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‘Flat’ oboist sues Philharmonic for unfair dismissal

May 31, 2015 by norman lebrecht

36 comments.


Not everything is coming up roses in Buffalo.

The excellent Buffalo News reports the dismissal and imminent law case of principal oboist Pierre Roy, who has been accused, among other offences, of playing flat in the Buffalo Philharmonic to disrupt some of his less friendly colleagues.

Read the full story here.

pierre roy oboe

 


Comments (36)

  1. Peter says:

    Oh boy, sounds like first world problems multiplied with first world problems. In a Kindergarden for grown ups.

    1. John says:

      When careers are at stake, I wouldn’t think of it as kindergarten for grownups.

      1. robcat2075 says:

        Locker-room confrontations, teasing gestures… you’re right, it’s not kindergarten, it’s junior high school.

        1. finkie says:

          Latest news is that this oboist (BTW: I am an oboist, former Wichita Symphony, U.S. Army Band, Ft Myer, D.C.) was fired again, challenged the second firing and lost. As it turns out, the only pitch problem was the fits of immaturity he pitched when he became emotionally challenged. Sounds like he needs therapy, as do many professional musicians, who sacrifice so much of their personal well-being to play classical music. This is a problem in many orchestras. – See more at: http://slippedisc.com/2015/05/flat-oboist-sues-philharmonic-for-unfair-dismissal/?replytocom=69382#respond

  2. Brian b says:

    The article states, “In June 2010, he had a challenging solo part in Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique.” Scarce parking that evening around Kleinhans Music Hall delayed him. And then the location of a group photograph that had been planned for the musicians changed. By the time he found them, the photo already had been taken, and the photographer refused to take another…”
    Funny that none of the other musicians were late in the first instance; and knew where the photo would be taken in the second. Just sayin’.

  3. Tim says:

    This is just the way of the American orchestra today; fragile people with new age hippie mindsets. And the music suffers even more. Besides, the only thing noteworthy Buffalo and Falletta has done is to take on obscure pieces for recordings.

  4. Anon says:

    This story is interesting because it documents what goes on in orchs. around the world. Feuds among players, even in the best of orchestras, are a normal occurance. Philadelphia,, Chicago, all have well-known stories about top players in conflict. The difference here is that people usually don’t get fired for it. You do your job and you keep this stuff out of it.

    Pierre Roy’s behavior is not unusual. Part of our training as musicians is to play thru anything – be it a conductor’s or a colleague’s bad behavior. Sure, it’s clear he has anger issues, but the kind of complaints Roy’s colleagues are making are mostly subjective and sound pretty petty.

    How someone makes you “feel” at work is not their problem. How can you possibly fire someone for making you “feel” “uncomfortable”? That’s the colleagues’ problem not Roy’s. Playing “unmusically”?? How on earth can you prove that? These complaints are absurdand shed a bad light on the whole band.

    If the oboist is playing flat or you don’t like his A, you pull out the tuner. The concertmaster’s job is to call him on it if the A is low and have him give it correctly. The tuner determines that, not a bunch of whiney colleagues. It’s black and white.

    The Principal Flute sounds like an annoying tattletale, quite frankly. If she can’t play thru the kind of stuff she’s complaining about or resolve it with him herself she shouldn’t be there. It’s not kindergarten and management is not the principal. Have her take a look at what went on with Baker and Gomberg or Baker and Drucker. Did they EVER go to mgt. and get each other fired? You just don’t do that, period.

    Management sounds weak and ineffective if they are taking these complaints seriously. If they are unable to find solutions for Mr. Roy’s behavior their management abililities should be reassessed.

    This whole situation sheds a bad light, unfortunately, not only on the orch. but also on having a female as Music Director. Why has Pierre Roy been acting out? Did he resent having a woman boss? These types of problems typically surface among employees when there is weak leadership from above. If Roy had issues with the Music Director, management should have acted more wisely and more strongly. Buffalo management sounds like a bunch of idiots for letting this happen.

