"Let's drop the big one now"


The DSO administration is prepared to move forward with a newly assembled group of players that would include only those members of the current orchestra who agree to unilaterally presented terms, DSO Vice President Paul Hogle said Sunday.

Without setting a date, Hogle said the time has come for a new symphony model to emerge, an ensemble that not only plays traditional concerts but also fully engages the community as ambassadors, educators and performers.

DSO cellist Haden McKay, shocked by the news that management may simply move on with replacements, said the plan is the equivalent of “an atom bomb.”

DSO violinist and musicians’ spokesman Joe Goldman said, “What kind of orchestra does (board chairman) Stanley Frankel think he’s going to have without any professional musicians in it?”

Professional orchestras are highly unionized; any musician taking a replacement job risks career suicide.

Hogle said any restructured ensemble would be professional and open to young musicians as well as veterans.

Goldman said he believed the two sides still could reach an agreement.

“The money is there,” Goldman said. “It’s a matter of management being flexible and allowing us to work with them to allocate the funds.”

But Hogle said there would be no further negotiations and the musicians must agree to terms “less generous” than the $34 million three-year package they rejected over the weekend.

“We’re facing a deteriorating financial condition,” he said, “and our last offer was going to leave us with multimillion-dollar deficits over multiple years. Our endowment is down to $19 million. When that’s gone, it’s over.”

But apparently management hasn’t bothered to ask the Music Director if he’s in on the new plan, or at least that’s the impression that DSO management would like to leave:

[Hogle] said music director Leonard Slatkin has not been presented with the idea of a reconstituted DSO.

Asked if the financially stressed orchestra could afford to retain its high-profile artistic leader, Hogle said, “We can’t afford not to keep him.”

“Leonard Slatkin is an eminent figure in the orchestra world,” Hogle said. “He has both the stature and the connections essential to our artistic mission.”

I don’t see how they can do it without him, and I don’t see how he can agree. Professional orchestra musicians will stand for a fair amount from conductors, but not this; he’s likely to get nothing but an extremely hostile reception from any American orchestra if he’s part of a scheme to replace his own orchestra with strikebreakers. For my part, I sure wouldn’t play on the same stage with a conductor who’d done that, and I’m sure I’d have some pretty distinguished company in that feeling.

And, even if he did agree, the fight over the new “DSO” would be vicious. No concert of the “DSO” would go unpicketed. No soloist with the “DSO” would leave Detroit without experiencing their own SarahChangur├╝ng moment. It would not be at all easy to find musicians who would be willing to be replacement musicians and cross a picket line – and there will be lots of musicians from major orchestras on that picket line, including no doubt the teachers of some of the prospective replacements. And, as a matter of law, management cannot unilaterally end the bargaining relationship with striking workers, even by replacing them.

If I was a completely cock-eyed optimist, I’d view this as a desperate threat by a management that has painted itself into a corner and knows it.

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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