Thursday, December 13, 2012

ASO: Current Mission Statement

We heard that ASO Management was coming out with a new mission statement for the ASO ... can't wait to read it!  

Just for comparison's sake, here's the old one from the ASO web page:

Our Mission 
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its affiliated members are committed to build on our foundation of artistic excellence.
We unite in our desire to serve and to expand our audience through innovative programming, broader venues and increased educational opportunities while balancing artistic growth with financial soundness. We share a heritage of passion for the music. We embrace our responsibility to be a vigorous part of the cultural fabric of our community and to strive to reach national and international audiences.

Adopted by the Board of Directors September 14, 1998

ASO and ASO Chamber Chorus: Bach and Handel

The Christmas portion of 'Messiah', plus the 'Hallelujah Chorus' ... and the 'Gloria' from Bach's B Minor Mass.  These seasonal chamber chorus performances are always beautifully performed, with a lightness and skill that brings the music itself into sharper focus.

Ticket information here:

Protracted Labor Dispute Kills San Diego's Orchestra Nova

One of San Diego's premier chamber orchestras, Orchestra Nova, has declared bankruptcy ... sources say the cause was 'severe financial drain' from the long legal dispute with the Local 325 branch of the American Federation of Musicians. Jung-Ho Pak, the group's former artistic director, resigned earlier this fall; the opening concerts were cancelled ... and the season failed to materialize.

ASO's "Worst Orchestra" Nomination? Whom Do We Thank for That?

Great!  The ASO has been nominated in the ArtsJournal as one of the 'Worst Orchestras of 2012' ...  Norman Lebrecht is very clear in saying that orchestras nominated for 'best' or 'worst' -- by write-in votes and emails -- are 'judged not on playing quality but on whether they have risen or fallen in the tide of public perception.'  

Check it out here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Resurgam: Syracuse Symphony Orchestra

Ever since the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra declared bankruptcy in 2011, the city of Syracuse, its community leaders and residents have been tirelessly working to reform the orchestra -- under a new 'cooperative-style business model' -- and get the players back onstage.  

The loss of Central New York's major orchestra was not just a blow to the area's cultural community. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is quoted as saying, “When we lost the symphony, it left a hole in our cultural tapestry.  It hurt us economically and hurt our ability to retain and gain people in our community. It attracts businesses and tourism. It’s important that we have it here. We need a symphony and we won’t accept no for an answer.” 

Read the entire article published in the Syracuse New Times here:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Evan Few in Concert in Atlanta

Any relation to a tenor by the same name in the ASOC is not a coincidence.  This concert is part of the Musica Sacra Series.

Baroque Violin

Winship Chapel, First Presbyterian Church Atlanta, 1328 Peachtree Street, NE  Atlanta, GA  30309

Violinist Evan Few has established himself as a leader in his generation of historical performance specialists, having studied and performed repertoire ranging from Monteverdi to Gershwin on period instruments. He has performed with Anima Eterna Brugge, Bach Collegium Japan, Taverner Consort and Harmonie Universelle, and has led both New Trinity Baroque and Apollo's Fire. Evan is also a keen chamber musician and a dedicated cook. He received his principal training at Oberlin College Conservatory as a pupil of Marilyn McDonald, and pursued further training in string quartet performance at Rice University and in baroque violin at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Does the Road to a New Symphony Hall Run Through the Old Hall?

In addition to musical impressions at the ASO concert last week (see comments here), I had some unwelcome reminders of another aspect of the uphill battle to prove "art matters" here in ATL. I had not been "out front" in Symphony Hall for several months, and unfortunately, the overall impression made by the hall only continues to deteriorate. We – the frequent users and visitors – have become accustomed to it, but try to imagine how it seems to someone coming in for the first time, eagerly looking forward to attending "the Symphony", and having spent quite a bit of money to do so. I can only imagine the disappointment at entering such a utilitarian and unremarkable space, with its institutional-yellow (if that's the right word) walls; the color-coordinated, decrepit shell; the squeaky seats; and an industrial lighting scheme in the house that varies from drab to dank.

Symphony Hall stands in stark contrast to the Cobb Center, which is admittedly a shiny new product of 2000’s design philosophy. But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. As a structure, our 1960’s Symphony Hall is actually not bad. It was built to last, in an era when long service life was a standard design criterion. If the WAC is going to squander money, such as paying a non-existent company $1.4M on the installment plan, it might consider putting several million (or whatever budget is deemed viable) into upgrading this space with a new shell; or installing imitation wood-veneer over all or part of the pre-formed concrete interior (it could probably even be done so as to help the acoustic!); or some new seating, with - I know this is radical – re-configured aisles so that you could actually exit quickly enough to make it out to the restroom and back during intermission.

The immediate reaction to some of these suggestions will be – it’s almost the cost of a new hall! And depending on the choices made, a renovation project certainly could grow into the cost of a new building. Or it could, through realistic design objectives, an appropriate trade-off study, and budgetary commitment provide a visually- and acoustically-enhanced space that not only creates an inviting atmosphere to perform and experience art, but also demonstrates that our organization can effectively plan and manage a project to completion, on time and on budget. That kind of demonstration would be exceedingly useful in convincing external money (individual, corporate, local, state, federal) to support the “new hall” and everything connected with it.

If there is a short-term investment that would provide some immediate audience-building return, this is it. The environmental experience for the average Symphony Hall concert-goer is not pleasant. It does not say "this is an occasion and this is a special place to which I will want to return". It does not say "this is the home of a world-class institution". It does not say "this is an art form that has a future that you can believe in". And in no way does it complement the aesthetic experience of the concert itself.  Acoustically, the hall stymies the growth of the orchestra (and chorus) because you can only get to a certain point musically and then the hall puts its immovable obstacle in your way. To cite one typical instance: during Sibelius No. 6 last week, the strings were playing with a wonderfully unified sonority and attempting to create the diaphanous effect the composer was seeking, but their efforts were undone by the muddying of the sound.

