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The accusations might seem insignificant – even trivial.
The sweeping gesture of a musical instrument. Hitting a flat tone. Or playing too slowly at times.
But to some musicians in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, it smacked of sabotage.
And it cost Pierre Roy his job as principal oboist for the orchestra.
Not even an apology to the orchestra or his skill – by all accounts he is a highly talented player – could mend his relationships with the principal flutist and the second oboist, among others.
Normally, the ins and outs of a workplace squabble aren’t news. Most everyone knows what it feels like to work alongside co-workers who don’t get along – or are hard to deal with. But this infighting played out in one of Western New York’s highest-profile cultural institutions and affected the performances and moods of its members.
In workplace disputes, people often don’t like to talk on the record, and that is the case with the orchestra, where hard feelings drove a wedge in the wind section. The Buffalo News reached out to lawyers for Roy and the orchestra, offering an opportunity for anyone involved to speak. Roy’s attorney spoke. No one from the orchestra responded. So The News pieced together what happened by reviewing court documents, including an arbitrator’s report and the emails, letters and testimony from musicians and orchestra managers that leave no question about the turmoil inside the orchestra
Several musicians supported Roy, citing their good relationships with him and admiration for his musical skills and professionalism.But others felt belittled or annoyed by what they called his distracting behavior in rehearsals.
“I felt like he was mocking me when I was sitting there,” flutist Betsy Reeds told an arbitrator, of several occurrences. “Just the tone. I felt like he was making fun of my tone and my movements when I play.”
After orchestra managers investigated complaints against him, they fired Roy in July 2012, ending his nearly 17-year career at the orchestra.
But Roy won’t go away quietly. In March, he filed a petition in State Supreme Court, hoping to void the arbitrator’s ruling that supported his firing. He wants to be reinstated. The case has since been moved to federal court.
e hall and the musicians were warming up.
“Why did you hit me?” Roy asked him.
“That little bump?” Christner replied, according to Roy.
“Then he said … ‘If you want to start something, go right ahead. But if I would have hit you, I would have knocked you (down),’ ” Roy recounted.
The confrontation happened in view of the audience, though it’s unclear if anyone in the crowd could hear what was said.
Christner, in his testimony, said he tried to stop the argument with Roy.
“I said this is no place to do this,” Christner said. “If you’re having an issue with me, don’t do it on stage. It was just inappropriate.”
Six months later, the orchestra sent warning letters to both, citing Roy for pursuing Christner on stage and Christner for his remark to Roy.
Mimicked and mocked
Musicians reported more incidents after that, but only one occurred during a concert. Second oboist Kate Estes testified Roy played “extremely under the pitch and very much behind the beat, almost half a beat behind the rest of the orchestra” at a concert in January 2012.
“I didn’t know whether I should play with him or with the orchestra,” Estes said. “I decided to play with the rest of the orchestra. There was no way I could match his pitch level at that point.”
On Feb. 11, 2012, Davis filed an email complaint saying Roy had mimicked her movements during a rehearsal for the Broadway Rocks concert.
Roy testified that he was cleaning reed shavings off his lap. But Davis didn’t buy his explanation.
“Pierre mimicked and mocked everything I did for the entire rehearsal, from brushing lint off my pants to how I was sitting in my chair, to taking the hair off the back of my neck, to how I was cleaning my flute,” she testified.
Several musicians noted Roy’s gestures, which surprised them because they described Roy as a player with minimal body movement.
“It wasn’t a gesture that I had ever seen before in the orchestra and I wondered what was happening, and then I saw Christine brush something off her pant leg and immediately afterward Pierre Roy did the same thing but in a very big gesture,” Estes said.
Yet another long-tenured musician, in court documents, said she did not witness anything unusual or rude in the behavior of Roy, or any flaws in his playing, during this time.
Later in February 2012, Davis again complained to managers about Roy, accusing him of aggressively swinging the bell of his oboe into her space, in a side-to-side movement, during rehearsals for John Adams’ “Lollapalooza.”
She said he consistently made the gesture at a particular place in the score where she was having trouble with an entrance.
“When we got back to the same place to rehearse, Pierre Roy made a very sharp movement with his oboe, pointing his bell at me,” she said in an email to the orchestra manager, Hart.
Mattix, the horn player, testified that Roy made similar gestures toward Estes.
Once, “I was concerned because I thought he was about to strike her instrument with his instrument,” Mattix said.
Roy denied making such gestures. He said he was cuing the principal clarinetist. But after Davis’ complaint, orchestra managers installed a Plexiglas shield between her and Roy.
In his testimony, Roy said that he felt Davis was a “very dangerous person in the orchestra” because she would complain and write letters about others she was not happy with. He said she was “sort of like the orchestra police.”
Fallout with Falletta
During rehearsals for the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 in March 2012, several musicians noticed Roy “playing flat,” according to the arbitrator’s report.
“They concluded that this could only have been deliberate,” the report said.
“It was really horrifying,” Falletta told the arbitrator. “The playing was deliberately out of tune, which, of course, creates a situation that is completely confusing for everyone. A person of Pierre’s level, skill and professionalism would only play that way intentionally. It was something I’ve never heard in my life. I can’t remember another situation where a musician would sabotage a rehearsal like that.”
g, she said, “is just not the way things are done.”
Roy and Falletta seemed to have a good relationship for a long time. In court documents, he talks of her support for him over the years, and her kindnesses to him with words and tokens.
“I think she’s been very complimentary to me throughout my history with the orchestra,” Roy said.
They talked about music, he said, and Falletta told him at times “how much she has enjoyed my playing.”
Yet, Falletta by March 2012 issued a warning letter to Roy about his employment.
She cited an episode in early March that year, saying Roy played during a rehearsal with “a marked lack of musicianship.”
He said he didn’t think that was fair, and that it seemed like more was being required of him than of others.
While the arbitrator said he admired Roy’s musicianship and spirit, he ruled out giving Roy his job back.
“He never came to terms with his anger problem,” Rabin said in his Dec. 1, 2014, decision. “He engaged in unacceptable conduct that made it difficult for the musicians around him to do their job. His return would cause unacceptable anxiety.”