Where Has Civilized Behavior Gone?

by Sedgwick Clark

“Hope you are having a good week,” ended an unwitting e-mail to me this morning. To begin with, my last week of deadline for the Directory is never good.

But look at the reports on Wednesday’s Musical America website: First is Carnegie Hall’s announcement that it was forced to cancel its opening-night gala because the piratical stagehands’ union, IATSE/Local 1, had gone on strike after a year without a new contract—on the Hall’s most important fund-raising date of the year, mind you. The union is miffed because its jurisdiction has not been expanded into the future operation of the Hall’s ambitious new educational program. Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director, Clive Gillinson, points out that the stagehands’ union has jurisdiction over the Hall’s concert venues, but that its attempt to worm its way (my phrase) into the non-performance educational program planned by the Hall has no precedent in New York City. The report in the Times that a union picketer was walking back and forth carrying an inflated rat in front of Carnegie Hall on the night of the gala—as clear a case I know of the pot calling the kettle black—particularly galls me.

The second website story: Why do ballet audiences go to the ballet? San Francisco Ballet dancers are understandably tired of being paid less than orchestra players (much less the stagehands, I presume), so they may go on strike, cancelling the company’s impending Lincoln Center engagements. [Friday’s website reveals that the dancers’ arguments were given due consideration, a civilized response of wage parity to the musicians, and that they happily dispensed with talk of a strike!]

The third website story relates that Aaron Jay Kernis had resigned as the Minnesota Orchestra’s composer in residence the same day as Music Director Osmo Vänskä’s resignation due to a game of chicken between the musicians and the board of directors. The board had faced a $6 million deficit and decided to eliminate it in one fell swoop, offering the players a new contract with a draconian reduction in wages. The board locked out the orchestra and the players refused to talk until the lockout was reversed. A last-minute effort to bridge the year-long impasse failed, the board cancelled maestro Vänskä’s pet project of a Sibelius symphony cycle at Carnegie Hall this season, and one of the most heralded artistic successes of the last decade was no more. The board claims to be in no hurry to re-enter negotiations, and cynics foresee dark times for orchestras in America.

New York City Opera tanked with a thud after 70 years, and the website printed a hard-nosed news story and a timeline of artistic accomplishment that detailed how the affordable “people’s opera” was brought to its knees by the inexplicable mismanagement of the past few years.

But even if America’s artistic life were in good order, every day this week brought new heights of rascality in our nation’s capitol and more evidence that the voting public was hopelessly gullible. How else to explain those who argued fervently that they wanted Affordable Health Care but didn’t want Obamacare?

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