And a One, And a Two…

The orchestra steps on stage. The musicians take their seats. The audience waits expectantly for the conductor to appear. What happens next? Nothing, if the orchestra in question is New York City-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, a world-renowned chamber orchestra that has acted without a conductor for the whole of its 28-year existence. Nothing…and then music.

In a world where a flatter organization is becoming the goal of many companies, Orpheus embodies the concept of teamwork, collaboration and mutual respect that many CEOs talk about but often have difficulty achieving. For each piece of music the orchestra performs, a core group of five to 10 musicians, chosen by a committee (which in turn is chosen by the orchestra), leads the piece. The core group shapes the initial concept of the piece, plans the rehearsal process and has to convince the rest of the orchestra it has chosen the right approach. The orchestra as a whole works together to refine the work, with members chiming in to make suggestions.

The results? “Nothing short of spectacular and breathtaking,” says Harvey Seifter, the orchestra’s executive director. “We try to unleash the joy and the creativity and the passion of each member. People call us a leaderless orchestra, but we’re actually a multileader orchestra.”

So accomplished is Orpheus in its ability to work without a conductor that it has become a unique business model. The orchestra has taken on some consulting gigs with the likes of Kraft Foods and Novartis and has demonstrated its methods for the City University of New York.