    Shame on this professional orchestra for not handling this situation more gracefully. Many prof. musicians who have all lived thru this kind of behavior from colleagues are watching now. Very few of us went whining to mgt. and had anyone fired over it. Maybe the Principal Flute won this round, but she’s lost the respect of colleagues in orchestras elsewhere.

    1. AnnaT says:

      It’s quite a leap from bad behavior in the woodwind section to there being a problem with a female music director. If Pierre Roy “resented” having a woman at the helm (no evidence of that, by the way), that would be solely his issue, and a sad one, indeed.

    2. MWnyc says:

      “Playing unmusically” in this case evidently means deliberately playing solos at tempos other than the ones the conductor is beating at that very moment.

      Nobody’s suggesting that Pierre Roy is an untalented musician; indeed, everyone involved seems to acknowledge that he is very highly skilled.

      The clear indication is that he has been playing off-pitch or out of sync with his colleagues and conductor on purpose.

      And, for what it’s worth, the outside arbitrator found that the orchestra’s firing of Roy was entirely justified.

      1. Anon says:

        Playing “unmusically” is not the same as playing out of tempo. Playing out of tempo is pretty concrete. You can prove it and it can be fixed. Musicality is very, very subjective. It’s a horrible criteria to cite and try to judge someone on. It’s kind of like criticizing an artist for not being artistic. How do you prove that? What idiot would use that as a reason to fire someone?

  5. Daniel Farber says:

    The guy sounds like he needs help. Even HE admitted to having a meltdown. When it’s always one person v. the rest of the world, it’s 99% certain that it’s not the fault of the rest of the world.

    1. Mikey says:

      No, but you can be sure that the probability of his being truthful and correct in his assessment does go up significantly when you consider that it is in fact a very tiny handful of people who are causing the issues.

      Many years ago I was in a teaching position where one single other teacher disliked my popularity with students. She went out of her way to correct me (and more often than not, was herself in error) and embarrass me in front of students. She then complained to management with the support of one of her friends who had “witnessed” all of these supposed incidents.
      I got fired. She got what she wanted – my students. Management knew I was a strict teacher, sometimes disliked by lazy students, but greatly appreciated by those with a strong work ethic. But it’s far easier to believe the lazy complainers.

    2. Peter says:

      That’s what the schoolyard bullies always tell the odd nerdy kid they are beating up while the rest of the class is standing by passively.

  6. Amos says:

    How odd that the final straw was at a rehearsal of the Prokofiev 5th. In 1965 another volatile relationship between a truly brilliant principal oboe and acclaimed conductor came to an end while rehearsing the same piece and for the same reasons! I don’t know anything about him but after reading the article I am willing to bet Mr. Roy knew about the earlier incident and …. As an aside when I lived in Denver I attended a few concerts Ms. Falletta conducted with what I believe was called the Denver Chamber Orchestra. At a Christmas concert the Beethoven Violin Concerto was presented with the Orchestra’s concertmaster as soloist. If memory serves me he was an older gentleman who was a Curtis graduate. When he came onstage he appeared extremely nervous but may well have been ill. For the first half of the 1st movement Ms. Falletta seemed go out of her way to keep the tempos moderate to give the soloist a chance to collect himself and after ~ 10 minutes the performance took off and everyone accounted themselves admirably.

