An assumption too far

A friend in the Twin Cities suggested to me that my assumption that Pinchas Zukerman and Edo de Waart had somehow requested and/or received clearance from their personal managers before agreeing to participate in the benefit concerts I wrote about here was not only unwarranted but likely offensive to the two gentlemen in question. After having given the matter some thought, I’m inclined to think my friend has a valid objection.

My intention, needless to say, was not to cause offense to either gentlemen (as Mitt Romney might have said, “I work for one of them, for Pete’s sake!”). Both of them are doing something truly remarkable, not only for the musicians of their former orchestras but for the field as a whole, and I hoped what I wrote would be seen as showing just why it was so remarkable.

I should also say that I think that checking with the persons whose job it is, among other things, to advise them professionally would have been nothing other than prudent. I thought of such consultation rather as I think about talking to my Local’s legal counsel before doing something I believe I should do as Local president that might cause some controversy – not as asking permission to do the right thing, but to make sure I understood the ramifications for the Local if I did what I believed to be the right thing.

It never occurred to me – and I didn’t mean to imply – that Zukerman or de Waart would have felt the need to ask permission from anyone before doing what they thought was right. Having worked with both of them extensively both as principal violist and as a representative of the musicians who worked for them, I never saw either of them make that kind of calculation with regard to anything. I don’t always agree with what the music directors I’ve worked for have done or wanted to do, but generally calculations of personal – or even professional – benefit don’t seem to have been a big factor for any of them in dealing with their orchestras.

There are some very prominent people in our field who should listen to their professional advisers before doing, or saying, pretty much anything (see here and here and here for excellent examples). But certainly Zukerman and de Waart aren’t among them.

If they had talked to their managers, though, I suspect that they would have been told that what they were thinking of doing was not without some potential blowback for them. While I continue to think that there’s not a lot of sympathy in the field with the boards of the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO for what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, I’m sure there are some very significant and influential managers who are not at all happy to see anyone come to the support of those on the receiving end of what the MO and SPCO boards are doing. That’s why I wrote that Skrowaczewski, de Waart and Zukerman were demonstrating both generosity and moral courage by helping their former musicians in such a public and tangible way.

Writing a blog is a learning experience, even for those trying to pass on some knowledge and experience. I learned something today about the dangers of making assumptions. But I hope that those leading the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO down their current paths have learned something far more important.

Their core assumption that the course they’re on will result in something both artistically and financially sustainable has been challenged profoundly by the actions of three musicians who, more than any other three music directors, built the two Twin Cities orchestras into what they are today. Those now running those two orchestras may not figure that out right away – but the reverberations of these three concerts will extend far beyond the halls in which they occur. And for that we should all be grateful to Messrs. de Waart, Skrowaczewski, and Zukerman.

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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  • Thanks for this clarification, although when I first read your post, I surmised nothing but your intention. Checking with one’s manager or professional advisor is nothing but a prudent move, and in the case of Mssrs. de Waart, Skrowaczewski, and Zukerman, such an action shows *more* courage on their part; cognizant of the ramifications, they still made the moral and courageous decision. As a twin cities musician (amateur) and patron of both orchestras, I thank the conductors (and yourself) for your support through these terrible events.

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