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Young maestro is accused in age-discrimination suit

March 23, 2017 by norman lebrecht

72 comments.


The Indianapolis music director Krzysztof Urbanski has been named in an unfair dismissal suit by former principal bassoon John Wetherill, who claims he was ousted from the orchestra on grounds of his age.

Wetherill, 62, says he was ‘duped and ambushed’ in 2012 by the 29 year-old music director.

He argues that ‘the [ISO] is economically benefited by moving out older musicians and bringing in younger musicians below the protected age of 40… A number of older musicians resigned during the period from late 2012 and thereafter, as a result of Urbanski’s ‘move out and replace’ plan and action.’

Report here.

UPDATE: Indy hits back.


Comments (72)

  1. Rockefeller says:

    Bravo, Mr. Wetherill ! Age discrimination is an enormous problem, particularly with these arrogant young European conductors Just look at what happened in Jacksonville last week, with a large group of over 40 players being asked to “retire” by a cocky young Brit.

    Phoenix Symphony players did not stand for this in 2009 when 8 over 40’s were slated to be “retired”. They took it to court for age discrimation and WON! Wet behind the ears Music Director Michael Christie is the one who’s gone now! http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/blogs/michael-christie-and-the-ongoing-rumble-in-the-phoenix-symphony-6503427

    The orch. world needs more stars like John Wetherill who stand up to this abuse. He’s experienced and he knows what he’s doing. Electronic tuners are objective proof against tuning accusations. Very amusing when he faked playing & the conductor still called him out! He’s way smarter than this disrespectful young conductor and should fight a good fight.

    Looking at the names on Norman’s “Longest Serving Orch. Players” I know of at least one player in the top 15 who fought an ongoing battle with a well-known music director in a major orch. who pushed for him to retire. Orch. wouldn’t touch it because they knew this guy would sue for age discrimination. He retired when HE decided it was time.

    Someone needs to give these brash young conductors a reality check on respecting veteran players. They need to know that older players are experienced, well-connected and very very clever. Like older voters, we are the worst possible demographic to be messing with in an orchestra because we know so much.

    So bravo, John Wetherill! Keep up the good fight. You are representing leagues of older players who have suffered/are suffering this injustice.

    And let’s remember the name of this conductor Krzysztof Urbanski, who has shown himself to be an ageist, lacking respect for a veteran player. Urbanski should be on every musician’s “no fly” list right now. Another arrogant European millenial stepping into a US job and harassing long serving US players. Boo, Urbanski.

    Eschenbach tried this in Phila., “pink slipping” a group of veteran players and he will go down in history as the Music Director with the shortest tenure in the orch’s history. Carlos KALMAR brutally unseated a long time principal player in Portland Oregon. Came back to haunt him. He was just relieved of his contract in a major European orchestra for the same conduct. The list goes on and on. Someone needs to educate this egotistical, self-serving mostly young conductors that they need to WORK WITH THE ORCHESTRA THEY WERE SO FORTUNATE TO BE HIRED TO CONDUCT. Changing players is not going to make them a better conductor, it’s only going to alienate the other musicians.

    Until they learn, we the musicians will remember every name, every case where a conductor has harassed an older player and make a lot of noise. So we’e just added to the list COURTNEY LEWIS, the young British ageist conductor of Jacksonville Symph. and now KRZYSTOF URBANSKI, the young Polish conductor who, in Indianapolis is also going to great lengths to disrespect a veteran principal player. Urbanski’s contract is up with ISO at the end of the 2017-18 season. Let’s hope this lawsuit throws some shade & it’s not renewed.

    1. Halldor says:

      Protesting against age-discrimination by launching into a litany of age-based abuse about young people. Ooh, and a side-order of xenophobia too! Stay classy, eh?

      1. Rockefeller says:

        Halldor, Michael Christie, the Phoenix conductor, is American. Eschenbach is over 40. Both guilty of doing the same thing.

        It’s no litany against young people here it’s just calling a spade a spade. Baby boomers, Gen Y & Gen Xers and Millennials arguably have stereotypical characteristics.

        Millennials ( Urbanski and Christie both qualify) universally have a reputation for this type of behavior and not just in music. They are often seen as self-entitled, narcissistic, egotistical and confident. They are often oblivious of the effect of their actions to others because they consider themselves “special”. They often clash with Baby Boomers (the bassoonist) who resent their sense of entitlement. It’s not a litany, this is typical of how certain age groups act in the workplace.

