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Remembering Len Leibowitz

0 Robert Levine

The memorial service for Len Leibowitz was held on Sunday afternoon on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was moderated - if that’s the right word - by Steve Flamhaft, a lawyer who had grown up with Len in Brighton Beach and had gone to high school, Bucknell and law school with him as well. There were two other speakers - Florence Nelson, who had worked with Len since she began her career as a musician at New York City Opera and through the entirety of her career as a union activist and officer, and Bruce Ridge, the last of the six or so ICSOM chairs for whom Len had provided counsel. Bruce’s remarks in particular were very well-done; he had the inspired idea of quoting at length from emails Len had sent him during one very late-night email discussion the two had had about the value of musicians to society.

There were also two sets of remarks that were read: those of Bill Moriarity, who had known Len for years in their roles as Local 802 president and legal counsel respectively, and those by Len’s son Max, which were both funny and very touching.

Attendance was very good, with most of the people that one would expect to be there, as well as a few one might not expect if one didn’t know how wide was the circle of people who knew and respected Len. Attendance from SSD was particularly strong; Nathan Kahn, Chris Durham, Joe Goldman and Rochelle Skolnick (SSD Counsel and Len’s successor in that role) having flown in to join Jay Blumenthal and Debbie Newmark. The symphonic player conferences were represented as well, as was the League of American Orchestras. And, of course, there were a number of rank-and-file musicians who had worked with Len. (There was also a very, very good string quartet of 802 members, who I was shocked to find out had met just before the event.)

After the formal ceremony (which, of course, was not very formal, being a tribute to Len), everyone moved downtown to Local 802, where there was a nice spread and some live music. More people made more remarks, including Marsha Schweitzer from Honolulu (who took the Gold for having come the farthest distance) and Peter Pastreich, (winning the Silver, having come from San Francisco) who had negotiated many contracts with Len during his time as manager of the St. Louis and San Francisco orchestras (and who had also attended Lincoln High School in Brooklyn with him) . Peter’s remarks were both unvarnished and very affectionate; he concluded by saying that he and Len had had a long-running argument about the merits of traditional vs. interest-based bargaining, but that he would rather have negotiated an agreement with Len the traditional way than do interest-based bargaining with anyone else - a compliment that would have meant a great deal to Len, I suspect.

I decided not to stand up and add my two cent’s worth, in part because most of what I would have said had been said in various ways. But, if I had, I would have echoed those who pointed out the immense impact that Len’s work had on the lives of symphony musicians - or, in Bruce Ridge’s words, how every symphony musician who ever paid an electric bill from an orchestra paycheck owed a debt to Len.

Len was not the only important and successful negotiator for orchestra musicians, of course. But he did it the longest; from almost the beginning of the modern era of orchestra labor relations through last year’s Detroit strike. And I suspect he did more negotiations, for more orchestral bargaining units, than anyone else during that time. The successes he had, the economic bars he moved upward, and the concepts he helped introduce have helped tens of thousands of musicians, both those he negotiated for and those he didn’t.

I would have added one thing, though, and one that was only mentioned tangentially by others. I knew Len almost exclusively as ICSOM legal counsel, which was a job that involved giving very little actual legal advice to the ICSOM Governing Board. (Ironically, I sought, and received, much more legal advice from Len after I left the Governing Board and went back to being my orchestra’s ICSOM delegate.) What Len was for the Governing Board was, first and foremost, a counselor. It was a role he played superbly.

Len had, to a degree unparalleled in my experience, the ability to boil down a long and contentious argument (and we had many on that Governing Board) to its essence in such a way that neither side could disagree either with his formulation or the answer that flowed from it. It was a quality that would have made Len a superb mediator had he chosen that career; the one mediation I saw him do was unforgettable.

It involved a very bitter intramural dispute between the AFM’s Symphonic Services Division, ICSOM, and the musicians of the Louisville Orchestra - all of whom were, to one degree or another, his clients.  The situation required not only all the skills a mediator needs, but the willingness and courage to strong-arm his paying clients into doing the right thing. There were a lot of sore arms after that mediation. There was also an agreement that remained in place for years that settled a very contentious issue . It was a masterful performance in the service of all his clients. It was also a perfect example of how Len could turn what, for most lawyers, would be a conflict of interest into a basis for helping all his clients - something I saw him do repeatedly.

I was happy and proud to have known Len and to have gotten to work with him for so long. It’s hard to imagine our field without him.

(This post corrected for grammar and various other infelicities at 12:00 PM CDT on October 19, 2019)

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