A good idea

This is interesting:

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has announced the first recipient of the Mabel Dorn Reeder Honorary Chair: It’s associate concertmaster Heidi Harris.

The chair, announced in July 2010, was established with a $2 million endowment from the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation. It is awarded, based on “excellence in artistry and leadership within the orchestra and the community,” to a member of the SLSO for a five-year period, and is accompanied by a one-time $10,000 stipend for professional development.

In a statement, Foundation trustee Mabel Purkerson, Reeder’s goddaughter, said that the award was a way to support both the SLSO and “the individual efforts of the musicians themselves,” and the orchestra members’ commitment to the St. Louis community.

I wonder if this line from the press release is an important part of the story as well:

All of Harris’ solo and recital performances benefit Livada Orphan Care.

There’s not nearly enough recognition in our business for career-spanning achievements by orchestra musicians. Principals (or at least some principals) get solo opportunities and additional pay, but even that doesn’t recognize achievement aside from simply being able to play concerti and stay in management’s (or the music director’s) good graces. And section musicians basically get ignored by everyone in terms of professional recognition. This kind of thing, if emulated by other orchestras, could begin to make up for that lack.

I had two questions reading the article, though. The first is “who picks the winners”? Ideally the decision-making process would include several internal constituencies, including of course the musicians.

The second is that a $2 million endowment ought to be able to support more of an award than $10,000 every five years. Admittedly the old rule of a 5% return being sustainable doesn’t sound very… sustainable at the moment. But $10,000 is 0.5%, and $10,000 every five years is 0.1%. Is this simply a mis-reporting of the facts? If not, where does the rest of the money go?

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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  • Is it possible that there will be more than one recipient at a time? In other words, will there be a new recipient designated each year,so that there are rolling 5-year terms that overlap one another?

    Besides, you can’t take more than a small amount of money out at one time without making that mattress REALLY uncomfortable…

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