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Very bad news from Boston: the butcher wins a new contract

Tony Woodcock, whose main achievement as president of New England Conservatory has been to sack the inspirational conductor Benjamin Zander on trumped-up grounds, has been rewarded with a five-year contract extension that ought to take him close to retirement.

‘The Board’s decision to renew his contract speaks volumes about what we think his worth is and how much we value his vision and operational expertise,’ said Board Chair Frank Wisneski.

What is it the Good Book said? ‘The wages of virtue are… zilch.’

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  1. Daniel Farber says:

    Another triumph for the business/corporate side of music. Ben Zander’s only hope of returning to the Conservatory was the Board’s taking a second look at Woodcock and deciding it didn’t like what it saw. Even When Klemperer was asked in 1960 what it was about America (based on his experience there in the 30′s) that he didn’t like, he answered simply, “the dollar, everything is the dollar.”

  2. In a similar vein to Mr. Farber’s comment about Klemperer, Barenboim has said publicly that he doesn’t want to be the Music Director of an American orchestra, because he’d have to do too much fundraising. That said, I fear Europe will be exactly like America in 10-20-30 years and state-funded music and art will dwindle or vanish.

  3. It is rather harsh to label Mr. Woodcock a butcher on his being awarded the extended contract . He may well
    be a despicable person to some but with all the trustees , the board etc. which number quite a few people they have
    decided for good or bad Mr. Woodcock is the choice to run the conservatory.. There is not a conservatory on
    the planet that is not boiling over with discontent and internal fights, the general public has no concept of the
    awful infighting of academia until it boils over into the streets .Civilized society has little idea of what brutes
    there are in the academic world .This was a battle between Mr. Zander and Mr. Woodcock , a battle of egos
    and the board etc. sided with Mr. Woodcock for whatever reasons and he won .Go after the board and find out
    exactly why they gave the nod to Mr. Woodcock -I doubt if you will get an honest answer but it may be worth a try .
    At this stage Mr. Zander and Mr. Woodcock are past history , Mr. Zander more so .

    • Daniel Farber says:

      There’s only ONE brute here. Amazing that Ariel has not been injured by so much fence-straddling. I’m OK, you’re OK, Zander’s out, Woodcock’s in. Kids are hurt, deprived, but the Conservatory goes about its business efficiently. So let’s grab some pad thai and forget about it. Ariel’s world. Not mine, not Klemperer’s, not Schnabel’s, not Schiff’s, not Leonard Shure’s etc. etc.

      • If the board , trustees , and what ever other group agree with Mr. Woodcocks’ running of his ship then you
        are out . It’s life and it may be unfair but one must grow up and realize life is never fair . Get to the trustees
        the board etc. and show them how they have erred and if they have a change of heart , your Mr. Zander is back in . Don’t drag in the Klemperer , Schnabel etc. nonsense , they demanded their fees like any
        sensible performer and when they got it they performed- and spare me the kids being hurt and deprived
        there is always another performer out there to take Mr. Zanders place . Make a change !!!!!! instead
        of bemoaning that money rules America. And Mr. Brown might ponder his own Brit background as to money
        ruling the arts in America . Think “Scream ” name of auction house and origin of main auction houses that bring
        everything down to the $$$$$$$. It is wonderful to take moral high road so self satisfying .

        • Thank you for sharing some of your own perspective, Ariel. I’m not sure how making great live music has been affected by auction houses, but I do see the loose connection being attempted in that argument. Perhaps I was inaccurate to classify ‘the arts’ in general as opposed to my own experience in music, dance and theatre. However, I do agree that the politics of board/trustees and whoever can win them over is always prevalent and rarely fair. In my experience in the UK, USA, Europe & Africa, personality and money are the primary drivers of such politics. Next I presume I’ll be chastised for saying that and recommended I ‘get out more,’ right?!

