Musical Chairs

Fond Farewells

The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra want to express our fondest farewells and deepest appreciation to the following musicians who are entering retirement: Julie AyerDavid HerringChou-hei Min, Basil Reeve, Edward Stack, and David Wright. These long-time musicians brought the irreplaceable experience of playing under music directors Skrowaczewski, Marriner, de Waart, Oue, and Vanska, performing historic concerts at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the United Nations, and Tanglewood, as well as tours to Australia, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

The careers of these wonderful colleagues were celebrated with friends and family at a retirement party hosted by the Musicians in June with toasts, stories and deep affection. We are grateful for their service to the orchestra.

We wish to congratulate musicians who have won auditions and will be on leave to play with new orchestras next season: Sarah KwakVali Phillips, and Matthew Young. Their talents will be sorely missed and we hope they choose to return.

We miss the talents of two musicians who are on medical leave: Mina Fisher and Janet Horvath.

Congratulations and good wishes to Ben Ullery, who recently resigned from the Minnesota Orchestra viola section, as he begins his new post as Assistant Principal Viola with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Extending a Warm Welcome

Congratulations to Pitnarry Shin who returned as a full time member of the cello section after winning a national audition in April, her second successful audition for this orchestra!

We welcome three new players who have won auditions and have been offered positions in our orchestra beginning next season:

Following an International audition, Gareth Zehngut, viola, has been offered a position in our viola section.  Gareth is currently a member of the viola section of the San Diego Symphony.  Gareth’s artistic experience includes principal positions with the Festival Mozaic Orchestra, California Chamber Orchestra, and the conservatory orchestras at Juilliard and Tanglewood. Gareth has undergraduate and Master’s of Music degrees from Juilliard.

Yun-Ting Lee has been offered a position in the second violin section. He received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music. Currently Yun-Ting is playing in the Cincinnati Symphony in an acting position.

Hyejin Yune has been offered a one-year position, also in the second violin section. She received her bachelor’s degree from Seoul National University and her master’s degree from the New England Conservatory. Hyejin is currently in the New World Symphony.

The Minnesota Orchestra has an unprecedented number of unfilled positions at this time — more than 10% of the orchestra. The Musicians are deeply concerned that there are no auditions planned at this time to fill any of the vacancies.

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra Join Coalition of Non-Profit Arts Groups Opposing Marriage Amendment

This week, the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra voted overwhelmingly to take a public stand in opposition to the amendment placed on the state’s 2012 ballot which would constitutionally limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. Following the vote, the musicians filed paperwork with Minnesotans United for All Families to join the coalition of more than 180 other Minnesota non-profits standing in opposition to the amendment.

The orchestra’s musicians hail from thirty states and nine countries, and have always benefited from Minnesota’s open and welcoming culture. The vibrant arts and cultural scene in the Twin Cities has helped our region to thrive while other Midwestern cities have struggled, and we believe strongly that the passage of this amendment has the potential to do real and lasting damage to our image as a progressive, forward-looking community. To permanently enshrine discrimination in the state constitution would also likely make it harder for our vaunted arts community to attract talented individuals from other cities.

The Minnesota Orchestra has a long and proud history of offering employment benefits including health insurance to same-sex partners of its employees, and several of the orchestra’s distinguished board members have been outspoken in stating their opposition to this amendment, and their belief that its passage would be harmful to the state’s business community. We salute these board members for their willingness to speak out, and add our collective voice to theirs.

Negotiation Update

On July 20, the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee met with management and six Board members in a three hour afternoon session. Discussion continued from the previous meeting, as the Committee continued to seek clarification of management proposals. The Committee also gave a brief historical narrative summarizing the Minnesota Orchestra’s rise to become recognized as a top ten American orchestra.

While acknowledging the support and efforts of the Board and management in helping to build the orchestra to its current status, the Committee continued to strongly caution that management’s current proposals would seriously diminish the artistic quality of the orchestra in its ability to retain and attract the best musicians possible and, thus, jeopardize its current top-tier status.

The next meeting is scheduled for August 30.


Why Classical Music? by Marcia Peck

Recently, one of our board leaders commented to me, “I know you prefer playing classical music to Pops…”  I think he meant to demonstrate his sensitivity to the reluctance of orchestral musicians to play more and more pops shows, a proposed change-of-course intended to bring new listeners into the hall.  I remember my answer clearly.  “I think it’s important to say, we don’t merely ‘prefer’ classical music.  It is who we are.”

Every year my father, a high school music teacher, used to take his Music Appreciation class to the Metropolitan Opera, the gorgeous old Met at 39th and Broadway with its tiers of gilt and velvet.  When I was seven years old, he let me accompany them for the first time.  We saw Carmen.  It was the 50’s, before supra titles, and I recall poking him intermittently to ask, “What’s happening now, Daddy?”  And he patiently whispered the essential plot points—love, betrayal, jealousy, murder—into my ear.

Everything made an impression on me: the sumptuous hall, the costumes, the singing.  I was in it for the spectacle, but by the final curtain it was the music that bedazzled me, the score that embodied the turbulent story.  Whatever the limitations of my young sensibilities, I was transfixed, as was my father’s entire class, a supremely unsophisticated group of teenagers from the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel.

Back then, the word “music” meant what we now refer to as “classical” music.  If we meant something other than the world of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, we specified “popular” music.  Most kids, even in a town like mine, played an instrument or sang in a choir or—at minimum—took my father’s Music Appreciation class in hopes of an easy credit.  This was before we lost arts programs in the schools and Pop Culture became the mega-money-making industry it is today and began to drown out the masterworks that used to be part of everyone’s vocabulary.

