This Might Be Awkward

 

It looks like the New York Philharmonic has been compelled to hire back two musicians it dismissed in 2018 for misconduct. Principal oboist, Liang Wang, and associate principal trumpet, Matthew Muckey were dismissed following an investigation overseen by former federal judge Barbara Jones of the Bracewell law firm.

Fast forward 18 months and arbitration has compelled the orchestra to reverse its decision. A statement from the orchestra published at Slippedisc.com provides additional information:

The New York Philharmonic just received the decision from arbitrator Richard Bloch regarding the terminations of Matthew Muckey and Liang Wang. Unfortunately, it was not in the New York Philharmonic’s favor. We are profoundly disappointed by the arbitrator’s decision. In reaching his conclusion, the arbitrator opted to apply a higher standard of proof than is typically applied in labor disputes. He found that the evidence did not meet this higher standard. In our opinion, the arbitrator failed to give appropriate weight to the events supporting the victims claims. The arbitrator made explicit that “nothing in this opinion should be read as concluding that all doubt has been removed concerning the actions of the grievants in this matter.”

The Philharmonic remains committed to providing a safe and respectful space for its musicians and our entire community. We acted upon that commitment when we retained a respected former federal jurist, Barbara Jones, to investigate the reports of misconduct we received. We took disciplinary action based upon her thorough findings and acted with the full support of our Board. While we obviously disagree with the arbitrator and stand by our original actions and decisions in this matter, we will, as we must, abide by the arbitrator’s ruling and reinstate both players.

According to the New York Philharmonic’s roster, both positions have yet to be filled with permanent members but if either spot has been formally offered to another musician and accepted, it could create a remarkably difficult situation to resolve.

Add to that the host of potential difficulties surrounding professional dynamics, a new music director, and good old-fashioned personalities and you have the ingredients for some weapons grade awkwardness once the orchestra returns to work following their current COVID-19 shutdown.

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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