Hard duty

This past week has been one meeting after another devoted to various personnel issues (not, thankfully, any terminations, in case you were wondering). The cumulative effect on me has been that I feel as if I’d gone 5 rounds or so with the front line of the Green Bay Packers.

Orchestras are villages. We orchestra musicians live cheek-by-jowl with 100 or so other orchestra musicians for decades. We get to know each other really, really well – especially our faults. We track the alliances that form and break. We get mad at people we were close allies with, and end up working closely with people we were furious with in the very recent past. We know each other’s histories with the orchestra and each other. We have very long memories, especially when we’ve been screwed. And, of course, some of the stuff that we remember isn’t true.

Combine all this with the fact that many of us have had disappointing experiences with our employers and with each other over the years, and that the possibilities for internal advancement are few and far between, and the end result is that personnel issues can become extremely contentious. Even when we succeed in stripping out our own past experiences from our considerations, which all by itself is very hard, the desire to make fair decisions that are also artistically valid ones, especially when dealing with colleagues, makes for difficult meetings and hard decisions.

Put a few of these kinds of meetings and decisions into close proximity, and the result is how I feel tonight.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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