Wind of change angers veterans of Carnegie Hall

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The Independent US

Attend a classical concert at New York's venerated Carnegie Hall and you might detect a raspberry mid-movement from the trombone section or a dissonant note from one of the violins. The house that is meant to be all harmony is anything but nowadays.

Attend a classical concert at New York's venerated Carnegie Hall and you might detect a raspberry mid-movement from the trombone section or a dissonant note from one of the violins. The house that is meant to be all harmony is anything but nowadays.

Trouble is brewing at the 109-year-old landmark in Manhattan. It has to do with the arrival one year ago of a new executive director who has ideas for the institution that do not altogether appeal to the staff he has inherited - like making it a little less fusty.

German-born Franz Xaver Ohnesorg - the name, as linguists might observe, means "carefree", which in New York he is not - knew he had upset someone when he recently found swastikas scratched into the inside door of his personal box.

Then there have been the resignations and the firings. Three senior staffers have walked out in recent months; two were sacked last Tuesday. Nor was he pleased to discover someone sending anonymous notes to the newspapers complaining about him.

Ohnesorg, who made his name transforming the Cologne Philharmonie into one of Europe's most vibrant orchestras, arrived with the backing of the longtime Carnegie president and beloved violinist, Isaac Stern. Stern, by the way, still stands by him.

Still, the unrest is not being completely ignored. Ohnesorg, 52, convened a meeting last week of some of the employees to announce that a team of outside consultants had been hired to hear the grievances and report to the board of trustees.

Evidently, Ohnesorg appears resolute about his plans, which include introducing Carnegie Hall to the wired world by using the internet to market itself, eliminating some of the artists' studio dwellings that can be found in the brick towers that rise above it, and jazzing up its programme a little. He has even mentioned allowing rap into the building.

"It's a psychological problem," he said. "I had to learn how much change traumatises people." Ohnesorg has discovered the hard way that for all its reputation for innovation and zing, New York has a distressing capacity for conservatism.

It is Ohnesorg's decision to scrap some of the studios to make way for new administrative offices that has some in the building most on edge (the current tenants especially). Incorporated in the complex when it was first built as cheap havens for promising artists, the studios have provided homes or work spaces to the likes of Marlon Brando, Leonard Bernstein and Isadora Duncan.

Stern described Ohnesorg, when he was hired, as the "most gifted man in the world for this kind of work". It remains to be seen whether the board of trustees agrees.

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