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Violin News & Gossip, Op. 3, No. 15

February 21, 2007 at 6:45 PM

First of all, I want to thank all who posted their reactions to Sunday’s column, which contained a report about an article that outlined serious goings-on in Cleveland. I am proud and delighted that so many wrote to question, disagree, defend and praise my work on this site. Journalists view reader reaction—even complaints--as a high form of praise, so thank you all, even those who disagree with my decision to include this item in my news roundup.

There was never any doubt in my mind that I would have to report on this story. Ignoring it would have been unfair to the community, which expects to be informed of significant happenings within the violin world, controversial or upsetting though they may be.

As a result of these comments and exchanges, I have found myself contemplating the role of ethics in a musical education. I can’t think of any profession that requires such extensive training as classical music, yet fails to formally address professional ethics. Ironically, the medical, legal and newspaper professions—all widely derided for their lack of ethics in recent years—include professional ethics requirements in their curricula. And, in the wake of the Enron debacle, business schools now require students to complete coursework in ethics as well.

The allegations surrounding Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil, and the widely differing public comments by readers, seem to suggest that universities and conservatories should consider adding ethics training to their curricula. Let me hasten to add that I say this not because I believe any particular musicians lack ethics, but rather that guided discussions of musical ethical issues that ultimately affect all performers would be helpful at the college/conservatory level.

For example, can one be an objective member of an audition committee when relatives or students are auditioning for one’s orchestra? If one doesn’t recuse oneself in this situation, should the orchestra require the member to abstain from voting? Should teachers be allowed to judge their students’ performances in competitions? Is it ethical for an orchestra to refuse to allow audition applicants to play anonymously when that has become standard practice in the United States?

Is it ethical for mature professionals in situations of power and authority to express interest in sexual relations with students? Does the fact that the student is legally an adult alter the ethical landscape? Does the fact that classical music is rife with instances of teacher/student relationships make them ethically acceptable? If one is confronted with this situation, what recourse does one have? What obligation do schools have to protect their students from sexual advances by staff and faculty? Should classical musicians, by virtue of their extraordinary talents, be exempt from socially accepted behavior?

Important, weighty questions all. And, whatever one’s personal views regarding the Preucil matter, perhaps we should be grateful to have been given the opportunity to consider them together.

I pondered these questions while reading the 2/18 New York Times, which featured a profile of the New World Symphony: "In the increasingly professionalized world of modern orchestras, where merely playing beautifully no longer guarantees musical greatness, ticket sales or successful capital campaigns, New World has set itself a distinctive mission: to mold graduates of elite conservatories and university music programs into the ultimate orchestra players while also trying to field a world-class performing ensemble ... The model player is not just a technical whiz but also a musician who can converse with the public, meld into an ensemble, generate interesting programming ideas, schmooze with donors and teach."

Here’s what caught my attention: "Players from the world's storied orchestras ... coach them in the nuances of orchestra playing, audition taking, coping with revolving-door conductors. Other experts teach practical matters: managing personal finances, talking to donors, even handling a journalist." The article quotes NWS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas: "New World is also a 'launching pad for people's lives,' a sabbatical-like moment for young players to explore different ways to make a career in music, he said. 'My personal mission is to have them hold onto "What does this mean?" I'm trying to give the larger message of what music is all about.' "

Perhaps Maestro Tilson Thomas would find that ethical training would dovetail with his mission.

Thank you again for all the comments!

Musician News

2/20/07 – San Francisco Classical Voice reports that, as the search goes on for a new concertmaster at the New Century Chamber Orchestra, the group will host Stephanie Chase. “She comes after a sensational bow by Axel Strauss. Next up this season are appearances by Geoff Nuttall and Cho-Liang Lin, and next season, NCCO's 16th, begins with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. For a small organization, it's extraordinary to have such an illustrious lineup of artists interested in succeeding Krista Bennion Feeney, who retired as concertmaster of the conductorless orchestra.

2/18/07 – The North County Times (CA) contained an account of a fatal shooting in which 68-year-old violinist Octavian Crishan is the suspect. “According to several other musicians who had befriended the suspect, Crishan was a talented violinist whose high-profile gigs on the Las Vegas Strip, including performing as the concert master at the Aladdin Casino, had attracted the attention of Sammy Davis Jr., who hired Crishan as a concert master at some of his shows. Two musician acquaintances of Crishan, who both asked that their names not be used, said he had fallen into poor health in the last several years, adding that he stopped playing the violin about 10 years ago because of an injury from a car crash. Crishan was born in Romania and had moved to the United States some 40 years ago to continue his career as a violinist, they said.”

2/18/07The Missourian profiled Siri Geneen, concertmaster of the Columbia (MO) Civic Orchestra. Violinist Sally Swanson is also quoted.

2/18/07 – The Cincinnati Enquirer profiled two Cincinnati Symphony violinists, Cheryl Benedict and Anna Reider, who performed the Bach Double with the orchestra last weekend.

2/16/07 – Illusionist Lynn Dillies, who trained as a violinist, performed “Magic at the Symphony” with the San Antonio Symphony Pops last weekend, reports the San Antonio Express-News.

