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When a horn player nears the end of days

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a remarkably sensitive piece of journalism by Michael Miner about the outstanding Chicago Symphony horn player Dale Clevenger and his recent difficulties. Clevenger is 72 and has led the section for 47 years. Under the rigid rules that govern US orchestras, he cannot be fired. Under the rules of common decency and gratitude, he should not be. So what lies in store? Read on here.

dclevenger And see further here.

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  1. This is a difficult situation, and it is agonizing to read this article. I witnessed first-hand what happened to my teacher, a Principal with a major orchestra, who ran into analogous circumstances, though with much less fanfare. I was one of a number of people who called the Director to plead for him to keep his job. That did not help, but only postponed the inevitable.

  2. This is a bit puzzling considering that he could do what many aging wind principals in the majors do; continue to play in the tutti passages but have the associate play the solos. Is Clevenger’s ego that fragile?

  3. Linda Grace says:

    Muti had no luck in initiating the “we have a good retirement plan and you should take advantage of it” talk with a Philadelphia brass principal. That was 25 years ago, and perhaps the orchestra members themselves will not take such a hard line on protecting their own (at all costs) at this juncture. I wish I a dime for every flagging orchestra musician who admits they have problems but justifies their staying on with some version of, “I carry the spirit of the orchestra and the fabulosity of who I am.”

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      And Sawallisch? Please tell us about his strategy, Linda. He made housecleaning a household word in the 90s in PHL. I can’t imagine about whom you are talking. Let’s be frank, a trumpetist by chance? Muti never had the intestinal fortitude to make the decisions that Wolfie made. I also watched Muti conduct an entire concert with his left hand in the face of a brass player who is now playing for him by the lake (name not mentioned to protect the guilty).

      Mason Jones (principal horn at 18 in 1938), had the POA hire an associate and at the same time became personnel manager in the mid 1960s, Then, when the assoiciate got his sea legs, Mason stepped down to become only personnel manager. From 1959 (my first POA concert at the age of 14) until his new role: about 10 years later, I never heard him miss a note. Clams were never a part of my diet until Mason retired. One of my greatest concert experiences in Philly in the Academy was the Chicago with Solti in the late 60s playing Mahler 5 (Herseth and Clevenger playing rather significant roles, lol). I hope that Dale Clevenger can stop trying to be such a hero. His legacy deserves better. In life, timing is everything, better to to say too soon than too late! Let’s pardon his ego, without it, he would have been just another hornist. Bravo DC, please take the high road.

    • harold braun says:

      Well,I thought Sawallisch did`t like Frank Kaderabek and wanted him to retire.But Mr.Kaderabek was an incredible player,and,with Muti and Sawallisch,he played with less vibrato than before(something I personally had liked very much !).

      • I remember hearing Frank Kaderabek play in Philly regularly in the late 80′s. A great professional. But he was faltering badly and everyone knew he had to retire.

        • harold braun says:

          Well,I heard him a few times live,from the seventies to the mid 90s.I remember him playing Poem of Ec stasy on tour in Frankfurt 1992.It was absolutely sensational!

  4. There is no shame in it when a principal player, especially a brass principal who is particularly exposed, retires when his playing starts getting less great than it used to be, or when he retires to another position in his section. Norbert Hauptmann, one of the two principal horns of the BP for many years under Karajan and Abbado, also finished his career playing 4th horn and he was even given a special farewell and standing ovation at the New Year’s Eve concert a few years ago. Same with Martin Kretzer, who was principal trumpet there for over 30 years before retiring to a second trumpet position which he still holds.

    The problem with the quoted reviews is that if you haven’t been there, you don’t know how much of “a trainwreck” the playing was. People are too obsessed with technical perfection, mistakes do happen in live performances, but the thing about brass flubs is – everyone – can hear them. And sometimes people who don’t hear other mistakes zoom in on them.

  5. It is, of course, an awkward situation to handle.
    But if a player can’t cope – technically – with the demands of their job, and refuses to step back a position, retire, or what-have-you, shouldn’t there be some mechanism for dealing with that?
    A footballer or cricketer who can no longer perform at an acceptable level would be let go – no-one can say “but I insist on being opening batsman; I’ve done that for the last three tours and it’s my rightful place”. A journalist who no longer writes decent copy is shown the door or moved aside, a photographer who no longer takes good pictures is replaced. Why do we let knackered instrumentalists hang around ?

    For an orchestra as an entity, fielding a team that all the players within it know to be less than the best they can do, with either small or big weak links which need fixing, is an insult to their audience, and to the donors, sponsors, and other funders who give their money and expertise to help make the orchestra the best it can be.

    • Stereophonic says:

      There is a great in knowing when to finish. Has he not got better things to do at his age?

  6. bratschegirl says:

    It is a sad situation when a legendary practitioner of whatever art or craft can no longer perform at the peak. I’ve only heard the CSO live once, a number of years ago, and this was certainly not the case at that performance, and it was a privilege to hear playing of that caliber. I very much hope that he’s right in his assessment and that he quickly returns to his former glory for many more years. I also hope that, if he cannot, he summons the courage to do the right and graceful thing. Several of my colleagues have made pacts with each other than they will let the other know when “it’s time.” Hard to know from whom such a legend could accept that kind of judgment, though.

    Mr Lebrecht writes above: “Under the rigid rules that govern US orchestras, he cannot be fired.” This is nonsense. I’m certain that the CSO collective bargaining agreement, like those of other US professional orchestras of all levels, has provisions for dismissal both for cause and for artistic reasons. Yes, it is a complicated and often lengthy process, but taking away someone’s employment SHOULD be difficult. Let us not forget that these protections arose out of decades of capricious and arbitrary treatment of musicians at the hands of managers and music directors.

    Mr Miner, in his piece linked above, writes that the CSO CBA also prohibits him from being demoted to a lower position. Not being a member of the orchestra and never having seen the contract, I cannot say with any certainty, but I doubt that this is the case. However, if there is no current vacancy in the CSO horn section, there would understandably be no position to which he could be demoted without unseating another tenured member of the section.

    If Mr Muti is indeed temperamentally unsuited to dealing with such matters, he really has no business being a Music Director. This is an unenviable but inescapable part of the job description.

  7. Another superannuated boomer just won’t get out of the way. Even if this geezer were still playing like a god, he’s had this highly desirable gig since the Johnson administration, and in simple fairness should step aside graciously and give some 25-year-old hotshot a chance at a career.

    • With all due respect to those who are playing in orchestras, it does seem to be a part of their mindset that they seem to consider themselves somewhat infallible and certainly irreplaceable. Perhaps that tends to go along with the single-minded focus that enables them to accomplish what most people could not.

  8. Robert Levine says:

    It’s not correct that “under the rigid rules that govern US orchestras, he cannot be fired..” The CSO contract provides for termination for artistic inadequacy, as do the labor agreements of every American orchestra I know, including mine. And ours has been used a few times over the years.

    • Linda Grace says:

      I’m told that at the Philadelphia Orchestra the price for termination for artistic inadequacy is at least $100,000 for each case for lawyers and etc. No wonder some people can keep double dipping into dodderhood, collecting retirement pay and their salary as well.
      As an aside, retirement problems drove the perceived need for bankruptcy here strongly, as the Orchestra was committed to a certain level of payment even though returns were not so high. There had been a disastrous agreement with a previous Board, who wanted to move from the PO self-funding pension such as NY Phil to the Musician’s Union pension plan. This happened 2 years before the financial world of mortgages crashed, along with lots of other problems. Very cunning, Mr. Banker Board President. (sarcasm).
      Is Clevenger double dipping? Then IMHO no motivation to retire. Not many musicians can be like Louis Rosenblatt, who retired from the PO at what seemed like the height of his powers, though his wife said he had to spend more and more time preparing.
      And yes, Dean Robert, Sawallisch was very good at his eviction notices, even with the nameless trumpet player who survived Muti’s efforts, with the exception of one player who just retired last year, having double dipped for 25 years.

      • Do I understand correctly that after retirement age a player can continue and collect both his or her normal salary plus their pension payment?

