Is a tree embarrassed if it doesn’t hear itself fall?

This is pretty amazing news:

The locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra today announced former music director Edo de Waart, and former concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis will join them for two concerts in mid-December.

The news comes one day after management cancelled all concerts through December 23rd citing lack of progress in concert talks.

Meanwhile the similarly locked out players at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra are bringing in former music director Pinchas Zukerman who will lead them in an all Mozart program.

Standing before Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis Minnesota Orchestra Principal Cellist Tony Ross said having de Waart and Fleezanis is a big boost to the musicians.

“Maestro de Waart, it means the world to us that he is coming and supporting our cause,” Ross said. “And supporting our cause of great music in the Twin Cities. His stint as music director here, starting about 24 years ago was really the beginning of the great times for this orchestra and we will be thrilled to have him back.”…

The musicians of the SPCO announced the Zukerman concert slightly later in the afternoon. Trumpet player Lynn Erickson says Zukerman contacted the musicians himself and asked if there was anything he could do to help. She says they will perform at the Wayzata Community Church on the afternoon of Sunday December 2nd.

“I think it says a lot about the quality of the orchestras that people are willing to come back and donate their time and their talent to help the musicians out,” said Erickson.

What this news really speaks to is just how isolated the leaderships of the two institutions have become. I can’t recall a single instance since I’ve been in the business that a former music director conducted a benefit concert for the musicians during a work stoppage; this news makes three in the Twin Cities alone (including the concert conducted by Skrowaczewski last month).

The reasons why it’s never happened before are pretty simple. Orchestra managements don’t like it when conductors help musicians during a work stoppage because it’s really bad PR for the management, as well as being both a morale and economic boost for the musicians they’re trying to starve out. And so conductors generally try to stay out of such disputes out of concern for what the affected managements and others as well might do in response – like not hire them for future conducting gigs.

One could argue that musicians such as Zukerman, de Waart and Skrowaczewski are in a place in their respective careers that they don’t need to worry about retribution, and there’s probably some truth to that. But I seriously doubt that any of them agreed to help their former orchestras without talking to their managements, and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that their managers told them that there wasn’t a lot of sympathy in the field with the boards of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO for what they were doing and how they were doing it.

(Note: a correction – or perhaps a re-thinking – of the above paragraph is contained in this later post.)

I suspect they’re right. Certainly no good orchestra manager is going to be thrilled to be dealing with the local fallout of continuing labor strife in two major American orchestras when it appears that the cause of the disputes is as much about ideology as it is about money. That dynamic likely accounts for the very public pushback that the management of the Philadelphia Orchestra got from major figures in the field when they declared bankruptcy and left the AFM-EP Fund. Having a major orchestra declare bankruptcy did not make the jobs of the folks running other major orchestras easier in any way.

This is a huge embarrassment to the people running the Minnesota Orchestra and the SPCO. I would feel better if I was sure that they knew enough – or cared enough – about our business that they understood that. But, as we saw from the reaction of the losing campaign this past Tuesday night, it can take a lot for reality to break into the minds of true believers. I don’t know if this will be enough, but it should be a pretty heavy blow to their view of how things are going.

Having said all that, though, it is truly remarkable how the Mess On Both Banks Of The Mississippi In Minnesota has inspired the kind of generosity and moral courage shown by de Waart, Skrowaczewski, and Zukerman. I’ve had the privilege of having played for all of them and having had two of them for bosses, and I can’t recall ever having been quite as proud of any conductor as I am of all of them today.

(Note: a correction – or perhaps a re-thinking – of some of the above is contained in this later post.)


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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