Mutiny in Mahler’s orchestra

The first job Gustav Mahler held as chief conductor was in Olmütz – Olomouc – in the Czech region of Moravia. Mahler was 23. He lasted six months before landing a better post in Kassel.

Olomouc has not enjoyed much musical excitement since then.

Last week, new leaders of the musicians’ union at the Moravian Philharmonic orchestra, led a rebellion against the veteran managing director, Vladislav Kvapil.

Union members threatened to perform Friday’s open-air concert in T-shirts instead of tails. About half the orchestra declared support for Kvapil, who has been in charge for 23 years. The town hall also gave him its endorsement. But the boss, in the end, resigned.

Now the two halves of the orchestras are (we hear) not speaking to each other.

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  • There is the myth that comparable infighting in 19C orchestras started the tradition of 1st and 2nd violins to be seated at opposite locations on the platform.

  • Dear Norman,
    if you are going to publish this story, please do a little more research with help of someone who can translate from Czech so that you can better explain why so many were protesting against Mr. Kvapil. Although I can not take the responsibility to report all the details, Mr. Kvapil had been running his own private agency which had apparently been depriving the orchestra musicians of money they should have earned from recordings or other services. Basically, the executive director of the orchestra, Kvapil, was taking the orchestra funds and diverting them to his own agency. If you hired this orchestra, it sounds like the players never made any of that money you paid, nor did the orchestra earn from renting the hall. It all went to Kvapil’s personal agency. (Look also at what family members of his are running the orchestra.) There were many other problems with this director such as in ways that he made sure that he would be earning more compensation for his travel expenses, and it is really all a very complicated matter. Kvapil has resigned, but this is not so simple as just half the players being against him. I am quite certain that there may have been half who merely did not want to make a fuss for fear of reprisals if Kvapil stayed on as he has been the only one in power there for over 20 years. And holding that position for so long meant that he had also built secure support from city hall. Thus, a large protest from the orchestra was the only way to arouse awareness.

    • Shocking! It reminds me of Interartists Holland who, in the eighties, ran a secret, private business in antique furniture with the performers’ fees, and an English agency – forgot which one – who secretly invested artists’ fees in an international tea trade.

  • “Dlouhodobě jsme upozorňovali, že zahraniční zájezdy nejsou kvalitně připravené, například v Německu jsme neměli zařízený hotel, v Číně ředitel musel orchestr přemlouvat, aby vystoupil v nedůstojných podmínkách, které pro nás vyjednali. Přístup v této věci se změnil následovně: na konci dubna jsme měli vyrazit na zájezd do Německa a Švýcarska, ředitel ho ovšem pouhý jeden den před odjezdem zrušil s vysvětlením, že se nepodařilo zajistit ubytování na první noc. Kritizovali jsme také natáčení filmové hudby v MFO, ke kterému docházelo v soukromém režimu vedení, tedy mimo rozpočet MFO. Ani od toho ředitel nechtěl upustit, další takové nahrávání naplánoval na začátek června. Až poté, co jsme na to upozornili radnici, rozhodnutí změnil tak, že půjde o služební natáčení, příjem z něj půjde do rozpočtu MFO.”

  • It is quite important to say, that the Mayor of Olomouc and some politics from the city hall tried to cover up the whole case in favor of Mr. Kvapil. That was the last drop before the musicians started their threatening. They were two thirds of the orchestra who protested, not half.

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