A Met violinist appeals to Congress

A Met violinist appeals to Congress


norman lebrecht

February 26, 2021

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.


Ira Lieberman

Both my parents were union members too.




  • Schumer doesn’t care since he doesn’t know opera from onions, much less classical music…the sound of white supremacy, the new calling card of the dem party. In Yiddish there is a telling sentence in reference to Mr. Lieberman’s letter: It will help like applying leeches to a dead man….es vird helfen azoy vi bankes oyf a toyten.

    • A.L. says:

      Well, at least Mr. Lieberman is attempting something positive. Maybe his appeal will succeed, maybe not. As for Mr. Schumer, he has bigger fish to fry at the moment, don’t you think? And how would you know he subscribes to (deeply misguided) far left Democratic Party notions of white supremacy hiding behind each and every bush?

      • HR says:

        Why are you both discussing white supremacy? That has nothing to do with the plight of the Met musicians. Helen Kamonier, you are astonishingly ignorant if you think white supremacy is “the new calling card of the dem party.” Vilifying the dreaded left gets us nowhere. Are we not human beings, first?

        • True North says:

          Helene is shockingly ignorant regarding white supremacy. It is not Democrats with torches who go around chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

        • There seems to be nothing much more supremely white than opera, especially at the MET. n’est pas? and, the new left democratic party deserves vilification

        • Johann Ardmore says:

          Peter the Great is clearly a White Supremacist based on his self-servitude.

          He hasn’t done anything for the performers on the roster or the chorus to help them with day-to-day expenses like rent and food. These are the arsenal of exceptional singers that MAKE the opera house so excellent.

          Why help in their hour of need is too much for this little man is beyond us.

          Mr. Lebrecht, most of your readers and hideously ignorant commenters like True North don’t care about vocalists as they should. However others of us do!

          To those questioning “why help THEM” (singers) is inflammatory and highly offensive. Really?!?! Why DONATE to the Met then?!?!?!?! If an organization refuses to assist those that MAKE IT an opera house, then just pull the plug and close up shop! Who the HELL are donors supporting with their millions when they write a check or click on a sorry ‘help us’ button on their website propped up by Rolex??? Peter and the Board’s ego?? F**K that S**T!

        • Hayne says:

          Turn your Democrat white nationalism calling card over. That’s where the white supremacy part is printed:)

      • Marc Davies says:

        This guy is a hoot! So much to laugh off……LOL!

        He approached Chunky Chucky who’s too busy using his ‘white privilege’ to put out Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion, nursing home murders and latest sexual harassment problems for those ignorant of current events outside the USA. Even the FBI and Leticia the NYAG are after him!!
        – Chuck talks a lot and is easily offended. He won’t lift a finger unless someone bribes him handsomely. ie The ballet accepted a huge Koch donation so Chuck sucked up to them anyway.

        “A large percentage of the Met orchestra has already moved away from New York because they can no longer pay their rent or mortgage.”
        – Certainly not according to many of the commenters here. Verbose, sarcastic ones keep talking about how much players get then Ira claims many can’t afford basics. So, who’s LYING here???

        “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.”
        – Peter winnowed out several of the best players but there’s hope with his new CDO whatever she’s supposed to enforce. No clarity there as usual for a 6-figure salary at a time of supposed “dire need”.

        The Met put itself in this position through poor box office, long term planning, investment choices, union busting and business acumen. Have a fire sale and make the oversized hall a homeless shelter for a tax break.

        Biden is too mentally ill to make sense let alone figure out what to do about an arts industry he’s never bothered with before.

      • Karl says:

        Have you been listening to the things Schumer has been saying for the past four years?

        He tried to incite an angry mob himself last year.

        Schumer warns Kavanaugh and Gorsuch they will ‘pay the price’.

      • The saying goes you can judge a person by the company he keeps….I would say his friendship with “Squad” members is indicative of his notions.

      • I’m assuming by “bigger fish to fry” you are referring to a run for President…..?

    • R. Brite says:

      FWIW, I understood Helene to mean that considering classical music to be the sound of white supremacy was the new calling card etc. I assumed she was alluding to the tempest in the Journal of Schenkerian Studies teapot.

