To the editor:
In following the stories by The Boston Globe and The Berkshire Eagle's Clarence Fanto regarding the acrimony experienced by the dismissals of some of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus members, I relived an important learning moment in my professional life as an aspiring young conductor.
In the early '90s I was hired to conduct the Worcester Symphony. The Worcester orchestra comprised regular freelancers who populated many ensembles in Boston, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The management advised me from the start to upgrade some of the positions. There were weak, non-productive players management felt needed to be removed. My predecessor, Joseph Silverstein, the concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, made no personnel changes during his two-year tenure. He knew how dealing with personnel could impact the relationship between orchestra and conductor.
The Worcester orchestra was my first professional appointment. After going over the personnel with the concertmaster I chose three players not to rehire. My decision reverberated throughout the entire orchestra. The relationship was never the same.
In 1967 when I joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra's cello section, much to my surprise, I experienced an orchestra made up of many non-productive players who needed to retire. The lofty standard that "The Aristocrat of Orchestras" promoted demonstrated that the BSO was no longer at the top of its game. Sub-standard intonation and missed notes were present in every concert. The change in personnel happened very slowly, allowing the players to retire with dignity.
The retirement party was not a "walk of shame" as indicated by one of the offended Tanglewood Festival choristers. It was a celebration of many years of great service to the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
It is clear in Mr. Fanto's excellent article that the choral director, James Burton, and the BSO management handled the new audition policy clumsily, with little regard to the consequences of treating devoted members so shabbily.
Dealing with orchestra members is the single most important responsibility of every conductor. A 300-member chorus is no different. I learned this valuable lesson at the beginning of my conducting career. James Burton is a seasoned, well-traveled choral conductor. He should have known better.