Leistungen // Laterales Management

democracy in orchestras?


In our book Lateral Management, we describe approximately 30 companies, which have developed company structures in which management, decision-making and working relationships are organised on an equal footing – and not just at the top but within the company as a whole.

When we wrote the book, we were aware of the project in Bremen, as it was publicised in various books and supported by the Saarbrücken-based economist Christian Scholz. More recent publications report on the musicians’ commercial success – which is remarkable for several reasons.

The conductor controls the orchestra

Firstly, it has always been regarded as an unwritten law in specialist circles: the conductor must control the orchestra. There is a clear hierarchy: conductor, 1st violin, 2nd violin … etc. Working relationships in an orchestra have been viewed in terms of the Herbert Karajan model – albeit having been modified somewhat in line with current mores regarding participation.

This is not the case in Bremen. The conductor concerned is the Estonian Paavo Järvi, who does indeed give instructions in rehearsals but only after a discussion process in which a work is rehearsed and then paused so that everybody in the orchestra can express their views on how the piece can be improved. At the end, Järvi summarises them and then the rehearsal continues.

The path taken by the orchestra to reach this stage is impressive: the Kammerphilharmonie was founded by music students in Frankfurt in 1980. Attracted by the generous subsidies offered by Bremen as an inducement in the early 1990s, the orchestra moved in 1992. However, despite the subsidies it amassed a vast debt of 1.5 million euros. As a consequence, the orchestra slammed on the brakes; the former double bass player Albert Schmitt was appointed as managing director and marketing and professional management methods were introduced. Moreover, it opted for the gGmbH (non-profit limited liability company) company form, which is wholly-owned by the 41 musicians. Since this date, most rehearsals have taken place without conductors. “We want to participate, ultimately our existence depends on that”, comments the viola player Friederike Latzko.

Debt-free following the reorientation

The orchestra's commercial success is also considerable: in 2015, the company staged concerts for 150,000 people in Asia and Europe. All planned concerts are booked up until 2020 and the company generates more than 70 per cent of the annual budget of 6.6 million euros itself. Throughout Germany, only 17 per cent of all orchestras achieve this on average.

Like many lateral companies, the Kammerphilharmonie is another great commercial success. The company is debt-free following reorientation. Each musician now earns approx. 40,000 euros per year (German category-A orchestras pay ca. 70,000 euros). And while people talk of orchestras dying in Germany – around 25 per cent of all orchestras receiving public subsidies have closed in the last 15 years – the Kammerphilharmonie in Bremen is a genuine alternative to operating with diminishing public subsidies. The company is currently looking for additional areas of business. It’s quite clear that a lot can still be expected from this organisation in future!