Exclusive: Los Angeles Phil loses its demonstrative principal viola

Exclusive: Los Angeles Phil loses its demonstrative principal viola


norman lebrecht

June 13, 2017

Carrie Dennis has vanished from the LA Philharmonic.

Her name has been removed from the orchestra’s website, and she has deleted the LA Phil from her personal online profile.

No-one is saying what’s going on. The LA Phil told Slipped Disc: ‘We never comment on personnel issues.’ Ms Dennis has not responded to contact requests.

But her absence cannot be concealed. Ms Dennis, recruited to Los Angeles in 2008 from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, is one of the LA Phil’s most visible artists. According to an LA Times profile: ‘In most performances, the orchestra’s principal violist pops out of the picture.  She dives down on a given accent, thrusts into the heart of it with startling vigor, her head impelled to her knees, her elbow raised high as she strikes her bow across the strings. By the final cadence, her neatly arranged hair is flying loose. Whatever it takes.’

So what happened?

One reader tells us: ‘About two weeks ago, I attended a LA Phil performance at Disney Hall, at which Dennis performed. The very next day, I attended the same program, but Dennis was not in her seat at curtain call. The musicians looked perplexed. Then, the stage manager ordered the viola section to re-seat, and they did. I figured Dennis came down with a sudden illness or something.’

That’s all we know, so far.

We wish Ms Dennis well.



  • Malcolm James says:

    Ariana Ghez, the principal oboe, has also mysteriously disappeared from the roster. coincidence or what?

    • Noah Breneman says:

      I’ve heard that Mrs. Ghez now lives in Seattle and that things were not always perfect between her and her section colleagues. I know she has two young children, so maybe she’s taking a break from the professional world? Haven’t heard any news of her playing with a different orchestra or anything like that…

      • Rhondda May says:

        Ariana Ghez is featured in “SymphonyCast” – Haydn Sinfonia Concertante – dated 07/03/2017. Hmmm.

        • Noah Breneman says:

          That’s when they published it on that website but it was originally recorded march/April of 2016.

        • Blair Tindall says:

          The ad for her job very recently appeared in the union newspaper, so I would assume she is completing her tenure with the 2017 summer season.

    • Blair Tindall says:

      I was fortunate enough to “teach” Ariana a couple of lessons when she was eight years old…it was more like she was teaching *me!* She is not only an extraordinary musician but has a brilliant mind and I would assume she is off to study and be active in an additional field. Playing the same pieces time and again can wear thin. Also, there is always friction within a section or in any workplace — I wouldn’t read too much into that. In whatever she does, she will excel.

  • Malcolm James says:

    Have any other, possibly less high-profile, players disappeared, and is there anything to connect them, e.g. age and/or gender?

    It is unlikely to be illness, either cancer or mental health, because players go on sick leave and stay on the roster until it is clear that they will be unable to resume their place in the orchestra. I can think of a possible reason for the sudden departure of the two principal players, but it is not a reason I would wish to share on SD, or anywhere else.

  • Tommy says:

    She should play in the Berlin Phil, among equals. That’s where she belongs! Her body movements and sometimes extrovert engagement is the equivalent of Bastian Schäfer and many others in that orchestra. Fantastic to watch! The best concert I have ever heard (!) was Beethoven 7 with the BPO. And I really could see (!) Carrie Dennis

    I hope it’s down to such trivial’s and not something along illness, God forbid!

    • Max Grimm says:

      “She should play in the Berlin Phil […]”
      The Berlin Phil is no longer an option for her. You get only one shot and if your trial ends without the musicians voting for you to be made a member, that’s it (permanently).

      • Tommy says:

        Hi Max
        This is beyond my knowledge and I may be completely wrong – but I think she actually made it into BPO as a full time member and then left after a while for personal reasons. At least I’m pretty sure I once looked into the BPO website and its member area, to figure out her name. I hope BPO don’t have a rule that will stop someone like her from a possible return if a position is free – that would simply not be in the interest of the orchestra I think.