          • My point was that money rules the arts in any form whether in Britain or America or Canada etc.
            The article you refer to seems to me pointless . It says nothing but same old nonsense with bad examples . People pay for what they like and all the personality won’t help if the artistic product
            does not please . You may write the greatest play ever and if only 10 people care for it( unless you have tons of money )you have close up shop. I have to travel to Canada to see HenryIV by Pirandello
            or Ivona ,Princess of Burgunia by Gombrowicz (at Shaw Festival) because no major city theatre group can afford to put these plays on due to $$$$$$$. It is all a matter of educating the public , which is
            less and less interested. There was a time when many a household had a piano and the poor kids had to bang away at least for a half hour each day and were also taught they must “aspire ” to a better life, now the buck makes everyone equal and instead of playing the piano the kids aspire to play computer games. Every one has $$$$$ for computer games , ipods etc.but not enough for
            your dance , theatre and music . It is a tough road not in just America .

          • Ah. I understand that point and example entirely. Yes, the world is developing an ever-expanding number of expectations. Thanks for engaging in the discussion!

        • Daniel Farber says:

          Ariel, I’ve known that “life is unfair” for at least 65 of my 68 years. Citing the artists I did is not “nonsense”; they took their fees (as you say) but, as is clear from their writings and actions, they did not enjoy, or cave in to a business you see as normative and justifiable. I am fully aware that Woodcock had the “right” to fire Zander, but whether this action served the purported artistic aims of the Conservatory and the needs of its students is quite a different matter. You show your real feelings by implying that another conductor will provide as valuable an experience for those young people as the one Zander provides. I’m from Boston and know that will not happen. The important point is that artists and teachers are not interchangeable. It’s not “six of one, half a dozen of the other.” One doesn’t “substitute” for Menuhin.

          • Mr. Farber your reponse reminds me of a story concerning Brahms , perhaps you have heard it ,,
            but here goes ……. Mr. Brahms and a fellow composer walking along sea shore , the friend bemoaning
            that all was for naught , gone are the great days etc etc . . when Brahms interrupted the soliloquy by pointing
            at the sea and saying to his friend ” Look !, the last wave ”

            You are correct concerning Menuhin – he was a favourite of mine and I remember while driving to a very important meeting the announcement on the radio that he had died caused me to pull over and
            park and sit quietly for a very long time remembering him. you are correct artists and teachers are not interchangeable but are in the long run replaceable however we hate to admit it
            and while never forgetting Menuhin I have found other violin artists who are equal to the tasks of inheriting his mantle as players . He was not the last wave …neither is Mr. Zander.

          • Daniel Farber says:

            I enjoyed your reply, Ariel, but I still think you’re missing the point. I hope you mean that other violinists have come along and provide for you an enjoyment more or less equal to what Menuhin gave you. But “replaceable”? Do you really mean to say the artist is not “unique”? I was, of course, invoking Menuhin as a synecdoche. As Nabokov said, “the only real number is one.”

          • As much as you may hate the word we are all replaceable- being replaceable does not mean
            the artist is not was not unique any more than everyone else ,yes everyone else is or was not “unique “.It is the value you place on the artists’ work that makes that artist “unique ” to you. and can easily be dismissed by someone else as value misplaced,
            in some parts of the world there are people who would consider violin playing even if represented by Menuhin as a bit odd. I was not aware that Nabokov” voiced” the number one bit -I read it somewhere in an early work of his .
            and felt much of his writing was a put on to keep academics busy until the end of time deciphering
            what he truly meant if he meant anything at all . Keeping all those people busy , that alone makes
            him unique but alas he is gone and is” replaced” by others . It’s those dam waves .

  4. New England Conservatory Parent (inside) says:

    I read these comments with amazement. Would you allow a convicted raper to work with your children? Do you even know the details of this story?

    • I am am familiar with the full story. You are evidently not. Please read the background and respond when you are in possession of some facts.

    • dlcello59 says:

      @New England Conservatory Parent (inside)– I believe it’s “rapist” not “raper.” I hope your child is getting a good education somewhere other than in-home!
      ps– as Lebrecht said, read the facts. End of story.

    • Paul Kowal says:

      NEC Parent will probably not bother to look up facts that will prove them to be wrong. So here’s the facts: Peter Benjamin was convicted of inappropriate behavior with 3 teenagers, served a jail sentence, and was out on parole when Ben hired him. Peter’s parole officer was totally aware of the hiring, and supported it in writing, both then and again when asked now. Peter is no longer on parole, and there are no legal reasons why he should not be hired by anyone.

