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Is a tree embarrassed if it doesn’t hear itself fall?

4 Robert Levine

This is pretty amazing news:

The locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra today announced former music director Edo de Waart, and former concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis will join them for two concerts in mid-December.

The news comes one day after management cancelled all concerts through December 23rd citing lack of progress in concert talks.

Meanwhile the similarly locked out players at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra are bringing in former music director Pinchas Zukerman who will lead them in an all Mozart program.

Standing before Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis Minnesota Orchestra Principal Cellist Tony Ross said having de Waart and Fleezanis is a big boost to the musicians.

“Maestro de Waart, it means the world to us that he is coming and supporting our cause,” Ross said. “And supporting our cause of great music in the Twin Cities. His stint as music director here, starting about 24 years ago was really the beginning of the great times for this orchestra and we will be thrilled to have him back.”…

The musicians of the SPCO announced the Zukerman concert slightly later in the afternoon. Trumpet player Lynn Erickson says Zukerman contacted the musicians himself and asked if there was anything he could do to help. She says they will perform at the Wayzata Community Church on the afternoon of Sunday December 2nd.

“I think it says a lot about the quality of the orchestras that people are willing to come back and donate their time and their talent to help the musicians out,” said Erickson.

What this news really speaks to is just how isolated the leaderships of the two institutions have become. I can’t recall a single instance since I’ve been in the business that a former music director conducted a benefit concert for the musicians during a work stoppage; this news makes three in the Twin Cities alone (including the concert conducted by Skrowaczewski last month).

The reasons why it’s never happened before are pretty simple. Orchestra managements don’t like it when conductors help musicians during a work stoppage because it’s really bad PR for the management, as well as being both a morale and economic boost for the musicians they’re trying to starve out. And so conductors generally try to stay out of such disputes out of concern for what the affected managements and others as well might do in response - like not hire them for future conducting gigs.

One could argue that musicians such as Zukerman, de Waart and Skrowaczewski are in a place in their respective careers that they don’t need to worry about retribution, and there’s probably some truth to that. But I seriously doubt that any of them agreed to help their former orchestras without talking to their managements, and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that their managers told them that there wasn’t a lot of sympathy in the field with the boards of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO for what they were doing and how they were doing it.

(Note: a correction - or perhaps a re-thinking - of the above paragraph is contained in this later post.)

I suspect they’re right. Certainly no good orchestra manager is going to be thrilled to be dealing with the local fallout of continuing labor strife in two major American orchestras when it appears that the cause of the disputes is as much about ideology as it is about money. That dynamic likely accounts for the very public pushback that the management of the Philadelphia Orchestra got from major figures in the field when they declared bankruptcy and left the AFM-EP Fund. Having a major orchestra declare bankruptcy did not make the jobs of the folks running other major orchestras easier in any way.

This is a huge embarrassment to the people running the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO. I would feel better if I was sure that they knew enough - or cared enough - about our business that they understood that. But, as we saw from the reaction of the losing campaign this past Tuesday night, it can take a lot for reality to break into the minds of true believers. I don’t know if this will be enough, but it should be a pretty heavy blow to their view of how things are going.

Having said all that, though, it is truly remarkable how the Mess On Both Banks Of The Mississippi In Minnesota has inspired the kind of generosity and moral courage shown by de Waart, Skrowaczewski, and Zukerman. I’ve had the privilege of having played for all of them and having had two of them for bosses, and I can’t recall ever having been quite as proud of any conductor as I am of all of them today.

(Note: a correction - or perhaps a re-thinking - of some of the above is contained in this later post.)


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4 comments feed top ↑

  1. Pingback by Is a tree embarrassed if it doesn’t hear itself fall? by Robert Levine « Musicians of the SPCO
    November 20, 2019 at 10:01 PM

    […] Read Robert Levine’s commentary on Polyphonic.org Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  2. Pingback by Polyphonic.org - The Orchestra Musician Forum - An assumption too far
    November 14, 2019 at 11:56 PM

    […] from their personal managers before agreeing to participate in the benefit concerts I wrote about here was not only unwarranted but likely offensive to the two gentlemen in question. After having given […]

  3. Pingback by Robert Levine: Is a tree embarrassed if it doesn’t hear itself fall? « Musicians of the SPCO
    November 13, 2019 at 2:37 PM

    […] here to view former SPCO Principal Violist Robert Levine’s commentary on Polyphonic.org: http://www.polyphonic.org/2019/11/12/is-a-tree-embarrassed-if-it-doesnt-hear-itself-fall/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  4. Comment by ledoyen
    November 13, 2019 at 12:47 PM

    Yes, such audacity is rare among conductors. Stokowski led a Philadelphia Orchestra “strike” concert during the 1967-68 season at the invitation of the musicians in a very large venue (Convention Hall). POA management was embarrassed by this, of course, and Stokie become persona non grata in local administrative circles until his death in 1977. I’m sure he had no regrets and got special enjoyment from humiliating the upper echelon of Philadelphia Society (aka the Board) who had treated him so badly in the late 1930s. Hindsight being 20/20, some folks feel that this concert actually prolonged the strike. I was there and it was an electrifying musical moment. To have three such “volunteers” in the same state within a few weeks is indeed rare. Let’s hope it helps…