letters about my boston symphony piece

the letters are supporting me

The interactive edition of the Wall Street Journal published three e-mail messages that supported my radical critique of the Boston Symphony:

My wife and I are decade-long subscribers to Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts. I couldn't agree more with Mr. Sandow's review ("Conduct(or) Unbecoming At the Boston Symphony"). Haitink should be hired instead; or perhaps Tate of London, or that wonderful young fellow from Birmingham [Simon Rattle]. An ideal selection was missed when Slatkin went to Washington.
The BSO has loyal audience, fantastic hall, and in most cases impeccable players, but a conductor who is good, at most, at Ravel. His Mahler's are disappointing, and much more could be said.
I'd be interested to know if there are similar comments from others.

Bernard Gordon

Mr. Sandow:

That's just how this town works. I've watched in amazement for 15 years now as local-born and converted fans have continued to flock to sporting events featuring the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins and the Patriots. Regardless of recent achievements of the teams. Regardless of increasing ticket prices. Regardless of whether they are going to cheer or to jeer. Paying the gate toll nonetheless. There is no market-based incentive to perform better; merely to perform.
It's fascinating really.

H. David Shea
Pembroke, Mass.

Congratulations for your courage on printing the truth on the sad condition that has grown like a cancer in the BSO for the last 20 years!
I know the BSO from hundreds of recordings, broadcasts and books and know how great they were and how low they have sunk. I would rather have a root canal without Novocain than listen to an Ozawa/BSO performance!
The great days of Koussevitsky, Munch and Monteux (as guest conductor) will live forever! Sadly, few people attending now are aware of how great they were and could be again.. The Orchestra should hope that the music loving public can selectively forget the Ozawa era!
I am distressed that the perfect instrument that was the BSO has even been eroded! The last time that I heard them in the early 90s/late 80s, Stan Skrowaczewski led them in a performance of one of the big Beethoven symphonies--#7 I think--and it was exhilarating! It is sad that a quality performance of such a great ensemble has be enjoyed only under a guest conductor! That the actual instrument--the BSO!-- is now suffering is even more tragic!
Thanks for having the courage to print the unvarnished truth. I'm much more interested in preserving and strengthening one of the world's finest orchestras than I am in what the President really did with Monica! American priorities will need a serious shift if great art is to be preserved.
This article was worth my whole year's subscription!

Stuart C. Hyke

I received this one personally. I'm quoting it with the writer's permission::

Thank you so much for your wonderful article on the decrepit state of the Boston Symphony under Ozawa. My close friend Stu Hyke E-mailed it to me this morning.
I have lived in Boston most of my life and began attending concerts in the mid-50s when Munch rattled the rafters in Symphony Hall with elegance and inspiration. The emotional fire of those performances captured me forever as a music lover and the recordings I made off the air at that time are the treasures of a lifetime.
I haven't been to a BSO concert for many years now because of the dullness of Ozawa's work. The amazing thing is that somewhere in there is a talented musician that got buried under ego and surface flash, as some of his early recordings in Toronto and Chicago attest (his performance of The Rite of Spring with Chicago comes close to the celestial Boston Symphony-Monteux performance, IMHO.) But, no more.
The REAL question, it seems to me, is why the powers that be would allow this situation to continue year after year. I can only conclude that it's the same terrible early education in the U.S. which created a generation of young CEOs who now believe their corporate funds are better spent on a couple of 30 second Superbowl ads than on funding a year of nation-wide symphony concert syndication --same money.
I'm hoping that your article will bring into the open issues that have smoldered under the surface here for many years. I believe that the two principal music critics here agree with us, but have only alluded obliquely to the issues, often damning Ozawa with faint praise instead of nailing him as he deserves. I can understand that they have to maintain at least a modicum of cordiality with the music establishment in order to do their jobs.
It takes someone like yourself, respected yet just distant enough, to do what needs to be done. Bravo to you sir. It will be interesting to see what transpires here during the next few days.


Orin Hood

And here's another one sent directly to me, again quoted with the writer's permission:

Sadly, you're correct about the BSO. It's still "great," maybe in the top ten in the US, but no longer indisputably in the top three or four. I'm a transplanted New Yorker (NJ to be exact) and live near the BSO. I attend from time to time. It's a pale reflection of the Charles Munch years, but still worth the time. I've heard great performances, and some simply inexcusably awful ones (eg., the Dvorak 8th two years ago was hideous!!!) There's no consistency today.

The hysterical attacks against you are telling, but no surprise from here. In Boston, as in San Francisco, the natives have very, very thin skins. They're constantly fishing for compliments and are beligerently narcissistic. There is no shrugging off criticism with these people. So, chin up! You told it like it is

Tom Andrew
Duxbury, MA

What follows is a private e-mail from a friend in the business who needs to remain anonymous. I have her permission to reproduce her message:

I had no idea about your BSO article, but let me join your cheering section. I have been going to Tanglewood for the last four or five years and have found the BSO concerts, whether conducted by Seiji or Previn, to be total bores. The Dutilleux work last summer, conducted by Dutoit was marvelous -- but I so agree with you about the orchestra. Dutoit seems to do far more with the orchestra than Seiji does. And I am not a Dutoit fan.

And poor Malcolm [whom the writer knows] does sound like somebody is giving him an either/or ultimatum.

This was written by someone unknown to me on the New York Times classical music forum, after a message was posted  calling attention to my article:

I hadn't seen the article in the WSJ to which you refer, but many of us in the Boston Symphony Orchestra's audience have been wishing for years now that Mr. Ozawa would retire. Almost all of the memorable performances I've heard in Symphony Hall since I moved to the Boston area in 1980 have been under the baton of other conductors. With rare exceptions, the orchestra just isn't at its best with Ozawa; the playing he elicits, while not exactly perfunctory, nonetheless fails to persuade the mind or possess the heart as did, say, Rattle's rendition of the "Glagolitic Mass" last winter. To give Ozawa his due: I recall vividly his concert staging of portions of Messiaen's "Saint Francis" from 1986, and I greatly enjoyed his Mahler Third Symphony last year, but the valleys between such peaks have made for a weary traverse. My personal favorite to succeed the incumbent would be Simon Rattle, but it seems Philadelphia has its eye on Sir Simon. Alas.

There was one remarkable letter against me -- from the BSO's concertmaster, whose letter to Counterpoint (the newsletter of the BSO's musicians) I'd quoted in my piece.

I am writing in response to the Dec. 15 Leisure & Arts about Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I was frustrated and upset to see my name attached to the article, since your reporter did not contact me and chose to quote a letter published nearly four years ago in an internal orchestra publication, "Counterpoint." Our letter was aimed at communication and overtime trade agreement issues. It was not an "anti-Ozawa piece," as your reporter claims, and the implications he draws from the letter are grossly misleading.
I am proud and honored to be the concertmaster for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Seiji Ozawa. I have great respect for the institution, for Seiji Ozawa and for my colleagues in the orchestra. The Boston Symphony Orchestra maintains its integrity, dedication and musicianship at the highest level.

Malcolm Lowe
Boston Symphony Orchestra

This is an incredible document. Compare what he writes with the extensive passage I quoted in my piece, and it becomes truly astounding. Lowe and principal cellist Juiles Eskin all but called for Ozawa's removal. He may have changed his mind in the past four years, but he certainly doesn't say so, or, more importantly, say why. I'm not the only one who thinks he wrote this letter with somebody -- figuratively speaking -- holding a gun to his head..