Eight musicians leave the Philadelphia Orchestra

Eight musicians leave the Philadelphia Orchestra


norman lebrecht

August 27, 2020

Buried in a press release today we find that ‘retiring members James Barnes (stage personnel), Eric Carlson (trombone), Robert W. Earley (trumpet), Robert M. Grossman (principal librarian), John Hood (bass), Robert Kesselman (bass), and Booker Rowe (violin) were honored for their combined 200+ years of dedicated service.’

That’s quite a lot in one close-season.

‘The significance of these retirements is immense,’ said Orchestra President and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky. ‘Each retiree is a beloved member of our Orchestra family and represents a significant part of the Orchestra’s history and sound. We will miss them all greatly. As we look to the future, we will explore ways of ensuring that new, diverse talent can be found to fill the vacancies.’

Ah, so that’s it.

UPDATE: Among those reitirng is the orchestra’s first Black musician, Booker Rowe. There are three left in the ensemble.


  • V. Lind says:

    I make that seven, and two do not appear to be orchestral musicians, though they may well be musicians elsewhere.

  • CA says:

    Sounds like maybe musical ability won’t be the determining factor in hiring replacements. How sad.

    • Althea says:

      If they screen the auditions all the way through the rounds – including the final – it definitely will be.

      • CA says:

        Then trying to achieve greater diversity through blind auditions will not serve their mandate, will it? I’m all in favor of blind auditions-the only four way to go. But orchestras are hellbent in trying to look different on stage dvd at some point it’s going to be not your playing ability that was the most determining factor in getting hired. The way to fix the problem is to actually change who comes to auditions in the first place, so that the diversity is there to begin with in better representation than it is now. If classical music doesn’t level the playing field earlier in the process, then there will be little change. My two cents.

        • Ron says:

          I am in total agreement with you. Blind auditions give the Music Director the ability to choose the desired sound. Spending more time on the “front end” in the selection process is the way to achieve the desired diversity.

  • IntBaritone says:

    No doubt they were contract buy-outs. Money saving plan by the orchestra for those near retirement. Probably a pretty smart move.

  • Berndt says:

    Well let’s see that who will be successor of Mr. Carlson. His 2nd trombone chair is held before by the one and only Joseph Alessi (before moving to NY Phil) so in this case the audition process would be more than interesting because it’s Alessi’s old chair

    • PHF says:

      Alessi two year position held 30 years ago… yes, this chair is sooo relevant. They have a strong section there, let’s see if they’re able to keep the standard after Blair leaves, which will be probably in the next few years.

      • Berndt says:

        Yes, I know that 35 years has passed for Alessi’s time in Philadelphia but for me it’s still interesting.

      • Bob says:

        There’s probably 50 unemployed trombonists out there that would sound just as good as either of them. There are way too many qualified musicians out there.

      • Bob says:

        Alessi’s a great technician but there are many players out there that can sing just as beautifully on the trombone as him. People act like he’s the only great trombonist in the world. No. Go listen to Toby Oft, Doug Wright, Norman Bolter, Ron Barron, Glenn Dodson (!), etc.

  • Monsoon says:

    Sounds like the Orchestra offered buyouts. I bet they won’t be replaced with tenured musicians for quite a while.

  • Grittenhouse says:

    Don’t expect them to be replaced, either. The Associate Principal Harp position was abandoned, despite promises to keep it. Now, if only the players who should retire would do so.

  • Jonathan says:

    I doubt the orchestra “bought out” the players.
    My guess is that the music at or close to retirement age are looking at at least one future season where they will not be paid and have made the determination that they would rather retire and be able to draw on their pensions than wait it out to see when concerts will be allowed again.

    I expect a similar dynamic to play out at orchestras across America.

  • JES says:

    Is there a link to the press release?

  • M2N2K says:

    Who are those “eight musicians” in the headline? The text includes names of seven persons total, only five of whom are orchestral players.
    If I am repeating myself, please forgive me, because my previous comments about this disappeared for some reason.