A Met violinist appeals to Congressmain
The reitred violinist Ira Lieberman has written to the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, appealing for intervention in the Met’s deadlock, where musicians have gone unpaid for a year.
Here’s the letter:
Feb. 25, 2021
Dear Majority Leader Schumer:
Congratulations on your elevation to Majority Leader. We New Yorkers are intensely proud of you.
I am a violinist who retired from America’s premier musical institution, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, after 36 seasons. Amidst all the crises afflicting our country at this time I feel compelled to call your attention to the Met’s extremely precarious position. This inspirational symbol, which in the past served to cement the friendship between ideological opposites, Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is now threatened with imminent destruction as surely as were the Buddhist statues blown up by the Taliban.
The Met, like a Swiss watch, is a precision instrument composed of myriad moving parts, all working in tandem to produce an object of great value and beauty. It is comprised of men and women who embody traditions acquired over long years of learning, practice and experience. Remove enough parts of that team and its effectiveness suffers. Replace the people who are indispensable parts of the Met team and that edifice will resemble Ozymandias, a distant echo of its previous grandeur.
Not only is the Met, like virtually all large-scale performing arts groups, closed owing to the pandemic, but it is also in the midst of negotiations with its unions for the next five-year contract. These negotiations threaten to result in a destructive spiral, as its union workers, unpaid since April, are threatened with a lock-out, already begun with its stagehands.
A large percentage of the Met orchestra has already moved away from New York because they can no longer pay their rent or mortgage. Though their plight is no different from that of countless Americans, If the Met’s people are replaced with novices when a contract is finally agreed on, the edifice they inhabit will have become a mediocre sham.
Our country, unlike England, France and Germany, does not subsidize artists and musicians during a crisis like the Covid. Neither can the financial plight threatening the life of the Met be solved by relatively small donations currently being solicitated each day by its union members. Only a long-term guarantee of the Met’s financial security can ensure its continued functioning as the superb unit it has painstakingly become.
Management demands to all union members —that lips, arms and bodies work longer hours for substantially less pay, that each member contribute more toward their medical benefits, i.e/that “labor costs” become a much smaller fraction of future Met budgets is typical anti-union behavior, indeed union busting. What is not addressed by these demands is that the orchestra, considered by many major conductors to be the world’s best, is certainly the hardest working, with long daily rehearsals followed by evening performances. Most members also teach. Like yours, it is a demanding and all-consuming job. No one gets a free ride in this orchestra.
It has been suggested that a Cabinet position be created to ensure the existence of such premiere arts organizations in the United States. This position would be a force for positive interaction with American unions. For now, however, as negotiations are at an impasse, would it be possible for you to intercede personally with management and the unions representing more than 1,000 members, to move those negotiations in a positive direction.?
Once again, I am grateful for your efforts and ambitions for America. You inspire us in our efforts to achieve the best possible version of our country.
Both my parents were union members too.