        Pointing out European origin is key because as the article Norman posted points out, in Europe it is more accepted for conductors to do this firing at will. Particularly in Poland, where Urbanski trained. No union, no protection for musicians. Conductors are more inclined to do what they want. I’ve noticed that oddly, in the UK, conductors also do this.

        In the US it is really really frowned on. Toscanini’s tantrums shaped new union legislation in the US and European conductors don’t understand that the rules are different in the US. THAT is why mention of national origin is key here.

        1. SM says:

          You are not right. Unions in Poland are very strong. And protection for the experienced but still great playing musicians is everywhere respected.

          1. canuck says:

            Musicians’ union in Poland is very strong??? Laughable! They won’t audition people for any orchestra over the age of 30+, they are in a process of firing more than half of a chamber opera house musicians and conductors treat musicians like their employees! Urbanski is a young, arrogant twat (a very Polish feature), whose ego overshadows anyone that he stands in front of.

        2. Novagerio says:

          Oh please, the player fakes by not playing and the conductor still shouts that the player is out of tune. That’s not in a class with a “Toscanini-tantrum”, that’s simply about an abusive idiot on the podium. Period.

    2. OFF THE PODIUM says:

      podcast you might enjoy related to the pretentious young “maestro” if we can call him that
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGQhqgjh9Bk

  2. Xavier Karivalis says:

    Who does this punk think he is? Mr Wetherill is strking a blow for all beleaguered musicians in America. And, wow, does it take stones to stand up the way he’s doing. Imagine! Wetherill played for BOULEZ, but some snotnose with fancy hair thinks he knows better. Give ’em hell!

  3. Bruce says:

    Conductors pull this kind of nonsense all the time. I have a flutist friend whose conductor would tell her in meetings that she’d been too loud a month before on a piece she didn’t even play on. Or he would tell her that her piccolo playing was out of tune but she hadn’t played piccolo. And so on. (She didn’t get the impression that it was an age thing; she was 40+ but was a new hire who ended up not getting tenure.) Another one, a trombonist, was told he’d been too loud in a performance after not playing.

    I’ve never been called into the office (yet), but I regularly fake playing because my softest “ppp” is still too loud. Never been told I was still too loud — silence is usually quiet enough — but I have been singled out for praise (“Bruce, that was beautiful!”) after only pretending to play.

    I know it’s not news, but it is brought to our attention again and again (and again) that the main qualities that conductors need to possess are a massive ego and an appetite for domination. Technique and musical insight beyond a certain basic level are nice, but not necessary.

  4. Ben says:

    Nobody should get excited about this piecemeal news. Truth is, being a professional orchestra musician is very stressful and demanding. The job requires top mental and physical form, plus putting up with sweaty colleague, teaching, less-than-competent conductors, et al.

    Unfortunately, there will always be passionate and driven musicians who play well past their prime, below the orchestra’s standard —- typically due to the inevitable aging process — but refuse to move on.

    Before everybody cries out age-discrimination, let’s get a complete story, before passing on judgement.

    1. Xavier Karivalis says:

      Some of us with opinions HAVE heard Wetherill play. He’s still excellent. How a midlevel orch scored this caliber player in the first place is the real mystery. He should have stayed in Paris where people know something.

  5. Cubs Fan says:

    Too bad more orchestras don’t practice another type of age discrimination and refuse to let anyone under the age of 40 take the helm of a professional orchestra. Too often these youngsters don’t have the social skills needed in a complex workplace, and usually don’t have a clue what they’re doing with a baton. They’re fakers who get through on brashness, attractiveness, and a sycophantic patron. Younger Americans especially have no sense of style and tradition of the music they’re conducting. Michael Christie was a horrible conductor in Melbourne and the orchestra members had a celebration party when he left (I know, I’m related to a player in that group) and he wasn’t missed by orchestra or audiences in Phoenix. His dull, uninspired performances are gone. Not every conductor will be great – very few in fact. But even to become competent takes years of experience.

    1. Ernie says:

      Guess that would leave out Toscanini, et al. Although, I think I get the point. By the time Toscanini took the podium he had had significant experience as an orchestral musician and vocal coach. But, to another point, do symphony musicians themselves pull colleagues (young or old) aside and tell them “I think you’ve got some e.g. intonation problems “? If not, who does? And if it’s the musician him/herself, can they always be honest and not self-interested?