  7. Nick says:

    How sad that the world has changed so much that even this, the most common of orchestral experiences, can not be handled as the past generations did for so long. As someone else pointed out already, so many fine orchestras and so many world famous players had had feuds with their colleagues and most often with the players sitting right next to them and they still managed to have great careers of 20-30 years and their ensembles always managed to sound great. What is this nonsense now with everybody feeling ‘uncomfortable’ sitting next to a colleague they don’t like? Was that part of their contract or something? ‘I sign this contract that binds me to perform with this group AS LONG AS I feel great about all of them and they don’t move around too much and their pitch matches mine at all times and I personally like the way they play their solos and the way it feels playing with them…’ Ridiculous! I particularly find it funny that a flute player complained about someone moving too much around them! Hello kettle, meet pot! The Maestro should also have found a much better, much more private way of settling this instead of public shaming and firing. Passive-aggressive really is the name of the game within an Orchestra so, why not see exactly what brought the Oboist to the point where he was acting this way? What if he was feeling that THEY were mocking him, and rushing ahead of him and playing really sharp against his tuning A or while playing his solos and what if THEY were just behaving like a clique that made him feel very uncomfortable to work somewhere where he has already worked for 15+ years? The Maestro needs to be more in charge of this. Not just fire someone but take charge and make everyone understand whatever problems they might have with one another, the Boss is where the buck stops and when he/she stands on the podium EVERYONE gives their best and follows instructions and when they disagree the Conductor is always right, especially in front of everyone, on stage. Bigger disagreements can be handled on a break, backstage, in the office, in private. This is high school band behaviour. So unprofessional.

    1. Anon says:

      Well said, Nick. I agree 100%.

  8. MacroV says:

    I’m sure orchestras can sometimes be very dysfunctional places, but you have to be an adult, and a professional. If half of what this article says is true, it seems the firing of Pierre Roy was justified; it wasn’t just a matter of being difficult with colleagues, but actually sabotaging his own playing, that is really beyond the pale.

    One of the most famous of orchestral feuds, I believe, was between Ray Still and Donald Peck, who didn’t speak for years (I suspect in part because Peck was one of those who supported Jean Martinon’s effort to get him fired). But even after they sort of made up, Ray Still supposedly said he played better when he WASN’T talking to Peck. Professional.

    1. Ppellay says:

      Actually, they were strong-armed into making up by Solti, who had threatened to quit the CSO there and then if they didn’t do so.

  9. william osborne says:

    As others have noted, conflicts like these are common in orchestras. Levine and Levine’s famous study noted that the social structures of symphony orchestras cause musicians to “act like five year-olds.” Equally well-known is the study of Richard Hackman, a social psychologist at Harvard, which found high levels of job dissatisfaction among orchestra musicians.

    When my wife won the audition for the Munich Philharmonic (by defeating 32 men,) the bass trombonist was so infuriated that a woman had been hired that he confronted the co-principal trombonist in the parking lot and challenged him to a fist fight. You can imagine what it was like for her to work in that orchestra, so I got to observe a lot of these conflicts, especially since the conductor, Sergiu Celibidache, nurtured factionalism in the orchestra to establish his power.

    I’ve noticed that orchestras that feel they are not given sufficient recognition often have the most internal conflicts. It seems to stem from a general sense of dissatisfaction and frustration about their ensemble’s status. To stick my neck out, I will mention a few examples, though these observations are highly subjective. Pittsburgh, Seattle, the Munich Phil, and Buffalo are orchestras that have to varying degrees suffered from poor internal relationships because they have not gotten the recognition they deserve, or feel they deserve. By contrast, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and even St. Louis have generally been fairly harmonious because they are more content with their recognition.

    I’ve also noticed that orchestras dissatisfied with their status are more likely to attack women members, since they are seen as lowering the ensemble’s image of elitism. Fortunately, that practice has decreased strongly in recent years.

    Another category are orchestra that are so occupied with their survival that they have no time to fight with each other, like Detroit. The stress they face as an institution creates a kind of unity. I think Baltimore also falls into that category, though to a lesser extent.

    Regional orchestras in the USA tend to have fewer conflicts because their seasons are so limited that they don’t have to spend as much time together.

    Since these problems are so common, and fairly easily identifiable, I’m surprised that the union and organizations like ICSOM and ROPA haven’t developed programs for dealing with these issues. Another possibility might be the formation of a consulting firm of experienced orchestral leaders, arbitrators, and psychologists who could be hired to resolve conflicts that arise, and even better, offer regular workshops for orchestras so that they can avoid these issues in the first place.