      Ben was not the first person at NEC to hire Peter. The NEC Opera Department had been using his services for over a year when Ben hired him. Other NEC departments have hired him in the years since. Even Tony Woodcock, NEC President, hired Peter only two months before he fired Ben for hiring Peter. There is no reason that any of these people shouldn’t hire Peter–he is a fine videographer and a musician, so he produces extremely musically-sensitive, high quality videos.

      But too be fair, if Tony fired Ben over this issue, he should also have fired himself, several other NEC faculty members, and the entire Opera Department. But he didn’t. Because he wanted Ben out for other reasons, saw an excuse to create some bad publicity, and took it. Shame on him for his cowardly behavior.

      Boards hate bad publicity. The Board not renewing Tony Woodcock’s contract would have made the news. Keeping him did not. Tony’s contract was not renewed at two previous jobs. How the board came to hire him in the first place is a mystery to me. But, having done it, the safe move is to keep him. Sad.

  5. Daniel Farber says:

    Paul has the story correct. Neither Zander nor Woodcock have come clean on the “other reasons,” but they are known in the Boston musical community. Zander, immensely talented as a musician and teacher, is a person not easy to deal with in an institutional setting, but then so are a great many artist-teachers, and just about all of them remain with their institutions and are allowed to retire on their own terms. They are not summarily fired after 45 years of service.

  6. NEC Alum says:


    I was a firm supporter of the decision to fire Zander, but I have definitely waffled since then, as I think they decision was made too quickly and rashly, especially after some new information came out about Peter’s parole officer. With that said, some of the things you say are just misleading or incorrect.

    “Peter Benjamin was convicted of inappropriate behavior with 3 teenagers.” – So rape is just inappropriate behavior now? You show that Peter was rehabilitated later, so why do you feel the need to lessen his crimes? It has been common practice of the critics of the NEC decision to smooth over the crimes of Peter Benjamin. It is an insult to the children he RAPED, and it does not help bolster anyone’s case.

    The comparison with the opera department and Woodcock himself does not hold water because Ben Zander knew about Peter Benjamin’s past and the opera department and Woodcock did not. Should NEC have run a background check? Of course, and possibly for this reason alone, Zander should not have been fired since NEC did not follow it’s own policies on background checks.

    There are totally legitimate criticisms of NEC, (the parole officer, the background checks, the hurried decision-making process) but smoothing over the extreme nature of Peter’s crimes and making false comparisons between people who knew about these crimes and people who didn’t is simply hyperbole and doesn’t contribute anything. Why is it not possible to have a real, honest discussion about this issue? It’s not a black and white case of either Ben Zander HAD to be fired, or he should not possibly have ever been fired under any circumstances. Why does an NEC Parent need to be berated and insulted by three different posters, including the author of this blog? Why does Zander need to be called a supporter of child rapists or Woodcock called a butcher? Neither is true, so let’s cool it.

    • Woodcock used the services of the same videographer. So did other faculty members. If Zander was fired for it, they should also be gone. What happened at NEC was an abuse of justice, a contrived execution. It is on those grounds that the epithet ‘butcher’ is applicable to its president. NL

      • NEC Alum says:

        Dear Norman,

        I’m sorry, but you still haven’t addressed the fact that Woodcock and others apparently did not know about Benjamin’s past. Zander did! I don’t disagree with you that NEC made a mistake firing Zander, but my whole point is that it doesn’t help when facts are exaggerated or smoothed over. As I said before, there are multitudes of reasons for Ben to not have been fired, but the fact remains that Peter Benjamin raped three boys and that as far as has been reported, (sourced and documented) no one else at NEC knew of Benjamin’s crimes when they hired him. This isn’t a black and white issue, and I don’t think it should be treated as one. I really apologize if this sounds like I’m riding in on a high horse, but I feel very strongly that this is an extremely nuanced issue and that hyperbolic statements don’t help. I support Ben; he was an EXTREMELY inspiring teacher and I hope that there is a chance for reconciliation with the conservatory which he loves.

        • On your first point, please read the submission by two distinguished jurists. it appears that several people on campus knew of his past. If it was an issue he should have been vetted. That responsibility was Woodcock’s.

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