        Anyway, my (very much outside) perspective tells me she is a perfect match for today’s BPO. Super talented, quite young and already experienced. And a great communicator of music.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Hi Tommy,
          I agree. To me it seems as though, compared with European audiences and musicians (particularly German ones), American audiences and musicians appear to become bothered by “body movements and sometimes extrovert engagement” much more readily.
          As for the Berlin Phil listing, all musicians that have won an audition and have accepted the trial are listed on the website. The byline “Member since …” is attached to every musicians bio and the date is usually the date that the particular musicians started playing with the orchestra (ie. there is a violinist who is currently still on trial and her bio nonetheless states “Member since 2017-01-01”).
          Regarding the road to Berlin Phil tenure, things are rather strict, starting with the audition itself. After a candidate plays three unsuccessful auditions, that individual’s future applications are no longer considered. When a musician wins an audition, the following trial phase will be the only chance they get. If it ends unsuccessfully, for whichever reasons, it permanently precludes their possibility of joining the orchestra. In order for the trial to end successfully, candidates require a 2/3 vote in their favour. While there are some instances where a candidate has fallen somewhat short of the 66% and the orchestra extends deliberations and reconvenes for additional voting (Andreas Ottensamer is one such case. He has talked publicly about it and I believe said that 3 separate votes were held before he was granted tenure), the majority of cases only require one vote where the answer is either ‘yes’ or, as was in this case, ‘no’.

          • Malcolm James says:

            Maybe she didn’t want to stay in the Berlin Phil. A trial is a two-way thing.

          • Max Grimm says:

            It certainly is and being a member of the Berlin Phil is not everyone’s cup of tea.

          • Tommy says:

            Max: Insightful and solvent posting – thanks for your clarifications… 🙂 Not much I can add here.

  • Alexander Davidson says:

    “The very next day, I attended the same program, but Dennis was not in her seat at curtain call. The musicians looked perplexed. Then, the stage manager ordered the viola section to re-seat, and they did.”

    Should I be familiar with this usage of the phrase “curtain call”. Is it specifically American? Does it have a technical meaning within an orchestral context? I have only ever used “curtain call” to describe what happens at the end of a performance, and more commonly in the opera house than the concert hall (which does not actually have a curtain). In this context, however, it sounds like “curtain call” is something to happens before the concert begins. I’d be grateful for some clarification!

    • Bruce says:

      American musician here. I’ve only ever heard/seen the term “curtain call” used to describe the bows at the end of an opera (or sometimes a play). From the context, it’s pretty clear that the person was referring to the beginning of the concert; maybe they meant “call time,” which is the time by which everyone is required to be onstage (or in the pit).

      • Alexander Davidson says:

        That makes sense. Good to know I haven’t been misusing/misunderstanding “curtain call” when talking to Americans all these years!

      • Blair Tindall says:

        “Curtain call” is also slang for the end of an era/job/tenure/retirement. Final performance is sometimes referred to as such.

  • bye bye says:

    Another principal not making tenure?

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    Contract dispute?

    There’s already an audition posting for a Principal Oboe (as of June 13, 2017):

    • Ed says:

      There’s no conspiracy here. Sometimes a musician, even a principal player in a big orchestra, decides to do something else.

      • Ravi Narasimhan says:

        “There’s no conspiracy here. ”

        That’s what they want us to think.

        She could team with Emmanuelle Haim on early music…

  • Thomas says:

    Anyone knows where can I get recordings of Carrie Dennis playing a viola concerto?

    Anyway, according to the anecdote posted, it seems unlikely that a contract expiry will result in a musician playing in one night but not the one the next day.

  • Esfir Ross says:

    Anyone know why Alexander Treiger long time concertmeister violinist disappeared from LPO?

    • M2N2K says:

      The “long time” (second) concertmaster of LA Phil Alex Treger did not disappear. He simply retired. If you want to know why, you should ask him personally.

  • Richard Zencker says:

    A demonstrative player in an “interior voice” can be a problem, or so some conductors seem to think. We had one here in Phoenix, Peter Rosato, who was let go about 10 years ago along with some others, leading to a labor dispute with high costs; the resulting turmoil was not good for the orchestra, financially or musically.