Are the hall and the acoustics really so terrible? Well, no, it can always be worse. The problem is, it needs to be better, and it can be better if the organization accepts that there won't magically be a new hall any time soon, (regardless of certain recent optimistic and strategically-disseminated PR), and in any case a "new hall" exists independently in time, space, and finance from the "old hall".

Upgrading Symphony Hall is not an admission of failure to build the “new hall”. It's simply appropriate upkeep and maintenance of an asset that is already in place. Even if there was an alternative performing space on the horizon, the type of improvements that need to be made to Symphony Hall would only increase its value as a subsidiary concert and event venue (i.e. revenue stream) once a new hall was built. However, like so much else, it appears we collectively have lost the will and the ability to envision this type of progress, let alone make it happen successfully. So the physical plant will continue to become ever more dilapidated  and first-time concert-goers will continue to enter the doors and think "this is what going to the Symphony is like?  I'd rather just sit at home, listen to a recording and save $70".

Ancient management saying: If you’re not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem. This is the type of potential project that begs for brain-storming – for creative and constructive ideas to seed the fallow land that currently supports only one withered shrub vaguely reminiscent of a wilting feather. 

So ... what do you think?

Laurie Cronin

Atlanta Press Club: "The Arts in Atlanta: Mediocre or World Class?"

Thanks to Kathleen P-R ... those of us not attending the ASO Chamber Chorus performance of Messiah next Thursday night have an invitation to attend a panel discussion on "The Arts in Atlanta:  Mediocre or World Class?" sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, featuring panelists Catherine Fox, Julie Ralston, Tom Key, and Dr. Stanley Romanstein.

Don't mind if I do ...

Feedback: Tell Us What You Really Think

If you have a general comment about the blog, its workings, or have a suggestion as to how we can improve the experience here, please give us your feedback by commenting below.

To make a suggestion by email, please contact Sally Kann

Update on Minnesota: Good Questions; No Answers

The lock-out situation in Minnesota is extremely bitter ... with some insiders believing that the Board's plan is to abolish the resident orchestra and continue to bring in guest pops orchestras, which they are currently doing to fill out the season.  The players are holding their own holiday concerts which, by all accounts, are sold out.

Minnesota Public Radio reports today that very little has changed:

From the MinnnPost

Several bloggers have decided not to mince words ... this one, for example, isn't happy with the communications she and other patrons are received from the orchestra's management:

Bill Eddins' remarkable blog "Sticks and Drones' does a more in-depth analysis of the contract details:

How is all this acrimony affecting regular concert-goers?  Minnesota residents Paula and Cy DeCosse, holding worthless season tickets, pose questions (eerily familiar to us in Atlanta) to Minnesota Orchestra management in an 11/21 MinnPost article.

"Why is management only now tackling the budget deficits that have been mounting for at least three years?  ... If the orchestra is in financial crisis, why did the management undertake a huge and costly building project?

All of us, through our taxes and our personal gifts, have contributed to the Minnesota Orchestra. We have opened our wallets, as well as our hearts. With the musicians organizing exciting concerts like the one planned in December, this might be a unique opportunity to forge a new collaborative model for the way the orchestra operates and the way it engages the community — not just a business model, but one in which all Minnesotans could feel renewed ownership of the orchestra —  our orchestra, which at least one critic called "the best in the world."
That kind of relationship can only be built on trust, which at this moment is sorely lacking — for the musicians and for us."

Read the full article here.

The Transformative Power of Music: Alaska's Prison Orchestra

This amazing article in the Huffington Post was sent in by Laurie Cronin, who writes:

'Programs like this, including a variation of El Sistema, are finding their way into prisons and correctional facilities. Why? Because it provides what the inmates lack and have probably lacked most of their lives: structure, mental and emotional discipline, a sense of community, recognizable goals, and a feeling of accomplishment when those goals are met. Can it permanently change these people, some of whom are convicted murderers? Perhaps not – I don’t know that I would want to try to take a violin away from any of them! But the more important question is, if they had been exposed to this art earlier, could their crimes and subsequent wasted lives have been avoided? Probably not in all cases – but I have to believe that in many, it would have provided a stabilizing and civilizing force absent from the rest of their life. And that would make all the difference in the world.'

Arts on the Edge website has information on how to sponsor this group.

Also, check out their Facebook page, which also features links to other article sources:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Minnesota and St. Paul: Three Conductors Cross the Line

Robert Levine's essay in examines why conductors Edo de Waart, Jorja Fleezanis, and Pinkas Zukerman are conducting during a work stoppage.  (Spoiler:  they think it's the right thing to do ...)

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra: Lock Out Continues

A disturbing piece from SPCO musicians reveals how their governing Society has done an end run around the musicians, forming special music series and presenting concerts ... their Liquid Music series, for example ... which do not include SPCO musicians.  So much to occupy management's time and resources that they can't speak to their own orchestra?

In their 6th week of being locked out of their performance space, the SPCO Center, musicians are holding concerts elsewhere.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sibelius and Brahms Peacefully Co-Exist at Symphony Hall

This week's classical series concert featured a pairing of Sibelius Symphonies (Nos. 6 and 7) and the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. The programming of the two Sibelius works was also done in 2005 - together they add up time-wise to one standard-length symphony. Friday night the playing was exemplary, although for me, Sibelius is an acquired taste, and I readily admit my own deficiency in not having adequately absorbed his unique musical language. There are long, lush passages, but just as many inexplicable discontinuities. The path is not always well-marked or even identifiable. But there is no denying Robert Spano's command of this idiom, and you could not wish for a better guide if you have to take the journey.

