By: Stephen Lester, CSO string bassist since 1978
As I am sure most everybody is aware, after months of difficult negotiations, and playing without a contract for the first two weeks of the season, the Musicians of the Orchestra, through their Negotiating Committee and Union, came to an agreement with the CSOA on a new contract. Despite that neither negotiating team was happy with the results, everyone sighed a deep sigh of relief!
It became apparent towards the end of negotiations that what was at stake was not just the incredibly small amounts of money separating the two sides at the end, but rather a simple fact: in the current climate of uneasy donors, management upheavals, and the relentless propaganda about the demise of “classical music,” a strike would have been devastating to the organization and the Orchestra. Compromise is never easy; but when faced with the alternative, compromise is often essential. We applaud our employer for recognizing this.
We could spend a good deal of time in an effort to dissect the results, trace the causes, and try to analyze the motivations. But at the end of the day, the fact of agreement is enough (for now).
Curiously, the major impetus for compromise came from two sources, one outside the process and one inside. Though not involved in a material way with the negotiations, our Music Director, Riccardo Muti, played a crucial role. He advocates as no one can for the value and integrity of what the orchestra does. His comments from the stage, in the press, and to the musicians, show deep passion for our profession and art, and form an impressive argument that effectively counters negative portrayals of American orchestras. We are extremely grateful for his help.
The other impetus for compromise came from the Federal Mediator assigned to our negotiations, Javier Ramirez, who proved to be a tremendous help. Javier readily sensed how the small numbers the parties were dealing with masked a deep philosophical schism – not just between employer and employee, but in what an art form is and how to nurture and sustain it. That showed remarkable sensitivity and intelligence. As an example of our tax dollars at work, we say Bravo!
The Orchestra members showed incredible strength and unity in this process, and as is often the case, a silver lining appeared during this difficult process. Our members have become much more self aware as an Orchestra. As you are enjoying this newsletter, and hopefully our website and Facebook page, we hope you can see how we want to communicate with everyone directly. We want you to know us as musicians and as members of the Chicago community. We want to introduce you to our lives, both professionally and, to a certain degree, personally. We hope that in the months and years to come, you will see and hear more of us, as an orchestra and as people. So please, as Maestro Muti says, “stay close to your orchestra!”
By: David Sanders, CSO cellist since 1974
Something that members of a world-class symphony orchestra are used to hearing, especially around contract negotiations time, is that “those musicians only work twenty hours a week” (four rehearsals and four concerts). What is missing from that statement? Let’s see.
Most members of a great orchestra began working at their chosen instrument from the time they were young children, maybe as young as four or five years old. I was a late starter; I started cello lessons at age 14. But it’s not just a matter of taking lessons over a long period of time. Generally speaking, the successful instrumentalists practice on average anywhere from three to six hours a day, every day. Think about that. What have most people been doing from the time they were five years old for three hours a day, or six hours a day. There are very few courses of study or careers that take that kind of dedication, attention to detail, concentration, and a general fanaticism over the course of ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years. And that is before you get a job. A violinist who starts the instrument at five years of age will very likely study and practice that instrument for twenty years or more before getting a job in a great orchestra. That’s over forty thousand hours of practice.
Okay, so you’ve been practicing for 40,000 hours, and you apply for an audition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. So do 149 other violinists. And your audition lasts somewhere between two (not a good sign) and fifteen minutes (a very, very good sign). You’re called back to the finals, along with two or three others, and low and behold, you win the job. Thank God, you can stop practicing. WRONG!!!!
When I was the lucky one on April 23, 1974 and got my job in the CSO, of course I knew that I was joining possibly the best Orchestra in the world. A year earlier Time Magazine had had a cover article featuring Sir Georg Solti, who was to be my music director, and called him “the fastest baton in the west.” The article also rated U. S. orchestras, and for the CSO it simply said “sine qua non.” I was excited. I was practicing. I wanted to earn my keep, so to speak. But I wasn’t prepared for what happened when I sat down in that great cello section in that great Orchestra. All around me, everywhere I looked and listened, there was such greatness coming from so many instruments. And they were doing it with such naturalness and ease, yet with an incredible intensity. I had the intensity at that time, but I didn’t feel as if I had the naturalness and ease, so I started practicing even harder.
You cannot rest on your laurels in the Chicago Symphony, or in any world-class orchestra. You never want to let your colleagues down, yourself down, or, maybe more importantly, the music down. Now in my 42nd year, I still don’t want to let my colleagues, myself or the music down. It is a never-ending struggle to continually try to master a musical instrument, to keep improving, be it string, wind, brass, or percussion. And believe me when I say, twenty hours a week is just the beginning.
A member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s flute section since 1973, Louise Dixon retires from the Orchestra tied as the third longest-serving flutist in Chicago Symphony history. At the time of her appointment by Sir Georg Solti, she was principal flute of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and a member of the Grant Park Orchestra.
A native of Pigeon, Michigan, Louise was introduced to the flute through the school music program and joined the Saginaw Youth Orchestra, winning the Young Artist Competition to appear as soloist with the Saginaw Symphony. After completing high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy, she earned a Performer’s Certificate and a Bachelor of Music degree at Indiana University and a Master of Music degree at Northwestern University. Her teachers included James Pellerite and Walfrid Kujala.
Throughout her many years with the CSO, Louise was an active performer on the Orchestra's chamber music series and a frequent soloist at the Bach Week Festival in Evanston. She was a soloist with the CSO numerous times in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 at Orchestra Hall and Ravinia. She was also a guest artist with the Chicago Chamber Musicians and a member of the faculty at the DePaul University School of Music.
When asked what she will be doing in her retirement, Louise mentions biking, golf, bridge, French class and yoga! She is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren and summers at her home on Lake Huron in Michigan with her dog Jasper.
The members of the CSO send our best wishes to our beloved colleague, and wish her all the best in her future endeavors.`
Keith Buncke, our new Principal Bassoon
Keith Buncke, Principal Bassoon, became the newest member of the Chicago Symphony in July, 2015, joining us at the Ravinia Festival. At 22 years old, he is the youngest member of the Orchestra. Keith was Principal Bassoon of the Atlanta Symphony for one season before joining the CSO. Before that, he was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music. Keith says, “The reputation of the CSO and the prospect of playing in a world-class orchestra were attractive to me. I also liked the idea of working in the thriving, culturally important city of Chicago.” Keith succeeds the recently retired David McGill, who had also attended Curtis, and who held the CSO post from 1997-2014. Keith says, “I grew up listening to recordings of the CSO and greatly admired Mr. McGill’s musicianship. In high school I read Mr. McGill’s book, Sound in Motion, which explains Marcel Tabuteau’s system of phrasing for musicians.” Tabuteau was the revered Principal Oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1915-1954, and also taught at Curtis. Keith adds, “Marcel Tabuteau’s playing and teaching established the American style of woodwind performance. To attend Curtis and realize its connection to that history was amazing.” We’re very happy to welcome Keith to the CSO.