From my survey of women conductors in the new issue of Standpoint magazine:
As for the future, I predict that, ten years from now, Mirga or Canellakis will be music director of the New York Philharmonic and Speranza Scappucci will be pushed (no one goes willingly) into the hot seat at La Scala. The battle for women in music is almost won…
The striking musicians have delivered this reasoned appeal to the Board and mailed it to friends of the CSO as their strike approaches its fourth week.
Dear Friend of the CSO,
Amid all that you may have heard from the media or others, we write to explain why we, the Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, have had to withhold our services and how you may help bring Chicago’s Orchestra back to work again.
It’s fairly simple. For more than 50 years, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been touted as the nation’s finest – able to draw talent from across the globe. The Orchestra has served not only as an ambassador to the world, playing on virtually every continent, but we have also brought thousands of patrons to hear our 123 yearly concerts.
While the prestige of the Orchestra has attracted the requisite talent, so too has the Orchestra’s reputation for supporting those who spend their lives and their fortunes preparing and playing for the city and the world – both while they are performing and when they retire. In fact, for more than 50 years Chicago has offered musicians the nation’s top salary and retirement benefits.
That has changed with the current CSO Association’s administration. In the last seven years the Orchestra’s salary has not kept up with inflation. Further, the Orchestra’s benefit package has fallen behind that of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Now, the Association is attempting to change a fundamental tenet of the security of the Orchestra – and American life – our pension plan.
Our current defined benefit plan – one in which we agree that part of our earnings will be deferred and placed into an account that will yield a certain benefit to us each year when we retire – is not strange or unusual. Although private employers’ defined benefit pension plans have waned, such a plan is what every American who works currently has – it’s called Social Security.
Management says that keeping a pension plan is too risky. What they really mean is that individual musicians rather than the Association should assume 100% of the risk that comes with any long-term financial projection.
What is particularly ironic about this, is that contrary to the impression put forward by the Board of Trustees, according to the Board’s own actuaries, keeping the pension plan, as the Musicians suggest, would actually save the Association money – between $11 and $36 million over 10 years.
Let us be clear, this is not just about us. With many of the musicians already vested, our concern is truly about the future of the Orchestra – its ability to retain and attract great talent – a concern shared by Maestro Muti, Daniel Barenboim, and many of the world’s other finest orchestras and leaders.
Behind the specifics we worry that the Board of Trustees may have veered from its historic responsibility and mission.
We’ve seen a change of words. For decades the mission statement was clear that the Orchestra was the heart of the endeavor:
“The central mission of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is to present classical music through the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Chicago, national and international audiences. The mission is supported by four mutually reinforcing elements: Artistic excellence, continued international preeminence in the field of orchestral excellence; Audience development, leading audience development initiatives; Education, superior education and community programs; and Financial stability, fiscal responsibility for long-term stability.”
Recently it has been changed to:
“With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at its core, the mission of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is to enrich, inspire and transform lives through music, community engagement and education—locally, nationally and internationally.”
But we are worried by more than words.
We are worried that while saying the Orchestra is at its core, the Association has spent little more than one-third of its revenues on the Musicians with the remainder going to administrative, marketing, building and other expenses. This, despite ever-increasing ticket revenue and donations to the Orchestra, an endowment of more than $300 million and a $60 million unrestricted investment fund.
We find it worrisome that the Board of Trustees feels a greater obligation to the bond holders of a debt they incurred in the late 1990’s when they borrowed $145 million dollars (and for which they continue to make a yearly $5 million interest-only payments) than they do to meet their obligation to contribute to our pension, an amount less than the interest on the bonds.
We worry that this “mission and funding drift” endangers one of Chicago’s greatest public assets.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is not a private corporation – it is the property, the inheritance and the legacy of the people of Chicago. We want to make certain we can protect it.
You can go online and sign a petition to the Board of Trustees at
www.ChicagoSymphonyMusicians.com; you can write to Jeff Alexander, President, CSO Association at AlexanderJ@CSO.org, or call 312-294-3210.
You can attend one of the free “From the Heart of the Orchestra” concerts being given by the CSO Musicians at venues throughout the city.
For details, additional information on issues, schedule of upcoming free concerts and more, please visit www.ChicagoSymphonyMusicians.com and be sure to Follow us on twitter.com/MusiciansChiSym, facebook.com/csomusicians and on Instagram.com/csomusicians.
The Musicians of the Chicago Symphony
Stephen Shipps, the concertmaster and Universityof Michigan professor who was accused of sexual misconduct, has retired from the university at the age of 66, it was confirmed this weekend.
Detroit News has just published further allegations of sexual activity with a 17 year-old girl. Read here.
The young composer Jack Pepper is one of the presenters on Scala Radio, the new UK classical broadcster. We asked Jack how he got there. Here’s his story.
