Boston:1960, even the cars were Selmer

February 25, 2014

Looking at the plethora of available clarinets these days, virtually everywhere, traveling back more than a half century, one is swept away by the changes that have taken place. Certainly in Boston, but everywhere else as well.
Boston, however was quite special, because all of the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, at the time(and now), one of the more sophisticated ensembles, with then and still, the best Hall in the entire US: They all played Selmer Clarinets, and had for many years. The section was all Italian, or portuguese: Gino Cioffi had just arrived, to take the place of Victor Polatscek, a wonderful musician, and of the night

These were his b est years and the facility of the effortless sound in Symphony Hall charmed  the totally sold-out houses. Manuel Valerio, the diminutive second , who played on a Selmer A facing mouthpiece, with very hard reeds, had a gorgeous second. Pasquale Cardillo also played second as well as first in the Boston Pops, and Rosario Mazzeo , who also played a Selmer Bass Clarinet, and probably was the first player of the Bass who used a crystal bass clarinet mouthpiece. Mazzeo was also the personnel manager of the Orchestra, and had his office on the second floor , along with bis secretary, Peggy Burke, who compiled the program notes, who once threw me out of a rehearsal. Attending a rehearsal uninvited was forbidden: a union regulation, mostly because of the fact that if anyone attended the whole orchestra would have to be paid.

I had gone in to see Mazzeo, and tarried on the way up, standing in the back of the hall as they recorded widely spaced all over the audience ares, (the seats having been removed. I was an enthralled kid, lost in the sound, when I felt my ear being grabbed by Peggy Burke wno literally pulled me out into the hallway.
Back to the Selmer cclainet, the BSO clarinet section, and all of the many students of these players, all of whom played Selmer(Paris) clarinets.
The students all bought their horns at Rayburn Music, owned by Ray Sternburg, the son of Simon Sternburg, who was the snare drummer on the Boston Orchestra, also a chemist who made “Revelation Valve oil, which you could also get at Rayburns.
That was it, a virtual monopoly of Selmer clarinets, all the players and all of their student all played Selmer clarinets, without exception.
Yes, the Buffet clarinet was firmly ensconced in New York City, however the opinions of the boston gaggle of clarinet students was firm and unwaveringly Selmer, born and bred.
Of course,all of them used Van Doren Reeds, only Van Doren, which Rayburns also sold . They were 3.75 a box of 25 reeds, three or four of which played, the others saved for another try on a different day.
This was not yet the time of the forced purchase of Selmer mouthpiece and Van Dorens as well, if you were a dealer. The reeds became scarce and mouthpiece were sold to the dealers,on;y, if thyy bougt mouthpieces, as well.., the dealers were forced to buy mouthpieces.
If one was able to get to Paris, one could get to 56 Rue Lepic to the Van Doren place, and pick unmarked reeds for hours on end. When finished, they would mark the reeds and you paid a quater for each. Naturally, by the time you got home, they would not play.
One rainy afternoo, I was trying reeds without success, when Robert Van Doren came down to the room. He had a mouthpiece on each finger, which he offered me to try. They all plyed better than any Selmer mouthpiece I had, and I bought them all at some ridiculously low price.
I played them for years, losing them and finding them and ws alwaya happy with the VD mouthpiece, until I found my magic crystal, which is a whole other story.
All of these players stayed for many years in Boston, Cioffi, leaving when Eric Leinsdorf would no longer allow him to recorde with the BSO, an abysmal confrontation during a rehearsal..
When Cardillo retired , he was replaced by Peter Hadcock, an excellent player who had come from Eastman.Harold Wright also auditioned for second , won the audition, but refused because he wanted principal, which he got when Cioffi left, and then everything completely changed in Boston, and has remaind so changed to this very day.

Stay well, and learn Daphnes on whatever you choose to play

All the best, sherman


Minnesota problems in orchestra (NY Times 2/17)

February 17, 2014

Just over a month ago, on Jan. 14, the warring parties of the Minnesota Orchestra — management and musicians — agreed to a treaty, of sorts, though in some ways it seems more like a truce. The peace still feels all too tentative.

The settlement ended management’s 16-month lockout of the players, imposed in October 2012, when they refused to negotiate on a contract proposal calling for a 30 percent cut in their salaries, among other adverse changes. In the end, the players agreed to a three-year contract with a 15 percent reduction.

So the orchestra is back in business, having just finished its second weekend of concerts in a truncated season, and some things seem to be coming together, slowly. But what has yet to emerge is any solid word on whether Osmo Vanska will return, after resigning in frustration as music director of the orchestra in October, during the lockout.