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Linda will reply with greater clarity, I’m sure, because she has an inside track on the latest Philly trends and defintely can tell you whether Pat’s or Geno’s has the better cheesesteak (Jim’s on South Street is also often mentioned). But yes, there are players who “retired” but continue to play thereby drawing the famous “double dip” and it ain’t Bassett’s ice cream, so famous in Phila. Linda correctly points out that the principal reason for the POA strategic use of bankruptcy was to start with a “clean” slate in the area of pensions.

          • What a ridiculous situation. On top of that there are players like the first trumpet in Philly making $297,000 per year. I strongly support musicians’ unions and good pay for top players, but these conditions are indeed ripe for reform. If only we had a system that could even out the pay for top ochestras and use the saved funds for regional groups.

          • Linda Grace says:

            This may be a ridiculous situation, but it is US law, anti-age discrimination policy. No question, those taking pension when eligible (and continuing to play and take their salary) are taking money out of the pool for those actually retired. And, the eligibility starts at a kind of arcane formula, not 65. This means that is someone joins the orchestra young, gets 32 years of service plus age differential, the player could collect retirement early, not just starting at 65, and still get his/her salary.
            This is a difficult problem, and I do not endorse the union busting tactics being used at this time.

            Btw, my contacts in the Vienna Phil tell me that 65 is it, you are retired, like it or not. The wind players don’t come back and substitute, but the string players do, some.

          • Yes, it’s the same in Germany. Retirement with rare exception is mandatory. As someone here noted, the age has been raised to 67 for those born after a certain year. (I forget the year.)

  9. harold braun says:

    I heard CSO quite often during the last 40 years live,always with Mr.Clevenger playing first horn,the last time in 2010.I couldn`t detect any worsening in his playing.

  10. harold braun says:

    What I cannot believe is that principal trumpet should also have performed poorly in Mahler 3rd.Both Mr.Martin and Mr.Ridenour are among the best trumpet players worldwide,andMr.Martin is very young,and Mr.Ridenour in his late forties.They both rock!

    • harold braun says:

      I just forgot: Mr.Clevenger is 72 years old,the same age as principal trombonist Jay Friedman,who definetly shows no signs of weakness andusually gets great reviews by Mr,von Rhein.

      • With wind players, health and conditioning may be of more importance than age. The health of the Principal Flute I studied with declined due to a serious heart attack even though the individual were still in their prime. In that case, there was also substance abuse, which of course added an element of unpredictability to any performance.

  11. Gerta Hollander says:

    This whole situation is a moot point. You all are beating a dead horse.

    According to inside sources, Mr. Clevenger has already announced that this will be his final season. He’s
    recently remarried and let’s just say he has a very positive upcoming personal situation that will require his
    full attention.

    He is hardly near “the end of his days”. In fact, I’d say he’s on the verge of beginning a very exciting new period of his life.

    So, please, let this man remain the legend he is. Let it go, people. Wish him Mazel tov and leave him in peace.

  12. Petros Linardos says:

    How are such situations handled in Europe? Do European orchestral musicians retire earlier than their American counterparts?

    • I haven’t followed the issue closely and could be wrong, but I have never heard of a German player working past retirement age. I believe retirement is mandatory at 65. For one thing, it is considered an essential protection for the job market. Also, it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve worked, no retirement until 65. My wife and her colleagues covered the services for an older colleague who couldn’t play anymore so that he could make it to his retirement age. Otherwise, he would have taken a large hit to his pension.

      • At least in Finland an orchestra can give a player an option of continuing past retirement age. As it has to happen by mutual agreement it doesn’t happen too often. There are also plans that allow you to retire a few years early.

      • Recently, in Germany the mandatory retirement age is being shifted gradually from 65 to 67 years. For people who go into retirement before the 67 year rule has been reached, an individual retirement age is calculated in one month increments. However, it will be interesting to see whether any mandatory retirement at all can be upheld under EU law which forbids age discrimination. In orchestras it seems to be a Procrustean bed which fits only very few. I have seen embarrassing charades carried out with long periods of “sickness” and short phases of “health” to get colleagues to their retirement without serious loss of money for them not being able to function up to their last day. Others, who were luckier and still played strongly, were heartbroken to be kicked out of their beloved profession the day they had reached the age. Here, as in many other music related matters, Finland seems to be wiser than both Germany and the US.

      • In Germany the mandatory retirement age is just now been shifted gradually from 65 to 67 years. For individuals who go into retirement before the full 67 year rule has been reached, an individual retirement age is calculated in one month increments. But it is left to be seen whether any mandatory retirement at all will be able to remain upheld, because at least in theory EU law prohibits age discrimination. In orchestras, however, it seems to be a Procrustean bed which at best fits only very few. I have witnessed embarrassing charades with long periods of “sickness” and short phases of “health” to get a colleague to his retirement without heavy financial penalties for not being able to function well up to the last assigned day. Others, who were luckier and still played strongly, were heartbroken to be kicked out of their beloved profession just for having reached a certain age. Here, as in some other music related matters, Finland seems to be so much wiser than both Germany and the US.

  13. Dale Clevenger deserves better. It is a terrible injustice to a truly superb artist, who created a remarkable body of work over a long career, to have things deteriorate to this. The orchestra’s management should have found a dignified way to gracefully ease him into a reduced role, or into full retirement, some time ago. After all he did to build the artistry and prestige of the CSO, the orchestra and its donors could and should have been more proactive in persuading him to step away from the hot seat of principal horn. They could and should have provided a financial package that made it possible for him to do so, and he should not be the subject of this ugly public airing of his diminished performance abilities. Dale Clevenger deserves better.

    • This is part of the problem.
      If Dale can still play top-notch, then fine. If and when he can’t, he should not be allowed to continue because of some romantic notion that it’s nice to do so to thank him or preserve his dignity, or whatever.

      An orchestra does not exist to serve its members. It exists to serve its audience, and, if you like, music more generally. Neither of those objectives are achieved by keeping on someone past their best.
      Would you say W. G. Grace should have played cricket in his sixties, or Geoffrey Boycott should be called back to the crease just because they were legends in their day, built the artistry, sportsmanship and prestige of their teams, and so on? no, if they can’t play first-class cricket now, then they shouldn’t be on the field.
      They, like Mr. Clevenger, were adequately rewarded for what they did when they were doing it; and when they can no longer do it, they should make way for someone else who can.

  14. I think Mr. Clevenger is just trying to live up to the tradition:

    Bass trombonist Edward Kleinhammer (1919- ) retired in 1985. Quite the industrious type, Mr. Kleinhammer was known to stay overnight at his studio to practice upcoming licks, sleeping on a couch he kept there. His book “The Art of Trombone Playing” (1963) was the first of its type for trombonists, and remains a classic.

    Mr. Kleinhammer’s students include Douglas Yeo (who himself just retired from the Boston Symphony); and Charlie Vernon, who played in Baltimore and Philadelphia–with Glen Dodson and a young second trombonist named Joe Alessi, who later went on to become principal with the New York Philharmonic–before taking his teacher’s place at the CSO. Charlie is a star among bass trombonists. He stays in excellent shape by playing along with his numerous students and swimming competitively.

    Trombonist Frank Crisafulli (1916-1998) began as assistant principal in 1938, was named principal in 1939. To avoid an injured spot on his lip, Mr. C. developed a second embouchure a little bit to the side. He was always a bit anxious before big pieces about its reliability, and would then go back to his “original” setting. This practice got him into a sticky situation before a “Bolero” in 1955, when neither “new” nor “old” embouchure worked, and Reiner moved him to second trombone. He was an absolute winner as second trombonist from 1955 until he retired in 1989. (His replacement Michael Mulcahy of Australia, who beat out 850 other applicants to win the job, has made “the greatest trombone section in history” even better.)

    As the story goes, in the version that I heard, anyway: One day in or around 1955, Mr. Crisafulli was talking in the locker room about his embouchure troubles, something that Mr. Kleinhammer apparently found rather tiresome to hear.
    Ed: “Well, THAT’S what you get, for (messing) around with it.”
    Frank, feeling rather insulted: “Well! I *never*!”

    And, the two gentlemen, sitting side-by-side in the greatest trombone section in history, did not speak to each other for decades, until a thaw shortly before Mr. Crisafulli’s retirement. (Apparently, the concept of “teamwork” takes a hit here.)