      1. Halldor says:

        Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Hans Richter, Richard Strauss, Carlos Kleiber, Otto Klemperer, Fritz Reiner, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Bernard Haitink…know-nothing wet-behind-the-ears punks to a man.

  6. Bassoon Player says:

    If Mr Wetherill were a nice person and a great player, this story would be different for me. Since he is neither, I think he should retire!

    1. musician says:

      The only way to improve this comment would be to make it rhyme. Might I suggest:

      “If Mr. Wethrill were a nice person and a great player, his position I might admire. Since he is neither, I think he should retire!”

    2. musician says:

      Spot on. And if I understand correctly, not just a few of his colleagues would agree 100% with you.

  7. Herr Doktor says:

    One has to tread carefully in these matters, because there are definitely tenured orchestra players who deserve to be pushed out the door. Case in point, the Boston Symphony. The principal trumpet player during the Ozawa years was someone who should never have been in his position. He would regularly flub solos and routinely dragged the orchestra down with his substandard and embarrassing playing. I’ve heard that Ozawa tried to get rid of him but was stopped by the union because he was tenured. When James Levine came on board, I was told that Levine quickly became aware of the severity of the problem and when he learned he could not fire this individual, instead rotated him out so this individual did not play any concerts that Levine conducted. Eventually the principal trumpet player “retired” after, I heard through the grapevine, his contract was bought out by the BSO. His replacement was everything a principal of any section should be. Even though the orchestra members were all well aware that this man had no business being in their great orchestra, they and the union backed him up to the very end until someone wrote a big check to get rid of him.

    Sorry folks, but that’s wrong. I’m generally a supporter of labor unions, but not when they shield the incompetent and the chronically under-performing. There needs to be a better balance, but obviously in these charged times when labor is under sustained attack by the powers that be across the U.S. and parts of Europe, it’s impossible to have a truly fair discussion because the right is trying to destroy labor, something that I am completely opposed to (and I am certainly not a member of any organized political group let alone the right).

    1. NYMike says:

      Unless I’m mistaken, “Charlietoot” was a mistaken hire by Ozawa to begin with. There are peer dismissal review clauses in today’s orchestra agreements so that peer musicians do have a say about colleagues who disturb the balance in an orchestra. Rarely used because “there but for the grace of —go I.”

    2. harold braun says:

      Bullshit!Charlie Schlueter was one of the greatest players ever.Fantastic sound,great stamina and technique.Heard him many times live.Alpine Symphony,Mahler 2,Turangalila,Planets…heck of a player.

      1. NYMike says:

        As a retired musician who’s played with Gil Johnson, Dick Smith, Bill Vacchiano, Johnny Ware and Ray Crisara among others, I know whereof I speak. Both Schleutter in Boston and Frank Kaderabic in Philly were bought out with good reason. All the orchestral excerpts you mention are standard solos, part of the routine expected of principal trumpeters. Ah, ENSEMBLE playing – that’s another matter entirely.

        Your ears need adjusting.

        1. Steve P says:

          I will say that I heard Charlie playing a Monette trumpet at the factory with several other Portland trumpeters…and his sound simply did not work with theirs. He certainly played well, but I imagine working with him was a nightmare for other brass players.

      2. Herr Doktor says:

        Mr. Braun, with all due respect, you were not sitting in Symphony Hall in concert after concert in which Charles Schlueter (who I intentionally did not name in my initial post, but obviously people know who I was referring to) played at a level that would get him kicked out of a conservatory orchestra let alone a world-class one. But I was. He may be the finest human being on planet earth, he may be a very likeable colleague, but he had no business being on the same stage as the BSO. He embarrassed himself and the orchestra on a routine basis, FOR YEARS. He ruined many concerts and many performances. Thankfully he’s no longer torturing the music-loving public in Boston.

        1. Bruce says:

          Only ever heard him* in concert once: Bruckner 8 with Heinz Wallberg in Symphony Hall, approx. March 1991. During the climaxes, I couldn’t hear anybody else. I’m used to being able to hear only the brass during big Bruckner/Mahler/Wagner/Strauss moments, but I couldn’t even hear the brass or timpani — only Schleuter. Was it good playing? Yes, I think so. Was it ensemble playing? Absolutely not.

