Stage Fright

Musicians of the Florida Philharmonic were none too pleased by the settlement of this fall's strike

Beethoven's Symphony no. 6 in F major, op. 68, "Pastorale," has five movements. The first, allegro ma non troppo, describes the awakening of cheerful feelings on arriving in the countryside. But Tina Raimondi's pale yellow house is in Oakland Park, not the countryside, and despite a neatly trimmed lawn, it's hardly pastoral.

Sipping from blue plastic cups and nibbling from a potluck spread of cheese, tabbouleh, raw vegetables, and dip, Raimondi's guests look like any group of young professionals at a party, except for the conversation, that is. They talk animatedly about the contract they have just signed with the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra.

They are musicians, and they are angry. Despite a front-page headline in the day's Sun-Sentinel proclaiming a "season of healing," their wounds are fresh and raw. They just played Beethoven's fifth and sixth symphonies, but cheerful feelings on arriving at a five-year contract agreement are few and far between.

Cut loose from their ties and tails and fueled by beer, wine, and a postperformance rush, they lash out at conductor James Judd ("Not a nice man," says one. "Megalomaniac," insists another) and FPO chairman and Miami Heraldpublisher Alberto Ibargüen. ("You better know what you're up against when you're up against Ibargüen.")

One musician scoffs at the idea that they are embarking on a season of healing: "Now that I've played the Fifth, I feel so much better," he says, scorn boiling in his voice. "I'm as mad as I was when I went on stage."

Still, he was on stage, not on strike. When the monthlong stoppage was finally settled October 25, musicians got a 30 percent pay raise over five years and South Florida, which has long battled an image as a cultural backwater, got a reprieve.

And nobody really was happy. In many ways the contract was just another cease-fire in a bitter, decadelong battle. On Friday, December 8, executive director Elizabeth Hare announced her resignation. The 2000­2001 season of the Florida Philharmonic is now under way, but trouble lingers.


If the strike had ended the FPO, it would not have been the first time a labor dispute silenced classical music in South Florida. In the early 1980s, the Miami-based Florida Philharmonic -- no relation to the present-day FPO -- folded in the wake of a strike. Although the labor dispute was not the first Philharmonic's death knell (it was beset by debt and eventually went bankrupt), memory of the disbanded group nonetheless cast a pall on the FPO's 2000 contract talks.

The first Florida Philharmonic was started by University of Miami president Henry King Stanford in 1964. Stanford believed the region would support the University of Miami Symphony, then a quasi-professional group. So he stopped subsidizing it. Comprised of faculty, students, and some professionals, the Greater Miami Philharmonic soon began performing. At first it flourished. Philanthropist Maurice Gusman bought and remodeled the old Olympia Theater in Miami for the orchestra, and the place was renamed the Gusman Philharmonic Hall; it's still one of the city's best-known buildings.

Gusman then plowed through a string of orchestra managers until 1977, when a man named Norman Blankman took over as president. Hoping to draw support from fast-growing Broward and Palm Beach counties, he changed its name to the Florida Philharmonic. The public didn't respond well to the music or the name change, and the orchestra fell into debt until bank executive Marshall Harris took over in 1980. Although Harris and others raised enough money to keep the organization afloat, trouble arose when musicians demanded peer review before a musician could be fired.

After 17 months of negotiation and a five-month strike, the orchestra was folded by an 18-to-1 vote of the board July 21, 1982. Not surprisingly management blamed workers. "The musicians have caused this," orchestra president Harris told The Miami Herald. "They committed suicide by not accepting our proposals, and actually it was a very small group of players who forced this situation to a head. They thought they would get yet another offer, but enough is enough."

Three years later the Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton symphonies were joined. The resulting new FPO was a marriage of old and new.

The old Fort Lauderdale Symphony had been founded in 1949. In April 1983 Joseph Leavitt, former executive director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, had come aboard. He was the one who masterminded the merger, even as he quelled rumors of it.

The Boca Raton Symphony Orchestra was newer, founded by trumpeter Paul McRae in 1982. McRae was a veteran of labor disputes. After enduring two strikes as a member of the Rochester Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s, he left the RSO and his musical career for more stable work. He took a job in real-estate marketing and moved his wife and two children to Florida. But word of mouth about McRae's musical talent led to an audition with the Fort Lauderdale Symphony, and McRae, who hadn't played in years, won the job. Six years later, when the first FPO folded, he gathered its remaining players, along with some freelancing colleagues, and built the short-lived Boca Symphony.

After the merger Leavitt became intent on building the new orchestra into a strong organization serving, and being supported by, three counties. Said to have opposed the joining of the two groups, McRae left to conduct the Greensboro Orchestra in North Carolina. (He later abruptly resigned from Greensboro and returned to real estate.) Conductor James Judd joined this new FPO in 1986 and the following year took on the role of music director. He attempted to persuade management to refrain from budget cuts that would affect the orchestra's performance.

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