    A student of Frank Crisafullit once told me this story: Once, in a lesson in 1979, Mr. Crisafullit picked up his trombone to play along on the 6/8 “run” in Till Eulenspiegal. Halfway through the run, Mr. Crisafulli–not yet warmed up–crashes and burns.

    Crisafulli, to the student: “Let’s try that again, shall we?” For the second attempt, Mr. C. just *NAILED* it, the loudest and cleanest Till that you will ever hear!

    Arnold Jacobs (1915-1998) was the legendary principal tuba from 1944 until 1988. (On a personal note, I was present in the audience for his last performance under Mr. Solti.) Jake was the foundation. He was also a legendary teacher, with a relaxed, resonant voice which bestowed him with a rather god-like presence. Brass students from all over the world visited his studio to learn about “song and wind,” the mechanics of breathing and blowing.

    Adoph Herseth (born 1921) was principal trumpet from 1948 until 2001, at which time he was named “Principal Trumpet Emeritus.” (I was no longer living in the area during this time, so I don’t know if “Emeritus” was simply an extra-honorary title, or if it meant that God Himself was granted the week off when Mr. Barenboim scheduled Mahler 5.)

    James Gilbertson was assistant principal trombonist from 1968 until 1982, at which time he was promoted to associate principal trombone, retiring in 2011.

    Jay Friedman (born 1939) was assistant principal trombonist from 1962 until April 1965, at which point he was named principal trombone, a position he continues to hold. The brass section has a reputation for being “loud”, but you would be surprised to hear Mr. Friedman coach a young trombone section: “Piano! Can’t you guys play SOFTER?” He is quite the stickler for detail, and writes an interesting, opinionated, nuts-and-bolts monthly blog on performance matters. Jay also has a small career as a conductor, and is quite respected for his work since 1995 with the “Orchestra of Oak Park and River Forest,” in western suburbia.

    So, that was the tradition in Chicago, in a very special era. Maybe Mr. Clevenger just does not want to be seen as some slacker who takes an “early retirement?”

  15. In my paragraph on God (Bud) Himself, I forgot to add:

    Mr. Herseth was “Emeritus Principal Trumpet” from 2001 until 2004, retiring after fifty-three seasons on the job.

    • I think we see here one of the problems with how music students are educated. These players are not gods. They are just people good at blowing tight, rhythmic raspberries though a brass tube. Students should be taught about the dangers of deifying them. They should be taught about the forms of exploitation that exist in the field, and set on a course of creating reforms in the orchestral world.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Glenn Dodson, the late Principal Trombone of Phila orch once said to me: “I have led a charmed life and never thought that I would make so much money from blowing hot air through a cold pipe.” I believe he played for a while in Chicago before joining Phila in the mid-1960s. Glenn organized a barbershop quartet among his brass colleagues and also had a nice career as a dixieland trombonist. He was the pride of Berwick PA in coal mining country and would have never attributed god-like qualities to himself or any other brass player.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          PS: Charles Vernon, current bass-bone in Chicago was a member of Glenn’s b-shop 4tet “Philharmonic Flavor” Here is a tribute to Glenn on Joe Alessi’s website, another partner in crime with the 4tet.

          • Unfortunately, in the mid 1970s Dodson also trashed a woman student. She was extremely gifted, fanatically dedicated to music, and had graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy two classes ahead of my wife. After her experiences with him she left Curtis before graduating and quit the trombone all together. Events like these were so common in the field that everyone just overlooked them – and they still often do.

            Charles Vernon is the trombonist I mentioned in my post below who sexually exploited one of my wife’s students. And Joe Alessi stood by and did nothing when those two women were fired from the NY Phil brass section. (See my post below.) You phrase “partners in crime” takes on an ironic meaning for me.

            On the positive side, the presence of Carol Jantsch as Philly’s tubist is a symbol of positive changes that are evolving and make me once again a bit more proud of the Philadelphia Orchestra. If you want to mention a stellar human being who was a member of that brass section, there is no better example than Dee Stewart who was my wife’s teacher for seven of her undergraduate semesters.

      • Hi Bill,

        I agree with you, these guys are not gods, and perhaps I made a poor choice of words here that would probably embarrass them.

        Herseth and Jacobs themselves were actually rather humble souls who knew that they were incredibly lucky in how their careers turned out. Crisafulli and Kleinhammer were both likable gentlemen who treated others well; they expected to be treated as just regular blue-collar guys, good bricklayers at a construction site, who had some pride in a wall that they had had a hand in building.

        But, gosh–and Abbie would agree with me, I’m sure–these guys put out a real special sound over the decades. Maybe my worshipful devotion is a bit misguided, but, yeah, they probably put that warm air through a cold tube better than anybody.

        As for the “other aspects” in this discussion: I hear what you are saying, and certainly exploitation is not to be condoned.

        None of us know how Mr. Clevenger and Ms. Render started out. And, I don’t think it much matters, since they both chose to spend the rest of their lives together. Just as you and Abbie did, at such an early age.

        With warmest and best regards to you both, from your old friend,

        • The great Heifetz provided an example to the rest of us in many things, including one of the toughest…that of knowing when to bow out. How could anyone old enough to watch TV forget his last major concert and the performance of the Bach Chaconne that had become his signature piece?

          When at his prime he was often chided for being the best, and his response to that was, “I hope someday to be good enough to teach.” He did that too…

        • Thanks for the interesting comments George. When discussing these issues, people often forget to look at the matter from the perspective of the vicitms – something evidenced by the comments in this thread. Even if Clevenger and his wife remained together, that does not aleviate the harm he did to some of his students. It’s true that most of his colleagues were decent enough not to participate in such activities. It’s unfortunate that people behave in ways that cast their orchestras in a negative light.

  16. I was especially disgusted when I read this sentence about Dale Clevenger quoted in the article: “In addition to his unmatched abilities as a section leader and his contributions as a teacher for almost a half-century, he has been a conscience of the CSO…” Mr. Clevenger is reported to have spent decades sexually exploiting many of his women students. There are two examples even in the comments section of the above linked article:

    “Why not address Clevenger’s sexual antics with many of his former female students? Certainly that should play into whether he be dismissed from the position… no one wants to keep playing next to a creepy dude.”

    “What might me more actionable is this harsh truth that has been an open secret for years and its consequences. Myself, I fear that Mr. Clevenger’s stellar reputation will always be marred by his personal romances.”

    One of my wife’s very best trombone students went to take a lesson with a member of Chicago’s trombone section. Like most students, she worshiped the members of the Chicago brass section. He used that admiration to sexually exploit the student. She won a position in a major German opera house, but quit not long afterwards and completely abandoned the trombone. I think one of the principle causes was the sense of degradation she felt from her Chicago experience.

    And the problems go further in Chicago. My wife, a well-known trombonist, won the audition for the Maggio Musicale (Florence’s professional orchestra) in 1979. The administration reported the audition result to Muti, who was conducting in Philadelphia at the time. He said there were already too many women in the orchestra and told them not to hire her, so they took the man who came in second at the audition.

    We see how concepts of conscience in many orchestras, including Chicago, need to be changed. The New York Phil recently had two women in its brass section. One woman had to get a restraining order against one of her colleagues because she felt sexually threatened by him. The other woman brass player stood in solidarity with her and both were fired.

    As for the retirement issue, most of the world’s orchestras are owned and operated by governments that have mandatory retirement ages. In America’s private orchestras, money is perennially short, so they cut pension costs by allowing musicians to work long past normal retirement age. This not only debilitates orchestras, it reduces the number of already extremely rare open positions for younger players.

    • harold braun says:

      Well,you can hear the heavily crticized Mahler performance on CSO radio.I´ve done so,and I don`t get what`s the fuss about it.The playing of the brass section is simply gorgeous,Mr.Clevengers soli are beautiful,only Mr.Martin
      doesn`t hit one or two notes spot on in the post horn solo,which is really lovely in tone.After all,even those top players are only human beings(the same goes for singers,too),and lesser gifted people tend to concentrate on those small blemishes so they can feel better and more important. Mr.Clevenger had a reputation for driving hard bargains as a union representative,or so I was told.May be now,when he shows to be not unfallible,some people have their knives out for him.

