City Journal Winter 2014

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Winter 2014
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Heather Mac Donald
A Visceral Tour de Force « Back to Story

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It is difficult to understand why there is not a mention of Orff's conduct during the Nazi era.
Heather Mac Donald's very positive review of Riccardo Muti's achievements as music director with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra contains two errors of fact that appear to be used to support the author's separate ideological view of whether top musicians deserve to be compensated appropriately for their work. There was no "hardball collective-bargaining tactic" in Chicago "clearly designed to exploit the coming Carnegie engagement" in New York. There was a clumsy set of moves by new membership of the CSO Association trustees' labor committee late on the day of a scheduled Saturday evening concert that management thought would suddenly result in concessions. At the next bargaining session, just some 40 hours later, the outgoing and highly-respected chairman of the Association joined the negotiations, concessions were made on both sides, and a three-year contract was resolved.

Secondly, Maestro Muti never "declared himself 'very, very disappointed' at the" strike, nor does the wire story that Ms. Mac Donald links to say that he did. Maestro Muti in fact made no public declarations or even comments on the dispute at all. Rather, *management* stated that Muti was unhappy, and this is what the AP story reports. For their part, the musicians, according to the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper hardly noted for its wild support of labor, quoted CSO bassist and players' committee leader Stephen Lester at the launch of the strike as follows, “'I have been in contact with the maestro on several occasions,' Lester said, *noting that he can’t speak for Muti.* 'We had good conversations, amiable conversations. He understands our situation.'” [emphasis added] There was never, even for a moment, tension or any issue between the musicians and their music director. (The article also has one small error of identification: the excellent young singers who performed as well are from the historic Chicago Children's Choir, not "Chorus.")

As to the larger issue, Ms. Mac Donald proposes that the "musicians . . . take their noses out of their union contracts long enough to consider the future of their profession." I don't know of a group of professionals with a keener understanding of the very real difficulties that symphony orchestras face across the country than the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The difficulties and even crises of a number of ensembles in other cities and parts of the country, however, are not replicated in Chicago where the CSO Association has strong finances, a healthy endowment, and tremendous success in both ticket sales and fundraising. Real issues -- of pensions, of maintaining and expanding audience attendance and support, among others -- most certainly exist, and one hopes that *both* sides will work together on these questions starting now and not wait until the twelfth-hour in 2015. But the concerts Ms. Mac Donald heard and was so enthralled by in both this month in New York and in March in Chicago were performed by an institution at the top of its field because it attracts and retains the world's best musicians and, following an old conservative dictum, gets what it pays for.

Andrew Patner

Classical music and opera critic
Chicago Sun-Times

Critic-at-large
WFMT Fine Arts Radio Chicago and wfmt.com

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As a relative naïf in the arena of grand music, I am mesmerized by the brilliance of this reviewer. A petty or ignoble critic might offer that she is just so intelligently upper class that she doesn’t really understand the plights of her “lowers.” But then, how to explain her gripping appreciation of other very serious extant problems – e.g. crime, politics, law enforcement management and a plethora of myriad, other seemingly unrelated issues?
She defines excellence and uniqueness too. She seems incontestably without peer.