For various readily-discernible reasons, the traditional program order which sets the concerto in the first half of the show was reversed, with the long and demanding Brahms concerto performed after half-time. Emanual Ax played brilliantly with a spare, unsentimental reading. His long experience with not only this work, but also Brahms' chamber repertoire, makes him a soloist who views his role as an outgrowth of what is happening in the orchestral accompaniment and not a standalone virtuoso statement. Whenever he was not playing, he was turned toward the orchestra and concentrating intently on what they were doing. And you couldn't ask for a better example of ensemble than the intertwining of the piano and clarinet that occurs near the end of the magnificent third movement, surely one of the most sublime moments in all Brahms' output.

That third movement starts and ends with a dialogue between the piano and cello. In a gesture of grace, one also indicative of his long relationship with the ASO, he brought Chris Rex forward to share the standing ovation that immediately greeted the conclusion of the concerto.

Mr. Ax generates plenty of power and knows how to pace the performance so there is still some in reserve for the big finish. The audience called him back three times, hopeful of an encore - but perhaps not realizing that performing this work three nights in succession is the pianistic equivalent of a marathon. No encore, but based on previous experience, I'm sure Mr. Ax gave generously of his time to sign autographs and CDs, especially for the many students in the large (but not nearly capacity) audience.

Despite the usual acoustic problems with Symphony Hall -- which I address in a separate post -- I was glad I went Friday, and it was a great concert in spite of so much adversity, thanks to the determination of the folks onstage: orchestra, guest artist, and conductor all. On to Christmas with the ASO!

ArtsATL Review: ASO performs Sibelius and Brahms

Why Artistic Directors Mostly Stay Stumm: RPO's Arild Remmereit Dismissed

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Board of Directors is being sued -- by a member of RPO,Inc. -- for dismissing Remmereit.  Kudos to anybody who can make heads or tails of the legal process at work here:

Ingrid Bock, cellist for Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, speaks candidly to Slipped Disc in support of Arild Remmereit.

Arild Remmereit breaks his own silence about the situation

Apparently Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's CEO Charles Owens and Artistic Director Remmereit had such a poor working relationship, the two were forced to attend counseling in an attempt to break the hostilities.  The Board, in the end, sided with management ... Remmereit is to be sent packing two years before his contract expires.  A significant donor has withdrawn support in protest, the community is hopping mad, and Remmereit is challenging the Board's decision in court.

Friday, November 30, 2012

NLRB Complaint Against JAX Symphony Association

Here's a legal twist to the contract negotiations in Jacksonville. Could this be relevant here?

WTEV-47, Jacksonville:   "The Jacksonville Symphony Association announced Friday that the National Labor Relations Board Regional Office in Tampa is issuing a complaint containing allegations of bad faith bargaining . . ."

Con Blog? Senza Blog?

As the end of a year approaches, it's customary to reflect and take stock:  What have we accomplished?  How do we move forward?   Because I could answer the first question, but not the second, I began musing out loud, wondering whether the ASOC Singers and Friends Blog hadn't run its course ... and was considering archiving everything, letting the blog expire with a morendo.  Maybe 'go dormant' is a better term for what I had in mind. 

Fortunately, Laurie Cronin doesn't possess my anxious navel-gazing tendencies. She wrote to me yesterday ... and her words are, as always, cogent, wise, and inspirational: 

"We know the musicians who were involved in the negotiations are tired, and the others are resigned, or worse.  The hardest thing to do is to sustain the energy and idea generation once the crisis has passed, but we somehow need to do that. Unfortunately, there is no real leadership within our ASO/WAC organization from those we could reasonably expect to take that role -- not just the type of driven artistic leadership that builds the musical side of the house, but more to the point, the moral leadership that not only says, 'This really matters ... standards really matter ... being world-class really, really matters' ... but who has the intestinal fortitude to take those arguments to the community at large.  There is definitely a leadership vacuum, and has been for some time.

As you've asked many times, 'Who speaks for the art?'  We need to continue to try doing that ..."

"Who speaks for the art?"  Well, we do.  We must.   In mid-September, ASOC members were driven by the whip-hand of a specific crisis and an uncertain outcome. Contributors to the blog did an excellent job telling the story of the ASO lock-out.  And for better or worse, the ASOC Singers and Friends Blog has become the repository of that history.  This is what we have accomplished.   

But how do we go forward?

Laurie's letter reminds me that the ASO is still in crisis.  The situation hasn't improved at all ... the 'emergency' didn't go away when the musicians signed a contract. True, there is no immediate deadline, no eleventh-hour save ... but as we've seen with recent events, the ASO continues to be threatened by the lack of financial transparency at the highest level.  WAC and ASO Management -- without submitting to full disclosure themselves -- can impose any conditions they choose when contract negotiations come around again in just 16 months. Cooperation between management and musicians broke down because management violated their trust and made it impossible for the players to carry their concerns to the ASO Board.   How can ASO musicians grow artistically if they are unable to form an alliance with their Board?  Some recent exits aside, good people are leaving the organization as well as the Board.  The city, to my dismay (but not to my astonishment), is staying out of the discussion entirely ... while the Atlanta community, which the symphony has served for over half a century, continues to be fed management-generated press statements by the local media.

One of the few good things to come out of the lock-out crisis is the strong friendship forged between the ASOC and the orchestra.  Beverly Hueter reminded me today that it's the players' livelihoods which are at stake, not ours, so we must look to them to take the active lead.  But we can continue to show them that they are not alone in this struggle; the chorus literally stands behind them.  We publicly demonstrated our support in NY and we can find ways to do this in our own city.  Keith Langston, for example, wonders what would happen if the ASOC should request a couple of seats on the Board.

One other thing to come out of all this is the establishment of ASOC Singers and Friends Blog ... with which we can continue to educate ourselves and our global readership, adding our unique voice -- which is not insignificant -- to the international debate as to whether a world-class symphony matters.  Our opinions, expressed in letters, essays, or comments are important to this debate. And, while it's tempting to express our thoughts solely among our friends on Facebook, in order to get the message out to our audience around the world, we also need to publish them here.  

