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The Sound of Ideas

Discord at Severance Hall

Posted Tuesday, January 19, 2010

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Discord at Severance Hall Music, Maestro! A tentative settlement early this morning may end a two-day strike by Cleveland Orchestra musicians. It remains to be seen how many of the underlying issues that led to the strike are still unresolved. This morning on The Sound of Ideas, Dan Moulthrop and guests examine the challenges facing the Cleveland Orchestra and other large US ensembles and assess what the organization means to the region.


Arts and Culture


Tim Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic
Charles Michener, culture writer
Zachary Lewis, music critic, The Plain Dealer

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leonard cikotte 10:02 PM 1/18/10

In the end it comes down to a simple employer-employee relationship. Being a so called “Arts” organization has nothing to do with it.  If the ochestra musicians feel they could do better elsewhere, well let them prove it.  They will find, as always has proven the case, that no one is irreplacable.

Rebecca 10:33 AM 1/19/10

The education concerts are a fantastic resource. I take suburban elementary students every year. Prior to the concert, my students list things they “know” about orchestras: they are loud, they are boring, I’ll fall asleep, old people go there. After the concert, the kids write letters to the orchestra and we talk in class about the experience. They always, each and every student, write about how beautiful it was and how much they enjoyed the music. They want to go back! Audience development is the key to the organization, and not just for the inner city students. Those who are critical of the musicians and want them to “prove their worth” have not experienced our Cleveland Orchestra in its amazing home. No one person is irreplaceable, true, but the institution certainly is.

scott Medwid 10:36 AM 1/19/10

In the 1960’s my Mom bought tickets to Cleveland Orchestra concerts at Parma High school.  She rotated her extra ticket to my brother and sisters.  I loved going to the concerts and have seen this love pass to my own kids.  I just found out that my Grandmother took my mom to concerts also.  Cleveland Orchestra needs to get out into the High Schools again.

Name withheld 10:51 AM 1/19/10

There are more important things to talk about in this city and the world today than a bunch of pampered musicians who make 300 hundred thousand dollars a year.  This morning I saw a huge military plane coming to get more local men to take them to die in Iraq or Afghanistan. I also heard that Carnival Cruise Line is still taking passengers to its private Haitian Island. What percentage of those factory workers and stonecutters that you refer to still have jobs in this city?  There are other issues that chgallenge this community. The patrons are old and like the 73 year old woman who called in and soon will no longer be able to write the checks. To me Severance hall is the perfect spot for a nice nap.

Bill F 10:52 AM 1/19/10

The Cleveland Orchestra is not only the best orchestra in the world, they act as ambassadors to the world, and display the best our city, our region, and our country, has to offer. They transend their personal musical accomplishments, and combine their talents to convey a sound and cultural voice that is unparalleled. Without the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland would be just another Toledo or Mansfield. We have set the standard for excellence, and that standard has attracted the most gifted and masterful people in the musical world, to which, we Clevelanders, have benefited enormously. Too often, classical music may seem outdated, or aloof and unaproachable to the lay listener, but in this age of false idols and flashy, short lived fads, the Cleveland Orchestra has maintained it’s lasting image by playing to our deeper senses, and challenging us to reach for the stars. The Cleveland Orchestra has been a beacon of light throughout the years, and hopefully will continue to be in this troubled time.

Erica Brenner 11:01 AM 1/19/10

This orchestra is core to the identity of the City of Cleveland.  I don’t agree with Tim Page that there is nothing else to do if you are a classical musician, or any other artist, in Cleveland except play in THE orchestra.  However, without the orchestra, I believe the disintegration of the arts world at large in this city would suffer enormously.  It sets a standard of world-class that the entire community can align with, aspire to, resonate with.  It really does matter.

Pam 11:09 AM 1/19/10

We have all had to make sacrifices these past 18 months, the Cleveland Orchestra should be no exception.  How could they even think THEY shouldn’t be? I suggest the ‘professional, highly skilled factory workers’ donate 5% of their earnings to Haiti and THAT publicity will do more for the Orchestra than any ad or marketing campaign ever will.
IMHO the players have made a very weak argument defending their position.

TLowell 11:13 AM 1/19/10

I disagree whole-heartedly with Charles Michener. Yes, The Cleveland Orchestra is world-class and should maintain that level of status. However, just because the musicians are art-teests, doesn’t make them exempt from the economic climate. There are millions of people who are very skilled at the professions that they have chosen who are out of work or facing pay cuts for their organization to survive. Don’t condescend to the unwashed masses, Mr. Michener, about how difficult a job it is to be a musician. People can realize the work it takes to reach the level the musicians have without equating them to a high school violin player or placing them on a pedestal. The staff of the Orchestra has taken many pay and benefit cuts over many years. The musicians are just now facing the reality of the economy. Sorry if I don’t think they are too precious to have to deal with what everyone else does, because they chose to work in their dream profession.

Name withheld 11:39 AM 1/19/10

I am a non-musician wife of a Cleveland Orchestra member and would like my name to remain anonymous, however, I would like to comment on what may have contributed to the getting to this place. 