          *(That’s why I said “him” and not “the BSO”)

        2. Bruce says:

          P.S. There’s a famous — or, rather, infamous — recording of “Bolero” with Ozawa/Boston from the 1970s where the trombone solo is amazingly substandard. I remember hearing in school that the trombonist was asked to retire after this recording session. Ah. Here it is:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxxCYNNyFNU 8:14 to 8:58

          1. Tristan says:

            Not a trombonist here – he’s a little sharp, he rushes, & isn’t there supposed to be a gliss in there? But he gets all the notes. It’s not outstanding but he does the job. .

          2. Bruce says:

            Tristan – if you heard someone playing like that on the other side of an audition screen, would you advance them to the 2nd round of a Boston Symphony principal trombone audition?

          3. Chris says:

            Wow the ‘bone player really didn’t do either of the glissandi. I couldn’t even imagine how that happened. Maybe in the practice room, but on a recording? I wonder what the rest of the section thought about it…

          4. Tristan says:

            Bruce, I hear what you’re saying, but it’s hard to expect someone to play at audition level every single time they come to work. It’s a job – people have good days and bad days. Maybe his mother died. Maybe he had a pimple on his lip. Who knows.

            I know to another trombone player it’s probably sacrilegious to leave out the glisses but your average non-musician audience person wouldn’t even notice. It’s a difficult solo and
            he didn’t miss any notes or clam. It was clean. He did the job.

            There’s an urban legend about this solo with another major league trombone principal, a very highly regarded player. It might have even been a televised performance. Guy was playing his heart out. The most beautiful Bolero you’ve ever heard. He went for the gliss with everything he had and he clammed big time. Everyone just smiled and gave him kudos for his passion. He was, and is still, probably the most respected principal trombone in the world, certainly in the US.

            You can’t judge a player by one performance. You can’t expect audition level from full time players every single time they come to work. Until you’ve sat in that hot spot day in day out, and know what if feels like, it’s probably not a good idea to judge, IMHO.

          5. Nydo says:

            I think you are mixing up your stories, as the famous recording of Bolero that has circulated among musicians is of a radio broadcast from around 20 years ago of the Chicago Symphony, with it’s associate principal playing the solo. This Boston solo is a bit plain, and a bit rushed and sharp in places, but not the disaster you portray. The principal player had been having chop trouble for a few years, and he didn’t step down for 2 years after this recording, and retired the next year.

          6. Tristan says:

            Bruce, I totally agree with NYDO here. This Bolero solo is not a disaster. It’s correct, it’s clean, it’s perfectly adequate, esp. for such a difficult solo. It’s a little sharp and rushy, and no glisses, but he does it. You must be thinking of another Bolero recording.

          7. Bruce says:

            No. You & NYDO don’t agree with my opinion of the solo (I don’t think I called it a “disaster;” but hey, if the shoe fits), but I’m not confused about it. I owned this recording for many years starting in the early 80’s — on cassette! — and would play it for friends, since the piece has standard audition solos for so many instruments. It was trombone players who would always remark on the trombone solo (I’m a flute player.)

          8. David Rohde says:

            It’s not hard to spend a few minutes checking recordings, YouTube videos, etc. for comparisons. Conclusion: Yes, it’s a bad performance of the passage, lacking all style and resonance. Certainly it’s possible for people to have a personal issue that day, but that’s more truism than anything and all we have to go by is the actual performance. Yes, the audience won’t explicitly “notice” that there there’s not a glissando but that’s a silly criterion – it’s an effect that they don’t get to experience and there’s no pop quiz after the performance. Besides, American symphony orchestras need more audience members who don’t know what a glissando is and never will, not more who do. I can’t possibly speak to the personnel involved in this past incident, but the relevance here is that while it is possible to have age discrimination, it is also possible to unnecessarily block overdue change. My related impressions of the current matter under dispute based on news reports are further down in this comment thread. Thanks.

          9. Tristan says:

            Bruce, if BSO put this Bolero with that solo on it out as a commercial recording and you don’t like it, that is not the problem of the guy who played it. When you are recording you don’t know which take they’re going to use, or if they even notice your mistakes. If it’s live and it’s going to be sold commercially, they can easily edit it.

