Why conductors should STFU

Because otherwise they’re going to say things as dumb as what Leonard Slatkin said today about the DSO strike:

…A settlement now would serve both parties well since the DSO’s popular, high-profile music director is the scheduled conductor for next weekend’s concerts.

“What’s really cool is that we would be doing Michel Camilo’s Second Piano Concerto (in its U.S. premiere), so we’d have the elements of jazz and classical music brought together in our return,” Slatkin said. He said that if the orchestra is back on its home stage next weekend, he would change the program’s second half to include “something appropriate, a big, meaty symphony.

…Slatkin acknowledged the pain of the DSO’s protracted strike will not end the moment an accord is reached.

“My job coming up is going to be tremendously hard,” he said. “I’m the one both sides will be looking for to lead the healing. It will be time for music to jump to the fore.”

The parties should settle because… Slatkin’s slated to conduct a really cool program next week? Likely not the first reason to settle in anyone else’s mind.

Does he really think that people are looking to him to “lead the healing?” They’re not. Music directors usually take no position during a labor dispute. But this does not make them able to lead post-dispute; their failure to support either side publicly, while understood by musicians and managers, is actually regarded with contempt by both sides, although no one would admit to that.

Most musicians, and most managers, view conductors as who pop up first when one Googles the phrase “looking out for No. 1.” This is not always fair, but that’s what most in the industry think. No one is going to ask them to help “heal” after a labor dispute. And generally they shouldn’t.

Conductors often do unite musicians and managers, but not usually in ways that are helpful to institutional healing.

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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