Bassoonist settles age discrimination case

The former principal bassoonist of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has settled his case for unfair demotion.

John Wetherill, 63, claimed in 2012 that the Indy and its Polish music director Krzysztof Urbanski were engaged in a strategy to ‘move out and replace’ senior players like himself with others much younger and cheaper.

Wetherill was demoted to second bassoon and filed suit for age discrimination.

The ISO said his claims were ‘outlandish’ and ‘baseless.

Settlement was finally reached on February 12. Wetherill had sought compensation for lost wages, mental anguish and legal fees. The agreement states that each party will ‘bear its own costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees.’

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  • Yo Mama says:

    Age discrimination is wildly rampant in the classical music community. For some unexplainable reason, middle-aged musicians are constantly ditched for the latest conservatory graduates. The graduates get to work until they, too, are ditched. Meanwhile, older musicians can’t earn a living. This is not good for music, as wisdom and experience, knowledge of style are ditched for flashes in the pan. But nothing is ever done about it. This is the worst for freelancers, who may never get tenure. It forces those with work, to overwork, lest they permanently lose a gig by being busy. And it is compounded by full-time symphony musicians who moonlight and take work away from free-lancers, which is widespread practice in the Twin Cities. If the American Federation of Musicians was of any value at all, they would be putting a stop to this.

  • MacroV says:

    There’s a lot of missing information here. First of all, the ISO’s players are unionized and have a master agreement, which surely has a clearly-defined process for addressing player performance or dismissing a player based on performance. No indication any part of that process occurred.

    Surely a music director has a right to talk to a player about his/her performance, and I’m sure most players won’t take it very well if it’s critical. And I imagine the player would subsequently find the work environment rather unpleasant after such a discussion. But how you get from that to age discrimination, I don’t know. It sounds like he was offended, and while he wasn’t obliged to step down or resign, chose to do so rather than work with a conductor who wasn’t satisfied with his playing. Does that give him a basis to claim discrimination? I don’t know.

  • Beentheredonethat says:

    Not stepping into this particular case here (as I don’t know the details first hand), but just reminding anyone who is interested of a few realities:

    1. Many – the vast majority of – orchestra musicians get better while getting older, adding experience and wisdom to a well-honed craft and a strong education;
    2. Some other orchestra musicians get older and start losing it bit by bit, either out of bad habits, boredom, or lack on inspiration from the man/woman (OK, mostly man) on the podium;
    3. Some men/women (OK, mostly men) on the podium are more interested in loud splashes and great looks (not to mention their own arse), less by introspection and mindfulness, and seek to bump out some older people no matter the reason;
    4. Some other men/women (OK, mostly men) on the podium take at heart their job as leaders, and while they appreciate the wisdom and experience of quite a few older musicians, they might feel they have to take action against some others in order to achieve a higher common goal and for the greater good.

    All of this to say: this is never, ever, a black and white story. It implies people, and therefore emotions, perceptions and personal views. One action from a specific conductor or management might be utterly unjust and led mostly by personal ambitions or vendettas; other similar actions might be necessary for the future of institutions. And unless someone knows a situation inside out, it is very difficult – foolish actually – to make any judgement from a seat in front of a computer screen while reading a blog.

    Which is basically what I’m doing right now, so I’d rather shut up and leave it there.

  • Sharon says:

    In other industries, including government, this is explicit. An excuse is found to fire the more experienced worker to hire someone cheaper, maybe if one is lucky, with a “buyout” incentive. Generally, it’s not about talent or being “past your prime”. It’s about cutting costs

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    They did offer the player an opportunity to move into the section. He decided to fight it. And we do not know what the settlement was. But it did not have to get nasty and even mentioned on Slipped Disc. We would not have even known.

    This is what happens in many fine orchestras such as Berlin and Vienna. The former principal is offered a way to ease out through playing in the section and being part of an orderly transition. The length of tenure of such a player becomes part of the historical repository of information passed from one generation to the next.

    If the guy is not playing at a standard that makes the orchestra BETTER, then he should get out of the way.

    And by the way, we call them buttocks. We do not grab the arse. We grab the buttocks. Just study the legal documents in all the law suits. That is how we do it here in the New World.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Actually, this kind of thing is going to become more common in all workplaces and not just in orchestras. In the past, people had to retire at 65 so “management” could let someone nearing retirement hang-on for a short while before leaving (even Szell let a musician hang-on like this to collect his pension).

    Now the problem is that there is no mandatory retirement age. But you can’t say to someone “you aren’t performing as well as you once were, and you are getting older…why not retire gracefully” since that conversation means the employer can be sued for age discrimination if the person does not want to leave (or change roles). Instead, you have to show that they can no longer perform their duties (to a satisfactory standard). This is quite an unpleasant process.

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