamber music performances in galleries that are related to the art on display, involved himself in the Civic Orchestra, our training orchestra, working with them and giving free concerts to the public and encouraging his friends Pierre Boulez and Zubin Mehta (among others) to do the same, and he has already made commitments to do more public appearances and talks for this coming season. I explained all of this to Mr. Lazare and I said quite directly to him that I did not believe there were any Music Directors of any major American orchestra that were as heavily involved in their communities as was Daniel Barenboim in Chicago. To find myself quoted as conceding that his "dubious involvement in the community" needed to be addressed is, frankly, infuriating. What I did say was that perhaps we needed to do a better job in making certain that these appearances were better publicized, but that is a very different statement than what is implied. Lewis Lazare is clearly entitled to have, and express, his own opinions; he is most certainly not entitled to attribute them to me.

Henry Fogel

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Lewis Lazare replies:

This is not the first conversation I have had with Henry Fogel that he has recollected in a different light. If Fogel now wishes to stress for the record that Daniel Barenboim is actively involved in the community, so be it. But for Fogel to trot out the above-mentioned activities as examples of Barenboim's deep commitment to the city and the Chicago Symphony is ludicrous. A few appearances on the rubber-chicken circuit, a couple of chats with subscribers, the occasional free concert and other token gestures do not constitute the kind of commitment Barenboim should be demonstrating, notwithstanding his financially rewarding status as a world-class musician. These are especially grave times for the arts, and every cultural institution needs its leaders fighting on the frontline in its hometown every day to drum up audience and financial support.

Add a comment