The worst is yet to come

If you think that the Detroit Symphony labor dispute has been hard to watch, steel yourselves because the worst is yet to come. If the parties can’t find their way to a settlement in very short order, it will be even harder to watch the orchestra disintegrate.

The recent “farewell” posting by the entire DSO percussion section should make anyone who loves this orchestra very afraid. They have dispersed to jobs in The Cleveland Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony, the Boston Symphony, and Minneapolis. They won’t be back. The care that was taken in their selection to ensure a proper fit with the DSO sound will take years to replicate.

In a February 20th article, Detroit News Fine Arts Writer Michael H. Hodges reported on a conversation with veteran manager Peter Pastreich, during which Pastreich made the suggestion that the musicians might start a new ensemble in Detroit:

Were the DSO strike never to settle, said Peter Pastreich, former executive director of the San Francisco Symphony, it’s possible musicians could organize a new ensemble, though he added that the track record in that regard isn’t encouraging.

“DSO members won’t all move to Cleveland or San Francisco,” he said. “There aren’t enough jobs to absorb them all.” Like Denver and San Jose, players could try to form a cooperative orchestra on their own, sometimes with the aid of dissident board members, should any exist.

“But generally,” Pastreich said, “the new orchestra is substantially diminished from the one that went out of business.”

It may be true that they will not “all” move to other major orchestra jobs. But many of them will. What has taken place with the percussion section will continue with every section of this great orchestra. The musicians of the DSO are A-list players. Even those who do not immediately land a full-time job in a major orchestra will quickly rise to the top of the free-lance list in any major center where they might choose to relocate. And they will relocate. They have families to feed and lives to get on with.

If there any common ground left in this dispute, the time to act is now – before it is too late.

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Laura Brownell

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