Let's help the ASO organization move forward, con blog.

Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Speak Out

Of particular interest is the following quote:

" ... we musicians contend that we cannot and should not make a financial counteroffer without a full, joint, independent analysis of the orchestra’s finances.
No one is more vested in the financial health and future of this orchestra than the musicians. Unfortunately, the musicians have neither the access to financial data needed to make a more detailed offer nor the transparency that the Star Tribune and the city have urged management to provide."
The full text of the OpEd piece, written to the Star Tribune, is here:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

WAC Fraud: Hercules Couldn't Clean Up This Mess

WAC and ASO Management decided that the burden of putting the symphony's 'financial house in order' belonged on the players ... so they locked the musicians out until they signed a contract which set salaries back 30 years, cut benefits, playing weeks, and reduced the size of what is a major American orchestra. Virginia Hepner is quoted in the AJC, saying that the day the orchestra gave in to WAC demands was "a good day."

During the lockout, retired Emory Social Ethics professor Jon Gunnemann wrote a letter to ASO Management, the ASO Board, and WAC, arguing how their actions were creating a 'crisis of trust'.  There is, as yet, no word whether WAC's union-busting, strong-arm tactic actually worked to close the orchestra's deficit. All I know is that the principal by-product of management's efforts to 'put their house in order' was more distrust.

Out of the blue, Dr. Romanstein announced he wants to build a new house ... a new symphony hall ... rather than concentrating on repairing the continent-sized rift that has grown between management and the musicians ... nor does he seem interested in formulating a plan to restore the nationally-acclaimed orchestra he helped tear down.  (The chorus received a letter from him, assuring us that the musicians were 'not involved' in this recent fraud investigation. Okay.  I'm at a loss trying to figure out why he would suggest something so peculiar.  Oh, and if the media contacts us, we're supposed to refer them to a WAC representative.)

The nature of the power that WAC and ASO Management wields over the orchestra is explored here ... it's an authority so entrenched and politicized, it cannot be challenged or disentangled easily ... although it was pretty easy for someone to defraud it over a period of five years, without detection, for $1.43 million.

If I were a donor ... or an ASO or WAC Board member ... I'd stipulate a more thorough house-cleaning at the top before I gave another nickel.  I wouldn't wait for The Next Big Disaster to add to my growing knowledge of how disconnected the current administration is from its mandate ... how self-servingly its top administrators behaved during the contract negotiations and continue to behave ... how neglectful those in power have shown themselves to be, unable to preserve and stabilize the artistic and financial integrity of this city's largest arts institution. 

Atlanta deserves better than it is getting.  These aren't public relations disasters or embarrassments.  The desultory ways WAC and ASO Management have gone about fulfilling their job descriptions threaten Atlanta's cultural life and community.

Not surprisingly, Bo Emerson's article in the 11/28 AJC includes a quote from Ferdinand Levy, former dean of GA Tech's College of Management.  

“There is no excuse for an organization the size of WAC not to have first-class internal controls to prevent fraud,” Levy said. “This negligence showing a lack of oversight will certainly affect fundraising, especially with national foundations.”

All this time, the musicians have been doing their jobs brilliantly.  But now it's time for equally brilliant management -- other somebodies, more skilled in management than in self-perpetuation -- to rescue our broken institution, get it cleaned, repaired and moving forward.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Minnesota Orchestra: "Sack the Manager Before We Return"

Article from Slipped Disc features a notable comment:

"I applaud the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra for their proclamation. This is hard ball and to stay a step ahead of this game is paramount. This kind of ruinous leadership needs to go. For others who are in obvious cahoots with this national managerial ‘transformative’ model….don’t count your chickens before they….hatch."

Drew McManus' article in Adapistration

WAC Employee Embezzled $1.4 Million

Thanks, Nicole, Beverly, KKG, Kathleen P-R, and GinnieP for sending 
this unbelievable article to the blog.

And further information ...

The Music is Ongoing™: What Musicians Are Wearing to the Revolution

Show your support for Atlanta Symphony Musicians!  

The music is the message. Every rehearsal and concert, we sing it, play it -- and now we can wear it to be seen and heard.  Orchestra and chorus members wore their shirts to Carnegie Hall ... and continue to wear them to dress rehearsals. 

Designed by Robert Cobucci in a cool typewriter font ... with "MUSIC" highlighted in the color associated with danger, sacrifice, and passion.  Does this sound like your job as a musician these days?  

The Music is Ongoing tee is printed 2-colors on a high-quality black short-sleeved crewneck t-shirt.  100% ring-spun cotton jersey with taped neck and shoulders, double-needle sleeve and bottom hem.

The price of the shirt is $25.00, which includes a $10 per shirt contribution to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association.  In a little over a month, t-shirt sales have contributed over $1,100.00 to the ASOPA account!  
Be a part of this movement -- started by musicians -- that shows the world what is most important.  Wear your t-shirt in solidarity with all the musicians and orchestras in this country who struggle to keep the music ongoing.

Available in sizes S, M, XL, 2XL, and 3XL (Sorry!  L is temporarily back-ordered).  

Click here to go to Nelipot Original Tees where you can order your Music is Ongoing
 t-shirt and wear it proudly in 7-10 days.

Keep The Music Ongoing!

Monday, November 26, 2012

NYTimes Sunday Dialog: Is Classical Music Dying?

Readers react to Les Dryer's 11/16 letter to the NYT editor.  Sobering reading about a national problem.  Any comments from singers?

Food for Thought, shall we say . . .

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, you will note the parallels between the Hostess debacle and the contract negotiations between the ASO Players and management:,0,966735.column

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hey, Kids! Let's Build That Hall!

