WTF was that all about?

That’s also the punch line to a very funny story David Sedaris tells about a slug going door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions, but I digress.

Sunday’s story in the Detroit News gave the distinct impression that the DSO management was 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…

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

But a story in Monday’s Detroit News reported that:

A top Detroit Symphony Orchestra official said Monday that management has no plans at this time to replace its striking musicians with a newly assembled group of players.

DSO vice president Paul Hogle made the statement to clarify a published report in The Detroit News….

Hogle said the paraphrasing of his words “left the musical world with the impression that there is a plan to replace the current members of the DSO with new players. In fact, the DSO has no such plan. It was only Saturday, two days ago, we learned of the orchestra’s rejection of our final offer….

When talking to The Detroit News on Sunday, Hogle said, “I honestly thought I was talking about what is characteristic for anyone working in an orchestra that is going to thrive and survive….

Asked again Monday if the concept of replacing the current musicians, under any circumstances, was beyond the pale of consideration, Hogle said: “I’ll decline to comment on that, since I don’t have an answer because that has not been discussed.”

And, in an earlier statement today, management claimed that:

Today’s article in The Detroit News by Lawrence Johnson, “DSO: Change tune or be replaced” drew independent and inaccurate conclusions based on an interview with DSO Executive Vice President Paul Hogle. Mr. Hogle did not state that the DSO is “prepared to move forward with a newly assembled group of players.” The DSO has no plans of this nature.

I found that explanation unlikely based on my personal experience with the reporter, Lawrence Johnson, a veteran critic and arts reporter who I knew many years ago in Milwaukee before he moved on to the bright lights of Detroit. But the idea that a senior staff member of a major American symphony would be casually ruminating to a reporter, on the record, about launching the orchestral equivalent of WW III seemed equally unlikely.

And then I realized that there was a third possible explanation. Management could have floated this idea just as Johnson reported it on Sunday with the intention of claiming on Monday that it was all a misunderstanding. But why would they do that?

I can think of several explanations. One is to throw some red meat to hardliners on their board. Another would be to test the waters and see what kind of blowback they got (although the reaction from the musicians, the AFM and ICSOM was so predictable that really no “testing” was needed).

A third, and more likely, reason would be to raise the ante for the musicians without seeming to do so. I doubt that a single member of the DSO really believes that management isn’t thinking about replacing them after Sunday’s article, which is quite possibly what management wants them to think now. But it’s equally likely that management doesn’t want the public thinking that, especially in a state with a tradition regarding picket lines as strong as Michigan’s.

With this little two-step, they get to have the board and musicians thinking one thing and everyone else thinking something else. Very nicely done indeed, except of course for the additional poison added to the post-settlement waters. But they may well calculate that, at this point, a little more is going to make no difference to how awful things will be when the orchestra does go back to work.

Of course, this is speculation, and we all know the old saying about how speculation makes a spec out of u and lation.

Update: the Detroit Free Press also reported on this question this morning, strengthening my suspicion that management knew what they were doing all along:

Parsons said that the possibility of hiring replacements had come up during discussions with donors and community leaders during the strike and was likely to arise in the future as DSO leaders explored ways of operating its business without a resident ensemble. But she said the priority was to find a way to resolve the strike — while also exploring ways to reinvigorate the Max M. Fisher Center by increasing its educational activities, rentals and partnerships.

That’ll be more than enough to keep this pot at the boiling point.

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.


Leave a comment
  • she said the priority was to find a way to resolve the strike — while also exploring ways to reinvigorate the Max M. Fisher Center by increasing its educational activities, rentals and partnerships.

    Seriously, anyone who know anything about the MAX can tell you that this is a pipe dream.

    Increasing educational activities maybe, but that has no revenue. As for rentals: Since the boondoggle MAX was built they have been unable to rent it out in any meaningful way. Certainly not enough to pay the $2 million dollar yearly interest on the mortgage. (The balloon payment due in 20 years – $50 million dollars is another nut to crack)

    And what exactly are ‘partnerships’?

    Those of us who have loved the music of the DSO for decades are getting tired and angry, and we don’t blame the musicians…..

Leave a Reply