What a good idea

Tom Service, who blogs for the Guardian (UK), reports on a really good idea from the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Association for British Orchestras:

The annual Salomon prize is for orchestral players – or, rather, for a single orchestral player in a UK-based professional ensemble who in the eyes and ears of their fellow musicians has been “an inspiration to their colleagues and engendered a greater spirit of teamwork within the orchestra”, for which commendation the winner will get a trophy and £1,000. That wording emphasises the collegiate nature of what orchestral musicians do, rather than their soloistic brilliance, which seems a shame: what about the woodwind or brass players, say, who may not necessarily engender teamwork, but are simply some of the best players out there? The essential principle is a good one, however, celebrating the achievements of the thousands of orchestral musicians in this country, those perennially singing but always unsung heroes of our musical lives.

I think Service misses the point about rewarding “collegiate nature of what orchestral musicians do, rather than their soloistic brilliance,” though. Those musicians in a position to demonstrate “soloistic brilliance” can get plenty of positive feedback without the intervention of a prize, whether from their bosses, their colleagues, or critics. It seems to me that the point of this award is to provide recognition to those who aren’t in a position to be noticed otherwise.

It would be an equally good idea for orchestras to institute their own versions of this. Lots of businesses already do this with “employee of the month” programs. Why not orchestras? Obviously the process of selecting winners would have to be designed carefully. But I can think of a number of my colleagues here in Milwaukee who deserve such recognition but, in the absence of such a program, will never receive it – except perhaps when they leave the orchestra or die, by which time it’s really too late for it to serve as a motivational tool.

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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