      • Sexual exploitation also makes people draw their knifes, and deservedly so.

        • harold braun says:

          Depends on what you call sexual explotation.I know Dale Clevenger has some reputation for being a ladies man.Having relationships with some of his colleagues and students(and in one case,being married to a former student) doesn`t necessarily count as sexual explotation.Would he have forced students and/or colleagues in an unappropiate way,he certainly would have legal action taken against him.Weall know that sexual harassement is attacked quite mercilessly and with very bad consequences
          in the US,and if your accusations had been proven true,Mr.Clevenger`s career would have been finished for sure.I know it`s a very thin line,and one has to be very careful about it.Personally,I enjoyed two long term relationships with studentsof mine,and it had really,really nothing to do with explotation,but with mutual feelings.I know these things happen and don`t want to sugarcoat any of it,but sometimes the line between truth,malice,and gossip is also a very thin one.

          • The perpetrators have long counted on the difficulties you describe to get away with their actions, and to rationalize them. Fortunately, many if not most universities now have much clearer policies that define these issues. A recent example is that the first trombone of the Cleveland Orchestra was banned for life from the University of Iowa due to the sexual assault of a student. As a result, he was also removed from the Board of the International Trombone Association. Times are changing and people are being held accountable.

            Through better education, students are also becoming more aware of the negative consequences these “relationships” can have. And with better policies in place, they have better resources for pursuing justice.

    • another orchestra musician says:

      I’m with Mr. O and the majority of commenters here on this one. Yes, the CSO brass players are excellent, leaders in their field. They are however not gods. They do not deserve anyone’s worship. And they should have the good sense to step down while at the top of their game, having prepared their replacements in a timely manner beforehand.

      Players of CSO stature need never fear a retirement into idleness. They will continue to be sought after, as performers, teachers, and clinicians. Players of CSO stature also need not fear a retirement into poverty. They have been highly paid by their principal employer and by numerous secondary employers for many years, and will continue to be able to draw a paycheck from these latter, while collecting Social Security and pension from the former, and presumably pension from private accounts as well.

      Lionize not the players who insist upon leaving their positions feet first, lest they become the embodiment of the dying art they are so often said the custodians of. Admire instead the players that have the intelligence, and the grace, to embrace rejuvenation.

    • David Binder says:

      Mr. Osborne, you seem to have a preternatural ability to pass off rumors as facts. Your numerous posts on this website, as well as the postings on your website, show just how adept you are at taking hearsay and building your damning and libelous accusations. It seems no one escapes your clutches in bashing their reputations. On this page alone you have managed to lump together Muti, Vernon, Alessi, Dodson, Clevenger, and an unnamed member of the CSO trombone section as a terrible group of chauvinist sexist pigs. Have you ever met these people you’re so quick to judge? I’m going to make the likely assumption (as you’re so keen on making assumptions) that you have not; for if you ever have, you would know how alarmingly misleading your accusations are. I say alarming because readers of your comments may now have formed their opinions of these people with no other information than your own. I do not intend to defend a teacher taking advantage of a student or sexual harassment in the work place. Indeed I do know of one student Clevenger became involved with… his future wife. And then she lead a terrible life frequently playing with the CSO, as well as winning auditions for other orchestras (to prove it was her talent, not favoritism from her husband). Your logic of ‘woman in orchestra, woman gets fired, must be sexual harassment’ is simply not true, as I *personally* know (not by reading rumors on the internet) to not be the case recently in the NY Phil as you mention. Since I do not personally know of all the other examples you provide, I’m not going to comment on them. But can you really honestly think that Dodson was overly mean to a female student, because she was female, and this lead her to quit the trombone? First of all, teachers are supposed to be hard on students. I’ve heard many teachers say to groups of students, “for those of you are not the best in this room, you should quit now or get better”. If there were women in this room, would you conclude this is sexism? Top conservatories like Curtis are supposed to weed people out. If any female student drops out of a conservatory, is it a sexist teacher, or a selective institution doing its job? And what do you know that Dodson said to this student that was so terrible? Or have your heard this story from someone who studied in Philly who knew someone in Curtis who was a few years younger than someone who….
      I do not pretend that no male orchestra members are sexist. However I think you and your wife’s experiences (again, no assumptions being made here, just reading your own website) have lead you to falsely conclude rampant sexism amongst all orchestras in every case. Can there be any audition in a German orchestra where they can hire a man without you assuming sexism?
      I don’t expect to change your mind. I only wish that you don’t think it is your duty to expose all the terrible villainous men in the world, with whom you play judge and jury using little more than decades-old rumors.
      In the interest of full disclosure, and to perhaps save you time looking me up on facebook, I’m a trombonist now playing in Finland, having studied in Chicago with most of the people you mention. I have first hand knowledge of nearly all the topics people are talking about in this post. I won’t even get into some of the tangents, but I could not allow you to run rampant with your, to repeat myself, libelous accusations with absolutely no personal knowledge of most of what you talk about.

      • I mention all of the above cases because I personally know the victims, except for one of the women in the NY Phil. Your comments about Clevenger are especially naive.

        • David Binder says:

          My only naivete was thinking you would read my entire response. I don’t care that you and I disagree. But it is in no way your job to sully these people’s reputations on this sort of forum.

          • I am with Mr Binder on this. I don’t know Mr Clevenger or any of the others mentioned above personally nor do I have any interest in their private lives.
            I think it is, however, safe to assume that whatever female students they may have gotten involved with were consenting adults. There is something very…odd about Mr Osborne’s fixation on other people’s intimate lives and his desire to “educate” them and dictate who they can or can not get involved with.
            Women’s rights are very important but that also includes that women’s private choices need to be respected. By Mr Osborne, too.
            There is still a lot left to be done even in our western societies when it comes to full equality of women. But that is a complex process of slow change and evolution. There is something scary about people who want to enforce their utopian vision of an ideal society bt decree and quotas. We had that a few times in history already.

          • In response to Michael: I notice you overlook the harm done to the students in many of these relationships. Many American universities have regulations forbidding student/professor relationships, a trend that is growing rapidly. So this is not the isolated perspective you portray it to be.

            There are many well-known reasons why these relationships are seen as serious breaches of professional ethics:

            1. The power imbalances leave them highly susceptible to being non-consensual or coercive.

            2. In imbalanced power relationships there are many grey areas where it is difficult to determine what consent actually is.

            3. The relationships easily create the appearance of coercion and can be turned against the professors and the schools.

            4. The relationships create problematic conflicts of interest in student evaluations and the teaching environment.

            5. The relationships negatively influence the attitudes among the other students because of the obvious forms of favoritism.

            6. The imbalances leave students susceptible to manipulation that often leaves them feeling deeply degraded.

            There are many other reasons. These problems are made even worse when a teacher is a repeat offender and is essentially a sexual predator — which is clearly the situation in some of these cases.

            In continental Europe student/professor relationships are hardly questioned. At the German conservatory where my wife teaches, the former horn professor, Francis Orval, was married five times. His last four wives were all his students. One of the violin professors had a student relationship and broke it off. The student cut her wrists. My wife spoke to the head of the school about the problems student/professor relationships cause. He said that to stop the problem he would have to fire a third of the faculty. There is a very clear cultural divide between America and Europe on these issues.

          • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

            “There is a very clear cultural divide between America and Europe on these issues.” I’m sorry, but what is your point.? State subsidy in Europe creates the best of all possible worlds except the profs hit on their students? I don’t necessarily disagree with your 6 points above, but do the same caveats apply to European orchs and schools?

            I also object to your choice of the word “trashed” regarding a male teacher and his female student. What are you implying in the context of your other remarks? That he was critical of the student and she quit, or that something more sinister was afoot?

            When you say “sexual predator-which is clearly the situation in some of these cases” I believe you are mixing facts with hearsay with your opinions. The naming of names and the accusations of those guilty until proven innocent is a dangerous tactic.

            This is my last comment of this subject and I’m sorry to have mentioned a few names even with praise. I shall go now. Bon week-end.

