Stumbling into the new season, Minnesota has become the third orchestra to lock out its musicians, after Atlanta and Indianapolis.
In San Antonio, a head-on showdown has just been settled before both sides went into fixed positions, but the financial outlook remains fragile. Atlanta has meantime forced its players into a humiliating capitulation. There’s a war on out there.
It doesn’t have to be like this. And it is damaging the outlook for US orchestras.
The Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer told me this summer that the reason he turned down the chance to become music director in Washington, DC, was, in his compound noun, ‘the rulebook.’
Too much of what a music director might try to do was inhibited by thick legal agreements between two potentially hostile forces, management and musicians. Too much of a conductor’s time was taken up finding wriggle room in the interstices of a dusty contract. Not a job for an idealistic or progressive musician, said Ivan.
Several others have privately voiced similar sentiments.
There has never been a time when the conductors most admired in Europe turned their backs on the US en masse. That time is now. We have a situation where Gergiev, Rattle, Thielemann, Chailly, Fischer, the two Petrenkos, Pappano, Oramo, Gatti, Nelsons, and several more – have never taken the music directorship of a US orchestra, no matter how high the fee. Most have no intention of doing so.
Something’s gotta give if US orchs are to resume their status as magnets for maestro talent. The mood music has to change.