2/15/07 – The Toledo Blade ran an unusual profile featuring violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in her other role: that of record-label chief.

From Elizabeth Smith
Posted on February 21, 2007 at 10:40 PM
For example, can one be an objective member of an audition committee when relatives or students are auditioning for one’s orchestra? If one doesn’t recuse oneself in this situation, should the orchestra require the member to abstain from voting? Should teachers be allowed to judge their students’ performances in competitions? Is it ethical for an orchestra to refuse to allow audition applicants to play anonymously when that has become standard practice in the United States?...etc.

Very well said, Darcy. Thanks for your thought-provoking words.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 21, 2007 at 10:32 PM
again reiterating my support for pointing these things out I would like to make some strong reservations on the direction of the discussion.
It seems to have shifted into higher order questions of journalism and ethics rather prematurely.
What I mean by this is that as far as I am concerned, the article published in a newspaper does not count as journalism. If a dangerous accusation is made by a single individual , one liable to smear , damage and belittle someone then decisions nee d to be made about how those actions are investigated , rebutted and so on. The `journalist` in question should, in my opinon, actually get off his/her arse and ask some questions, interviews some people, and yes, give Mr. Preucil adeqaute space for rebutall if he so chooses. As far a I can see this was not done. It is -only- then that the rest of us can actually make informed decisions about whta we think and perhaps begin discussing what needs to be done if necessary. (Incidentally, don`t assume that music insitutes can@t be ethically self regulating. )

According to the view stated above, this nasty piece of work wa s not journalism and a discussion of the ethics of the matter in question, no matter how fine sounding, is utterly meaningless. A discussion of what is journalism, basic respect and decency- how not to be a troll wieding a pen would be far more to the point.

From Karin Lin
Posted on February 21, 2007 at 10:56 PM
I agree completely with Buri. The paramount issue in this case was (the lack of) journalist ethics, not musician ethics. If and when the allegations against Mr. Preucil are shown to be true by a thorough and fair investigation---not simply comments from largely anonymous sources who found an audience with an irresponsible reporter---then we have basis for such a discussion.
From Marsha McCoy
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 12:16 AM
Preucil, for his part, doesn't deny the allegations regarding the student. In response to a question left on his answering machine, he sent an e-mail that read: "With respect to your question regarding my work at CIM, I can only presume that the rumors you hear are based on an incident that occurred a few years ago when there was a dispute over the nature of an interaction I had with a student. The issue was fully reviewed by the institution and was resolved to everyone's satisfaction."

It seems to me he did have a chance to respond. It speaks volumes.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 12:53 AM
They have a chance every minute of every day to respond.
From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 1:11 AM
I don't think Darcy is talking about Mr Preucil. She is just putting out general ethics issues; relationships between teachers and college students which are not uncommon and auditions without a screen as in the case of CSO.

I don't really have an opinion on mutually agreed relationships. College students are kind of grownups although they are not allowed to drink until their junior year and some institutions bar relationships between graduate students and faculty.

For the screen, I don't see why they refuse to have it. Wouldn't it benefit everyone including accepted relatives, less sneer to put up with? Are there any musical reasons not to have?

Buri and Karin, hope you don't hate me for saying this. Schools are experts in handling parents' and students' complaints. If Mr. Preucil's record in that department was impeccable up to that point, CIM wouldn't have had any trouble silencing the girl even if it was very true.


From Danielle G
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 1:52 AM
yay toledo!
From Karin Lin
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 6:49 AM
I just wanted to clarify my earlier comment. I didn't mean that I think the classical music community doesn't need a discussion on ethics, just that I believe this article is sensationalist garbage and the allegations have far too little weight to justify any action in and of themselves. In general, of course, everyone benefits by increased awareness and discussion on what is appropriate behavior in auditions, lessons, etc. So yes, ethics education is useful in the classical music world as well as many other areas. But that's not because of anything Rebecca Meiser wrote.
From Gregory Zinkl
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 1:33 PM
I think it's unfair that those who are so adamantly supportive of the Cleveland concertmaster have attempted to redirect the discussion to try (yet again) support their opinion that the article that sparked the whole discussion is journalistic garbage.

Be that as it may, Darcy brought up many thought-provoking points. If you want to continue your foot-stomping and shouting, it should be done on the page that has originally posted article that sparked your outrage.

Darcy brings up many, many valid points and if it doesn't make you think, I'm worried.

If, for example, if it is true that (1) Cleveland doesn't use an audition screen at all, and (2) has no requirement that those participating in audition decisions recuse themselves when either blood or student is on the stage, then allegations that were made in the present article could never have been made. In addition, Mr. Preucil could have avoided all controversy on that front by recusing himself from the audition. If his relatives are the best qualified (and I'm not saying they aren't qualified, or nice people), they would win the audition.

Journalistic garbage or not, by not making decisions that allow for discounting of any partiality, he has made himself vulnerable to such accusations.

Which goes back to Darcy's big picture points. Food for thought. And how in the heck would that ever be instituted. Other professionals (except MBAs, and it doesn't seem like a bad idea . . .) have licensing boards. Maybe we should start licensing professional musicians, wherein the licensing boards would require the ethics training (which in law, by the way, and at least in Illinois, continues throughout the attorney's whole career).

