To the editors:
Far be it from me to take the side of management in a labor dispute, but Lewis Lazare quotes Chicago Symphony Orchestra trumpet player and musician's union negotiator George Vosburgh in two real boners in your September 20 issue.
According to Lazare's Culture Club column, Vosburgh attacks CSO executive director Henry Fogel for putting John Corigliano's Symphony no. 1 ("Of Rage and Remembrance") on the program for the CSO's 1992 European tour. Lazare says the musicians claim that the Corigliano piece adds "about $200,000 to tour costs for additional percussion instrumentation and ten more musicians."
If there is any area where Henry Fogel deserves the hearty support of CSO listeners and players it is in his support for new music and American music being added to the CSO repertoire. Aside from the bizarre concept of a union leader opposing a programming move that adds work for more musicians, Vosburgh's apparent position ignores the extraordinary importance of the CSO's bringing a powerful and accessible piece of American music to Europe next year. Corigliano's piece, completed during his tenure as CSO composer-in-residence, is one of the most artistically and commercially successful American pieces premiered in more than a decade and it stands alone as an orchestral response to the AIDS crisis that has so devastated the world of classical music.
The symphony, dedicated to the memory of the sorely missed Chicago pianist Sheldon Shkolnik, has already garnered Corigliano the prestigious $150,000 Grawemeyer Award and the CSO's recording of the piece has risen to number three on the current Billboard classical chart (an obvious money-maker for the CSO and well ahead of the orchestra's recording of Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben released simultaneously and barely making a dent in the charts). Leonard Slatkin has programmed it for concerts with the New York Philharmonic this season and the CSO will take the work to Carnegie Hall next year.
According to Lazare, Vosburgh also has a problem with Fogel's increased commitment to the Civic Orchestra, raising the budget of the training orchestra, he says, "from $400,000 last year to more than $600,000 this year." The Civic has always been a remarkable institution and in the current national orchestral environment it may--alas--be unique. And with the additional leadership over the last several years of Corigliano, current composer-in-residence Shulamit Ran, and CSO assistant conductor Michael Morgan, Civic programs have become showcases for American and even world premieres of challenging and exciting contemporary music. The Civic was honored this year with a first place award from ASCAP and the American Symphony Orchestra League for its programming of new music and it continues to pay special attention to works of Illinois and African American composers.
At a time when symphony orchestras, if they are to survive, must build future audiences and provide encouragement to young players, the Civic Orchestra is the CSO's greatest ambassador and tutor. The overwhelmingly youthful audiences that pack every seat in Orchestra Hall at the Civic's superb free concerts are the CSO's best hope for a strong future. Whatever legitimate disagreements that CSO players--and subscribers--may have with Henry Fogel it's a low and ill-timed blow to assail his attempts to position the CSO as a champion here and abroad of the best of contemporary and American music.
PS: Ted Shen really must have been "mesmerized" by Larry Combs's clarinet solos in the CSO's first encore of their free Grant Park concert on September 21 (Music review, September 27). Combs and company were playing Fred Fisher's "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)," not "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)," by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. Morton Gould arranged Fisher's "Chicago" for Benny Goodman and the CSO in the 1960s, the aforementioned combination recorded it then, and it has been a staple repertoire novelty for the symphony--and for Combs--ever since.