The Sound Of Fury

Have you ever wondered what labor trouble sounds like? Anyone in this business long enough likely has a story or two of inappropriate public behavior and/or actions on part of musicians and managers alike but these sorts of things usually remain in-house. But in the digital age you can bring the indoors out and that’s precisely what happened in the Richardson Symphony Orchestra as music director, Anshel Brusilow, was captured in an audio recording allegedly using rehearsal time to chastise the musicians and call one player out in particular over a labor action…

The 4:40 audio clip was originally posted at the Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association website and is available there along with accompanying press release material. Neither the Richardson Symphony website nor Anshel Brusilow’s professional website have any statements referring to the incident.

In short, this is the sort of thing that drives personnel managers to drink and only serves to make a bad situation worse. If there’s something to learn here (and there’s plenty) it’s that everyone deserves to rant about whatever it is they don’t like about this business but it is best to refrain from doing so on the podium.

UPDATE, 2:30pm CT: After contacting the Richardson Symphony Orchestra and Local 72-147 American Federation of Musicians for additional details and/or statements, I received this from Ray Hair, President of Local 72-147 American Federation of Musicians in response to the reader question below about recording clause:

Yes, there is an RSO contract section prohibiting recordings unless authorized by the Union, but that section concerns ensemble media services, archival recordings and other media exploitation. That section was never intended to prohibit the recording by a member of an atrocity-in-progress, or to otherwise impede workplace self-defense. Obviously, we are appreciative that our members caught Brusilow’s vicious attack on the record. It will serve to publicize the unacceptable conditions which now exist in the RSO workplace, it will provide the evidence necessary to reinstate an injured member, and it may serve to deter the company from committing further abuses.

At the time of this update, there is no response from the Richardson Symphony.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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17 thoughts on “The Sound Of Fury”

  1. Embarrassing, for sure, but instructive.

    As an 82 year old professional associate concertmaster in Cleveland, under Szell, and concertmaster in Philadelphia, under Ormandy, I’m thinking from Brusilow’s perspective, his comments were comparatively mild.

    Time’s change.

    • Comparatively mild but decidedly out of place and time. After listening to it a few more time myself I picked up on the bit about comparing what the players earn per hour and what the executive director earns per hour. This came across as a chastisement but what strikes me as out of place is this sort of erroneous comparison is usually made by board members, not by conductors. This makes me wonder if personal feelings played a greater motivating role in this than reason.

  2. Unvelievable. And it looks like the intended target of Mr. Brusilow’s tirade was Bert Truax, who is listed in the press release as being “chairperson of the orchestra’s negotiating committee”. Did I read that right? Is it legal in Texas for an orchestra to fire a chief negotiator?

  3. My question is: how did this audio recording come into being, let alone posted, in the first place? In our CBA, nobody can record, transmit or reproduce any service (unless otherwise specified) without a written agreement with the AFM. Perhaps the RSO has no such language.

  4. I heard the negotiator quit. He wasn’t fired. He also extended the argument, so it’s unfair to characterize this as Brusilow “using rehearsal time to chastise musicians.” That said, I don’t know what led to the altercation. This is unfortunate, but where is the serious harm in? Sure, the conversation would more appropriately have taken place outside of rehearsal, but it’s not a tirade against one person, and I agree completely that is was mild.

    • Based solely on the audio clip above, it isn’t clear if Mr. Truax tendered a written letter of resignation. However, it does seem clear that Mr. Brusilow leveled his displeasure against the musicians collectively and singled out one individual musician by name (Mr. Traux).

      I have received some more details from the President of Local 72-147 American Federation of Musicians which I’ll be posting above as an update to the main article shortly.

  5. I have several problems with Mr. Brusilow’s representation of the situation. First…he talks about this orchestra as if it’s a situation where people are “making a living” performing in…laughable. It’s a regional orchestra with a limited season…maybe six formal concert outings a year. Second….the “not getting paid” issues…has been going on for over three years. Third…his claims about CEO, George Landis not making as much as the musicians is absurd. is your friend. Seems management and senior operations folks made $177,000 according to the 2009 990 tax form. No one individual made over $100,000 (gee) so there were no individuals listed on the return. The accurate salary information is available by request to the RSO. 🙂 I believe there are only three people working in the RSO office…so, even if you do very simple math and divide by $177,000….I’d say someone was doing pretty well. Certainly better than musicians who hadn’t been paid in months. Which brings me to Anshel’s statement, to paraphrase, “you’ve got a job, people are starving out there, what are you thinking”. LOL This really, really was stunning. My thought (if I were in the orchestra..I was at one time…for eight years)…”yeah, I have a job working for an orchestra that doesn’t pay me”.
    I have no idea what Anshel was thinking. It’s ashame. Anshel Brusilow been an inspiration and a mentor for many musicians over many years. Business seems to have gotten in the way of his “making music”.
    Unfortunately…management and the board’s lack of attention to this entire problem has it to a critical place.

