May 24, 2018

Dumping classical music maestros to end abuse

San Francisco Classical Voice - The Incorporated Society of Musicians, the 135-year-old British rights organization, did a survey of 600 musicians. The results, published in April 2018, revealed, to no one’s great surprise, that half the respondents had experienced some sort of discrimination in their career. Of those, 60 percent said they had been sexually harassed. The great majority of the respondents were female, self-employed, and had kept their stories secret — for fear of not being taken seriously, or fear of losing their jobs, or because they accepted the notion that unrestrained intimacy, unwanted intimacy, was ingrained in the profession. 

... How effective a code of conduct might be, is debatable; laws are made to be broken, misinterpreted, and subjectively enforced. Moreover, the hierarchical nature of symphony structures insures that, even with a code, the allocation of power remains unchanged.  And so this all becomes another argument for the kind of horizontal structures that you find with the likes of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The only real question is whether you could, or should, adopt that level of democracy to full-sized orchestras.

Daria AdamsDaria Adams is a long-time violinist with The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which is laterally designed. She noted in a recent interview, “Conductors can hire and fire, change your seat, deny tenure, do all kinds of things. If a maestro doesn’t like you, then you’re gone. That’s one reason we don’t have a maestro, we don’t have that position, and so there’s no intimidation factor. James Levine happened because of a system that allows for that.”

The former conductor of the Met was fired in March 2018 for “sexually abusive and harassing conduct” that allegedly occurred during the 40 years that he was with the Met. He has sued the company for $5.8 million in damages for breach of contract and defamation. (And the Met has recently countersued, alleging a pattern of abuse with colleagues that was detrimental to the company.) Prosecutors have dropped charges against him in at least four cases because the victims were over the age of consent.

... Orpheus founder Julian Fifer remembers moments at Orpheus where people were abusive, not sexually necessarily, but angry or alienated in some way. To Fifer, one of the virtues of a group like Orpheus is that it’s bigger than a quartet, where nothing is hidden, and smaller than a symphony where people can fall through the cracks.

“In our size, we were acutely aware of each other in so many dimensions beyond strictly performances. We had a wonderful support network to help anyone falling too low in individual or in artistic terms. And so we would talk privately amongst each other and find someone that a troubled member trusted or admired. And they would intervene and help a person take steps to shore up their lives as well as their performance. To me, that’s one of the beauties of that size and structure.”

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