Scott Freeman's ArtsATL interview with Stanley Romanstein.

Let me see if I've got this right:

When he was hired in 2010, Dr. Romenstein's 'mandate' was to reduce the deficit and build audiences.  Knowing the orchestra's contract was to be re-negotiated in 2012, he did NOTHING ... he gave the orchestra no plan, no heads-up as to how bad things were until eight months prior to the contract deadline ... at which time, he suddenly began poor-mouthing the orchestra ... presenting a dire financial picture (complete with PowerPoint presentations) ... telling the players the 'levers' they needed to pull in order to address the deficit:  salaries, benefits, playing weeks, etc.  He made the players jump through innumerable hoops to pull all those 'levers' and reach a settlement ... which WAC then rejected ... and then locked the players out to insure the musicians signed the punitive contract WAC wanted in the first place.

So, technically speaking, Dr. Romanstein's 'mandate' was (partly) fulfilled by making the orchestra shoulder the debt by reducing their size, salaries and playing weeks, and eliminating benefits.  Well played, Dr. Romanstein.

But building audiences by building a bigger hall?  WAC's symphony hall isn't a great facility and no one disputes that a world-class orchestra deserves a world-class venue.  But what this organization needs -- right now -- is a cohesive plan to restore the orchestra, restore trust between players and management, and build a firm bridge between the arts community and the city it serves.  Frankly, I don't think current management is up to the job.

Was this was all thought out ahead of time?  The promise to build a new symphony hall mitigates reducing the orchestra to part-time status?  A new hall will make up for the mountain of black ill will incurred by the lock-out?  Make people forget the refusal of WAC to let the musicians address the Board while they were fighting for their livelihoods, or the refusal of top ASO Management to make a similar sacrifice?  Does a new hall make up for the ill-conceived and expensive blunder that was, and continues to be, Verizon?  Does ASO Management believe that years and money spent on architectural bidding wars, wining and dining donors and designers, glamorous fundraising parties and exclusive receptions will make people forget the shameful zero-sum contract debacle that just took place?

ASO Concert Review in ArtsATL

Mark Gresham's review of the concert which featured Jessica Rivera.

ASO Musicians and Falcons Honor the Military

This is a wonderful thing ...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Muti Speaks for the Art

Who is speaking for the art?  The venerable maestro Riccardo Muti, in this timely AP article:

"But a people without culture is a people that loses its identity. We haven't reached that point yet, but the danger is there."

Monday, November 12, 2012

ASO Performs Pintscher, Mozart, Ravel

Mark Gresham's 'name-dropping' concert review in ArtsATL

Spokane: Creation of the Poverty-Threshold Orchestra

David Beem's startling article in The Huffington Post.

The 'New' Arts Management: Two Viewpoints

Bruce Ridge, Chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), writes about the resiliency of American orchestras in the face of economic challenges.
"Non-profit symphony orchestras are governed by boards, most of whom are wonderful people who truly love music, their orchestras, and their communities. But, most of them now come from the for-profit world, and they hire "industry professionals" to manage their non-profit organizations. The board members tend to take their education for running a non-profit from the "industry professionals  ..."
"The tendency of orchestra managers to present a negative view of the future is not unprecedented, but it is bewildering, and it is a poor fund raising message. People will donate to organizations that inspire them and that serve their communities, but they will not invest in organizations that question their own sustainability."

Kevin Case's essay, referenced in Bruce Ridge's article, can be found here

Henry Peyrebrune's article in Adapistration, October 2012 looks at changes in the American cultural landscape, and the competition for audiences. 

"It strikes me that the conflicts in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Minneapolis point to orchestra boards that have given up on the orchestra field, disregarding or even eschewing professional orchestra managers and forcing major cuts to prepare their orchestras to deal with the “new normal.”

The Situation in Minnesota and Spokane: Update

From MPR

Norman LeBrecht's Slipped Disc.

From Adapistration:  Minnesota and Spokane

Interesting background information from Adapistration:
Examining the Minnesota Orchestra Redline Agreement: Part II

Examining the Minnesota Orchestra Redline Agreement:  Part I

The Commoditization of Symphony Orchestra Musicians

Kevin Case's article (referenced in Bruce Ridge's ICSOM article) which we posted here on the ASOC Singers and Friends blog back in September.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Flashback to Another ASO Negotiation

This fairly full account, which contains statements by both ASO Management and the ASOPA, was published in Instant Encore 3 years ago ...

ICSOM (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians) has archived all ASO contract settlements.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Situation in Minnesota and Spokane

Minnesota musicians not allowed to talk to their Board.  Where have I heard that one before ...?

Spokane Symphony Musicians go on strike after rejecting salary offer ...

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra rejects contract offer, and cancels concerts to the end of the year.

AJC Article on the Departing ASO VPs

Whoa!  They got a letter too!

Blue Robes

A friend in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra is performing in a sold-out Messiah, featuring combined choruses, and conducted by one of our old friends, John Nelson.

Wish I could be there ... but I googled these up instead.  Two selections from a 1987 Messiah concert, recently posted on YouTube.  Lovely sound, familiar faces in the chorus and orchestra  (and at the organ, too!), and Himself on the old plywood podium.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Dear People ..."

I never worked under Mr. Shaw; I came to the chorus the year he died.  But in the 13 years I've been in the ASOC, his absence has never been more keenly felt than it is today, by those in our organization who knew him best.  Mr. Shaw, whom I never knew ... but whose life and work are ineluctably tied to my life as a musician ... was a tireless champion of the music and the musicians; his passion for both was a fixed principle.  During his tenure he was, reportedly, a thorn in the Board's side, to the extent that they attempted to get rid of him for various reasons, most notably when he insisted on programming the works of modern composers.  His profound respect for the ASO musicians influenced his decision to hold chorus rehearsals outside Symphony Hall during the 1996 strike.