Back in October 2017, I was just out of secondary school and had started as a music student at Oxford University. Barely. I hadn’t even bought the matriculation gown yet. Still in my first few days of being a uni student, I was
faced with a bit of a dilemma; in Freshers’ Week, I had a piece of mine being performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, meaning that within a couple of days of starting at university, I was up in Liverpool working on my music with Vasily Petrenko. Walking round the cathedral one cold and blustery morning, I was already thinking about the elephant in my mind. I was so excited by this real world beyond the four walls of a classroom or lecture hall – as great and supportive as these rooms were – that I couldn’t help but ask myself: what if?… Within a couple of weeks, my college had been kind enough to give me a year out to pursue work opportunities. This year of adventure took me in many directions; I wrote a piece for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, recorded a pilot show with BBC Radio 3, and somehow ended up in LA on a pop songwriting trip in October 2019. October, I hear you say! Well, yes, that’s when I was meant to be back at university. My year out was up. But I felt that there was more to be learned in the outside world, more people to speak with and more music to be written; whilst I valued the opportunities to perform, network and socialise at university, I felt that there were opportunities waiting in the real world that might not yet have dawned on me. Ideas floating around that had yet to be seized; boardrooms where things were being planned but I did not know. I hadn’t quite realised what shape things would soon take.
Then, around October/November 2018, I sent a message to one of the senior execs at Bauer Media, the group that own radio stations including Magic and Absolute Radio, as well as magazines like Q and heat. I thought it might be interesting to have a conversation; both composing and radio presenting are all about speaking with people – the art of communication, of expression – and so I’ve always felt that the more conversations I can have, the better. A musician should be out there in the world, surely? I was very surprised at how quickly I got a response, and was kindly invited in to Bauer’s offices in London. I was in for a bit of a surprise. After an hour and a half, I was asked to sign an NDA, and then in a follow-up meeting in December, everything was revealed. I was shown the
presenters, the strapline, the market research. I hadn’t quite realised what I had walked into. My first job.
That’s how I ended up sitting in a studio, opposite one of the nation’s top broadcasters, talking about aftershave. It was one of Simon Mayo’s signature ‘Confessions’, where listeners write in with an anecdote of an embarrassing action they’d like to be absolved of; Simon, along with a panel of radio execs and presenters, decides whether they should be forgiven for their (often hilarious) sins. In this particular instance, Simon was educating me about
some archaic brand of aftershave mentioned in one such Confession, as he had realised that – in his words – I have yet to start shaving. Plus, this weekend, I’ll be finding myself sat in the studio with Anthea Turner and Chris Rogers on their Sunday morning brunch show from the end of March, answering listener questions about classical music. Expect opus numbers and all. I really wouldn’t have seen myself in this incredible place one year ago, but it is typical of the Scala leadership’s open-mindedness – their willingness to embrace new faces, new ideas and ambitious projects – that they were game to have me on board. It’s not every day you start a new station, so I suppose they had to be brave, anyway.
Scala is all about classical music for modern life, which might sound like some marketing fluff, but looking at the schedule it is really rather accurate. There’s huge musical and personal diversity in the line-up, with Madonna’s producer William Orbit curating a journey through electronic-tinged pieces and cutting-edge new artists; Jazz FM presenter Jamie Crick presenting music theatre amongst much else on Sunday mornings; and Angellica Bell celebrating music teaching in her Saturday morning breakfast show. If it’s entertainment, if it’s book talk, if it’s new music, if it’s young musicians – whatever you’re after, there’s a bit of everything in Scala. That’s what makes it so delightfully quirky. Like the music itself, it has personality.
On my regular Saturday afternoon show from 3, the Culture Bunker, I celebrate the people that make classical music exciting. We’ve already had guests including violinist Nicola Benedetti and Emmy-Award winning composer, pianist and conductor Gavin Greenaway (the conductor of many of Hans Zimmer’s scores); I’ve gone on a tour of Handel Hendrix House, where both Handel and Jimi Hendrix once lived, visiting their bedrooms and composing rooms; we’ve played the likes of Margaret Hubicki (in my opinion one of music’s great neglected composers), Canadian jazzer Ron Davis and young composer Alex Woolf. Contrary to what you might expect from a commercial radio station, I genuinely am allowed to choose all the music I play; nobody tells me what piece to put in the show. The only editorial ‘interference’ might occasionally come in the form of moving one piece down the hour so that it doesn’t start the show, because it’s less familiar. Beyond that, this really is a curated show. I hope you can hear a bit of ‘me’ in the Culture Bunker.
So what does a day in the life of Scala look like? I get into the office around 8.30am, and Charles Nove is in the studio with his breakfast show. In my production role, I’ll be loading the audio in for new tracks to add to the playlist, and logging the label and CD information so that the musicians are properly paid; I’ll be editing interviews on my laptop, cutting out over-loud breaths and extensive umms (you’ll never listen to a conversation the same way again after editing interviews, honestly); I’ll be recording interviews on location, with my hand-held Zoom recorder the size of a camcorder that somehow manages to capture high-quality audio for national radio. All the while, guests like Ralph Fiennes and Melvyn Bragg walk into the studio to be interviewed, and Rick Wakeman sits in the corner of the studio playing the piano live on air. Just another day at the office.
So, to anyone who might be slightly hesitant about the idea of a new entertainment classical station, I ask you – please keep an open mind. An open mind is exactly what Scala have shown me, allowing me to play young composers like Toby Young and Alex Woolf, and giving me ten hours of air-time in the first week alone. This is a station that embraces new ideas, and has a bit of everything in its schedule; it is the glorious potpourri of faces and styles that surely characterises modern classical music today as well?
It’s the Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra of Los Angeles, led from the keyboard by Irene Kim.