Now I worry that there are people who live their entire lives never having heard even a recording of a Beethoven symphony, let alone a live performance.

Can we play Pops?  Of course.  Compared to what we are capable of doing, it’s a cinch.  Do we sometimes enjoy it?  Absolutely.  As when a favorite performer like Doc Severinsen brings his first-rate arrangements.

But does pops keep us fit for the demands of Beethoven or Bartôk?  And, most of all, does it prepare a new audience for Brahms or Mahler? Absolutely not.

We don’t “save” classical music by offering a completely re-engineered concert format meant for a completely different type of listener.  We save it by honoring it for what it is—one of humanity’s highest achievements.

It’s true that classical music asks more of its listeners than pops, just as it asks more of the musicians.  It has more complex things to say.  It illuminates human emotions for which words don’t suffice.  A symphony communicates aspects of the human experience that can’t be conveyed in a three-minute “song.”

Happily, however, classical music requires of its listeners, not necessarily the ability to “understand,” but a willingness simply to listen.  We are not required to “get” classical music.  I certainly didn’t “get” Carmen at seven years old, not on any intellectual level.  But that one magnificent experience stayed with me for a lifetime, as I suspect it did for every one of my father’s hard-sell students.

My colleagues and I are committed to the limitless capacity of classical music to nourish the inner lives of everyone it reaches.  We are committed to performing the very best that humanity has to offer at the highest level.  And, I would argue, highest level is the key.  For who hasn’t sat through a mediocre rendition of Beethoven’s 5th and wondered as a result, “What’s so great about that?”

As an enlightened society, we are meant to aspire to more than mere entertainment. We are meant to allow great music in, to let it settle in our DNA, and to bask in the glimpse it offers us of a universe greater than we can otherwise imagine.

The Minnesota Orchestra is the one Minnesota institution that can bring the gift of great, soul-enlarging symphonic music, played at peak levels, to our community.

Marcia Peck
Cellist, Minnesota Orchestra

Mourning the loss of Ann Marsden

The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra mourn the loss of photographer, Ann Marsden. We were always happy to see her on stage at Orchestra Hall, where she had a gymnast’s ability to move among us, snapping our candid portraits from every possible angle. Ann took illuminating photographs of our musicians throughout her career. We will miss her and her great artistry.

photo by Ann Marsden

Why are the musicians in a union?

Before musicians joined together to become collective bargaining units and members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), age, race and gender discrimination were prevalent in hiring and firing practices in orchestras. Musicians also experienced poor working and touring conditions which led to injuries. However, the collective efforts of the AFM, working in tandem with supportive boards and managements, have resulted in more egalitarian organizations that can plan ahead with greater effectiveness and provide enhanced stability and security for the lives of the musicians. In turn, this has allowed the quality of music to thrive and has fostered an environment of respect and goodwill between musicians, conductors, and managers. These developments have been a positive force for organizations that depend on the generosity of the communities they serve, and they are also the reason why the union remains relevant and important today.

If a violist plays in tune in the forest… by Roma Duncan

You should sit where I sit at MN Orchestra concerts.  As the piccolo player, I’m close to the center of the stage and I don’t play every passage of every piece which gives me the opportunity to listen to the orchestra from within.  Depending on the string setup, I’ll be hearing members of the second violins, the cellos, and the bass section right next to me.  I love listening to our section players who you won’t be hearing in solo roles but who are performing with as much conviction, musicality, and passion as the musicians you will notice at our concerts.

I remember inviting a friend to a concert where I played second flute years ago.  She really enjoyed the program, but commented that she couldn’t imagine what it was like for me to play a concert in which nobody heard me.  I still remember being really struck by that, and I’ve given it a lot of thought since.  Since I’m the piccolo player now, you will be hearing me every time I’m on stage, but what about all of the section players who you’ll possibly never notice or hear individually?  One of the things I love about the MN Orchestra is the quality and the energy that our section players bring to our sound.  Without dedicated sections from the front to the back of the stage, you get some nice solos over a mediocre accompaniment.  With dedicated and accomplished sections like ours, you get a gorgeous supporting cast that creates the definitive sound of the orchestra.  It takes talent and work, but it also takes a specific attitude and a willingness to subvert individual ego in favor of the group sound and goals. In every single chair onstage, we need a soloist who’s willing not to be a soloist when necessary.

Perhaps the best example of this is the viola section.  The violas are the punch line of many a musical joke, and not the first group that springs to mind when discussing virtuosity and prominence.  They’re also a crucial inner voice of the orchestra.  You’ll probably spend a lot of time not noticing them while they are ably providing the depth, color, and support that set the scene for a transcendent flute solo or soaring violin melody.

There’s no other sound on earth like a great orchestra.  The way the parts and the people function is magical: sometimes blending seamlessly, sometimes hammering out brutal dissonances, and always fitting perfectly together and apart.  It’s a precious thing and I’m so fortunate and grateful to be a part of this great orchestra.

So do we need a dazzling concert master and virtuoso principals?  Of course we do and I’m happy to say that we have them.  We also need a passionate eighth bass player, a fourth trumpet player capable of subtlety and finesse, and an entire section of violists devoted to the often unnoticed and always vital role of producing the center of our sound.  So, if a violist plays in tune in the forest, does it make a sound?  Absolutely! And it’s beautiful.

Roma Duncan, Solo Piccolo
July 2012