In the last years of his life, Robert Shaw was still following his quest for spiritual food through partaking of the arts, as his remarkable writings show.  By the time of his death in 1999, the orchestra he had retired from in 1988 had grown in stature and renown.

Shaw anecdotes are a part of our preparation, courtesy of Norman, who tells the funniest ones; sometimes he sends Mr. Shaw's letters to us:  "Dear People ..." -- like "Open Sesame" -- is a promise of riches beyond, a glimpse into the workings of a rare mind.  Long-time chorus members, like war veterans around the dinner table, recall the old days, still wearing the stripes of whatever praise or chastisement Mr. Shaw felt called to heap upon them.  These "Dear People" belonged to a particular time, having come together under the aegis of a particular man. We are lucky to have some of these stories posted on the blog.

Stephen Reed's From the Heart ...

Andrew Gee's Together in Shaw-Speak

But even Norman who has, if anyone does, the indisputable right to address the chorus as he chooses, does not use that greeting.

Stanley Romanstein begins his most recent letter by invoking Mr. Shaw:  "Dear People ..."  Is he laying claim to the Shaw legacy by virtue of his choral directing experience?  Does he see himself as Shaw's 'spiritual heir', appointed to lead both orchestra and chorus in this new era?  Disappointingly, the President and CEO's letter amounts to a redacted statement regarding lay-offs and reshuffles in the organization.  Stanley Romanstein has imperiously adopted us as his 'Dear People' -- in order to say virtually nothing at all.

Personally, I think the man who is largely responsible for ransoming the future of Mr. Shaw's beloved orchestra to a WAC-controlled budget sheet ought to think twice about drinking from what is, to the ASO and ASOC, a sacred vessel.   It doesn't take writing on the wall to point out how seriously Dr. Romanstein has mistepped.  Again.  At the very least, he shouldn't be writing 'Dear People" to anybody because it makes him look desperate.  (Although I have to say that he has been consistent in his inability to gauge the true opinions of the people he purports to lead; he concocts pretty pictures of mutual cooperation to the media and in the concert programs, while musicians are refusing to share the same air he breathes.)

Robert Shaw believed that appreciation of the arts requires "equal parts of modesty and vulnerability -- a preference for the small truth over the big lie."

Some people just get it wrong.

Notes on the ASO Lockout and Aftermath

Letter to the New York Times

The recent contract agreement reached by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra after a lockout by its management reflects similar patterns for symphony orchestras across the nation, seeking to deal with shrinking audiences and growing deficits.  From the perspective that the ASO settlement may be a bellwether for other American orchestras, it is important to recognize the circumstances under which the agreement was reached.  There were unique aspects to the ASO struggle that have caused continuing protests from the musicians and from many of the players’ supporters, including members of the ASO Chorus, a volunteer group of international renown since its founding days under Robert Shaw.

The ASO is not a freestanding institution but part of a larger non-profit organization, the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) which also includes visual arts, theater, and educational arms.  The ASO Board operates under the “parent” board of the WAC; its Chair is on the Executive Committee of the WAC; and the management of the ASO is responsible not only to the ASO Board but also to the WAC Board.  The WAC Board has final approval authority for all administrative and budgetary actions of its member institutions.

In the recent dispute, the ASO Board, WAC Board and WAC Executive Committee wielded extraordinary power to exact a contract that the players and their supporters found punitive, demoralizing, and artistically damaging.  Some specifics of this wielding of power included the refusal of the Chair of the ASO Board to meet directly with the ASO Players Association (ASOPA) and his directive that other board members refrain from doing so; the Chair refusing the request of the elected ASOPA representative to address the ASO Board at a called meeting at which the representative had a legitimate seat; the ASO Chair warning ASO Board members not to attend a meeting to which they were invited by the ASOPA (only one board member showed up); the President of the ASO addressing the ASO Chorus and admonishing them to remain silent when anyone asked them about the process (“simply say, ‘negotiations are ongoing’”); and virtually controlling the local media through press releases which painted a rosy picture of the agreement reached. 

The WAC used the mounting deficits of the ASO as its reason for demanding the deep cuts:  reducing the number of ASO musicians from 95 to 88; locking out the musicians for 4 weeks; a cut in salaries of more than 17% through the elimination of the summer season and as a result, employing the musicians for 41 and 42 weeks respectively for the next two years. But in the background, and hidden from public view, are debts incurred by the WAC and ASO management from various large-scale building projects, both completed and abandoned, over more than a decade.

The lockout occurred shortly after the ASOPA had made a counter-offer to the ASO management which included $2M in annual concessions that the President of the ASO requested, a counter-offer which was supported by the ASO Executive Board and Management but which then was turned down by the senior leadership of the WAC with threats that regular-season concerts (including the October 27 Carnegie Hall performance) would be canceled.  It became apparent that although the ASO Chorus and others were assured that “negotiations were ongoing”, in fact, the WAC was not willing to negotiate further at all.

The lockout, which included suspension of all health-care benefits, sparked an outcry from many subscribers, donors, some ASO board members, and from some members of the ASO Chorus.

The ASOC Singers and Friends Blog was established in response to the limited and superficial news reporting from local traditional media.  The blog is ‘chorus-centric’; its 200+ posts comprise a complete history of the ASO lock-out.   The September posts tell the story through ASOC member letters to the ASO Board and to WAC, documents, links and articles related to the lock-out, and many original essays.  Today, post-settlement, the blog continues to focus on information related to the ASO and to other orchestras in similar peril in this country.  In a little over two months, the blog achieved 21,700 page views, with growing world-wide participation.  The administrators of the blog are from the ASOC. 

