Q&A with James Doering author of The Great Orchestrator

James M. Doering is a professor of music at Randolph-Macon College and author of The Great Orchestrator: Arthur Judson and American Arts Management.  We asked him a few questions about Judson, a pioneering American music manager who rose to prominence in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Q: Arthur Judson expanded the concept of Arts Management during his career.  How was the business of arts presentation different before his career took off?

Doering: Probably the biggest difference was how divided the arts management world was prior to his rise. Before to Judson, American music management tended to fall into two large categories: national managers (who represented artists and hawked their talent throughout the country) and local managers (who organized concerts and cultivated regional audiences). Judson found a way to combine those two roles and that made him a trailblazer. Moreover, he did so in a nonthreatening way, working within the local musical channels in Ohio, New York City, and Philadelphia to build larger audiences and keep costs down while still maintaining high quality. As a result, his management holdings expanded slowly, eventually encompassing the entire country.

Judson also brought a new kind of professionalism to the job. Prior to 1920, orchestra managers tended to be part-timers, whose sole role was to pay the bills. Judson was much more integrally involved in the organizations he managed, and perhaps his greatest strength was his ability to work closely and effectively with an enormous variety of conductors and board members. Many of those relationships are detailed in the book, and it becomes clear that managers do more than watch the ledger—they are often the glue of the organization.

Q: Judson managed to orchestras simultaneously: the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.  How unusual was this?

Doering: The simultaneous management of two orchestras was unprecedented, and Judson did it for thirteen years (1922-1935). During that same span, he also advised the Cincinnati Symphony and managed the New York’s Stadium Concerts, a prominent summer orchestra concert series. The orchestras became the hub of his budding empire.

Q: One of Judson’s first clients was Leopold Stokowski, iconic conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.  Did people have concerns that Judson was managing both the orchestra and the conductor (or even other musicians)?

Doering: No, not initially. In fact, the Philadelphia Orchestra encouraged Judson along those lines in hopes of promoting the orchestra beyond the city limits. Also, the practice was not all that unusual at the time. Other major orchestras, such as the Boston Symphony and the New York Symphony, had similar arrangements with their managers. In the case of Stokowski, Judson became his manager almost by osmosis. It started when the International Composers Guild began calling for Stokowski to lead premieres of new works. The performances involved Philadelphia Orchestra players, so Judson was naturally in the middle of the conversations. Eventually, Stokowski asked Judson to book other kinds of appearances, and it grew from there.

Because Judson’s connections between orchestras, soloists, and conductors emerged organically, those conflicting interests simply became an ongoing part of his management work. And remarkably the musical community fully embraced him, largely because he was seen as a force for good—a trusted figure, who was working to broaden the audience for concert music. It was not until the mid-1940s that concerns were raised, and even then Judson weathered the criticisms largely unscathed. But the ground was shifting in the post-war years, and eventually his model of management was deemed unacceptable. He was forced to resign from the Philharmonic in 1956. That shift in management models is an intriguing part of Judson’s story and legacy.

Q: Conductor Artur Rodzinski, called Judson “a dictator.”  There is more to this story, of course, but was this a justified claim?

Doering: Rodzinski was a remarkable musician, who made tremendous strides with the Philharmonic in his short tenure. But his years there (1943-47) were incredibly turbulent. Rodzinski’s always contended that Judson was the meddling source of that turbulence, and he eventually took that position to the press. But Judson’s side of the story has never been told. He never commented on it publicly, and after Rodzinski resigned the Philharmonic closed the book on the matter.

The internal correspondence at the Philharmonic reveals a much different situation. Rodzinski was prone to rash actions, and Judson was frequently having to repair broken bridges behind the scenes. Rodzinski also became increasingly paranoid about competition, particularly Stokowski who he thought was angling for his job. His fears were unfounded, but the tension eventually boiled over. I think the Rodzinski chapter is one of the most interesting in the book, in part because it shows the hidden side of management and the complicated diplomacy that is necessary to keep all parts of an arts organization running. It also shows that Judson never had the kind of power Rodzinski contended. But clearly Rodzinski’s comment struck a chord with the public, and it marked the beginning of Judson’s eventual decline in music management.     

Q: What role did Judson have in the development of music on the radio?

Doering: Judson became involved in radio in the early 1920s, just as the concept of networks was being developed. It fit hand in glove with another idea he was pursuing at the time: a national music management network that could book concerts around the country. From the outset, he saw network radio as a tremendous business opportunity for the artists and ensembles he represented. He first brokered a deal with NBC’s founder David Sarnoff to serve as the exclusive booking agency for the new network, but when Sarnoff famously reneged on the deal, Judson decided to start his own rival network (UIB, which eventually became CBS). The network floundered for a couple years, before Judson did eventually find a willing buyer in William S. Paley, who bought a controlling interest in the network and would lead CBS for the next fifty years. 

One of the things Judson championed during this early period of radio was finding as many opportunities as possible to get classical music on the air—so much so that Paley later criticized Judson for neglecting the more popular kinds of shows like comedies and soap operas. But Judson and Paley did work together to establish the New York Philharmonic’s national weekly radio broadcasts starting in the 1930s. Those Sunday broadcasts gave the New York Philharmonic a national audience and made its podium one of the most influential in the entire country.


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