From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 1:36 PM
Karin - Interesting! Do you have any more evidence in claiming that the article is garbage than the writer has to back up her story? Have you talked to the alleged victim or Mr Preucil to form an informed opinion yourself? The allegation does not have weight? What do you need? A blue dress?


From Gregory Zinkl
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 1:41 PM
Ugh, a major typo. "allegations will be made" not "never made" Ugh. I need coffee!
From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 1:49 PM
Gregory, I totally agree. To get that far, to be in an audition, everyone worked so hard. With so few positions available, disappointment will be great. It seems only fair that people in position do everything possible to remove any impression of impropriety, percieved or real. People can take disappointing news better if they had a fair shot at it. Don't they deserve it? These people have been practicing since they were 5 or 3 for that.


From Donna Clegg
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 3:50 PM
You are a class act Darcy.
From Karin Lin
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 5:49 PM
Gregory, you are correct that we have gotten off the subject of Darcy's new column, and I apologize for that; it was unintended. I do not know Mr. Preucil, and I am not defending him; I simply feel that the article was unfair and written with an agenda. But let's move on. Darcy herself said, "Let me hasten to add that I say this not because I believe any particular musicians lack ethics, but rather that guided discussions of musical ethical issues that ultimately affect all performers would be helpful at the college/conservatory level."

I agree with this statement. As for the issue of screens during auditions: Is it true that the only criterion for belonging to an orchestra is the quality of one's playing? If so, then yes, it seems obvious that using a screen would ensure objectivity. But if there are other considerations, such as how the player looks while he/she is playing (remember concertgoing is a visual as well as auditory experience), or how he/she interacts with others, then it's not just about the sound. I wish Meiser had bothered to ASK the Cleveland Orchestra why they don't use a screen, rather than simply assuming it's to facilitate Preucil's nepotism. I don't wish to speculate one way or another, as I've never auditioned for a major orchestra and have no experience in the matter.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 22, 2007 at 8:29 PM
it is quite obvious from my letter, which seems to be the one of your rather silly and unpleasnant comments about foor stamping, that I am referring to the charges of sexual harassment.
From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on February 23, 2007 at 1:36 AM
I don't see how a screen would objectively ensure that a student or relative of a judge were judged fairly. I could easily pick my son out with a blindfold, and I'm a hack! Surely the screen is more smokescreen and palliative rather than truly objectivist mechanism?
From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on February 23, 2007 at 12:14 PM
That's what I thought, too. So why are all the other orchestras have an audition screen? Is it just a gimmick?

The newest tubaist in the Philadelphia Orchestra didn't get past the first round initially. She didn't hear from them after submitting her tape. Fortunately, the Orchestra trombonist heard her play at camp, I believe, and recommended her to be interviewed. I wonder how often something like this happens.

As long as the competition remains so fierce, there will always be some issues regarding hiring, I would think.


From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 23, 2007 at 2:32 PM
Recognizing your son isn't the same as recogizing the son of your old buddy from conservatory:) You'd recognize your own student, and perhaps somebody who was outstanding or very distinctive, but that's about all I think.

Actually, I question how "fair" it needs to be. I never had an anonyomous job interview, and you will get most of your jobs because you know somebody. Plenty of people are set up by their father-in-law, and nobody questions it. And as Darcy's reference says, they may feel they need more than just somebody who can play. It would make more sense for competitions to be done behind screens. I did once have a bad experience with a product manager who was there because of nepotism but he was truly unqualified.

From Kelsey Z.
Posted on February 23, 2007 at 5:22 PM
Sorry this is in response to the Preucil article from before. I've never had any direct contact with Preucil though I know some who have studied with him in different capacities and have a great deal of respect towards him and have said that if I decided to come to the US to study music that he'd definetly be someone I'd want to try and get in with.

The article is likely a combination of both facts and fiction. A lot of people are disturbed and have issues and try to find a way of making other people's lives a pain and ruin them because they themselves are not happy with their own lives so it gives them a momentary feeling of betterment by belittling and destroying another individual or at least making them very uncomfortable.

Words are very powerful things ( think Fahrenheit 451 where the object was to destroy any access to words because it would make people think) and we all need to take responsibility for what we read and how we interpret what we read.

Every professional organization has some degree of politics and unfortunately our society does function a lot on how and who you know and it's possible to read between the lines and say that that is why Preucil has family members in the orchestra but from my understanding of the audition process, it's usually a panel of multiple delegates from an ensemble that all have to agree or come to some sort of a mutual understanding.

All factors in all of the accusations need to be considered and I don't think it's fair, in this case to accuse Preucil one way or the other unless you yourself are actively surrounded by him, his family and those he works and converses with, it's not fair to judge him one way or the other as there appears to be very little actual evidence (does anyone want to take a look at CIM's financial books and go and have the girl who accused him of inappropiate behaviour tracked down and be a fly on the wall to counselling session with her?) and I think it's unfair to judge someone who has done a lot of positive things in the musical world and who has made such a huge difference to so many students who have had the chance to work with him.

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