While looking to help the ASO musicians in a material way during the lock-out, chorus members created t-shirts with the message:  The Music is Ongoing™ (a play on the phrase, “Negotiations are ongoing”), with $10 from the sale of each shirt going directly to the ASOPA account.   Chorus members wear them as an outward visible sign of their continued support, and to honor the musical partnership they value so highly.  As a show of solidarity, chorus members gave the Orchestra their shirts as gifts.  Orchestra members and chorus members now wear their Music is Ongoing™ t-shirts to all dress rehearsals, even to the Carnegie Hall dress rehearsal.  Guest soloists who request them, are given shirts.  People from all over the world are buying them.  Clearly, the message, which speaks for the Art and the Artists, resonates. 
Despite the events of this past year, and efforts to compromise the quality of the orchestra’s core excellence, our respective institutions -- the ASO and the ASO Chorus – are committed to maintaining our high performance standards and continuing our creative partnership.   

ASOC Members

Jon Gunnemann
Sally Kann
Laurie Cronin
Cyn DeBold

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

ArtsATL Review: Carnegie Hall Performance

Here's our best review yet, by Leslie Kandell.

Last Concert for Tehran Symphony Orchestra

Sent in by Laurie Cronin.  This is a very sad article about the Tehran Symphony Orchestra ... not only financial but hard-line ideological pressures are stopping the music.

Laurie writes:  'If classical music is so dead, how come musicians are still willing to risk so much to perform it, and audiences to hear it?   One answer is that in an oppressive regime, it is often the only form of protest – in the universal language.'

Tehran Symphony Orchestra rehearsing in Roudaki Hall, 2010.  Photo Associated Press

A different article from the Associated Press reports that the Tehran Orchestra was just reactivated last year, following a two year break.  The orchestra's woes are blamed on the faltering economy, the sanctions from the West, and the collapse of Iranian currency.  But players say that the orchestra suffers mostly from mismanagement and lack of government funding from the country's oil profits.  No one in government cares about the 80-year old institution, which is the oldest orchestra in the Middle East.  Decades-old instruments have not been replaced, players receive very low pay, and many receive no pay. 

Cleveland Orchestra Musicians Ratify Contract...

"....bringing the negotiation process to a notably swift and uncontentious conclusion."

The Cleveland Orchestra had been playing without a contract for some time, but had continued to talk, as civilized people of good faith often used to.  And now they have come to a satisfactory compromise--does anyone still remember the meaning of that word?  All this and they get to play in the visually and acoustically exquisite Severance Hall.  If you ever get a chance to go there to hear one of the CO's concerts, I highly recommend it. Even in the last row of the balcony, it's wonderful. The only drawback is that it makes coming back to the Woodruff such a downer.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fist Bump: Carnegie Performance Reviews

Sent in by Nicole Khoury ... unfortunately, Ms. Schweitzer got the night wrong.  On Sunday night, I was being blown back to Atlanta on a plane.

First review out of the chute ... Arts Examiner reviewer Jake Johanson was enthusiastic and seemed to find the program and musicians engaging ... although it has to be noted that he gets a major detail wrong with regard to the ASOC soloists (not the quality of their performance, which he liked very much, but the piece in which they sang).  Sigh.

From the "It's a Small World" Department

Brent Runnels
Watching and hearing a group of seasoned singers while they marvel at the voice of an unknown young artist is always fun.  My friends, colleagues and I in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus did just that recently ... when countertenor John Holiday began singing on the stage at the Woodruff Arts Center to rehearse our Carnegie Hall-bound performance of Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms.   As soon as he started to roll out his gloriously full and powerful tone everyone immediately looked at each other and said almost in unison "wow what a voice!"  

I was among those "wowing" his pure and angelic sound, one perfectly suited to the range of Bernstein's lovely melody on the 23rd Psalm text text "Adonai ro-i, lo esar" ("The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want").  At that point we were clearly not wanting for anything other than to soak in his incredible sound!   

John Holiday
As he continued singing I realized I knew that voice; why did I recognize it?  Then it dawned on me, wait a minute I've played for him before!  It took a minute but I realized I had accompanied his Cincinnati Conservatory of Music audition here in Atlanta.  

During my years as a staff singer and Cathedral Concerts manager at the Cathedral of St. Philip CCM used to use the choir room there as a remote location for auditions and they frequently called me to accompany singers who needed an accompanist. John Holiday came through,  I think in 2008, and that year the auditions were held at Peachtree Road United Methodist. I remember how prepared and poised he was then, and of course his voice left an indelible impression on me. 

It was wonderful to see him back with the ASO and ASOC already making such a strong professional impression.  When we got a chance to speak and catch up he was clearly the same open, relaxed and humble young artist I remembered from his audition.  

All this made it even more satisfying to hear him sing so beautifully in our concert last Saturday at Carnegie Hall. It was great to share with my fellow ASOC singers the pleasure and excitement of seeing a young artist make such a strong and beautiful impression in his Carnegie Hall debut.  I hope he will be back in Atlanta soon so that more music lovers might get a chance to hear his marvelously engaging countertenor voice!  

Brent Runnels
Tenor II #220

(Photographs of Brent Runnels and John Holiday taken in front of Carnegie Hall October 27, 2012)

Jung Ho Pak Resigns ... and other disasters

Latest on Jung Ho Pak's resignation

Interesting story on Jung Ho Pak ...

From NPR's Deceptive Cadence ...

WNYC is calling it "Lock Out Season"

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Faces Lock Out

Locked Out Minnesota Orchestra Performs

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Look for the ™

We've been told that Dr. Romanstein wants to (somehow) use 'The Music is Ongoing' to his own purpose.  It that is true, perhaps he hasn't quite connected the dots to his 'negotiations are ongoing' strategy ... or doesn't realize that the t-shirt is closely tied with the ASOPA.

Maybe these things don't matter to someone who has demonstrated time and time again that he will rewrite events, or conscript any program, in order to paint a misleading picture to the public.
So we've been punctuating The Music is Ongoing with trademark symbols ...


