The SPCO’s Divine Coherence

posted in: The Arts, Politics | 0

The process of creating an orchestra is like working a manuscript through a thousand drafts, each adjustment, adding and subtracting, listening and blending, heightening and subduing finally produces a glorious resonance of refinement and depth. It’s simply not possible to achieve–except with rare flashes of inspiration–without hours, days, months of constructive work. The same group of musicians must practice and perform together until they can hear each other with such finesse that their intelligent, lively coherence becomes a thing in itself. Like a forest where the trees talk to each other. Not possible if a tall beech or maple occurs every 500 yards with only stumps in between.

     Those who know little about slow growth but lots about “cut and run” make extremely poor managers of organic wholes. In fact their mind-set is not to foster and maintain but to take away as much as possible, leaving only a skeleton of the glorious whole.The “screen of trees along the highway” mentality, beyond which lies a cut-over horror.

     Unfortunately the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has been put through a wrenching process by its managers, and the end is not in sight. After living through the summer with a draconian proposal hanging over their heads–reduce salaries more than 50%, cut the number of full-time musicians and the number of performances, and bring in “guns for hire”–the orchestra received what looked like a more acceptable proposal on the eve of their opening concert. Long-time players could retire with a comfortable settlement, newer players would be paid less than the current rate but not starved, and the number of performances would remain the same. Evidently a pot of money exists to support up to fifteen or so such retirements.

     Though this “buy out” looked good at first blush, it has implications that could reduce the current memberships by so significant a number that the divine coherence, honed and crafted over years, may sadly dissipate.

     There has to be a better way. Over the last decade, the musicians have “given back” around 2 million to the organization. Now we propose that the organization reciprocate. Take the millions set aside to pay for retirement and increase the yearly wage for all players, encouraging most to stay. It seems self-evident that retaining the divine coherence benefits the musicians as well as their eager audience. The solution will be received with such resounding gratitude that many of us who’ve enjoyed years of SPCO glory will dig deeper into our pockets. We will start a fund dedicated to the musicians and their continued well-being. It’s the least we can do to honor the tradition of excellence fostered by players and conductors as well-known as Pinchas Zuckerman, Dennis Russell Davies, Christian Zacharias, Hugh Wolff, Edo de Waart, and many many others.

      Let’s step around the clear-cut proposal and keep the musical forest alive. 

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