  10. Karen says:

    I think the pertinent point of the article is that the oboe player was found by the conductor and musicians to play in a detrimental and sabotaging way. I think that is definitely grounds for dismissal.

    The rest of it is dirty laundry that doesn’t need to be aired. Was it the oboist’s lawyer who wanted to get this published? I imagine so, since he seems to be the only person directly quoted. This journalist actually admits to digging through court documents to get her story when no one from the orchestra would speak to her. It’s rather underhanded to thereupon use quotes from the musicians in the documents. Curious, I googled “journalistic ethics” and found in the code: “Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention,” and “Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”

    Personally, I think the Buffalo Philharmonic deserves more respect than this.

    1. william osborne says:

      I am not sympathetic to the oboist in question, but based on the report, he is facing a mobbing situation in the orchestra, so it is only natural that he would try to bring his predicament to a wider public.

      I think these types of events in orchestras need to be more widely publicized and studied – something that is difficult because the social structures of orchestras make them quite secretive. One of the worst results is that young musicians are trained for orchestras without knowing how often the social atmosphere is toxic. The second result is that these problems remain unacknowledged, with the result that they are not studied and solutions found.

      The American Psychological Association estimates that 3% of men and 1% of women have anti-social personality disorders. (ASPD is sometimes also referred to as psychopathy and sociopathy.) Professions that involve risk-taking, such as the performing arts, are thought to have even higher ratios. It is thus likely that most orchestra with around 100 members have at least one to four people with ASPA. These individuals can cause serious problems in orchestras, even though it is often almost impossible to remove them. This is one more reason that the endemic problems with orchestral conflict should be more closely studied and solutions explored.

      As it is now, the approaches Buffalo is taking to this problem are exactly wrong. The more isolated the oboist feels, the more his ASPD will be provoked, and the more justified he will feel. In short, mobbing is also inappropriate.

      ASPD is considered to be among the most difficult personality disorders to treat. Those who suffer from it have a low capacity for remorse, and fail to see the costs associated with their behavior because they are relatively indifferent to the suffering of others. They are often aggressive, have a low tolerance for frustration, and tend to blame others. As a result they are inclined to simulate remorse rather than commit to change.

      Rather than attempt to develop a sense of conscience in these individuals, therapeutic techniques usually focus on utilitarian arguments against repeating past mistakes. One should stress the tangible, self-serving value of prosocial and professional behavior in the orchestra. These approaches should be stressed for all parties. These conflicts have often existed for years, with the result that no one is completely innocent. The colleagues do not need to like each other, but they need to make an “arrangement,” an agreed upon code of behavior that will allow everyone a detached professionalism.

    2. robcat2075 says:

      “It’s rather underhanded to thereupon use quotes from the musicians in the documents.”

      The musicians have given testimony in official legal proceedings. It is good practice of the journalist to examine these available comments made by various parties rather than merely accept the one side offered in an interview by a player’s lawyer.

      Also, since the orchestra is beneficiary of public tax benefits it’s appropriate subject matter for a journalist to look into anyway.

  11. Jeremy says:

    There is no quibbling about Mr. Roy’s artistry – he is a superb musician. As an oboist I can tell you that his reed-making videos on youtube are the best I have seen – clear, concise instruction and superb results.

    There is also a clip on youtube of the marcello 2nd movement December, 2011. Listen first, then read Roy’s comments below – explains everything.

    1. Russophile says:

      Here’s the infamous youtube clip and Mr. Roy’s ungracious comment – He really exposes his true colors. Clearly this guy is too arrogant and childish to work in any professional orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_48Kq0I0yw

      1. william osborne says:

        Thanks for this link. The relatively neutral approach in my previous posts is mistaken. Pierre Roy’s remark in the comments section of the video about Falletta is appalling, beyond the pale. He writes: “Check out this video on YouTube: indeed let’s welcome Pierre, spoken from the mouth of the forked tongue herself. What a phony witch. Notice the little dipsy doodle phrasing from the school of perfume in my attempts to musically appeases the witch who incidentally knows next to nothing of musical phrasing.
        Idiot!”