Highlight from ASO's 9/27/12 press release announcing the contract settlement. The financials which support these statements should be thoroughly examined because according to sources, they add up to a big fairy tale:  

"Since 2008, the ASO management has suggested that board members contribute more heavily to the Annual Fund and to financially support other efforts and events, which they have done. In that same time frame, ASO staff has endured layoffs, mandatory furloughs, salary freezes, hiring freezes, and increases in contribution to healthcare coverage.

Ticket sales have increased by 113 percent over the last decade and donations have also increased by 112 percent. In addition, the ASO initiated two additional net-positive contributing businesses: In 2004 it purchased SD&A Teleservices, Inc., (formerly MKTG Teleservices, Inc.), the nation’s oldest and largest provider of telemarketing services for cultural and cause-based non-profits; In 2008, it opened Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, giving the Orchestra three performance venues in the metro Atlanta area. Both of these businesses are significant positive contributors to the Orchestra’s bottom line."

The truth is that orchestra operations are segregated from the entire institution.  When Verizon was built, the musicians began to notice that the symphony concerts (as opposed to the ‘ASO Presents’ concerts) were a separate line item in Verizon budget ... and the symphony concerts are always shown to be losing money.  Musicians were told that management was ‘unable’ to find a corporate sponsor for the symphony.  The players noticed, too, that summer performance schedules were getting thinner and thinner.  So where is this 'significant positive contribution' to the bottom line?  It goes to pay the debt owed on Verizon, and not to support the orchestra.

There was a time when an Atlanta investigative reporter would be all over this.

The entire press release can be found here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

ASO and ASOC at Carnegie Hall October 27, 7:30 PM

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will travel to New York City for a Saturday night concert at Carnegie Hall repeating the Copland/Bernstein/Walton program performed in Atlanta last week. In the American musical world, there is no more prestigious invitation for a symphony orchestra (and their chorus) than a date at Carnegie. While Carnegie’s calendar is crowded with matinee concerts and evening programs in the adjoining recital halls that organizations book through concert promoters (i.e. groups that pay to play), the ASO and ASOC have been invited for many years to grace Carnegie’s main stage. It is a privilege, an honor, and one of the great performing experiences for a musician.

Since opening in 1891, the storied hall at 57th Street and 7th Avenue has been the site of some of the greatest events in U.S., as well as international, musical history: the first performance of Dvořák’s New World Symphony (1893); the American debut of Jascha Heifetz (1917); and Maria Callas’ farewell performance (1974). Legendary musicians of all genres – from Gustav Mahler (conducting his own Symphony No. 2), Sergei Rachmaninov (playing his own 2nd Piano Concerto), and George Gershwin (premiering his own concerto) to Benny Goodman, the Beatles, Judy Garland, and Elton John – have performed on Carnegie’s stage. Carnegie Hall has also hosted more than a few major political, literary, and other non-musical guests, including Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Autographed photos and memorabilia crowd the walls of the foyers on each level – the floorboards may have been replaced but the sense of history is still palpable.

From the beginning, Carnegie Hall was renowned as an acoustically perfect space for musical performance – truly a miracle considering the architect had never previously designed a concert hall. The sound, whether from a solo pianist or a full orchestra, blooms forth with startling clarity but just enough roundness to avoid brittleness. Every nuance can be projected from the performer’s space to the listener’s. You can hear everything – whether participating on-stage (where ensembles become tighter and cleaner than in a less-favorable acoustic) or actively listening in the house. While Carnegie is a large hall (2,800 seats), the horseshoe design with its vertiginous balconies creates an intimate atmosphere where it really is possible to play or sing to the person in the back row of the top balcony. 

Harper’s Magazine Rendering of the Opening Night Audience, May 1891
Most people are familiar with the turbulent history of the Hall during the late 1950’s, when operating costs, a changing cultural landscape and competing musical venues in NYC resulted in a scheduled demolition date that was narrowly averted by the activist heroics of Isaac Stern and other concerned New Yorkers. The Hall is now the property of New York City, operated as a not-for-profit corporation with some public funding, but also sustained through substantial private support. The hall was renovated structurally and the interior spaces completely restored in 1986, with subsequent additional modifications to the surrounding buildings and facilities.

Carnegie Hall Today – Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage

Our ASO/ASOC concert is part of Carnegie Hall’s Choral Classics series, which also includes Gustavo Dudamel leading the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and Joe Miller’s Westminster Symphonic Choir in a December program of 20th- and 21st-century works by Latin American composers, and a “Creative Learning Project” (workshop) performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos featuring Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, New York City high school choristers and the “Orquesta La Pasión” conducted by Robert Spano in March 2013.

The Choral Classics series is partially financed by an endowment fund for choral music established by S. Donald Sussman in memory of Judith Arron (past Carnegie CEO) and Robert Shaw.

Tickets are $15.50-$90 and are available at As of Wednesday morning, there is still good availability in the Parquet section, more limited seating in the balconies. Rush tickets ($10) for students will be available.

This concert is also marketed as a “My Time, My Music” event, a hook evidently intended to appeal to younger concert-goers: “This is your music. It challenges you to think about your world in a new way…And now is your time. Here at Carnegie Hall, discover composers of today who open themselves to all sorts of things…and a new breed of performers who are making this new music their own.”

That’s us, we’re the new breed. The orchestra and chorus that won’t surrender the musical standards, work ethic, and artistic vision that gets performers to Carnegie Hall in the first place, just because a flock of bean counters can’t figure out how to use a can opener. We’re the organization – the team – that will stare down the demolition squad, renovate the structure, and start securing the future (BTW, anyone want to look up Reynold Levy while we’re in his neighborhood?).

They (New York and Atlanta) ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Laurie Cronin
ASOC Alto I  #363