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