            Sound engineers sit there with the score as does the conductor and are supposed to catch any “substandard” ingredient & edit it out. Many times they don’t. Either they don’t catch it or they don’t consider it “substandard” enough to fix. So it’s pretty much your & your trombone friends’ opinion vs. Seiji Ozawa’s here, as well as the sound editor for the label who produced it. They felt it was OK to put on a recording. You do not.

          10. Bruce says:

            And there we have it.

    3. Daniel F. says:

      You have the story absolutely correct, so far as I know. Seiji originally wanted Charlie so much that he gave him a pass on auditioning and allowed him to be heard only with the orchestra, whether in concert or just in rehearsal of special “trumpet moments” I’m not sure. Charlie had an enormous sound, but alas the real problems had not do with loudness per se: It was elsewhere and of several kinds. 1. Clams (forgivable but not so much when committed in the profusion Charlie did). 2. Inability or disinclination to tongue sharply (e.g. Levine clearly annoyed–never before or after seen like this–in open rehearsal of the Eroica, triplets near end of 1st movement 3. Inability or disinclination to “maintain the line” in long phrases, making instead slight diminuendi on every note. All this was, however, very sad, since he was such a personable guy and an so uncommonly generous a teacher and friend.

  8. Doug says:

    Orchestra musicians want to be called artists, but also want tenure and security. the two concepts are contradictory. An artist needs to grow and develop and explore and raise a standard continuously. It is problematic if an artistic institution is run like an office of civil servants in which tenure is the goal.

    1. NYMike says:

      With few exceptions, no tenured orchestra musician relies on tenured status alone in their performance of the job. Most continue to practice parts, play chamber music and use other means of keeping up their chops.

    2. Bruce says:

      Every orchestra musician knows that “tenure” is not really tenure, at least not in the way others think of it, where you have job security for life and can never be gotten rid of. There is ALWAYS a procedure in the master agreement for the conductor to get rid of a player they don’t like. It can be slow, with multiple steps, and it takes patience & self-discipline (not qualities conductors often have), but it can be done.

      Usually it’s something like this:

      (Note: If the musician is still in their probation period, normally one or two seasons in the US, they can be let go without specific cause. The protections apply only to tenured players.)

      1. The conductor calls the player into the office for an official meeting, and lays out a list of specific problems that he has with the player (rhythm, pitch, tone, following conductor, whatever). Usually specific examples are required — e.g. “continued to ignore indicated tempo at X spot in X piece, despite repeated requests.”
      1a. The player is given a time frame — say, 3 months from the date of the meeting — in which to fix the problems to the conductor’s satisfaction. The player (if he/she has read the master agreement) understands that this is, or may be, the first step in the dismissal process.

      2. At the end of the trial period, the conductor can say “sorry, I’m still not satisfied” and not renew the musician’s contract for the next season, i.e. fire him/her.

      3. The musician can appeal. This can include several steps, for example peer-review committees (where fellow musicians deliver a verdict on whether the musician should be retained), mediation (where a 3rd party tries to bring about some kind of agreement), and/or arbitration (where lawyers fight each other over the musician’s employment status). All this, if the musician wishes to pursue each successive step, can take a year or more. Meanwhile the player still has to play in the orchestra with his/her colleagues who may or may not agree with the conductor, and the conductor himself, whose opinion has already been made clear.

      4. At the end of each step, all the conductor needs to do is (a) follow the rules of the master agreement, and (b) say “sorry, I’m still not satisfied,” and eventually the musician has no more recourse. It can be done.
      4a. Sometimes the musician can win, if the conductor doesn’t follow the rules of the master agreement. As I understand it, this is what happened between Ozawa and Schleuter: a musician can be fired outright during their probationary period, but Ozawa waited until Schleuter had been tenured. Schleuter fought the dismissal in court, and it was found that Ozawa had not followed the rules of the master agreement, so Schleuter was able to stay.

      5. However, the conductor usually doesn’t have the patience to put up with the “problem” musician for as long as this takes, and either tries to fire them outright (which doesn’t work if there’s a master agreement, whose rules both sides have agreed to follow), or starts a campaign of undermining the player — e.g. disparaging remarks in rehearsal, eye-rolling during the player’s solos, making the player play something over & over again for no apparent reason, etc. — until the player gets tired of it and quits. This can be effective — I’ve seen it work. Often the player doesn’t want to go through the stress of the whole appeals process in order to keep a job where their boss doesn’t respect their work, and quits. Sometimes (and I’ve seen this happen too) the player sincerely thought they’d been doing a good job, and they quit when they find out they haven’t been.

