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 Violinist.com 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!
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.”
2/18/07 – The 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.
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