The standards of the Orchestra are upheld predominantly by the talented musicians that comprise it—as evidenced by how they play for a multitude of conductors or would play without a conductor.  Simply stated, they are the core fundamental purpose of the organization.  The audiences come to hear the musicians play.  These PHd and masters degree educated individuals are personally invested in their artistry, incredibly intelligent, committed, and still remain humble and gracious given their gifts.  But they are still employees and both morale and effective leadership are critical to any functioning organization.  These musicians need and want to partner with managment and the Orchestra Board. They need and want to have their voice heard both on and off the stage. To denigrate them or criticize their value, ignore their ideas, and alienate them from how their organization is managed—has a terrible negative impact. And unfortunately, this collective bargaining process has been their only vehicle to have their concerns be heard.  This is a phenomenal organization and the musicians must be rallied and motivated to rise up in a positive fashion, which is predominantly a leadership function.  Hopefully, there will be a paradigm shift in how the Orchestra is led, and both sides will take the necessary steps to recognize and act on the concerns that have been put on the table. 

Thank you.

Dawn, Cleveland 11:41 AM 1/19/10

Your guest by phone noted as “preposterous” the comment that the musicians work 20 hour workweek.  Equally preposterous is his comment comparing the musicians’ salaries to the millions made by our sports stars.  Those salaries are the result of millions of ticket sales each season in addition to TV deals, a completely different animal than the situation of an orchestra, even one of the best in the world.  Slamming the lack of success of our sports teams in this comparison is an invalid cheap shot.

Jeff 11:42 AM 1/19/10

I believe strongly in the arts and culture community of Cleveland. But as a former staff member of the Orchestra (who left on excellent terms), I think this conversation is pretty one-sided in complete favor of the musicians. My experience with the musicians is that they have been extremely pampered and coddled. Cuts, layoffs, salary freezes, benefit reductions, and increased health care premiums and workloads have effected the staff of the Orchestra for years. The rule was always that the musicians would be the last touched. They are just now feeling the economic downfall that had afftected the rest of us for years. To complain and strike over a one-year salary decrease, while still making 6-figure salaries in this economic climate, makes the musicians look like babies to people who have “real” jobs.

Mark Hura 11:43 AM 1/19/10

Part of the problem is that our culture no longer values the fine arts.  Look at how our political campaigns elevate “Joe The Plumber” and “Joe six pack” to the standard that is supposed to reflect the majority of Americans.  The 2004 presidential campaign was run on “who would you rather have a beer with” rather than who is the most intelligent and best suited for the position.  If you are educated or like more cultured things in life, you are painted as an “elitist”.  Americans like our NASCAR, our guns and Buckeye football……no room here for a first class symphony orchestra.

Last night, Mike Trivosonno, the highest rated program on radio was mocking Franz Welser-Most’s name by mispronouncing it and making fun of it, etc….This behavior is what 7th and 8th graders do…make fun of foreign sounding names.  But, he has the largest audience in greater Cleveland.  With that type of mentality, (or lack of it), we wonder why appreciation for the orchestra and fine art and opera is rarely appreciated? 

We, as a society and a culture, need to elevate our standards, not continue to run them down.  Until that happens, orchestras, art museums, opera companies, etc… will continue to struggle.  But hey, lets spend $35 million for a place for the Buckeye football players to relax and work out.

TLowell 1:18 PM 1/19/10

In regards to Mark’s comments, I don’t believe this is a “Joe the Plumber” issue. And before we pretend that they are playing at a high school auditorium, let’s not forget that $36.7 million was spent on renovating Severance Hall as a place for these musicians to play.

You ARE NOT painted as elitist is you are educated and enjoy art museums and orchestral music.

You ARE painted as elitist when you don’t think the economy should effect you because you are an artist.

You ARE painted as an elitist when you denigrate someone else’s interests, whether football or NASCAR, because you believe they are less valuable than yours.

And you ARE painted as an elitist when your spouse has to comment on how “humble” you are even though you are just so darn educated and gifted.

These musicians are in their dream profession, highly regarded and highly compensated, and have the ability to supplement their income through lucrative teaching jobs because they do not work 40 hours a week. There are major changes that need to be made at the Orchestra. But the musicians getting a reality check and not living in a “gifted” gilded bubble is one of them.

Tim Page 1:42 PM 1/19/10

It was a pleasure being on the air with Dan and Charles and (however briefly, as he is chasing an important story down) Zachary Lewis.  I’m enjoying the comments here, even when some of them are taking me to task. 

I wasn’t meaning to put down Cleveland’s sports teams—I know how much Cleveland loves them.  But I did want to point out that, in this humble opinion, the very best athletes in the world are nowhere near as admirable as great musicians—and that no sports team deserves mention in the same breath as the extraordinary Cleveland Orchestra.  Many will differ with me, but that’s the way I feel.  All around the world, the orchestra is recognized as pretty much unsurpassed, and Cleveland should take pride in that. 

Also, it seems to me that “elitist” has become one of those words used by the Fox Newsers and the Sarah Palins of the world to put down anything that is intelligent and requires sustained thought.  It is a sort of fake populism that does nothing but support the very real plutocracy that we find in many of our large corporations, the oil industry, greedy politicians (how dare a millionaire pol call a struggling musician “elitist”?) and other delightful creations. 

I’m glad that cool heads have prevailed and that both management and players have come to see that the Cleveland Orchestra must be maintained—for Cleveland, for Ohio, for the United States, for the world, and for the highest standards of human aspirations.


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