        When insubordination of this order is tolerated, an orchestra cannot function. Pierre Roy needs to find another job as soon as possible, though no orchestra will hire a musician with that kind of mentality. Whew!

        1. Peter says:

          That comment came after being fired and should thus not be taken too seriously. Certainly he is angry, that’s obvious… But it’s not always the angry person who is to blame only, actually sometimes anger is the normal reaction and keeping face would be abnormal, depending on the circumstances.

          1. william osborne says:

            I’m sorry for the suffering Roy is no doubt experiencing, but his YouTube comment alone is enough to destroy his suit for unfair dismissal.

          2. Anon says:

            Yes, but he is filing a lawsuit right now. He’s shooting himself in the foot by making comments like that publicly. The music director could rightfully come after HIM for slander.

        2. Olassus says:

          … the little dipsy doodle phrasing from the school of perfume.

          Great line!

  12. Anon says:

    An interesting document surfaced today and was published in Drew McManus’ blog on this situation. Pierre Roy gives a lengthy and detailed account of a number of situations in the orchestra. It was originally published on Roy’s website, but he subsequently deleted. Mr. McManus rediscovered it.

    It gives background on a lot of the behind-the-scenes activities in this orchestra. It also totally confirms my original statement that the Principal Flute of this orchestra has
    a screw loose. What a whiny, petty tattletale she is. Not at all a good colleague.

    http://adaptistration.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/J-Bud-Debacle-Oboe-Playing-and-Reed-Making.pdf

    1. Drew McManus says:

      To be clear, Mr. Roy’s writings do not provide any additional background on events related to his lawsuit. The full document was provided to add context to the excerpts included in the post that highlight Mr. Roy’s extreme behavior and rationale along with demonstrating that there were no edits beyond those for length, nothing else.

      Moreover, it would be folly for any reader to construe on infer Mr. Roy’s assertions as any sort of definitive account.Quite the opposite, Mr. Roy’s account of events are entirely undocumented and without verification; given the nature of the content, that lack of certification casts nothing but doubt on any details.

      Lastly, I would advise any individual mentioned in his writing to seek legal counsel to help determine whether or not there is justification and merit in petitioning a court for a restraining order.

      Drew McManus

  13. William Safford says:

    There appears to be even more to the story of this oboist. A simple search turns up more, such as:

    http://www.playbillarts.com/news/article/6494.html

    “Dismissed Oboist Brings Anti-Gay Discrimination Case Against Buffalo Philharmonic”

    “According to a statement issued on Roach’s behalf by GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), the trouble began in February 2003, when Roach’s supervisor, principal oboist Pierre Roy, allegedly remarked to him, “We wouldn’t want any more fags in the orchestra.””

  14. Anon says:

    FYI…not surprisingly, it appears that the YouTube link you posted is no longer accessible.

  15. Anon2 says:

    Yeah, I figured that was coming. Thought maybe he’d just delete the comment though, the way his sister did in the comments section of the Buffalo article describing the situation. She’s a top ranked bassoonist with a major European orchestra and she went on this big flame where she defended her brother Pierre, and berated the Music Director and the city of Buffalo. As soon as other readers started calling her on it, she deleted the comment.

  16. finkie says:

    Latest news is that this oboist (BTW: I am an oboist, former Wichita Symphony, U.S. Army Band, Ft Myer, D.C.) was fired again, challenged the second firing and lost. As it turns out, the only pitch problem was the fits of immaturity he pitched when he became emotionally challenged. Sounds like he needs therapy, as do many professional musicians, who sacrifice so much of their personal well-being to play classical music. This is a problem in many orchestras.

  17. Sara B says:

    Wish it was the old days-now a bunch of entitled, spoilt class wins. You had yodlowski and menkis going at it backstage and no one cared. Any wonder why audiences are dwindling?! Hustlers and opportunists.


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