JULY 2018

JULY 2018
July 9, 2018 leonard slatkin

After several weeks devoted to health and personal matters, I decided it was time to get back to regular writing. By that I don’t mean just the usual diary entries, as there really is nothing much to talk about, other than changing residence.

That is a big deal, of course. Cindy and I are now ensconced in our new home in St. Louis. Yes, it is back to the scene of my family history, as four generations of Slatkins have lived here. Many people wondered where we would end up. Looking at various sites in California, where the major plus would be access to my son on a more regular basis, we determined that it was not the best choice for us. Taxes are steep, and the state seems quite high up on Mother Nature’s watch list when it comes to earthquakes and fires.

There were other locations in the southwest that appeared intriguing. Eventually we thought that it was just too hot in the summer and that we could not find the kind of health care needed. When we visited St. Louis last October, Cindy took some time to drive around while I was rehearsing. It was actually her idea to consider this city. And yes, it gets hot and humid here. But it does satisfy almost every aspect of what we want at this time.

And I think I can help turn around the fortunes of the Cardinals. No, not the religious ones or the birds, but rather the baseball team. The day after we arrived, I went to a game and they won. Another 85 victories should do the trick for this season.

Because I am still in recovery mode, it is not possible to help with all the components of the move-in process. I can lift some things, but nothing too heavy. Mostly I watch the man who is responsible for setting up the media room. But I have been able to cook and especially barbeque. The challenge is coming up with tasty foods that are low in sugar, sodium, fat and starch. Oven-baked water is delicious.

Catching up on the news is tough these days. When I contact my friends in the television and print industry, they speak of their frustration as well as their dogged determination to get the story. So many compare the situation in the States to the Watergate or McCarthy eras, but worse. Between immigration issues, racial tensions, the continued threat of global conflict and the lack of civility amongst our citizens, it feels like we are becoming an oppressed society.

You would think none of this would affect my little corner of the world, but recently, the Time’s Up movement has crept into the classical music news. There have always been pockets of discrimination in the musical milieu. Now that we are seeing more women in orchestras as well as the crop of female conductors feeling more empowered, there is no question that, at least in the States, the right of equity has been energized.

However, matters have crossed into a new level with a lawsuit filed by Elizabeth Rowe, principal flute of the Boston Symphony. Basically, she has charged her employer with discrimination based on the fact that she makes about $70,000 less than the principal oboe, John Ferrillo. It is not my place to get into the legal aspects of this suit, but I can see a couple of scenarios that do not bode well. I know Elizabeth, as I hired her to be assistant principal at the NSO. And I have seen her several times in Boston and Tanglewood. We once had a very enlightening discussion about the “blind” audition process. She said that it was her opinion that she would not have gotten the Boston job if the screen had not been in place. Of course, we can’t know that for sure, but I understood her point.

Here we are, many years after she filled the long-open position. The oboe player in question has been in the orchestra three years longer. Among the questions floating around in my head is, “How does anyone judge the proper salary for principal members of an orchestra?”

Certainly the concertmaster heads the list of the highest paid. And it is most likely that the next highest is the principal oboe. But who comes next, and at what cost? Certainly a $70,000 discrepancy seems out of place in this situation; however, trying to weigh the value of one instrument’s position in the orchestra against another is not helpful.

Most of the people writing about the situation have failed to point out how raises are doled out. At least with my three music directorships, the process was the same. At some point in the season, the artistic administrator and sometimes the executive director would meet with me. We would go over the entire orchestra list, budget in hand, and would try to figure out who deserved an increase and who did not. It was a laborious procedure but seemed to be the only one that everybody could agree on.

I have no idea how it works in Boston. It will be important to understand this going forward, if indeed, discrimination is determined to be a factor.

If the suit actually goes to court, which I doubt, the result could have an overwhelming impact on the orchestral world.

Let’s say that Elizabeth wins what she is asking for, which is parity with her counterpart in the oboe section, plus damages. It is very easy to see the other principals, regardless of gender, asking for the same thing. This puts the cost to the orchestra at a premium, possibly one that cannot be afforded. And other orchestras will literally follow suit, causing potential labor disputes or even bankruptcies. A strange outcome could be that the oboist’s salary is cut back to bring the two closer together.

But what if she loses? It could set orchestra salary levels back, as now boards and management would have judicial precedent to cite as a source of persuasive authority. The rift between potential factions would be horrible to imagine. This all comes at a time when there is a wonderful spirit of cooperation in formerly troubled orchestras around the country, including my own Detroit Symphony, where we have created a working dynamic with a strong emphasis on collaboration between musicians and their employers.

It is not my place to take any side in what surely will be an ongoing debate. I just wanted to point this out to all of you, as it might have some impact on the orchestra performing where you live. Hopefully this gets resolved out of court, with a fair settlement to all parties.

Time to get back to unpacking boxes. This is usually interrupted by the need to fulfill my Netflix obligation.

See you soon,