Sarah's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dilemma

Orchestra strikes always cause collateral damage, from lost work for stage hands to lost income for restaurants. The strike in Detroit looks to hurt someone aside from the usual suspects, though.

The DSO was supposed to have its opening concerts of the season this weekend with soloist Sarah Chang. Of course the concerts are off due to the strike. But apparently Sarah Chang’s appearance isn’t:

Despite the strike by Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians, Orchestra Hall will come alive Monday evening with a recital by violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Robert Koenig.

The visiting performers will play Brahms’ Sonatensatz and Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, as well as C├ęsar Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano.

.While the strike has upended the fall music season, over the next week, at least, the public will benefit from what almost amounts to dueling concerts.

The musicians of the DSO have scheduled their own concert Sunday at Temple Beth El at 7:30 p.m. in a performance showcasing cellist Robert deMaine.

This went unnoticed by orchestra musicians for about a minute or so before both the DSO musicians and ICSOM chairman Bruce Ridge wrote her to suggest she change her mind:

I write on behalf of the members of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), who are 4200 orchestral musicians from America’s top 51 orchestras, many of whom you have performed with throughout your wonderful career. The musicians of ICSOM are deeply distressed that you plan on performing a recital in Detroit on Monday evening, thereby effectively replacing the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as they take a courageous stand to preserve their great institution.

The orchestral musicians of America prevail upon you to please cancel your appearance, and instead join the musicians outside the hall as they spread their positive message of advocacy for their orchestra and their city. Please do not stain your illustrious career by replacing musicians as they seek to serve their community and feed their families

The musicians of America’s orchestras would view your refusal to perform as an incredible show of solidarity, support, and friendship. You can truly affect the future of symphonic music in America in a positive way by cancelling your Detroit recital. Perhaps no one has a greater opportunity to be a true advocate for the arts than you do at this moment, as your show of solidarity would receive praise from musicians across the world.Monday’s performance at 7:30 p.m. will be free for anyone redeeming tickets to any of this weekend’s Detroit Symphony Orchestra concerts, which were canceled because of the strike. Tickets also can be purchased for $25 from the DSO box office, and will go on sale Friday.

The DSO musicians also announced that they’d be picketing her recital.

At which point the barrage of comments on her Facebook page. Some backtracking on her Twitter page followed:

I am so sad about the strike in Detroit. I was looking forward so much to playing with my friends in the Detroit Symphony this week.


I will be playing a recital program instead.I have requested that the proceeds from the ticket sales go to the DSO’s Musicians Pension Fund.


I truly hope for a speedy resolution in Detroit. The orchestra is the jewel of the city.

“Requesting that proceeds from ticket sales go to the… Musicians Pension Fund” sounds nice but means nothing. Money is fungible, after all, and the pension obligation has to be met by management from whatever source of funds come its way. It’s a request that quite literally is meaningless.

How could her management have let her wade into this swamp? An orchestra staffer whose judgement I trust described this as “professional suicide.” But cancellng her recital at this point probably doesn’t seem like a very attractive option either. Not only would she lose a substantial fee, but she would incur the emnity of at least one orchestra management.

One more reason not to want a solo career.

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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