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Violinist Sarah Chang lands in Southern California following Detroit drama

October 12, 2010 | 12:30 pm

Chang It's sometimes easy to forget that the classical music world is dominated by labor unions that exert powerful control over much of the art form. Violinist Sarah Chang received a scary reminder of that fact over the weekend in Detroit.

Chang, 29, is scheduled to perform this week at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Orange County and at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside.

On Monday, the violinist was supposed to perform a special recital as part of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's current season. Musicians from the orchestra are currently on strike against a new contract that would see drastic pay cuts.

Reports say that over the weekend, Chang received a barrage of hostile messages via cellphone, e-mail and social media criticizing her decision to perform while the musicians were on strike. Some of the messages were harassing in nature, calling her a scab and other derogatory names. The Detroit News reported that the most violent message suggested that the violinist should hang herself.

Chang eventually withdrew from the Detroit recital. The orchestra issued a statement saying the violinist was a victim of harassment while the orchestra's union called her decision to withdraw "courageous."

Chang did not immediately respond to a request for interview on Tuesday. The violinist is scheduled to perform a program of Brahms and  Franck on Wednesday at the Irvine Barclay. On Thursday, she will appear at the Fox Performing Arts Center in a similar recital.

-- David Ng


Music review: Leonard Slatkin and Sarah Chang return to the Hollywood Bowl

Photo: Sarah Chang performs for conductor Jirí Belohlávek and the L.A. Philharmonic in 2006. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (25)

Detroit and unions seem to do anything possible to shoot themselves in the foot. Pretty soon no one is going to join a union and no one in the world will want to go to Detroit! Sarah, never go back!

Detroit is another failed urban center taken over by liberal minorities/labor unions who have this sense of entitlement that people are getting tired of. Unfortunately , there will not be a return to a sustainable economy with this group in power because they have no skills,morality or work ethic. Its all about them and there pension plans.Who wants to stick around for this failure.

So Dee. You really believe that Detroit Symphony musicians have no skills, morality or work ethic? Surely it must be a veritable cakewalk to secure a position in one of the greatest orchestras in American history. The actions of the DSO players are truly heroic and should be an example for all workers to follow. We can no longer afford to let the top tenth of a percent to hoard all of society's wealth. It's time the majority took it back.

Screw them all, she doesn't need to put up with them. They can continue beating their chests, Sarah will have a much better time in California.

When you shun talent, you invite only failure.

Agree with you 100% Dee. I am sure there are more cities like Detroit...New Orleans comes to mind. As far as the post that tries to call you on the carpet...typical...not dealing with real issues but attacks the critic.

Some of the posters here seem to think this is an issue with Detroit. I guess they didn't read the first sentence of the article.

Musicians such as those in the Classical field are represented by unions, in order to protect their wages. One of the purposes of this is to ensure a musician's work, when it is played, results in the musician being paid.

From the NYT:

The musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra also weighed in, asking Ms. Chang not to play. After her announcement to withdraw, the comments turned into a tide of praise and thanks.

This is about classical musicians supporting classical musicians.

Everyone posting here seems to have very strong opinions. Some of you declare that the musicians in Detroit have no skill or talent, and they're motivated by a lack of work ethic. Others proclaim that the musicians are heroic examples for the rest of us.

But does anyone even know why the musicians in Detroit are on strike? Are the working conditions bad? Are they not receiving something they were promised in their contract? I mean, no matter how pro-union you are, you have to admit there are times when some unions demand unreasonable things. And no matter how anti-union you are, you have to admit there are times when employers treat their employees badly. So isn't it important that you know the actual facts of the situation, rather than just jump to a conclusion based on your political orientation?

To that end, the Times could do a more thorough job of reporting stories like these. This article is woefully short on details.

Seriously, janjamm, Dee, et al, every benefit that we in the middle class hold dear is an outcome of union negotiations. Happy with a 5 day workweek, a decent wage or benefits greater than a trench behind your workplace for defecating? Thank a bloody union member from the 1930s for those privileges!

I've never belonged to a union, but you can bet that my current job is better because someone in my grandfather's generation stood tall against a billy club wielding Pinkerton thug bent on enforcing some plutocrat's will to share NOTHING with the people responsible for his empire.