          • There is no doubt whatsoever that some star players made sexual relations with their students a regular and exploitive practice. That is clearly predatory. And of course, it is denied. So many colleagues have witnessed this behavior and have remained silent about it, which is a form of complicity. It is time that the music world candidly discuss these issues in spite of all the difficulties. The issues are difficult, but the arguments for continued silence are largely opportunistic and specious.

            In my post I was obviously referring to the issues around student/professor relationships. This bears little correlation to funding systems, a topic that has not even been raised in this discussion which illustrates that your feigned confusion is disingenuine.

            Yes, trashed is to vague. Something more sinister was afoot. He handled it very poorly and the student was deeply, deeply harmed.

          • @Michael:
            You said “Women’s rights are very important but that also includes that women’s private choices need to be respected. By Mr Osborne, too.”

            How “private” are choices made in situations where one of the parties is dependent on another? For example, sexual relations between teachers and students … The regulations in discussion here are mostly about protecting the party on the shorter end of the stick. But it can work both ways: student wants career advancement and/or educational favors — employs sexual tactics to achieve this goal. Happens all the time! Who is the predator here? Such regulations strive to protect not only students, but teachers as well.

            As to policies in Europe vs. USA, many universities in the USA — e.g. Univ. of Texas at Austin from which I graduated with a Masters degree — had policies even back in the 1960′s and early 1970′s which forbade employing anyone as a teacher at that university who had studied with anyone else who was a teacher at that school (the so-called “anti-Nepotism clause”). And not only in music fields.

            How close are most European institutions of higher learning to following that example?

          • I said: “As to policies in Europe vs. USA, many universities in the USA — e.g. Univ. of Texas at Austin from which I graduated with a Masters degree — had policies even back in the 1960′s and early 1970′s which forbade employing anyone as a teacher at that university who had studied with anyone else who was a teacher at that school (the so-called “anti-Nepotism clause”). And not only in music fields.”

            I have to correct this — the actual anti-Nepotism clause of UT Austin forbade employing any former graduates of that same school.

      • What would you say to a teacher who said, “if you don’t have the killer instinct you don’t belong in this business”?

        • Not sure exactly what you mean by ” killer instinct” nor if one really needs one in the orchestral music business, but yes, as you no doubt know, it is not an easy profession, and one does need a lot of nerves and personal strength to success and stay successful in it. And that’s fine, after all, the most important thing for a musician to realize is that what he/she does is not for himself, but for the audience he/she plays for, and which pays to hear him/her. If he/she finds that fulfilling on top of that, that’s great, but being a musician, especially an orchestral musician, is not primarily about artistic self-fulfillment.

          • The question refers to the player’s statement. I don’t know exactly what they had in mind. My impression at the time was that that if this meant that if you weren’t willing to do whatever it took to succeed, one could not survive. Is that so?

    • But someone’s position in an orchestra is based – or should be – on their ability to play, and to play as part of that group. We don’t generally introduce a “do we like their politics” test or a “do we think they are a ‘good’ human being” test. If we did, many would leave, and many of our favourite composers would never be performed for failing the same morality tests. (see other thread on this blog about Schumann, for example)

    • I appreciate your adding definition to the underbelly of orchestras. It seems to be almost inevitable that when people choose to focus only on themselves and their music and their performance and their career that values and common decency can fall to the wayside.

      It also seems to me that, again, with all due respect to the orchestra players who are responsible and have good intent, there seems to be a tendency to circle the wagons and try to keep those they consider outsiders from saying anything critical about any of them, even when it is true.

      • Your observations are very accurate, Pamela. The abuse of students by star orchestra musicians has traditionally been covered by a kind of omerta. Those who break the code of silence can face a good deal of ostracism that can negatively affect their careers. And it is especially difficult for colleagues in orchestras to speak up because of the close way they must work together.

        Another problem is that students and colleagues often form a collective identity around the status of star musicians in their circle. They see an attack on those stars as an attack on their own status and identity – as even this discussion shows. One result is that those who speak up are often mobbed.

        Fortunately, the deification of star orchestra musicians, and the omerta and mobbing protecting those that sexually exploit students, is slowly breaking down, largely as a result of an advancing women’s movement and the increased presence of women in orchestras.

        • another orchestra musician says:

          I would argue that the de-deification of star orchestra musicians has equally to do with the fact that they are no longer as rare as they once were. The ranks of extremely capable wind and string players have expanded immensely in recent decades. Good fortune – being in the right place at the right time – is what distinguishes the very best from the merely outstanding.

          That Mr. Clevenger demanded sexual services from his female students is less of interest to me than the fact that, by clinging to his CSO chair for over four decades, he has prevented someone else from accessing to it. For a budding professional musician, there’s little chance of finding the proverbial right place at the right time if positions in symphony orchestras become vacant only once every half century. Financial and professional hardship would in no way have ensued had Mr. Clevenger stepped down at, say, the age of 55, when he was still very much in his prime; and today, instead of bemoaning a superannuated boomer beholden to his large and fragile ego, we could instead be celebrating the maturity of the new Principal hornist, whom he groomed back in the 1990′s.

          Tip of the hat to Mr. Jones and Mr. Horner, of the Philadelphia Orchestra, mentioned above.

        • William Osborn said, “Another problem is that students and colleagues often form a collective identity around the status of star musicians in their circle. They see an attack on those stars as an attack on their own status and identity – as even this discussion shows. One result is that those who speak up are often mobbed.”

          Indeed. By daring to demonstrate my lack of illusions about orchestras and their players on another thread, my credibility was called into question. Those some players consider on the ‘outside’ are only supposed to have a rosy-glow obsequiousness, it would appear.

          • I can also attest to the “star struck” phenomena of major orchestra principals.

            I lived and studied in Chicago for a brief while. Bringing this thread full circle, I can attest to the awe of being in the Chicago Civic Orchestra (the training group sponsored by the CSO) and the air of semi-religiosity that surrounds the CSO principal players. It is an atmosphere that can both help and hurt students, depending mostly on how the object of worship chooses to handle that attention.

          • It’s true Pamela. From their earliest training orchestra musicians are taught to work in highly regimented, steeply hierarchical social structures under the control of an absolute authority figure. This conditioning can cause them to feel considerable psychological stress when their authority figures are challenged because it throws their own sense of identity into question. [See: Maximilian Piperek. Stress und Kunst. Gesundheitliche, psychische, soziologische und rechtliche Belastungsfaktoren im Beruf des Musikers eines Symphonieorchesters. (Vienna, 1971)]

            Conversely, uniform and unquestioned authority gives them a sense of confidence. In male dominated groups like brass sections, the presence of a woman can disturb this sense of uniform authority. (This also often includes aspects of male bonding, and helps explain why women players must be discounted, sexually “conquered,” marginalized, etc.) So the responses you have received here are relatively predictable and actually manifestations of insecurity. Understanding these psychological mechanisms can help those marginalized or attacked better understand the situation and take it in stride. Orchestra business as usual.

          • Completely agree with Pamela’s and William’s last comments. That is why I actually find the Wiener Philharmoniker, in this respect, to be an exemplary orchestra. They are a true players collective, they administrate themselves, they share all income from their activities outside the Staatsoper equally among members. It is quite common for young musicians to join the orchestra as section members, grow into the orchestra culture, then become principal when the time is right. It is also very common for them to gradually retire from principal player duties and play section again when they get older. There are no “stars” there. The orchestra is the “star”, and it embodies an almost unique ensemble culture, even though they may be a little conservative in other respects…

            It is quite astonishing though what levels of quality they consistently maintain that way, especially since they have that double workload in the opera and as a privately run concert orchestra. I have heard them in everyday repertoire performances at the Staatsoper, e.g. in Rosenkavalier, one of the longest and trickiest operas, and they just played that as if it was nothing, as if they were just playing the Danube waltz.

          • I have recently re-listened to the Lenny/Vienna DG Sibelius Symphonies, in order to better compare and contrast his readings with those of Maestro Vanska in the Grammy-nominated MO/S2+5, and was deeply moved by the depth and resonance of sound of the Vienna Orchestra. Though these are older recordings and there are some dated aspects to them (bleating flutes, for example) Vienna shows a unique character and strength in these recordings.

