Posts Tagged ‘proper etiquette’

Is There a Good Way to Cancel?

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

by Edna Landau

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Dear Edna:

I am a cellist studying at an American conservatory and I try to read your blog regularly. A few weeks ago, you wrote about proper etiquette for working with a presenter in a case where a member of your ensemble is unable to perform and you wish to use a substitute. Can you please tell me what proper etiquette is in a case when someone like myself has accepted a solo date and then a much more significant one comes along. I have made a commitment to play a concerto with the youth orchestra in my home town, of which I was a member for five years, and I just learned that the conductor of a more prominent professional orchestra, who heard me at a festival last summer, would like to engage me on the same date in the Dvorak concerto. It would be my debut in that particular city. I am thrilled at the prospect of playing the Dvorak with him but how can I go back on my word?  —Jeffrey

Dear Jeffrey:

Since orchestral concerts are usually booked at least 12-18 months in advance, it is not uncommon to find oneself in the situation you describe. Some artists delay for quite a while before accepting a not so prestigious date so that they will remain available if something better comes along. I’m not a big supporter of that approach. A little delay is ok but anyone presenting concerts at any level needs to plan ahead and be assured of getting the artists they want. In your particular case, there is a personal relationship that led to the engagement which can potentially make it more difficult to back out, especially if the youth orchestra is proudly advertising an appearance by one of their most prominent alumni. If there has been no advertising or announcement of the season as of yet, it might be easier to back out of the date. You don’t mention whether or not the youth orchestra date has already been contracted. If it has, you are on less secure ground but you still have options. Contracts can be nullified or modified if both parties are willing. A key element in your approach will be to understand the inconvenience you will be causing and to anticipate some displeasure on the other end of the phone. (I strongly urge you to contact the orchestra by phone, not by e-mail.) In explaining the situation, you should be careful to avoid giving the impression that the new offer is much more important to you. Instead, you should say that you have been very much looking forward to appearing as soloist with the youth orchestra, which was an important part of your musical upbringing, but that you feel that this new offer will advance your career in an important way and you are very much hoping to preserve both opportunities.  You should ask whether it might be possible to move the date by a week, or to another part of the season. If the date cannot be moved, remaining strategic options will depend somewhat on how imminent the concert is. If your participation has not yet been announced, you can promise the youth orchestra a firm date the following season, and maybe even some kind of free educational activity the next time you will be at home. If it has already been announced, they will incur expenses in the process of informing the public of the change. To show your understanding and appreciation, you can offer to take a reduced fee for the rescheduled engagement. If your request is accepted, it would go a long way if you would write a heartfelt  letter  to the orchestra, thanking them for their understanding and paying tribute to them for having provided you with valuable training and musical growth that led to this wonderful opportunity. You will want to assure them that you are not a person who easily goes back on their word but that you know how genuinely the audience in your home town wants you to succeed and you hope they will be generous with their support  and understanding. In announcing your cancellation or the postponement of your performance,  the orchestra might wish to quote from your letter and make the audience feel invested in this important step forward in your career.  If you are successful in orchestrating this scenario, your concern and diplomacy will be remembered and much admired.

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© Edna Landau 2011