Though Mr. Vanska continues to decline requests for formal interviews, he has — in stray, possibly counterproductive, comments relayed through various media outlets — strongly implied that he will return only if Michael Henson, the orchestra’s somewhat incendiary president and chief executive, leaves. Mr. Henson has given no sign that he will do so, saying instead that he will take the same 15 percent salary cut as the players.

Few would deny that Mr. Vanska worked wonders with the orchestra after his arrival in 2003, lifting it to the verge of the top rank in America, if it was not already there. The achievement was aptly symbolized by the orchestra’s Grammy nominations in each of the last two years, including a win at the awards show last month.

And most interested parties, it seems, want Mr. Vanska back. Certainly, the players do, even — especially, perhaps — if it means Mr. Henson’s departure.

In a round-table discussion with five of the musicians and this critic on Feb. 7, Blois Olson, the spokesman for the players (and yes, the players still retain their own publicist, refusing to use the orchestra’s), said of Mr. Henson: “The musicians have not swayed from their unanimous vote of no confidence in November 2012. You can’t be a leader if nobody’s going to follow.”

The players, he and they added, are equally unanimous in their wish for the return of Mr. Vanska.

Audiences, too, have been heard from.

Speaking onstage at the intermissions of the first concerts, on Feb. 7 and 8, Gordon Sprenger, the new board chairman, intended to be a calming force, responded to raucous cries from the audience for the return of Mr. Vanska. “We are addressing it,” he said to loud cheers one night, and “We are on top of it” the next.

But in a joint interview with Mr. Henson and another board member, Douglas Kelley, on Feb. 6, Mr. Sprenger spoke of a process, saying that he was “appointing a small group” to take up the issue of finding a music director, neither endorsing nor precluding the return of Mr. Vanska. By “it,” in those remarks from the stage, he was presumably referring to the process, not to any specific plan to bring Mr. Vanska back into the fold.

And there is other powerful support for Mr. Vanska. Those first two homecoming concerts, at the newly renovated Orchestra Hall, were led by its revered conductor laureate, the 90-year-old Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.

No one knows the orchestra better than Mr. Skrowaczewski, who was its music director from 1960 to 1979, has maintained his home in Minneapolis and has continued to conduct the orchestra often, even during the lockout, in the players’ self-produced concerts. In the homecoming concerts, he was working with a hastily assembled 89 players: 55 members of the orchestra (the others having been on leave or previously committed to play elsewhere) and 34 substitutes.

“It makes a completely different orchestra,” Mr. Skrowaczewski said in an interview after the dress rehearsal on Feb. 7. Asked whether there was a sufficient core of musicians to allow for recovery, he said: “I hope they will get Osmo Vanska immediately under contract. With Vanska there is a chance for rebuilding.” Mr. Skrowaczewski was essentially echoing what he had told the players onstage at the rehearsal, where his words met with obvious approval.

But what is remarkable in all of this is that there has been no particular show of urgency. It has only been a month, you might say. Or — the glass half-empty — a month has already passed.

“We are an artistic organization without artistic leadership,” said Timothy Zavadil, a clarinetist and chairman of the players’ negotiating committee.

The orchestra has not held auditions since July 2012. It has lost key players, whether because of the turmoil or not, and it could lose more. By the terms of the settlement, it will be adding seven players over the next three years to bring the total membership to 84.

The ensemble has also just moved back into a revamped hall and needs to adjust, corporately and individually, to altered acoustics. In all of this, a guiding hand and an experienced and empowered sensibility are needed.

It certainly seems that bringing Mr. Vanska back, if his demands are not unreasonable (and this outsider will not be the one to say whether jettisoning Mr. Henson would be reasonable), would go a long way toward rebuilding bridges to the players, to audiences and to, ahem, critics. The chemistry he obviously had with these musicians is rare, and some of them suggest that it could be even more potent if he were to return under these circumstances.

Despite the current euphoria at the orchestra’s sheer return, there are fences still to mend with audiences, donors and the public.

There is evidently some sense on the board that giving in to any of Mr. Vanska’s demands would be to grant him too much power within the organization, and that the board should not let itself be bullied. But is it possible that Mr. Vanska, a few rash comments aside, is taking just the sort of steps a music director should, to fill an artistic vacuum? And in any case, is this a time to stand on ceremony?

As it is, Mr. Vanska is scheduled to return as a guest in late March, conducting Sibelius’s First and Fourth Symphonies to celebrate the orchestra’s Grammy Award for its splendid Bis recording of those works. But now, at a time when other orchestras are announcing their 2014-15 seasons, the Minnesota Orchestra is still in the thick of planning its programs, and how do you do that without knowing whether you will even have a music director by then, let alone who it will be?

There are opportunities here for quick solutions. By definition, they won’t last long.