Detroit Symphony Orchestra Musicians & the Dunkirk Spirit

Discuss this article

detroit-symphony-strikers-2

Striking Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians are doing what they do best: playing concerts. They're performing Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Brahms Symphony No. 2 tomorrow evening. Further concerts are planned.

While the musicians do what they've always done – bring music to the Detroit community – their "management" sit in their bunker paying themselves large sums of money, issuing press statements attacking the musicians, attempting, and failing, to organise a strike-breaking concert. Sarah Chang wisely withdrew from a performance planned for 11 October.

Is there a lesson here? Is DSO "management" a luxury which DSO musicians, and the wider classical music world, can no longer afford?

The London Symphony Orchestra, my local orchestra and, arguably, the most extrovert of the great London orchestras, is an independent, self-governing organisation. It was the first British orchestra to play in the States (due to sail on the Titanic, the booking was changed at the last moment). It sacked Elgar twice.

All LSO players are shareholders in London Symphony Orchestra Limited. Nine of the Board of Directors and Orchestra Committee of the Board are playing members.

Why shouldn't DSO musicians employ their own management? Why waste time with hostile bureaucrats?

Music's too important. The cultural life of Detroit is too important. DSO musicians are too important.

The LSO model is there, ready and waiting, to be investigated by DSO musicians and their union lawyers, accountants and strategic planners.

People need classical music in hard times. During WW2 in London the public emerged from the air-raid shelters and flocked to the free concerts at the National Gallery. During the Great Depression in the States, the Federal Art Project put thousands of artists to work.

Now is the time to expand classical music in Detroit and, perhaps, for the players to take control of their future. They have a lot on their hands at present – good luck to them – but this may be one more thing worth considering.

Starved of entertainment, crowds flocked to the Gallery for the lunchtime concerts. These performances were an opportunity to hear the foremost musicians of the day. Many were given by Myra Hess herself. Favourites in her repertoire were Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann. The aim was to make classical music accessible to all. The entrance price was set low at one shilling.

The concerts were a huge success. Even in the darkest days of the Blitz, they were nearly always full. An adjoining canteen serving delicious tea, coffee and sandwiches, concocted by a cohort of formidable ladies, added to their popularity. Source

National-Gallery-Concerts-WW2

Cleveland Musicians support Detroit Symphony Orchestra colleagues

 

Sarah CrockerNow-on-strike musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra have received an early Christmas present.

They will be joined for their Sunday, 3 pm October 24 concert at Christ Church Cranbrook (470 Church Rd., Bloomfield Hills) by at least a dozen (and still counting) musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra.

The musicians are coming to play and express their support after a posting on the Cleveland Orchestra Musicians’ website:

The future of the venerable Detroit Symphony Orchestra, one of the country’s great cultural institutions, is being threatened. The DSO musicians are on strike, protesting cuts that would severely jeopardize their standing among America’s top orchestras… Advances in the quality and integrity of an institution that take decades to achieve can be done away with overnight…Please help us support the future of the DSO.

DSO cellist Haden McKay, speaking for the musicians, said, “Musicians and their supporters throughout the country are looking at the situation in Detroit as an effort by managements to open the door for downsizing all orchestras, nationally, as well as all cultural institutions.”

The concert will feature Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8, Nos. 1-4, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73.

Kimberly Ann Kaloyanides Kennedy

Violin soloists will be DSO Associate Concertmaster Kimberly Ann Kaloyanides Kennedy; Elayna Duitman, formerly with the DSO, now with the Cleveland Orchestra; Sarah Crocker, formerly with the DSO, now with Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York; and Maestro Silverstein.

Maestro Silverstein, the soloists, the musicians, the stage crews, and the volunteers are all donating their services to support the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in their fight to save it as a world-class symphony orchestra.

Tickets, $20 standard seating and $50 for premium seating, will be available at the door or in advance online from the Upcoming Events page.

Sarah Chang & the DSO

Sarah Chang

Top rank classical musicians are odd beasts. Often child prodigies, intensely focussed, workaholics, wealthy, leading a jet-set lifestyle, and attracting sycophants who may tell them what they want to hear as opposed to the truth.

In recent days Sarah Chang has done herself no favours. A good agent would have seen the storm clouds gathering, at fifty miles, and got their client under cover.

Sarah Chang was due to perform last week with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, the DSO's on strike at the moment, facing a huge assault on their salaries, benefits and work practices, so the concert was cancelled.

Mistake number one: Ms Chang agreed to perform in a replacement recital with pianist Robert Koenig, organised by DSO management. Which would have involved her crossing a picket line, transforming the fragrant Ms Chang into a scab. The musicians appealed to Ms Chang not to undermine their strike.

Mistake number two: Ms Chang refused to cancel and attempted a compromise, asking that proceeds from ticket sales go to the DSO's Musicians' Pension Fund. She would still have collected her fee.

But that pension fund is frozen and, besides, why should DSO management – in need of every penny they can lay their hands on – voluntarily give up their profit? There's no mention of them having agreed to Ms Chang's request. So it was a meaningless gesture designed to cover union-busting activity.

Mistake number three: Ms Chang tried to justify her behaviour with guff about her "commitment to the audience."

Not good enough. Striking DSO musicians are also committed to their audience, more so than Ms Chang.

They live and work in the Detroit community, a city hit badly by the recession. Their strike, in part, is to defend the Detroit audience from having a second-rate orchestra imposed upon it. But Ms Chang just flies in, does a concert, collects her fee, and flies out again.

Mistake number four: Ms Chang, rather than accepting she was wrong to attempt to undermine the strike (and wrong not to be a member of a trade union) blamed "intimidation" when she finally cancelled the concert a few hours ago. People, not unnaturally, have been writting critical things about her on the internet.

If Ms Chang received threatening emails or Facebook comments these are to be condemned and should be passed to the police. But she really can't expect to scab on fellow musicians, moralise about her "commitment to the audience" and not receive some flack.

Ms Chang might like to read up on musicians who are also politically engaged. She's a fabulous violinist but it's possible to do both. Indeed, I'd argue it's impossible to be a truly great musician unless you do.

Daniel Barenboim, for example, has been involved for years in the Palestinian crisis. Pablo Casals, the great Catalan cellist, refused to set foot in Spain while Franco remained in power.

There's more to being a musician than "commitment to the audience."

Why did Ms Chang make these mistakes? Perhaps her agent pleaded with her privately to wind her neck in but Ms Chang felt she knew better. If so, the agent should keep their job.

But if the agent advised Ms Chang to undermine DSO musicians, thereby failing to protect their client from an avoidable controversy, the agent should go.

Pablo Casals