A bad excuse to get out of a tough dilemma

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.

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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