Music's symphony for whingers

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The Independent Online
BARRIE CLEMENT

Beneath the superficial harmony of the typical symphony orchestra, there is a seething cauldron of resentment and antagonism, the conference heard.

As in most organisations, different sections of musical ensembles attracted widely different personalities.

The string players tend to think of themselves as "sensitive, competitive and insecure", while the other musicians regard them as "grumpy, arrogant and weird".

Brass players believe themselves "gregarious, loud and jovial", while their colleagues are slightly more derogatory - seeing them as loud, extrovert, macho beer drinkers.

Perhaps the most pejorative remarks were reserved for conductors. One musician in an un-named but famous orchestra described them as a "foul breed". They were, "over-paid and short of talent" and it was about time "these expensive front men" were exposed. The musician complained that he was paid pounds 82 for a concert while the conductor earned pounds 16,000.

In a paper presented to the conference, Richard Kwiat-kowski of the University of East London argued that the sub-culture of the typical orchestra was increasingly replicated in industry.

Most ensembles were freelance and the musicians were at the beck and call of the "fixer" who decided who was chosen to play in a concert.

"The fixer is all-powerful. Perhaps we are seeing in the orchestra the logical consequences of current theories of future organisations."

Competition is fierce within the orchestra, Mr Kwiat- kowski found. Status is denoted by position - the further forward and the closer to the outside, where you can be seen, the better.

"Everyone can hear how well you are performing, and if you are not doing well it is understood that a fellow musician will point this out to the section principal, who will tell the fixer and the next time a concert is being arranged you will simply not be telephoned.

"Thus if your performance is below par, you will lose your livelihood."

Mr Kwiatkowski compared it with the experiences of dockyard workers in the 1930s waiting for work from the foreman. He said the ordinary workplace was now catching up with the way employment has been organised in the performing arts for many hundreds of years.

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