Leaders and Their Hats

In the Los Angeles Times recently, art critic Christopher Knight writes “For art museums, is there a director’s gene? A distinctive bit of DNA material that distinguishes between a successful museum director and a successful curator?”

As someone who developed that director’s gene during side-by-side careers as a founder of a non-profit arts institution, executive director, musician and educator, I am encouraged by the questions posed in this insightful article. MOCA, and many other arts institutions, have histories of revolving leadership doors. Once again at MOCA, we are watching another detrimental exit of their managing director which ultimately erodes public support and trust.

Experience Counts – Jump In!

As I return after an extended stay in Vietnam as Artistic Advisor to the Hanoi New Music Ensemble, I have decided to embark on a series of blogs that I hope will be of use to the Ensemble and other entrepreneurial artists. Each new organization is unique, reflecting their art and reason for existence. However, starting any new venture requires new skills and advice.

Our best consultant in 35 years remains Trader Joe, Joseph Coulombe, who founded the highly successful Trader Joe Markets. We both live in Pasadena (next to Los Angeles) and have many mutual friends. A few years after founding Southwest Chamber Music with my husband, I invited Joe to our office to offer us advice.

Looking for Models

The legendary Kolisch Quartet had the singular distinction of playing its entire repertoire from memory, including the impossibly complex modern works of Schoenberg, Webern, Bartok, and Berg. Eugene Lehner was the violist for the quartet in the 1930’s. Lehner’s stories about their remarkable performances often included a hair-raising moment when one player or another had a memory slip. Although he relished the rapport that developed between them without the encumbrance of a music stand, he admits there was hardly a concert in which some mistake did not mar the performance. The alertness, presence, and attention required of the players in every performance is hard to fathom, but in one concert an event occurred that surpassed their ordinary brinkmanship.

No Boundaries

I have recently returned to Vietnam to begin the fourth season of the Hanoi New Music Ensemble. My husband Jeff von der Schmidt and I are the first American Artistic Advisors to Vietnam, helping to shape the first professional new music ensemble in the country. The group is moving forward quickly, reflecting our former Ambassador Ted Osius’ observation that “one year in Vietnam is equal to ten years elsewhere.”

Jeff conducts the ensemble and I coach the strings as well as guide administrative development. This is our ninth trip to the country since 2006, and we feel that we have a second home here, with dear friends, familiar audiences, and endless stimulation provided by a different culture evidenced through food, music, architecture, and attitudes.

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