Sheesh, people, get a grip. Chang did the right thing by bowing out of the performance and demonstrating heart for working musicians' circumstances. Do a little research about what DSO is doing to the salaries of it's musicians, compare that against the salaries of the non-creative (administrative) staff who are making the "hard choices" to cut creative overheads, etc, etc, etc.

Wow, these comments are actually approved? By who? Dee Simonds' reference to "liberal minorities/labor unions" who have "... no skills, morality or work ethic" is not only racist, it's incredibly ignorant.

This strike is a result of orchestra management demanding a gigantic paycut (over 30% when the musicians were willing to take 22%) AND at the same time drastically changing the responsibilities of the job and the musicians' ability to provide input into the orchestra's ongoing activities. These are people that value excellence in their work and want to continue delivering a high quality product to their city.

Oh, and last I checked, Ms. Chang is a minority as well. Do you include her in your rant?

I live in Detroit. The DSO is a mediocre orchestra. They are no Berlin Philharmonic by any means. They are not worth the money they seek in the economy we have in Detroit. This is the wrong time to be greedy.

Detroit has a symphony?????

Hey, Dee!!!!
Your post sounds like it was written about Wall Street. Caught you, didn't I?

Another example that unions are exactly gangsters.

A poorly presented news story with no details at all about the labor situation. The Times has gone a long time without a labor writer of any stature at all.

V Lapato: Thank you for bringing some cogency and rationality to the mostly unhelpful comments accompanying this story. Ralph L. Seifer, Long Beach.

I'm tired of these unions and their bullying tactics. And these musicians should be happy to have a job. My brother is a professional musician who takes any work he can get and is thankful for it. I feel bad for those who were not able to enjoy the great musicianship of Sarah Chang because of the actions of these hooligans and their supporters .

Scare off visiting performers. Great way to boost the Detroit economy.

"It's sometimes easy to forget that the classical music world is dominated by labor unions that exert powerful control over much of the art form. Violinist Sarah Chang received a scary reminder of that fact over the weekend in Detroit."

These are loaded and misleading sentences. The second sentence implies that the musicians union was behind threats to Chang.

I won't argue about whether or not she was threatened, but it seems very doubtful that she was threatened with union approval.

And the first sentence here; oh my! To think that musicians unions have a negative impact on art is ridiculous. The goal of the unions is to put the musicians in the best possible position to serve their art and their audiences; just like all other laborers, musicians have a right to respectful working conditions and reasonable compensation. Musicians are highly trained professionals; it takes years and years to reach the level of ability to win an audition for an orchestra like the DSO.

We could go on for miles and miles about the value of unions, but I think it is important to be clear that the musicians union did NOT threaten Ms. Chang. I am not defending the threats--they were absolutely wrong.

It was probably a mistake for her to agree to this recital, she was certainly poorly advised by her management, and she got out of it as gracefully as she could.

I, too, live in Detroit. However, I believe the DSO to be a great orchestra. And, compared to the Berlin Philharmonic, they play with much more personality, not to mention playing in a superior concert hall that doesn't require the orchestra to be "electronically enhanced" as does the BPO.

That being said, I can't quite reconcile the fact that the DSO Musicians are looked at as "greedy" when they are THEMSELVES proposing at 22% slash in their own wages, a figure which exceeds that of the supposed average wage loss of those throughout the metropolitan Detroit area.

However, in regards to this particular, unbalanced article, one should refer to an article in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/arts/music/12chang.html?_r=1&ref=music which presents the situation in a fair and non-sensationalized manner.

One must realize that Ms. Chang has not claimed publicly that she was threatened by anybody. These words are from Ms. Anne Parsons (the DSO Executive Director) who claims she was told this by Chang.

So far, this appears to be solely a claim by Parsons, who has her own agenda. Why is there no real proof yet?

Amazing!!! You don't think that the musicians of the LA Phil and the San Fransisco Symphony wouldn't do exactly the same thing as those of Detroit when faced with such drastic cuts?

Blame the unions for trying to help the musicians hold on to to what they have worked long and hard to obtain. And while you're at it, why don't you give your employer back part of your pension, health care, and salary to the tune of about 50% of your compensation. Then let's see what you have to say about things involving the Detroit Symphony.

Janet, you think the DSO is "mediocre"? My advice to you would be to travel around and hear other orchestras. You might be surprised just how great they are. No orchestra in this country is the Berlin Philharmonic.

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