      So. Tenure is not absolute job protection, it’s a protection to make it difficult to fire players, so that a conductor can’t destroy someone’s life with a tantrum.

      1. NYMike says:

        You’ve left out the step where the AFM local takes part in the saga, usually supporting the peer review committee’s findings, but not always.

        1. Bruce says:

          Right. The local usually supports the player, because that’s their job.

  9. DrummerMan says:

    Can “Rockefeller” provide some documentation about the situation in Jacksonville, maybe a link to a news story?

    1. Max Grimm says:

      Read ‘Rockefeller’s comments in this – http://slippedisc.com/2017/03/orchestra-casts-off-356-years-of-experience/ – SD thread from 3 days ago. It’s all the “documentation” you’ll need…

  10. harold braun says:

    Urbanski didn’t go down very well with the Berlin Philharmonic,from what i heard.

  11. Fabio Luisi says:

    Orchestras NEED older musicians, they bring experience, wisdom, knowledge and – yes! – they can also help young music directors to find their real way if they (the music directors) trust them (the older musicians) and learn from their experience. Of course, they know so much, they have played such a huge repertoire with a lot of different conductors – many among them were excellent conductors. Young conductors fear this kind of experience, because it forces them to compare themselves with important musicians – conductors – of the past. Older musicians carry this tradition and they are able to tell if the young conductor has valuable ideas or …. he is just musically arrogant.

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you, Fabio!

    2. harold braun says:

      Bravo Maestro Luisi.Wish there would be more conductors like you.

    3. Bassoon Player says:

      I agree 100% with what you say Maestro Luisi, but I can assure you Mr. Wetherill needs to go. I wish someone had spoken with you about this particular situation before you wrote this.

      1. Fabio Luisi says:

        I do not know Mr. Wetherill, and I can understand that at times there musicians in orchestras who are beyond their zenith. In that case it has always been important to me to protect them, e.g. convincing them to switch to a less exposed position, if possible. Firing them has never been an option for me.
        In any case I just wanted to make a statement about something which seems to me to becoming usual for new appointed music directors, especially if young or afraid of experienced musicians (who could be seen as a threat to them, because of their knowledge and experience). I always tried to learn from my musicians, especially the older ones, in every orchestra I was so fortunate to be music director.

  12. Rockefeller says:

    Inspiring words from one of the greatest conductors of our time. Thank you Maestro Luisi!

  13. Lisa Bressler says:

    Despite the harassment and vicious treatment he has had to endure from Urbanski and the ISO John ,Wetherill remains the principal bassoonist. He is not the “former principal. Please correct this error in the first paragraph of this post.

  14. Anonymous IV says:

    Sorry to have to leave this comment anonymously, but it can be confirmed by anyone from the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra who played under Urbanski in the 2005 Prague Spring Conducting Competition: already then Urbanski was unbelievable arrogant in the way that he rehearsed the orchestra. Rehearsing from memory, he would say to a player “your are playing forte, but I believe the score says mezzoforte there. Correct? I am I right? You see, yes, I am right, it says mezzoforte and you are playing too loud.” Similar comments aimed at criticizing individuals turned off the entire orchestra very quickly, and it was a shame that the jury did not even attend that rehearsal to make their decision. (For the record, I was not one of the other conductor candidates.)

    1. M2N2K says:

      A person who behaves arrogantly in his early 20s will not necessarily continue doing so in his mid-30s. A good example of this is Daniel Harding.
      During last several years, KU conducted our orchestra several times and he always impressed me in a very positive way. Of course I don’t know him in a music director capacity and therefore have no opinion about that.

  15. JOHN MCLAUGHLIN WILLIAMS says:

    Well said, Fabio!

    There should be a law requiring all aspiring conductors to serve several years in a section of a professional orchestra. The experience would provide the sort of musical perspective and knowledge one can only acquire by performing in an orchestra, as well as the important social and psychological experience that is indispensable to the success of any conductor.

    It’s far too easy for charlatans to hide within the profession of conducting, and such charlatans are usually revealed in incidents of misplaced focus such as this.

    1. Anonymous says:

      What do you propose for conductors who are pianists then?

