A Bold Experiment

Events in the Twin Cities this season have both horrified and fascinated those who care about orchestras and orchestra musicians. Events of such magnitude usually have a backstory, and the months-long lockout of the musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has a very rich backstory indeed.

In 2002 and 2003, the board, staff and musicians of the SPCO went through a strategic planning process that resulted in a truly revolutionary labor agreement, representing a fundamental shift in how the orchestra would be run. The nature of the connection between the changes made in 2002 and the events 10 years later could be the subject of endless debate. But the contrast between the optimism felt back then by the participants in that process and the ill will that exists now between the musicians and those who employ them is undisputed. The experience of the SPCO will be cited for years by those who oppose changing the structure of American orchestras.

So it is timely to suggest that those who care about American orchestras re-read what the participants in the SPCO experiment said and wrote 10 years ago. Accordingly, my editor’s choice is the article “A Bold Experiment” by Bruce Coppock which appeared in the October 2003 issue of Harmony.

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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  • Given that Bruce Coppock is still on the Board of Directors, perhaps he should reread his own article. This is what one participant wrote – not all of “the participants said and wrote” (and certainly not the majority of the musicians).

    And speaking of Harmony magazine, you might want to take a look at this article by Lowell Noteboom
    http://www.esm.rochester.edu/iml/prjc/poly/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Good_Gov_Noteboom.pdf in which he waxes eloquent about “Shared Goals”, “Shared Information”, “Civility”, “Commitment to Honesty and Candor”, and “Trust” – all things noticeably absent from the management lockout of the musicians. Total 180 degree turnaround, wouldn’t you say?

    Words are cheap – especially those written ten years ago.

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