  6. After listening to the recording, I was astonished. Us as the listener do not know what transpired before the recorded incident. Regardless of any formal rules of what can be recorded, it is good that it was. In this situation, as I quote from Brusilow’s final statements “I don’t need you”. This was pathetic. The fact of the matter is, Brusilow got on his cross, pretended to be a victim, and glorified over paid office executives, while the core, and engine behind the money making machine takes it up the rear so-to-speak.

  7. Mr. Brusilow started a rehearsal with this vent. It had nothing to do with a negotiation….it had to do with the fact that the union was making public, via a press release, the fact that the orchestra was not being paid in a timely manner…and that the problem had been going on for over two years. Brusilow and management didn’t like the fact that the public and patrons were going to find out what was really happening. The musicians have been very, very considerate. The following evening…they passed out flyers concerning this issue, to patrons. The flyer was very positive…NOT inflammatory or threatening. NOT in any way….

    Here’s the link to the more aggressive press release that motivated the attack.

  8. Ok…I’ve cut and pasted the content of the very positive flyer the orchestra passed out at the Saturday night concert. Pretty darn reasonable…considering the paycheck history during the previous 2 plus years.

    Dear RSO Patron:
    Professional musicians want you to know that Richardson Symphony Orchestra members have waited weeks and months to be paid for most concerts performed over the past two years. The Orchestra is still awaiting paychecks for the April 10 concert.
    Despite the failure and refusal of RSO management to pay in a timely manner befitting musicians’ services, the Orchestra has continued to perform without interruption because it values your support, and because it knows that you expect and deserve to hear what you’ve paid for.
    We hope you will understand why we can no longer keep silent about musicians having to beg for their wages after every concert. To be expected to perform time and again without knowing when payment will be made is not only a contract violation, it is economically hurtful, patently unfair and an insult to the professionalism musicians bring to the stage every concert.
    We would appreciate your keeping this in mind as you attend tonight’s concert. The Orchestra will play its heart out for you. You’ve paid for it, but they don’t know when they’ll get paid.
    The actions of RSO management towards the Orchestra are an embarrassment to the entire ·community of Richardson, Texas and to professional musicians everywhere. We all deserve better.

  9. Speaking as a former orchestra Executive Director, the “conductor’s” rant was wholly unacceptable. If I had been the ED of the orchestra in question, I would have gone to the board of directors and demanded his immediate resignation. A conductor does not address the orchestra musicians saying “I don’t need you.” That alone would preclude any further collaboraion between the organization and the musicians if the conductor stayed on.

    Obviously, this is an organization under great stress. Been there, done that. But throwing civility and communication with the union and musicians out the window does not make the situation better. I hope the symphony administration and board get their act together and work with the musicians and their union on resolving the crisis. Without the conductor.

    • Thanks for bringing that point up Dee. I’ve been wondering why the current executive didn’t step in at some point seeing that he was in the room. Granted, this wouldn’t have been an easy situation but I know (too) many personnel managers, ops professionals, and executives who have been in similar situations and in all but a handful of cases I can think of, they put a stop to inappropriate behavior one way or another (usually with as much tact as possible).

      Those who failed to step in an take appropriate action ended up paying the consequence in one form or another. If nothing else, I suppose this is a good example of the old adage “never make a decision when you’re angry.”

      • We actually have a clause in our Master Agreement that states “the President, Music Director/Conductor, musicians and all associated therewith shall treat one another with generally accepted standards of professionalism and courtesy.” The players and the AFM filed a grievance about this incident based on our “mutual respect” clause. In the subsequent grievance meeting, the Executive Director and Board Chairman insisted that they felt that no violation of the contract had occurred. However, in a recent article published in the Dallas Morning News, the Board Chairman is quoted as saying, “We have talked extensively with Anshel about that situation.” Apparently they acknowledge that something was amiss about the situation, but not to the point of admitting any fault or wrongdoing.

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