    • schlepper says:

      Right, no sense writing to Democratic leaders unless you work in the following phrases in your letter:
      -systematic racism
      -unconscious bias
      -white guilt

      If the Met orchestra can fess up to all of these things, they’ll get a $1schleo billion in no time.

  • J Barcelo says:

    For many decades I enjoyed the Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcasts every Saturday; that’s how I got to know the operatic repertoire. It filled a void for Americans not living in NY. But the salaries the MET pays musicians, conductors, set designers, stage hands, singers and worst of all the management, became totally out of touch with the average working guy. The broadcast hosts today reek of a sense of entitlement and snobbery that turns people off. Now, in our “woke” era, the chances of elitist institution like the MET surviving are slim. If the performing classical arts want to continue they must get off their pedestals and reach the common folk. They would support these groups if they feel an honest connection. We know that people like Bezos and Gates could easily write a check to solve all the MET’s problems, but frankly, they don’t give a damn.

    • sabrinensis says:

      The Met’s musician’s salaries aren’t supposed to be “in touch” with the average working guy’s wages (whatever that means). They are highly specialized professionals who work far longer to master their craft than most “average working guy(s)”. The learning curve for a classical musician (particularly string players) is far longer than that for a medical doctor. What they do must be begun during childhood and study must continue unabated through maturity in order to meet the minimum bar of professional accomplishment. What they do is quite unusual – and comparatively rare, a fact that is reflected in their salaries. Those top-flight musicians earn every penny of what they are paid. Save your class ire for the stagehands.

    • Lyle S. says:

      Your comment is both offensive and tone deaf! Stop talking about old white men as if they are the ONLY group that must hand out a few million!!!! Everything revolves around blacks and women in America with Biden as President.

      Hit up those groups to donate instead!!! It’s THEIR social responsibility now that everything white is automatically racist and male defaults to misogyny.

      In fact, predominantly white male founded and run companies need to start pulling support. Somebody else can pull their financial weight from now on!

    • FWIW why does a hamburger flipper deserve fifteen dollars an hour, with no education compared to musician who paid for his/her education as much if not more as a doctor.

  • Nijinsky says:

    I can’t even believe this, when the likes of Renee Flaming (oops I mean Fleming) sounding like an insult to a Cheese factory making deals with Mc Donald’s isn’t barred from the Met because of audience and money loss, and the very people that had made it possible for her to reach stellar Squawks are left in the lurch.

    That’s just the musicians that make opera possible, Renee is EASILY replaceable. Then there’s the creative world, where would those whose music is played remain unknowns having to tangle with her and her comrades, although in the past having remained free are revered, and will remain so despite the celebrity contango spike infecting the rest of the arts such as movies (what happened to Sony picture classics?) where so much is invested in people like Fleming, Bell, Lang Lang, and Hahn all sitting on their cheeky “cushion,” that lies abound at every angle to make excuses for the money loss, which you see here now again. What are the MET musicians supposed to depend on, the digestion to come trickling down from the stellar heights and bless those who wouldn’t make themselves dizzy up there!?

    Maybe Mr. what’s-his-name head of the MET needs to look past his tightly knit clicketay clackety circle of friends and find those who actually care about classics, and opera, and aren’t interested in hearing someone like Fleming sound like she’s inflating the Hindenburg.



  • Sharon says:

    I was very surprised when I saw Chuck Schumer at an inaugural ballet performance after a major theater renovation at the newly renamed David Koch Theater (previously the New York State Theater) after the arch conservative political funder, Koch, made a huge donation to renovate the theater during NYCO’s season (Koch was primarily interested in the ballet) which in my opinion was at least partially responsible for NYCO’s demise.

    Schumer was on the stage praising David Koch and talking about how Lincoln Center was such an important “economic engine”! Admittedly that was before Koch started funding the Tea Party movement but Koch was already known as a conservative political operative. In addition he had already been fined by the conservative George W Bush administration for safety violations in his oil company that had led to the death of two teenagers.

