My Musical Career – Part Forty-Five

The Year 1993 – Part Three

The Strike

In my last blog post, published recently after a long hiatus with writer’s block – or more accurately “blogger’s block”, I ended on a high note with the completion of our highly successful 1993 Festival tour – Parts A and B as it turned out. That was a great summer, and coupled with our tour to Japan and Hong Kong in the early part of the year, up to this point, 1993 was a banner year for the orchestra. At the end of the post, I hinted that there was some trouble on the horizon due to the labor situation.
For several years prior to this, the orchestra members of all Norwegian orchestras had been petitioning the government for a pay rise. One of the issues was the disparity in pay between the teachers and musicians. Another issue was a pension plan for the Norwegian Opera Orchestra, which unbelievably did not have one at the time.The political and labor situation was different (and remains so) from that of the US as Norway is a constitutional monarchy with a parliament and a cabinet headed by a prime minister – similar to Great Britain, but with differences.
Cultural affairs are directed by the Department of Culture, and this was the department that the musicians union representing all of the orchestras and musicians in the country (at the time) had to reckon with. (By the way, musicians in Norway – at least those in symphony orchestras and the opera orchestra) are civil servants, which complicated matters somewhat. The teachers received higher pay and had a higher status, and the musicians of Norway felt that they (we) had the right to a similar pay and status. That was one of the main sticking points. They had been petitioning the department for years and had gotten nowhere. (By the way, Mariss Jansons was a strong advocate for the musicians and had written to and had spoken with the minister(s) on many occasions.)
The musicians union met with our orchestra committee, which like the committees of the other Norwegian orchestras was fed up with the situation and determined to make a very strong statement. There had been strikes before, but not for many years. This time, it was decided to strike. However, this one would be a selective strike. Not all of the Nowegian orchestras would go on strike. The musician’s union would decided which orchestras would go on strike and they chose the Oslo Philharmonic and the Norwegian Opera Orchestra, if memory serves me. We would begin the strike shortly after the tour. Paavo Berglund was to have conducted two weeks of performances after our return from the tour – the first featuring Carl Nielsen’s 6th Symphony – “Sinfonia Semplice”, and the second week devoted to Sibelius’ “Kullervo Symphony”. I say “was to have conducted” as only the first concert week took place – there were two concerts scheduled, but as it turned out, the second concert did not happen. The concert that we did play was on the evening of Thursday, September 9th. We played the first half of the concert in concert attire, and at intermission, it was announced by the chairman of our orchestra committee that the rest of the concert – the Nielsen symphony, would be played in street clothes. (Paavo Berglund showed his solidarity by conducting the Nielsen in street clothes as well.) After the concert, we were on strike, and the Friday concert fell by the wayside, as did the next two weeks.

During the strike, we got into concert dress and went out onto the streets outside the concert hall – actually we were in the area nearer to the National Theater (which is not far from the Oslo Konserthus) as it is more public and was a much better area for us to get our message out. The Konserthus, although close by, is a little out of the way. We carried the usual signs and organized chamber music concerts outside the regular venue. We even played a concert conducted by Ole Kristian Ruud at the orchestra’s old home, the Unversity Hall at Oslo University – again, quite close by. We performed under the name “Musicians of the Oslo Philharmonic” as we were on strike. Our management was actually quite sympathetic and allowed us access to our instruments and even transported the heavy equipment for the concert. There was never any “us against them” feeling during the whole strike, for which we were grateful. The concert featured Sibelius’ 1st Symphony which was an old war-horse with the orchestra by this time. It was a fun concert, and the hall was full and the members of the audience was enthusiastic.

Negotiations between the union and the Department of Culture continued during the two weeks we were out, by the end of the second week there was enough progress for both sides to claim a victory of sorts. The musicians got much of what we wanted as I recall – including some equality as to pay and status with the teachers and the department claimed that they were able to keep within the budget. For myself personally, while I supported my fellow musicians and campaigned alongside them, it was an interesting experience. I had never seen or participated in a strike that was conducted so civilly. As an American, I was used to hearing about and seeing orchestras locked out and the “us vs. them” attitude on full display. I was glad that we accomplished what we set out to do, but it came at a cost. First, there were the lost concerts – my chance to experience Sibelius’ Kullervo Symphony under Paavo Berglund disappeared for good. I had his Bournemouth SO recording of it ever since it came out and was looking forward to playing it in concert. But that was not to be. He did it later with the orchestra, but after I had left the scene. The greater cost, in my opinion was to the sense of accomplishment gained by the several years of hard work in recording and touring that the orchestra undertook. The strike was like taking a large pointed object and puncturing our “balloon” and letting the air out. The atmosphere was different after the strike. The sense of us being in this together musically was different. It was less positive and even though it was not openly “us vs.them”there was a sense that this element had entered into the mix in some form, although to be honest it may have been there all along, just not as much on display as it became post- strike. I probably didn’t notice it at all. There is a cost to everything, and in my opinion that was it. While there were many tours and recordings and memorable concerts still to be played, for me there was a sense that we had peaked. Even though the next five seasons (for those were the seasons that remained for me personally as I left the orchestra of my own volition to return to the US in June of 1998) had many high points during this period, it seemed that we as an orchestra were very focused on practical matters such as bettering our economic situations (as we should have been), but it seemed that the fun had gone out of it a little. That was my feeling at the time, and in hindsight, I see that the orchestra was correct to do be so focused. The fun eventually returned, but it took a while. We didn’t turn our backs on music – witness the progress they have made over the last twenty-odd years. The reaction was quite a normal one, and I guess it it me very hard at the time. Anyway, it is time to move on and complete the rest of the story of 1993.

