Orchestra Management Requirements
Most orchestras, including major symphonies, are or were formed by a group of musicians who banded together to make music, whether as a vocation or avocation. Making music at a high level requires highly developed skills achieved through long hours of practice and those who do it well tend to want to focus on musical issues above all else. However orchestras of any size and type require a strong management team and substantial funding to function. Space, music, musicians, fees, insurance, transportation, and even management itself must be paid for.
All orchestras which depend on public contributions to augment their funding must have a Board of Directors as a condition for incorporation and achieving not-profit status. It is the Board of Directors (or Trustees) which is empowered to determine the outcome of every issue facing the orchestra and ultimately responsible for every administrative and artistic action taken on behalf of the orchestra. This is true for all orchestras regardless of their size, audience base, or skill level
Orchestras which have evolved to the point of serving a major market, typically with ~30M$ annual budgets, require the services of professional musicians and a large number of administrative personnel under the control of an General Manager who may be assisted by an Operations Manager. The detailed structures can vary of course but one thing is absolute: at the very top of the tree is the Board of Directors or Trustees who select the music director, usually with the help of an appointed search committee.
The playing members of such professional orchestras are generally responsible only for his musical contribution in the orchestra and don't have to worry about fund-raising, advertising, or the many other administrative tasks. What the players give up, apart from whatever board of directors player representation or union support may exist, is a voice in running the orchestra. All matters musical and administrative are in the hands of the Board which is primarily concerned with the orchestra's standing in the region and little concerned with issues important to the players beyond attracting the best that they can afford.
Community orchestras are limited in potential growth by the limited area that they serve and by the vision of their founders which includes presenting playing opportunities to musicians whose careers do not allow them to make music on a full-time basis. Therefore serving the members' musical interests is given a priority commensurate with that of serving the artistic interests of the community. Nevertheless if the orchestra is to succeed (i.e. survive) it must satisfy its audience and the corporations making donations on their behalf. It is the audience therefore which holds the ultimate power over the orchestra's destiny and dictates its success or failure. "The golden rule applies, he who has the gold rules." The Board of Directors has the full responsibility for making all of the orchestra's decisions both logistic and artistic. If they fail to exercise wisdom in their decision making, the community will turn its back and the orchestra will fail.
The conductor of a community orchestra is may be selected largely on the basis of an impressive conducting resume. This may not be the best strategy since a major function of a community orchestra's Music Director is to educate rather than dictate. Boards composed of orchestra members may defer to the conductor's judgment almost exclusively giving the him or her a degree of power which goes well beyond that in a professional orchestra. This is despite the fact that the conductor is their employee.
All orchestras need a strong set of by-laws which describe the orchestra's structure and purpose. They need to be specific enough to keep the orchestra's mission in sharp focus without unduly restricting options to solve unforseen problems. In effect the by-laws provide support to the board of directors when they are confronted with decisions which may be unpopular. In a community orchestra the by-laws serve a special purpose which may not be required in a professional orchestra where the Board is isolated to some extent from membership and conductor and they can focus their attention completely on the "market." The Boards of community orchestras are more likely to be faced with conflicts of interest. When such conflicts arise the Board needs the support of a strong base of by-laws which can provide them with "the power of no authority." When pressed for a decision which is clearly not in the best interest of the orchestra the Board can reply, "We cannot succumb to your request for . . . . because the by-laws do not permit it."
Boards of Directors should bear in mind that they are ultimately solely responsible for the state of their orchestra. If the local community fails to support the orchestra by attending concerts and making donations, it's a clear indication that corrective action is required. If the Board fails to take that correctiive action, the responsibility for the consequences rests entirely with them.
The Bottom Line