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Orchestral Music Feature

Historical Revisionism? A Review of the NC Symphony's Season Program Book

September 21, 2001 - Raleigh, NC:

We don't often pay much heed to program books except when the listings they contain are incorrect. In program books and performer bios, for example, one often finds little more than puffery, penned by hacks engaged to advance the careers of their clients. From time to time, however, the claims contained therein are so blatantly false that formal responses are required. One such case involved a conductor who worked here, long ago, who claimed to have conducted Seattle's Ring. It looked, sounded and smelled fishy, and a call to the then-Music Director of the West Coast festival revealed that our visiting stick waver had never led a public performance there. Indeed, Maestro Holt claimed never to have heard of the character.

Alas, the NC Symphony's fancy new program book contains pieces of comparable fluff, one of which appears to be intentionally misleading. The author, Scott Warfield, is the long-time program annotator of the NC Symphony, and as such he has made some worthwhile contributions, but there is little to admire in his latest effort, "Building a Legacy: 20 Years with Maestro Zimmermann," which appears on pages 26-7 of the current season guide. Warfield credits Zimmermann with having picked some good players, and that is true, as we have from time to time observed. Much of the rest of the piece is, however, of dubious merit. A charitable soul might view it as a piece that boosts the image and reputation of its subject and then chalk it up as yet another example of self-serving propaganda, but the fact that it does so by falsifying the historical record compels us to set the record straight.

Warfield basically dismisses the orchestra's first fifty years as meaningless when compared with his subject's accomplishments, artistic and otherwise. He writes that, at the end of the tenure of the last nominal Music Director before Zimmermann landed, the orchestra had a "heavy load of daytime school concerts" and offered "a few evening concerts in Raleigh, as well as 'run-out' concerts that repeated much of the repertoire from the school and Raleigh programs." Perhaps wisely, he dances over the Symphony's abysmal endowment saga - several were squandered by inept boards. He notes the NCS' recent award for "adventurous programming" but we submit that this is no great honor, given the fact that many US orchestras are mausoleums offering little more than music by dead white European males; examine the duration of the relatively few works by living American composers that have been given here in 20 years and you're not likely to find enough to fill up a set of retrospective CDs. The quest for new leadership here took two years but artistic excellence was not, at the end, the chief objective: Zimmermann was selected by default when other, more qualified candidates were rejected for various reasons, not least of which was the players' veto power over the board. It's a matter of record that the incumbent didn't conduct in Raleigh, the orchestra's home base, until the night of his debut as Music Director. Warfield credits him with having started Summerfest, but the series was actually launched by the players themselves after several years of labor disputes.

Warfield doesn't claim that Zimmermann built Meymandi Concert Hall and the orchestra's new summer home in Regency Park, but he does conclude his piece by stating that "the legacy of Maestro Zimmermann will be one of artistic excellence and fiscal responsibility," and he thus manages to ascribe to his subject some major accomplishments of other people, credit for which rests with them rather than the Music Director. The net result is an article that is largely hogwash. As noted in the previous review, the NCS is the same size - and basically the same, demographically - that it was when Zimmermann landed here. The current roster of instrumentalists includes some fine players, but he inherited a lot of excellent people and drove off more than a few of them including Brian Manker, now Principal Cello in Montreal, whom Warfield cites by name. This revisionist piece distorts and falsifies history and should therefore be repudiated by the Symphony's management team and board. If Zimmermann assisted in any way with its preparation or approved the final version, he should be sent packing now, minus the golden parachute that otherwise will allow him a continuing presence here until 2008.

We're seeking new leadership, and we are not alone. On September 21, between the open rehearsal and the evening concert discussed immediately above, word reached us that Greensboro Symphony Orchestra Music Director Stuart Malina will take his after the current season. The months ahead will be interesting, here in NC, what with a new leader in Charlotte and concurrent conductor searches in both the Triad and the Triangle. May the members of the selection committees in both regions choose wisely. Even Zimmermann figured he'd be here for four years, at most, before moving on to bigger and better things. His own limitations precluded that, and he's stayed five times that long. One can never predict the tenures of those who are selected, particularly in an environment where people are soooooo nice and soooooo unwilling to hurt anyone's feelings. The picks must be astute, for the future of our musical lives depends upon our artistic leaders. We will return to this theme soon.