  16. David Rohde says:

    Fascinating discussion. I know we all appreciate Maestro Luisi’s comments. What I would like to contribute is the old adage that there are two sides to every story. I encourage everyone to read the full article in the Indianapolis Business Journal. Personally what I picked up from it is a sense of a big brain dump by the bassoonist’s lawyers and a long-term sense of resentment that the musician himself has brought to the situation. I’m not sure what’s wrong with a planned transition over time to a talented new principal while the more veteran player takes second chair. And I don’t think that it’s terribly meaningful that the conductor said he was “out of tune” as opposed to missing in action when he refused to play a passage in rehearsal in an attempt to trick the conductor. “Something sounds wrong here” is good enough for me when the player wasn’t doing his job.

    And this part made me laugh out loud: “Wetherill said Urbanski tried to publicly humiliate him in a February 2016 concert at Hilbert Circle Theatre by requiring him to play a solo, without notice, on a piece of music that required a different reed than the one he had been using. Wetherill said he had the correct reed with him, fortunately, and played the solo without problem, avoiding embarrassment.” Well, I work in theater pit orchestras where the woodwind players typically bring three, four, five or even six different INSTRUMENTS with them because of the way that musicals are typically scored. I’m not that impressed that Mr. Wetherill “fortunately” had brought all the accoutrements that he might need for his one instrument to work that day. And it certainly sounds like this situation involved a passage in a piece that he was familiar with anyway. Let’s see how this all plays out.

    1. NYMike says:

      Comparing the proverbial apples to …..if you’re in a B’way pit, you’re playing the same show with the same instruments, reeds, mouthpieces, etc. eight x/week (unless you’re subbing out) with no surprises. In Wetherill’s case, the last minute change of program was a legitimate surprise requiring a different reed – often the case in concert repertoire.

      1. David Rohde says:

        Maybe McIntosh apples vs. Gala apples, not so much apples and oranges, Mike 🙂 I’m talking first and foremost about schlepping the instruments and other gear to and from the worksite, secondly about the performance. Although note that many reed players in theater – the term “woodwinds” is rarely used there, and the “reed books” incorporate flutes whether that makes semantic sense or not – are extremely accomplished. It’s very common to see them play clarinet and sax on the one hand and flute and piccolo on the other, and a few add oboe and English horn, essentially a triple threat of distinct skillsets at a performance level. Yes, credit to the bassoonist here for what I will assume was a good performance of some music he wasn’t expecting to play that day. But what I’m laughing at is the supposed burden of carrying around all of the materials he may need to do his job the way it’s apparently stated in the legal complaint. Based on the full article, there’s a lot of possibly spurious stuff like this that seems to be just tossed into the lawsuit, and it makes me want to hear the other side of the story even more before we really judge.

        1. Eileen says:

          Oh, I suppose those pit musicians schlepp all their instruments around every day, in case the conductor wants them to demonstrate something with no prior warning. Oh brother.

          1. David Rohde says:

            Thanks Eileen for the comment. I think some people are reading a value judgment into the difference between symphonic music vs. musical theater where none was intended, at least on my part. They’re both great art forms (and both very diverse, by the way) even if they certainly do have some different routines. My observation was really about the full quote I took out of the lawsuit about how Urbanski supposedly meant to “publicly humiliate” Wetherill in this incident. The entire way it’s reported by the complaining party seems like melodramatic overkill and I was simply giving one example why. It begs for the other side of the story, particularly since it impugns Urbanski’s own professional motives in a performance setting. Overall, a very good discussion.

    2. Lisa Bressler says:

      What is wrong with transitioning a veteran player to second chair while a new young player assumes the principal is, besides the obvious, is that the duties of the second player is a different skill set than that of the principal. Playing second in the wind section is a special art. Not everyone does is well. You’d basically be asking a violinist to go play the cello.

      And I notice that the error in the first paragraph of this article has not been corrected. Last time I looked at the ISO’s roster (a couple of minutes ago) John Wetherill is still listed as Principal Bassoon. Hardly “former”.

      1. Tristan says:

        Good point, Lisa, but it’s a little fussy. It’s not the same as learning a new instrument. Any Principal with years of experience should be a good enough musician to be able to do it.You’re right, it IS a new skill set. But like chamber music, extended techniques, new styles of music, a good Principal should be versatile enough to take it in stride.