Earlier in 1993, I was one of the recipients of the Mariss Jansons Stipend for Musicians and received a grant to travel to the destination of my choice to study and develop myself professionally. I chose to go back to the USA and Canada to visit my colleague and friend David Davenport who was then at the University of Vermont and discuss work on a book project that we were contemplating (for various reasons, it never happened), but the fact that we got together and discussed it at all was a learning experience for me; that and the fact that he showed me a pair of hand-tuned timpani and a pair of Anheier-style cable timpani that he had Brian Stotz of Repaircussion refurbish for him. They were magnificent, and we set them up on the stage of the rehearsal hall and put them through their paces for a couple of hours. Dave also showed me a pair of Leedy pedal timpani (25 and 28 inches in diameter) that he had acquired and had at his house. They were in relatively good shape, and on the spur of the moment, I asked him if he was willing to sell them to me. After our timpani session earlier in the day, an idea was forming in my mind as to somehow acquiring a pair of Leedys and converting them to the Anheier-type cable system. He said that he’d give it some thought. (More on this later.) The next day we drove up to Montreal and had a great visit with the great timpanist Louis Charbonneau, who was then with the Montreal Symphony, He was principal timpanist of the orchestra for fifty years was and was a master timpanist. I had met him once before on the Oslo Philharmonic’s 1991 USA/Canada tour. (See My Musical Career-Part Forty-One.)
This time we had more time, and in addition to attending a concert of the Montreal Symphony – the program was Part II of Berlioz’ Les Troyens conducted by Charles Dutoit – Louis and his assistant sounded just great and the orchestra and chorus and soloists were superb! (Louis, Dave and his wife and I had dinner before the concert, and the day after the concert, we drove up to McGill University and spent the better part of the day visiting Louis in his studio/office and talking shop and trying out the Ringer timpani and a pair of Anheier chain timpani (they were supported on low old-style iron stands much like those used in supporting hand-tuned timpani in the mid-nineteenth century. One had to sit on a camp chair in order to play them. I played on a set of hand-tuned timpani with the same type of support back in the mid 70s at Greenwich House Music School. It was a great day fo both Dave and myself as we both admired Louis and got insights into his career and the chance to see and hear him play was a treat. The rest of my two weeks was spent in New York visiting my family and getting reacquainted with the extended family.

The Master Class

In looking through some pictures that I took while on this trip to the States, I came across several of a master class that I gave at my alma mater, the Manhattan School of Music. I had forgotten that this happened in late October of that year and was a result of an invitation extended me by Jim Preiss, a former teacher of mine and Duncan Patton, then timpanist of the Metropolitan Opera. Both Jim and Duncan were on the faculty of the school and since I had just written about the first two Mahler symphonies for the PAS (published in Percussive Notes earlier that year), they thought that would be a good subject for a master class. On October 23, 1993, the class took place in Room 610, scene of many of my former “triumphs” of the early to mid-70s. The room then looked much as it did in my time – the picture of Toscanini still graced the rear wall over the percussion cabinets and I felt right at home.
The class was well attended, with about twenty-five students and several local professional players as well as Jim Preiss, Duncan Patton from the faculty and Gordon Gottlieb from Yale University. Two sets of timpani were at my disposal – a set of re-worked Hingers and a set of Ludwigs that I recognized as being from my day, although they were well-maintained.
Mahler One and Two were the works chosen for the lecture-demonstration and I was ably assisted by students from the school in attendance who took the role of second timpanist. I had a lot of fun and I hope the students and teachers did as well. It was a thrill to be doing a master class at MSM! I don’t know how it ever slipped my mind!

The Rest of The Story

The rest of the year was fairly routine. Concerts, and the recording of the Honegger Symphonies 2 & 3 and Pacific 231 took place in late November and early December. I was only involved in recording the Third Symphony – the “Symphonie Liturgique”, as the Second is for string orchestra and the Pacific 231 has no timpani. I do love the Symphonie Liturgique -it is a remarkable work. This post is getting long, so since I wrote about recording the Honegger in a previous post, I will end this post and the year right here.