Ravinia management committed something of a major blunder this week in scheduling a meeting with CSO musicians, Welz Kauffman and James Conlon between two 3-hour rehearsals (spent mostly with Zemlinsky) on what turned out to be a brutal humid, ninety-degree day. It was hard to tell which was more sour, the orchestra’s mood or the free lunches left wilting on the side tables.
Perhaps sensing this, neither Kauffman nor Conlon seemed in any hurry to get the meeting underway. Finally Conlon made a few perfunctory remarks before yielding to Kauffman who had nothing at all to say and so opened the floor to questions. Immediately one of my colleague bass players (!) launched into a lengthy and eloquent statement leading to the pointed question of why the CSO chorus is not used at Ravinia whenever choral works are performed. A petition had been circulated in the orchestra several weeks earlier and signed (I believe) by every single musician – thanks to the tireless efforts of our colleague – asking that the decision not to use our CSO chorus be reversed. Kauffman had already responded to the musicians in writing, citing (surprise) budgetary considerations as the reason a less expensive chorus is engaged. Put on the defensive at the meeting he did little more than restate his points. Following came a few more pointed questions about the diminishing role of the CSO and classical music at Ravinia along with a passionate but largely unintelligible rambling statement from one particular musician, a staple at these kinds of events.
Conlon became the next target of musician ire with several players griping about programming, particularly the Zemlinsky piece we had just spent the last 3 hours literally sweating over. Conlon acquitted himself quite well in my opinion with his statement (in short) that he believed in the music he programmed (his Breaking the Silence series) and was willing to take responsibility for it.
These sorts of musician complaints usually ring pretty hollow in my ears anyway. Players had just finished chastising Kauffman for emphasizing ‘popular’ over classical music when they turned to Conlon and accused him of chasing away our audience with ‘unpopular’ repertoire. To me, everything the CSO plays is unpopular in the grand scheme of things anyway. Unless it rains or something, The Steve Miller Band will probably play to more people in two nights than we would all summer, whatever we played. I’m not sure we want to compete with that. I’ll take something with integrity any day.