After Limelight reported this week on a story claiming that there is a toxic culture at Queensland Symphony Orchestra (read here), the section principals of the Orchestra issued a statement (published here) in support of Music Director Alondra de la Parra and Chief Executive David Pratt, saying they are “proud to have such talented and conscientious leaders” and believe that under their leadership “positive results [are] being felt”.

Speaking to Limelight, Greg Wanchap, Chairman of the QSO board, says, “I am really heartened in my role as Chairman that before rehearsals [yesterday] afternoon, the leadership group of the musicians, the section principals, decided to prepare a statement. I always say that the musicians are the stars of our company, and frankly under Alondra’s artistic leadership they have gone from strength to strength; all of our people are our greatest asset.”

“I’m very proud of what the musicians have done in providing the statement that you have,” said Wanchap, who has served on QSO’s Board since 2000 and as Chairman since 2008.

Criticisms of the QSO were raised this week in a story by Daily Review (read here), which suggested that “ineffectual leadership” and low morale at the organisation has resulted in a large turnover of staff.

In the last 21 months, 26 full-time or part-time staff have left QSO, including Sophie Galaise, the Orchestra’s former Chief Executive Officer who left in March 2016, two and a half  years into a five-year contract, to join Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as Managing Director. Four members of the senior management team subsequently followed her there. These statistics can be verified by comparing the Orchestra’s website, which currently lists 26 staff, with QSO’s 2016 annual report, which listed 37 staff and recorded various changes in personnel.

Limelight believes that at least one, and possibly two staff members, pursued unfair dismissal claims and settled out of court.

Addressing the issue of the staff turnover, Wanchap tells Limelight: “It’s a fact that over the past 21 months there were 26 people who departed the organisation but I want to be very clear about the timing… David Pratt started with us in September 2016, just over a year ago, and Alondra started as our Music Director on the 1st of January this year. Last year, she was a designate and her responsibilities were different. Sixteen of those 26 people left the organisation before David Pratt joined us and before Alondra became Music Director.”

“Of the 26, five were on term contracts, four people didn’t meet the outcome of their probation period, which happens in every organisation, five people went to a sister orchestra, while 12 were resignations for a variety of reasons, of which five occurred under David Pratt’s leadership. Two of the 12 are really noteworthy. One went to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London with our full support and another took up an internship in Iceland, again with our full support,” says Wanchap.

But, emphasises Wanchap, although 26 have left for various reasons, 16 of those left before Pratt and De la Parra started with QSO.

When Limelight posted the statement made by the section principals of the Orchestra, an anonymous person, who claimed to be a former member of the QSO’s administrative staff, wrote to us, saying: “I can corroborate that there is a indeed a toxic culture for members of the administration team. Unfortunately, the orchestra has little to no concept of this reality due to geography: the orchestra operates on the ground floor, the administrative team resides on the third floor.”

Another former employee had previously told Limelight that morale is low at the Orchestra. Asked if he believes this is the case, Wanchap says: “We are proud of what we have achieved at our orchestra and I know that morale is strong under David’s and Alondra’s leadership; we promote a culture of speaking up, of respect and achievement. Are we perfect; no – close attention to organisational culture and morale is an on-going challenge in all organisations.”

In response to claims that the organisation has brought in a consultant to boost morale, Wanchap says: “It is usual when any organisation hires a new Chief Executive that strategy is reviewed to ensure the Chief Executive owns the strategy, and sometimes small adjustments are made. And that’s what happened when David joined us and when Alondra became Music Director, we tweaked our strategy, and as part of that strategic review we hired a consultant. One of the things she did was team-building for us, which is part of the whole overall strategy, so I don’t think there’s much in that really.”

Wanchap also addressed comments relating to the amount of time De la Parra spends in Brisbane with QSO. “She was originally contracted for 14 weeks a year – which is a fairly standard for the commitment of a Music Director,”  he says.

“She is here right now and she will be here for 18 weeks this year, actually. It’s a long time that she’s here and she’s really passionate about and committed to what she does with our orchestra. And in 2018 she will be here for another 18 weeks from the end of July to the end of November.”

Wanchap adds that De la Parra has a house in Brisbane and calls it her second home. “She is really committed and the implication that she is in Mexico all the time and telling people here what to do is not true,” he says.

As to her working relationship with her Chief Executive David Pratt, Wanchap says that they spent four days together in Mexico before Pratt’s appointment “to ensure they were on the same wavelength … and I can say to you that they were as one, as they are now. There is no conflict between them. That is critically important.”

Asked if there has been conflict between Pratt and heads of department, as has been reported, Wanchap says: “That’s not the case. David and his senior management team work together in a highly collaborative way to achieve the best possible artistic and financial outcomes. I am proud of what the entire team has achieved this year; the year with end on a high, both artistically and with a strong surplus.”