  17. News Flash: People can be arrogant. People can be jerks. What kills me is all of this venom, vitriol, envy and enmity. Sounds more like sour grapes to me. What wonderful values for a community of musicians to express publicly. No wonder more and more people are turned off to what orchestras do.

  18. Two points on factual matters: 1) The radio broadcast recordings that you hear of the CSO (and many other orchestras and opera companies) are drawn and mixed from more than one concert or performance, so a radio or Internet listener does not necessarily hear what the audience heard on a first or opening night. 2) No player in the CSO “has already announced that this will be his [or for that metter her] final season.”

  19. Eric Carlson says:

    There have been a number of comments in this discussion that seem to reflect a basic lack of knowledge of the legal environment that American orchestras have to operate in.

    First, mandatory retirement ages for orchestra musicians are prohibited by federal law. This has been the case for many years now, and makes dealing with older musicians a legal minefield for managements. Even asking a musician to retire voluntarily has to be done very carefully, lest you open up the organization to an age discrimination lawsuit.

    Second, the “double dipping” (drawing a pension while still working) that so enrages so many people, (including orchestra board members who should know better) was also created by the federal government. The IRS many years ago mandated that workers who continued to work beyond age 70 1/2 must start drawing their pensions. (This was done to increase tax revenue) That law was repealed some time ago, and there was a short time window when pensions that were governed by union agreements could be amended to reflect this change and prevent future double dipping. Many employers missed this window, and are now required by law to maintain the double dip.

    This has created a powerful financial incentive for players to stay as long as possible in their jobs. Even a couple of years of drawing full salary plus full pension can dramatically affect an individual’s financial security for the rest of their life.

    Another issue that comes into play for people with younger spouses is our healthcare system which links health insurance to employment. If an older player has a spouse who hasn’t reached Medicare eligibility age, it can be prohibitively expensive to buy private insurance for them to tide them over until they are old enough to go on Medicare. I know of one player who continued to play several years longer than they wanted to simply because they had a spouse with a serious illness, and trying to care for them without the orchestra’s health insurance plan would have wiped out their retirement savings.

    While in an ideal world, musicians would all make the decision about when to retire on purely musical grounds, in the real world things are seldom so black and white.

    • Thank you, Eric Carlson, for reminding people of the larger background. Funny things about facts and context, isn’t it?

      • another orchestra musician says:

        Remind people also that the larger background, for musicians in our elite orchestras, includes a wide range of professional activities outside their principal workplace. Most of the CSO wind players, and many of the CSO string players, hold teaching positions at area universities, for example. They perform as soloists, they give masterclasses, and so on. These activities are remunerative, and do not necessarily cease when a musician retires from his elite orchestra job.

  20. He is becoming a father again so don’t expect him to back down any time soon!

  21. Also, didn’t Mr. C used to coach the Civic Orchestra horn section? Can anyone “chime-in” why he doesn’t do that anymore?

  22. Malcolm James says:

    I have read the comments here and in the Chicago article and it is very sad if a legendary player cannot admit that age has caught up with them. Darcy Bussell had the right idea when she retired at the top saying something like ‘I want to retire before people start saying I ought to’. Some comments have been critical of orchestra management, but it can be a bit like dealing with an alcoholic; I’m sure management would love to resolve this amicably, but unless Dale Clevenger is prepared to admit that there is a problem, there’s nothing they can do.

  23. Bernard Jacobson says:

    With regard to the suggestion that Muti might be too smart to take the so-called “nuclear option,” and with relevance also to one contributor’s suggestion that his supposed inability to fire people disqualifies him from properly holding the post of music director, I think something he said to me after his resignation from the Philadelphia Orchestra (where I worked for him for seven years) may be of interest: “I know you think I’ve failed in my responsibility by not firing some players who are clearly past their best. But you have to remember that I have to make music, and I have to make it with people who want to make music with me. And if I were to fire x or y, even though the rest of the players know that the decision would be the right one, they would still close ranks in support of their colleagues. So I realized that I simply have to program around the weaknesses.”

    • Bernard, thanks for sharing that insight about Muti. He is spot on. A music director accepts leadership of an orchestra that is already an entity, with its weaknesses and strong points. These are human beings who make up the orch., not instrument-playing machines.

      It would be a snap to build dream orchestras everywhere if every time a music director was hired, they just threw out whoever didn’t please them and hired hot new players. It used to be that way. Thank heavens for the union, and protection of players’ rights in this day and age.

      Eschenbach is a great example of how trying to mold an orch. around a music director’s preferences just doesn’t work. How many pink slips did he send out in Philly as MD? 12 or so, as I recall. Players of Clevenger’s stature, or nearly. Eschenbach lost the support of the orch he was serving and he had the shortest tenure of any MD in Phila’s history. He’s lucky any orch. will take him after what he did.

      Muti is right. He is not weak, he is very very astute. This is Clevenger’s decision, not Muti’s.

      • Malcolm James says:

        Does this mean that an MD is powerless to get rid of someone who is splatting them all over the place and is clearly not performing? This happens not infrequently in the UK and Europe. For example, whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, the oboist at WNO was approaching 60 and was not doing the job Rizzi and management thought he should have been doing. He was offered a dignified exit, but turned it down, and was therefore eventually sacked. The attitude of management was ‘see you in court’, and we have seen where that has led. There was much unhappiness in the orchestra and he had a lot of support, but ultimately there were bills to pay and families to feed, so they had to get on with it. most players in a similar situation have said ‘make me a suitable offer and I’ll go quietly’.

        Maybe you can get away with doing this once, but not 12 times, as Eschenbach allegedly did for the post above. However, if one MD won’t face up to these problems as they arise, they simply store a big problem for their successor.

  24. Bernard Jacobson says:

    P.S. – Of course, I should have added to my previous posting that it’s pretty hard to program around a weak principal horn!

  25. I think that George Butler hit the nail on the head in an early comment here: CSO´s brass section has a history of star players with exceptionally long tenures. Clevenger has this to live up to. It´s probably the reason he´s staying on. It´s a competitive profession, even when it comes down to how many yrs. you have under your belt when you retire.

    Bud Herseth, former CSO Princ. Trumpet, is of course, the gold standard. Was it 50 yrs. he was on the job? He and Clevenger were close colleagues, and this is who Clevenger has to live up to. I have to say I heard Herseth near the end and it was disappointing. He didn´t sound that great.

    I think when no. of yrs. on the job because a competitive situation – with players trying match previous records , chalking up yrs. of service just for the sake of doing so, regardless of artistic level – it´s simply unethical.

    If a player has financial security and can retire comfortably when they´re past their prime, they should. Unfortunately, not all orchestras offer this option. Some European orchs. put players in the situation of playing past a comfortable age because otherwise they´ll be penniless. But Chicago is certainly not like that. Clevenger is in no risk of landing in the poor house if he retires, so I don´t understand his reluctance to do so.

    Competing with the legacy of Bud Herseth is not a good enough excuse, in my humble estimation.

  26. Betsy Segura says:

    I would like to coincide with some and differ with others: living and working here in Mexico City, the opportunity to listen to class A orchestras is infrequent. The CSO came in October; and having not heard them in about 27 years I was impressed. Maestro Clevenger did not appear to be playing with the same attitude as 27 years ago, but the result compared to what normally surrounds us here was still first class. The above comments relating to technicality-correct notes vs music strike home: in most cases of young American players who come here the playing is static; notes, pitch, playing alone (what happened to teaching how to be part of a section, ensemble?) : it seems that in general the emphasis in teaching is not on listening or making a group effort. What was remarkable in the CSO visit was not the notes but the ensemble which is what an orchestra is all about, not the solo bow….The balance was beautiful and there was music. It suffered as an good example of continued risk/taking in making pianissimo instead of the note secure loud unrefined every man for himself easier product. Saludos y calorosos abrazos to all horn players…

    • Malcolm James says:

      In this sort of situation a player’s playing often becomes inconsistent. On some days s/he’ll sound almost as good as they did 20 years ago, but the lapses referred to in the crits and other comments here can sadly get more and more frequent. As with all other commenters here, I write this with reference to Dale Clevenger in sorrow rather than anger.

