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A bad excuse to get out of a tough dilemma

2 Robert Levine

Sarah Chang has canceled her Detroit recital scheduled for Monday, according to the Detroit Free Press:

Some of the e-mails Chang told DSO management she received through her Web site, www.sarahchang.com, crossed the line from expressing displeasure to physical threats and career intimidation. Chang’s Los Angeles-based manager Jenny Vogel declined comment. DSO president Anne Parsons also declined to give specifics, citing Chang’s desire to remove herself from further controversy.

Obviously threats of violence have no place in a labor dispute. I’ll admit to some skepticism about whether such threats were actually made; if they were, the perpetrators should be named and prosecuted. A failure to “give specifics” only feeds suspicion that there were no specifics.

“Career intimidation,” on the other hand, sounds like code for “the inevitable consequences of pissing off a lot of people.” Soloists’ careers depend on many things, but not the least is goodwill. It was an orchestra administrator, and not a musician, who told me that she was committing “professional suicide” by playing the recital. I don’t see anything wrong with fans or musicians telling her that she’s going to forfeit that goodwill by siding with management in what is likely to go down as the most bitter orchestra labor dispute in a generation.

Of course, claiming that she was intimidated into not supporting management is not likely to endear her to a lot of musicians either.

On Friday, the DSO players wrote a letter to Chang, who is not a member of the union, asking her not to perform, as did other national musician labor leaders. By Sunday, her fan-created Facebook page had been inundated with about 150 messages from across the country not to cross the picket line and perform.

“You should know that professional musicians throughout the country are highly incensed that you would cross a picket line and perform a recital while your colleagues in the Detroit Symphony are on strike.” The message was signed by Barbara Bogatin, a cellist in the San Francisco Symphony and was linked to her Facebook page. “It is a slap in the face to all of us who have played in orchestras accompanying you.”

Social media is, as other industries have discovered, a sword with two edges. Before email and Facebook, would it have been possible for this controversy to have erupted so quickly and for there to be so much feedback to the participants? As one veteran activist once told me, the Internet makes the former kinds of communications we had within the business seem like sending smoke signals.

Parsons said violin recital was not a replacement concert and that its cancellation meant that the public was also victimized by what she called “reprehensible” and “unethical tactics.”

“We were just doing what we’re meant to do, which is present musical experiences at the highest level for our public, and if we can’t present orchestra concerts we have to present other things.”

Unfortunately the comments to the Freeper article are already full of attacks on the DSO musicians and the union for their “reprehensible” tactics; one commenter going so far to blame the whole thing on Len Leibowitz, the DSO musicians’ attorney. Parson’s comments are simply one more obstacle to getting this thing settled. Why does the DSO management have to “present other things” anyway? They’re paid to put on orchestra concerts - a task at which they’re not currently succeeding.

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2 comments feed top ↑

  1. Pingback by Polyphonic.org - A substitute orchestra in Detroit?
    June 28, 2019 at 11:23 AM

    […] would be committing SarahChangürung by playing with a replacement […]

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    June 21, 2019 at 11:00 AM

    […] to conduct it and find a roster of guest artists willing to perform with them. The experience of Sarah Chang in Detroit and Roberto Minczuk everywhere else will inform the decisions of conductors and […]