    • NYMike says:

      The Phoenix contretemps was initiated by then new young conductor Michael Christie who wanted to get rid of or demote long-tenured string principals so that he could import young players that he could “mold.” This resulted in age-discrimination lawsuits won by said complainants eventually leading to Christie’s “desire to move on” termination. Prior to his Phoenix SO tenure, he tried the same stunt at NY’s Brooklyn Philharmonic where was roundly rebuffed by both the orchestra committee and Local 802.

  • John says:

    If being ‘demonstrative’ was the problem you’d think they would have known that going in.

  • M2N2K says:

    The timing of the two recent departures – those of Ariana and Carrie – is certainly coincidental, but their nature and reasons are very different and completely unrelated.

  • William Osborne says:

    In Germany, the Berlin Phil is sometimes referred to as “The Wobblers.” A lot of bouncing around is equated with engagement — referred to in German as “Begeisterungsfähigkeit.” This doesn’t always transfer well to other orchestras. The VPO, for example, has an almost opposite ideology, referred to in German as “Gelassenheit” — a relaxed, easy-going style of playing, less precise and ambitious than all that Prussian bouncing, but more elegant and stylish. I wouldn’t think of Berlin’s world ambitions and obligatory “Begeisterung” as fitting into LA. No idea though, why she left.

    • Max Grimm says:

      “…all that Prussian bouncing…”
      One of the Prussian virtues has traditionally been “Zurückhaltung” (Restraint). If anything, it’d be more appropriate to call it ‘Berlin Phil bouncing’, a distinction underlined by the absence of abundant “bouncing” with the other “Prussians” (ie. Staatskapelle Berlin, Staatskapelle Dresden, DSO, Konzerthausorchester, Gewandhausorchester, etc.) and quite a bit of bouncing going on with (for example) the BRSO.

      • William Osborne says:

        Uh…let’s just say it’s a Zurückhaltung that can quickly turn very active………

        • William Osborne says:

          And BTW, the Prussian military concept of Kadavergehorsamkeit (cadaver obedience) could also be considered in the context of orchestral culture. Cadaver obedience maintains a pose of ready, cadaver-like restraint (Zurückhaltung) until orders are given, then it bounces and emotes upon command with full Begeisterung (enthusiasm.)

          This isn’t exactly the life style of Southern California, but it’s never that far from orchestral culture…

          • William Osborne says:

            We could add to this other aspects of the classical “Prussian Virtues” such as Zielstrebigkeit (determiniation) and Unterorndung (subordination.) Perhaps the most ironic term of all would be Nibelungentreue (“Nibelung loyalty”), which was used in the military of the German Empire to mean the virtue of absolute loyalty. The resonances with the term Nibelungentreue become especially ironic in classical music…

            These terms, and the spread of the concepts of Prussian virtue throughout the German-speaking world, provide insights about the history and evolution of the symphony orchestra and the role it played in various forms of government and cultural sensibility. After the war, the concepts of Prussian virtue fell into deep disrepute, but in recent years they have been somewhat rehabilitated. Opinions are mixed about this development.

  • Morris Belemans says:

    maybe they want to pursue different interests other than american hustling? Maybe their narrative is not just music; rather, living life. Most americans cannot understand this as they are hustlers and their “culture” is simply–get money. Perhaps, both principals had enough and wanted more—not more as in dinero, but more out a well-lived life.
    Thank you.

    • Phillip Ayling says:

      While I don’t know what most Americans cannot understand, I do think most individuals familiar with orchestral life (regardless of nationality), would find it puzzling for any member of an orchestra to go absent in the midst of an already rehearsed and performed program series save for illness or family emergency.

  • Morris Belemans says:

    Most americans and american organizations/corporation are exploitative and extremely money dominant/it’s their “narrative.” No values other than: “Get money, and get more money.” Hustling, and endless expansion. Fixated on money. That’s it. Perhaps, both principals had enough of that nonsense, and wished to pursue something other material pursuits in a capitalistic play book.