      • Also bear in mind that Mexico City is over 7,200 feet in altitude. When I lived and worked there it took a good month or two to acclimate to the lower oxygen level.

        The point being that this instance could have happened to anyone, and it may not be a fair example.

        • With all due respect, it is the ability to play correctly under all circumstances that should be the level of performance of any chaired orchestra player.

          • No, Pamela Brown, Bruce Hembd is right: there are certain circumstances, abrupt and significant altitude change being one of them, when no mortal human being can be completely infallible when playing difficult horn solos under performance-level pressure. The only thing one can expect from a “chaired orchestra player” is to be better than others which is not the same as being absolutely perfect. It is good to always remember the great and immortal last line of dialog from “Some Like It Hot”.

          • Point acknowledged; nevertheless, correctness is the aspiration, wouldn’t you agree? I can’t imagine a Principal player going into a concert saying, for example, ‘well, if I don’t get it right because of the altitude, everyone will understand’…

          • With equal respect, while living in Mexico City I heard a number of world-class orchestras on tour. For a wind player a major change in altitude is a big adjustment that almost every musician I spoke with had mentioned. Mix in MC’s infamous pollution and we have a recipe for difficult breathing for any world-class performer.

            This is not to say that this is an excuse for a poor performance, but rather to say that every story has a background and context to consider whether it be altitude, attitude, accusations of womanizing or of poor playing.

            There is really nothing new to this story as many famous orchestral players have hung on past their prime. Is this really the story here, or is the personality behind the story? It seems to me to be the latter.

          • Malcolm James says:

            I think we’re losing the original point of Betsy’s post. She said that she heard Dale Clevenger in MC and he was fine, so what’s the fuss about? If he had played poorly there, there might have been other mitigating factors, but he apparently didn’t. If the CSO has any sense they don’t give the wind and brass and taxing programme when they play at altitude, so this concert may not be representative.

          • @Malcolm – kudos for bringing this thread back on point.

            While living in Mexico City I heard a number of excellent concerts of challenging programs from visiting orchestras, and I never felt that I was given a compromised performance.

            I was never under the impression that their performances suffered in any way, but rather that the musicians felt a difference and perhaps needed to work harder at it. For older musicians, this issue may or may not be a problem, but one could imagine that if a musician had a heart or respiratory ailment it might be a problem. But this is beside the point…

  27. I’m wondering if among the many knowledgeable people who’ve contributed here, if there are any recommendations as to how orchs. can handle the situation of a player being past their prime and still required to play. Mr. C.’s case is a bit different because he’s evidently in a good financial situation to retire. Sounds like the CSO has him covered.

    We’ve seen here it’s not an uncommon problem. Someone mentioned long periods of sickness followed by a few days of health as one way a player can make it to retirement age. Negotiating a settlement
    is another, but in this day and age orchs. don’t have much money for that. A principal player can perhaps choose to sit down in the section.

    I’ve heard that Philadelphia has been experimenting with giving their close-to-retirement players more important roles in community outreach and educational programs, for example. Can anyone tell us more
    about that, or about other solutions that might exist for players nearing retirement who are still required to play?

    If an orchestra is not in a financial position to negotiate a settlement – and even the $100,000 someone mentioned as a buy-out in CSO is not significant considering that’s less than a yr’s salary for them – then
    there must be plans in place to protect and keep older players safe.

    Ideas, anyone?

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Full-time Major Symphony Orchestra positions in the USA are the equivalent of the tenure track in a university. Once you become a full-professor (tenured orchestra player), you’re there for life and even after you retire, the benefits for a prof include an office for life in many cases. No wonder universities are rethinking all that. Typically, a major university reverts to renewable contracts of 5 year duration. The number of tenured full-profs is gradually diminishing.

      There is also a big difference between the pressure on a Principal player and a tutti string player. Since Principal players actually negotiate their own deal outside of the master agreement, should they be required to re-up for a finite period (10 years max?) until they reach 65 (or the applicable Social Security age for their age group which is 67 for those born after 1960) at which time renewals are for a maximum of 5 years or some other mutually negotiated period.

      Just a thought since you asked for ideas.

    • The Principal Flute that I studied with had serious issues. When they began to appear in performance and, even worse, in recordings, the axe started to fall. At the time, my position was to be supportive of the Principal, rather than considering the effect on the rest of the orchestra. I even called the Director (as did others) to ask that this person be allowed to keep their job. They were fired later, anyway.

      In hindsight, I think that was a mistake. So the suggestion might be that those who have contact with the player, as colleagues, or even students, be as honest as they can and at least ask some good questions, if they dare.

  28. Just to put a bookend on this thread: Stefan Dohr, principal horn with the Berlin Philharmonic, was guest soloist here in Tallinn for a program that included both the third and fourth Mozart concertos. Big Daddy Neeme was on the podium to lead ERSO, the Estonian national symphony.

    Wow! Such effortless mastery! Everything was spot on, so fluid, perfect intonation, nice phrasing, the whole package! Y’all, I don’t think I’ve ever heard such perfect brass playing in all my life, and that includes several years of living in Chicago. Ha, ha!

    Afterwards, as an encore, he did a modern piece unaccompanied. I did not catch the name of the composer, but it had lots of multiphonics, multiple tonguing, glissandos up and down, and extreme range at both ends, extreme dynamics, and other virtuosic feats. He pulled it off, and the thought never crossed my mind while watching and listening, that this just might be unplayable. ha, ha!

    (Bill Osborne, if you and Abbie EVER need a horn player, this guy can do whatever you throw at him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he can sing, act, and tap dance, too. Ha, ha!)

    Afterwards, I took my twelve-year-old horn student Askar to meet him. (Askar had been my best second-year trombonist, but came to me a month ago and said, “Our school needs metsasarv. I want to try it.”)

    Stefan was gracious enough to patiently and engagingly answer every question that Askar had. (Askar always has A LOT of questions!) He spent a good ten minutes with Askar, and did not seem concerned at all that we were holding up the receiving line. (Askar is more important!)

    Oh, Askar’s first question: “Wie alt bist Du?” Ha, ha! In addition to his mother’s Estonian, his father’s Russian, and my English, Askar is also learning German at school. (I didn’t know that.)

    Stefan’s answer: “Ich bin 47 Jahre alt.” Forgive me, y’all, for forgetting to ask Stefan about when he plans to hang it up, but somehow that seems like a question for the distant future, from what I heard last night anyway.

    Askar asked Stefan to sign the cover of his Hans Hoyer brochure, which he did. (Oops, wrong horn maker, but Stefan said, “Nah, don’t worry about it!” Very gracious.) He talked shop about mouthpieces and a new method book for young horn players that this trombone-based teacher did not know about. Very personable, bright, and funny.

    If you’ve got some free time, you might want to find some of the Berlin Phil horn section videos on YouTube. Stefan, second horn Sarah Willis, and the others should have their own comedy show.

    Afterwards, we greeted Maestro Järvi, who was so excited that Tallinn was getting another horn player. He autographed Askar’s horn brochure too, and gave him a three minute pep talk: “Töö, töö, töö! Work, work, work! The sky is the limit! Endless possibilities!” Not only the best stick technique in the business, but pretty good people skills as well.

    Best possible evening. I wish you all could have been there. (Dummy me, I forgot my camera.)


    • Fabulous account, George. Thank you!

    • Oh, I forgot one rather ironic detail about Askar’s encounter with Stefan:

      In addition to his Hans Hoyer horn brochure, Askar also asked Stefan to autograph the title page of the method book (tutor, you Brits say) that I selected for Askar. It is “The Dale Clevenger French Horn Method”, with a couple of co-authors, published by Kjos. I used this successfully in teaching a beginning horn class in the middle school in Raymondville, Texas. When I was assigned the class, I bought EVERY tutor on the market, and this was the best one. I like it because it progresses very slowly. (I can well imagine that the two co-authors, the late Mark McDunn (a big-band, commercial trombonist from back in the day) and Jim Christianson, had more input than Dale, but I am speculating here.)

      When I asked Stefan what tutor German horn teachers start their beginners with, he said, “Oh, there are so many.” But then, he remembered, “Oh, there’s a new one, by an American named Brown, who plays horn in an orchestra in Chile. It looks pretty good. Maybe check into that one?”

