No Brahms for Me — or Anyone Else

Johannes Brahms. Photo by C. Brasch

Johannes Brahms. Photo by C. Brasch

A few months ago, I learned that an acquaintance of mine had accepted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s principal timpani position. As a classically trained percussionist (I earned a bachelor of music degree from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and a master’s degree from The Juilliard School), it came as welcome news that someone I know and whose playing I admire would be joining the ranks of one of America’s most remarkable and renowned ensembles.

Of particular intrigue was the fact that my acquaintance, David Herbert, has been the San Francisco Symphony’s principal timpanist for nearly 20 years. And while I had the pleasure to hear him and that orchestra perform when I last visited San Francisco, I’ll have many opportunities to hear David play with the Chicago Symphony, as I frequently visit friends in that city.

I didn’t think too much more about David’s job change until a few weeks ago, when another friend of mine (who also knows David) asked if I wanted to see and hear the San Francisco Symphony (last night) at Carnegie Hall. Of course I did, I told him enthusiastically, logging on to the venue’s website to buy myself a ticket to the concert, which was to feature Michael Tilson Thomas leading the orchestra in the New York premiere of Samuel Carl Adams’ Drift and Providence, Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, with pianist Yuja Wang, and Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68.

A few days after making plans to attend last night’s San Francisco Symphony performance at Carnegie Hall, I learned that David had written an open letter to the San Francisco Symphony’s management explaining why he’d decided to leave and join another orchestra.

In his letter, which was published by the Chicago Sun-Times and other news organizations, David wrote, in part: “Unfortunately there has grown, over time, a cultural disconnect between the San Francisco Symphony management and the musicians of the orchestra who make the music come to life. … In contrast, the management of the Chicago Symphony has worked and committed resources to growing a culture and philosophy that puts the music and the musician first.”

On Saturday, my plans to see and hear the San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall began to change. Reuters reported that the orchestra “canceled a Saturday night concert, the third since the orchestra’s musicians went on strike earlier in the week. Both sides said they were negotiating to try to resolve differences before the 103 symphony players are scheduled to leave next week for a U.S. East Coast tour.”

Then, on Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the San Francisco Symphony “canceled its upcoming East Coast tour with musicians and management still far apart on salaries and benefits.”

While I won’t use this platform to express my opinion, I encourage you to familiarize yourselves with the positions the San Francisco Symphony’s musicians and management have taken, and to share your thoughts on the situation here.

David Brensilver


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