‘I would work for half my pay if I thought quality would be defended’
February 17, 2017 by norman lebrecht
Our Berlin-based diarist Anthea Kreston, catching up with an old friend in the Pittsburgh Symphony, finds the mood fragile and fearful after the bitter and unnecessary lockout.
I am sitting, eating another glorious breakfast at my hotel in Waterloo, Brussels. Today is my final day of three here – this afternoon I catch a plane back to Berlin just in time to have a late evening jump-start with quartet on the Schumann Piano quintet.
The Queen Elizabeth Music Chapel is a wonderful place to reconnect to my own youth as a student – I rekindle and share my experiences as an eager student with the Guarneri, Emerson, Cleveland Quartet, Felix Galimir, Ida Kavafian, Isaac Stern, and all of the others who so deeply influenced me, challenged me, and encouraged me to always open my heart and ask more of myself. To never be satisfied, but to forgive myself at the same time. The students here are so warm and open – quick as can be, and it is a true gift to be able to teach here. I worked with the wonderful Arod and Girard Quartets this week, and equally incredible Busch and Zadig Trios.
I am thankful for many things – and at the same time, I am in contact with old friends who are struggling with their own lives as members of orchestras who are stumbling back from lockouts. As I exchanged emails with old friends this week, a voice from within the Pittsburg Symphony touched me deeply. It is a voice of a wonderful musician – someone whose soul speaks through their playing – a generous person, a person who has been an inspiration to me consistently since we met as teenagers. I think these words should be shared. This person has allowed me to include their words, anonymously.
‘Every musician who has been caught in a lockout has to consider their future quickly – most have families, children in school, people who rely on their income. They scramble to find other work, begin taking auditions for other orchestras, a gruelling process – especially when it is unexpected.
‘I think it is important that the general public knows how devastating a strike can be personally for musicians. We are hurting, and ours was far shorter than Minnesota’s! In fact, during our strike, the idea that it could go on as long as theirs, loomed over us day after day…making it that much more scary. I find myself having to use more and more self help tips on being positive and just getting out of bed at all is sometimes a struggle.
‘The PSO is back at work, but an innocence is lost. It is no longer that place that we’ve always had that sustains us, it is a weird feeling of distrust and looking out for ones own future, because no guarantee of anything really improving. The audiences have been incredibly great, the community is amazingly supportive, which is great but further highlights the injustice of having been dragged through this nightmare of a strike because of the lack of proper management by our board mainly, who we all thought were doing their job.
‘There are people on our board who honestly believe that classical music is a thing of the past, no longer relevant and others who think we’d be better off as a smaller band. Knowing that just eats at me and I think that is what has hurt us all more than anything! I would work for half of my current pay if it meant that the quality was going to be defended tooth and nail, if our pay was going to procure the best soloists, or for us to play more Mahler or commissioned works, for example. Take my pay, and cut the many video game and backup band type concerts we’ve played more of recently in order to “make money”. Those are so degrading.
‘I think my main desire of having (I will insert here that this person began to take auditions again) another job was just to finally say goodbye to the filth of all that bad music and to dedicate my full time to quality, opera music especially, which I’m dying to play. They work really hard? Great! Count me in! I can still play hours and hours a day no problem when I love the music making.
Oh Anthea, I’ve gone on today, a low one. Thanks for reading, “listening”.;).’
Every person tells a different story – has a different path through the complicated life of a classical musician. No path is easy – all require sacrifices for the player and their family – and challenge our innate need to do the fundamental, important work that we were trained for, and that we fell in love with, many of us, before we could even read or write. We hold onto that love, and it will always come back to us – one way or another.
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