      So, maybe a little sign, I like to think, that maybe the torch has passed to the next generation in other ways as well… Ha, ha!

      Stefan also mentioned that he had indeed played with Clevenger many years ago for some horn workshop somewhere, and enjoyed the experience immensely.

      • Not only that, they also played the Schumann Konzertstück in Berlin, with Georg Schreckenberger (also BP) and Ignacio Garcia (Staatskapelle Berlin), with Barenboim conducting. There is also a DVD available of that concert.

        • I saw the BP in concert just before Xmas but Dohr didn’t play in that concert. I didn’t know the player who played first horn, he was a young man with short hair and glasses who moved around while playing rather more than most horn players do. He was technically very secure and had a nice sound but his sound didn’t carry very well. There were solo passages embedded in textures (e.g. In the Symphony of Psalms) where I couldn’t hear him at all, I could just tell he was playing because I could see him moving around quite a bit. And I had one of the best seats in the house (row 12 right in front of the stage). I know they have been trying out players for years since Baborak left but my feeling is this player won’t quite fill that gap either.

    • Just for clarification, the piece that Stefan Dohr played at the end of his solo performance was Messiaen’s “Appel Interstellaire” from Des Canyons aux Etoiles. There were a few notes that were missed in the Messiaen, but after playing through two Mozart concertos that brilliantly he shall be forgiven ;-)

  29. Robert Berger says:

    Mr. Osbourne, these great brass players are not admired just for their technique, but for their consummate musicianship, beauty of tone, and panache . You shouldn’t dismiss them that unfairly .
    To dismiss them as merely having the ability to blow on their instruments skillfully is an outrage .

    • Hi Robert,

      I’ll be happy to answer for my old friend William Osborne.

      Bill Osborne is married to Abbie Conant, one of the great performers of the world as a solo trombonist. In his student days, before becoming a composition student of George Crumb, he himself was a trumpet player. I cannot vouch for his skills as a trumpet player. He was young when he decided to specialize in composition, maybe seventeen or so.

      Abbie and I were students in the master’s program at Juilliard at the same time, 1977-1979. Both of us were students of Per Brevig, who was then principal trombonist at the Metropolitan Opera. Per Brevig was Christian Lindberg before Christian Lindberg came along. I mean, he commissioned many new new works from composers, such as his Norwegian compatriot Vagn Holmboe; Walter Ross, a composition teacher at the University of Virginia; and even a trombone concerto from the great Mexican composer Carlos Chavez. Others also wrote concertos for Per Brevig to play. Unfortunately, many of these wonderful works had only a performance or two, then were forgotten, mainly because Per was “before his time.”

      We students (and Bill) attended the premieres of these commission projects. Unlike Lindberg, who left his opera house job in Stockhom at an early age, Brevig stayed within the security of his “day job” at the Met, which limited him in what he could do as a soloist. On most days, Per was at Juilliard by two in the afternoon, taught until 7:45 in the evening, ran over to grab his trombone, which he left hanging up in his locker at the Met, and was barely in his seat when the curtain went up at 8:00. Playing opera can be stressful, especially with a bad conductor, or a Donizetti opera with too many afterbeats, or with a colleague who constantly plays out of tune–yes, even at the Met–and, at times that darkened pit takes on all the glamor of a coal mine. After an Otello or Parsifal finished at midnight, he’d be on the road in his Saab, racing home to suburbia in about 45 minutes, where he would grab a bite of cheese before getting to bed at 2:00 am. Get up a few hours later and repeat. All this, during the years when the Met orchestra was on call six nights a week, with two performances on Saturday and Sunday. So, there was not much free time nor energy left for Per to do the things that he really wanted to do, and was indeed so capable of doing. Fabulous musician, and maybe the best trombone soloist of his day.

      In addition, both Abbie and I enjoyed having Gerard Schwarz as a brass quintet coach. Gerry had just “retired” (in 1977) at age 28 or so, as principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic, and was just starting his move into the conducting world. Sometimes, he would demonstrate a point for us (“Here, gimme that trumpet”), and out would come the most beautiful turn of a phrase that I’ve ever heard! This, after not having touched a trumpet in a couple of months or so. In addition, students of legendary NY Phil trumpeter Bill Vacchiano were about, and some of those guys went on to have pretty good careers: Stephen Burns and Neil Balm are a couple of names that come to mind.

      The point I am trying to make, is that–though not enrolled at Juilliard–Bill Osborne was around these folks, was familiar with their skills and musicianship. He talked appreciatively of many brass players over dinner with Abbie and her fellow classmates, at students’ post-recital dinner celebrations in Chinatown, and understood the shop talk.

      Now, I *have* lamented with Bill and Abbie the tendency of *some* orchestral players to “lay brick,” which is brass-speak for making every note long, dull, and no taper at the end. These characteristics of impersonal note shapes are often combined with a one-size-fits-all legato tongue to start every note. There is *sometimes* no thought of a note’s (a brick’s) position or purpose in a phrase, or due consideration given to dyanamic contrast. “Brass players” players do this as a way of avoiding the tough business of thinking.

      Sometimes, you’ll hear these tendencies with young freelancers who jump from group to group, playing within the space of a week maybe a wedding or two, a Broadway show, a recording session for a new jingle for chewing gum, a church gig, or a quintet performance. The limitations imposed by lack of rehearsal time are overcome with a common articulation style and a universal sameness that becomes a standard operating procedure.

      On the other hand, “musicians” (like, say, Michael Mulcahy, second trombonist in Chicago) have a wonderful way of making even a mundane string of notes sound more interesting, by doing something innovative with the phrasing. Bill and Abbie have spent time with Joe Alessi and other major orchestra principals. They spent enough years in Europe to note that differences in style between American/English style and German style in trombone playing are fading away.

      In addition, Abbie has often invited early music performers like cornettist Bruce Dickey and baroque trombonist Charles Toet, the leaders of Concerto Palatino, to work with her students at Musikschule Trossingen, in the Black Forest of southwestern Germany. Bill attends these masterclasses and concerts. He admires what those guys do.

      I drop all of these names, just to let you know that Bill does understand and appreciate good brass musicianship.

      By the way, if you are not familiar with William Osborne’s theater pieces, you owe it to yourself to check his creations out. After leaving Juilliard, Abbie went into a long apprenticeship of self-study, in acting, in singing, in dancing, all for the purpose of better collaborative efforts with her husband, who in his earlier years drew upon themes and characters from the plays of the late Samuel Beckett. It is not unusual, for Abbie to spend a year or so in preparing her next role in one of Bill’s mini-operas, which are ajaw-dropping virtuosic displays of trombone playing, singing, and bringing her characters (like “Miriam”) to life.

      Here is a link to videos from their web site:

      In addition to Abbie’s incredible performances, you’ll also note on the list her interviews with thinking trombonists like the late John Swallow (one of Abbie’s earlier teachers, who recently died after a sixty-year career, much of it at Yale); and the avant-garde pioneer Stewart Dempster.

      Robert, I look at Bill’s comments above, and I don’t see any evidence of his dismissing brass players for their abilities or skills, or lack of them. Nor does he talk about phone-it-in phrasing, or those who play too loud. Rather, he calls out “brass players behaving badly” while in their in positions of trust as teachers.

      • Thanks, George. There are actually interviews with 46 brass players in the video section of our website. Abbie spoke with the players and I edited and created all the videos. The one for John Swallow, for example, is divided into 33 sub topics with links that will bounce to each one. Stu Dempster’s is divided into 35 sub topics. I’m only one semester short of a BA in trumpet performance and have spent the last 38 years married to a prominent trombonist, hence my involvement. The classical music fans on Slipped Disk sometimes forget that professionals have to deal with many aspects of the profession, including its dark sides – as you so eloquently explain.

      • Exactly, Michael. Mr. Osborne has added definition to the underbelly of the orchestra and its players. This is a mentality that can be extremely negative. A very few of these people will even sink to the level of using their trusted position as teacher to make sure to keep an eye on any potential competition and, if necessary, try to prevent a significant threat from materializing by teaching a student not how to succeed, but how to fail.

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