        The problem is, there are too many Principals who are stuck on the title, the prestige of playing 1st. They are perfectly capable of playing in the section, but they use the “skill set” thing as an excuse. Stepping down is a compromise for everyone. In this business you have to be flexible to survive.

        1. Bruce says:

          I agree. Anyone with enough native talent & intelligence to get into an orchestra like Indianapolis in the first place can learn a new skill set if they want to (and are given a chance).

          1. Bruce says:

            ^ meant to add “work ethic”

        2. Eileen says:

          The first chair player won the job, why shouldn’t they be “stuck” on the prestige, title etc? Don’t they get paid more too? It’s like saying a manager should step down to a regular employee once they turn 60.

          1. Tristan says:

            Because in our profession, the physical decline which goes along with aging can make it more difficult to remain in a principal position performing at the same level as when we won the job. We are more likes athletes than office managers. An athlete might not be running the same at 60 as they did at 20. We have the knowledge, the experience, but sometimes our bodies fail us.

            This isn’t set in stone. There are many Principals who lose nothing because of the aging process, and play magnificently into their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. But some do find it harder as they age, and moving down to 2nd is a good option to keep open.

            I know I will get flack from 2nd players for saying this, but a 2nd position is not USUALLY as physically demanding as a Principal position. There are musical demands on a 2nd player which might even exceed what a Principal is doing, but in general, physically it is less demanding. I am speaking of winds and brass, which is what I do.

            As far as salary, if it’s a fair orchestra which looks out for their veteran players, the salary should stay the same.

        1. First Chair says:

          Excellent example. Also Burton Fine in Boston http://collections.bso.org/cdm/ref/collection/images/id/574

          I also remember watching BSO’s Principal Horn Charles Kavaloski sit down in the section, playing 4th horn from time to time. This made a big impression on me as a student, and I swore if I ever got a principal job I would do this, too. I did and I am. It’s a tremendous experience.

    3. William Safford says:

      On the specific topic of a bassoonist, reeds and other “accoutrements”:

      Most professional and other high-level bassoonists have a standard set of equipment: a bassoon, a bocal, and a selection of reeds. These serve the player for the lion’s share of the literature.

      But a bassoonist will make changes for certain passages or works, especially ones that exploit the extremes of the instrument. For example, the bocal and reed used for, say, the opening solo of Tchaikovsky 6th Symphony (low in the range and dangerously pianissimo) is substantially different from the bocal and reed used for the opening Rite of Spring solo (unusually high), and both are substantially different from the standard setup. In both cases, as soon as the passage is finished, the reed and/or bocal will be changed for the rest of the work.

      A bassoonist will not routinely carry around a Rite of Spring or Tchaikovsky 6th reed or bocal when those works are not on queue. They will typically wait at home or in the office for the next time they are needed. In the case of a reed, it will probably be special made for when needed in an upcoming rehearsal or performance.

      So yes, the story is plausible, your mocking and laughter notwithstanding.

  17. Chris Johnson says:

    I have a friend who has a source on the AFM player’s committee. This person points out that the committee is NOT supporting this musician’s claim. So, if the union isn’t supporting this guy, I’m very interested to know why. It suggests that there is much more to this story than what’s getting out.

  18. M2N2K says:

    There is no question that SOME fine principals can during the latter part of their careers “step down” to play second and do that well, but OTHERS might not be able to make such transition as successfully, because this change requires not only learning a slightly different skill set but in fact may prove impossible without acquiring a somewhat different type of performing personality which is not a trivial matter for a person who is usually in such cases around 60 years old and after being the number one for three decades or more.

  19. david hyry says:

    From San Francisco- I am just on the other side for the rail but involved in the performing arts for over 35 years. After attending a concert conducted by Krzysztof Urbanski last night many in SF hope that in the not so distant future (when our beloved Michael Tillson Thomas chooses to retire) you will no longer have to worry about Krzysztof Urbanski and he will move on and you can park your walkers in your reserved spots and totter on. (I am 67 yo) Krzysztof Urbanski is a genius of these inglorious times, a visionary with a talent that deserves as broad a podium as possible to lead the the way for audiences and musicians alike. Our orchestra has a warm emotive response with Krzysztof Urbanski with vibrant exciting performances drawing audiences of many generations to their feet.


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