    Unfortunately, unlike Clinton who was trying to imitate John Kennedy who wanted the U.S. to compete with the Soviets in the arts, I do not believe that the arts are a priority with Biden. Even Cuomo, who boasts about how he is trying to save the arts in New York State has only allocated $30 million statewide his his 2021 budget. That might cover the budget of a functioning Met for about 6 weeks. Furthermore, although I have no doubt that Lincoln Center is a very important “economic engine” Broadway is more important.

    Biden has to walk a very fine line between placating his more educated, possibly more classical arts loving supporters, and the working class who is suspicious and perhaps envious of the elite that in the US is identified with classical music. Most in his administration and in Congress would say that putting the money that Congress put into the Met directly, and indirectly through its contribution to the New York State Arts Council, would be better used towards increasing unemployment benefits, yes, for union members.

    From what I have read of Levine, at this point he might actually see what had happened to him as a blessing in disguise. Had he not been thrown out when he had, not only would he have had to take a pay cut instead of a payout, but he would still be lying through his teeth to support Gelb, creating a lot of enmity with the performers and orchestra, and ultimately probably helping preside over the demise of the supremely professional Met orchestra and performances that he had worked so hard over so many years to build.

    In the end that might have been more painful. At first, the divorcee may be angrier than than the widower but sometimes for the widower, with no one but G*d or fate to blame, the pain and depression lasts longer

    • Tom Phillips says:

      We are all better off with the disappearance of James Levine who in addition to his well documented abuse of power with vulnerable young men hogged the repertoire and dominated decision making for far too long. Good riddance!

    • Hayne says:

      The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft funded by “left wing” Soros and “right wing” Koch.
      Both crony capitalists working their magic.

      You know what? I bet a lot of Met musicians voted for the very politicians that have helped ruin their lives in NY. You didn’t think your votes would come home to roost did you? Then again, with the corrupted voting systems we have in the US now, maybe they didn’t vote for them:) Another subject, I know…

    • Hayne says:

      Sorry, one more point.
      “…Biden has to walk a very fine line between…”
      You mean Biden’s handlers have to walk a very fine line…
      Biden has dementia and everyone know it.

  • Nijinsky says:

    This may be just another blind jab, and in being off too, much on target to remain in pretension, but something tells me there ARE those actually interested in funding the Met, the ENTIRE time, that aren’t rubbing up to Mr. Gelb and his shining lights…..

  • Patricia says:

    Chuck U Schumer is not the majority leader in the Senate. The Senate is divided equally between Republicans and Democrats and there is therefore no majority.

  • Emore says:

    I think that Mr. Schumer has more important things to worry about than a small group of people that lost their jobs and supporting a place that only the rich go to.
    The damage to the arts and the Met is sad of course, but what makes them better or more worthy of being rescued than a person that worked at a business that went under during this very tortuous pandemic? Many of the Met musicians teach, teach at Juilliard, and other places, and have to collect unemployment just like everyone else. I think we are forgetting that they got to keep their nicely paying teaching jobs. I have to wonder how many of the millions of currently unemployed folks get to charge $300 an hour for a lesson? And, yes, they can and do charge that much.
    I am a fan of the Met, and feel for those displaced but, be real and stop sounding like cry babies. The Senate should be working on keeping people fed and stopping a pandemic. All a cabinet position for “the Arts” would get us is more wasted money.

  • Freddy says:

    Tho think of all these struggling musicians brings me to tears as does the precarious state of the Met. I am an inner city kid from Brooklyn whose life was changed by hearing opera on public television and spending much of my teenage years in family circle standing room. Levine conducting Boccanegra, Freni’s last Fedora, Moses und Aaron, Bartoli in Cosí. Volpe had his faults and Levine had bigger ones but they would have fought for their musicians and the house.

  • Rollplayer says:

    Bravo, Ira!

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “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.”
    That is the most purple prose I have read in ages.
    The Met? The NEW YORK MET?? A Swiss watch??? Puh-leeeeze.

    • Tenor says:

      You don’t have the talent to sing on that stage Greg so STFU and go masturbate to your daily Biden briefings.

      I have already done it so I know what it has meant to those of us who ‘can do’.