Phil of Themselves

The passing of the Philharmonic is a tragedy, but that doesn't mean the musicians don't have an attitude problem

"No significant progress," the directors of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra said last week, admitting that the organization's liquidity situation remained all but hopeless. "Bungling" and "unfortunate," wrote the Sun-Sentinel's Lawrence Johnson of what looks to go down as the Phil's final performance.

Can you blame the orchestra's musicians -- sitting in that uncomfortable chair with the warden's hand on the switch while waiting for the governor to call -- for a lack of focus? Maybe Johnson should try playing Puccini with a pink slip for a paycheck. "The first time it affected my concentration was a concert a few days ago," says Mariusz Wojtowicz, a veteran FPO violinist living in Boca Raton, "when suddenly everybody realized that this is probably the last week."

Marion Myszko, who has spent the past 14 years playing violin with the philharmonic, sees the orchestra's flameout as a criminal scheme. "Obviously, this is some -- I don't know how to call it -- some kind of conspiracy," he says. "To shut us down, you know?" Like many of his comrades, Myszko wants someone to blame. "I'm disappointed at the community, the politicians, the bureaucrats, whoever," he continues, adding that the Phil's management sits atop his hit list. "They are speaking from both sides of their mouth. In January, they said things are perfect, everything's falling in place. They are playing with us, with our lives. They are disrespectful of our profession, almost like they came here to destroy it. It seems like they are laughing to our faces."

What about the public, which hasn't provided support in terms of funding or attendance? "That's a huge part of it," Myszko continues. "We spend so much time in school, but for them, we are just nobodies. They want a saloon orchestra for the barrooms, just to entertain them. That's all."

Pardon me for not feeling more sympathy for the plight of these musicians, but many of them aren't willing to address what audiences consider entertainment in 2003. And barring educators and NPR fanatics, the public doesn't care about classical music enough to consider the Phil's loss a tragedy. The musicians have lost touch with reality here, the reality that advises one to think twice before devoting a lifetime to practicing and sweating and bleeding for a noble profession that's obviously heading the way of the blacksmith. There's a sense of elitism among them -- as if classical music deserves to be first in line -- and a sense of isolation, as if orchestra members are a misunderstood and persecuted species. As their kind gradually fades into extinction, these stressors multiply and musicians develop an inflated sense of entitlement -- that somehow they're owed work, that their labors of love must pay dividends in perpetuity, even as the base of support crumbles away beneath them.

"They were too good to speak to the hired help, especially the ones that didn't have a doctorate in music and dared to call themselves a musician," says Bandwidth's unnamed source, who played in a local rock band while working for the Philharmonic and ended up sickened by what he calls the "musician attitude." Myszko let out an audible groan when he learned that Bandwidth was nothing more than a self-taught amateur bass guitarist without a lick of classical training. That's exactly the stance that will sink live classical music in this country for good.

Nobody's disputing that the Philharmonic instrumentalists have been jerked around more than Paul Reubens' photo collection. But they insist on harboring antiquated notions concerning the demand for their craft. This shaky grasp of reality, coupled with classical music's falling stock, means even those musicians in successful markets like Minneapolis and New York City have reason to fear the future. The situation's worse in South Florida, where white, upper-crust, blue-blooded Europeans never had a chance to monopolize the cultural landscape. The influences from Africa and the Caribbean were never ghettoized here, never relegated to the back of the bus -- or the Schwann Catalog -- as in the rest of America. In the years to come, the rest of the nation's large cities will come to more closely resemble South Florida's modern multicultural mixture. And with those changes, classical music is likely to possess less and less relevance.

"It's a really tragic moment for Florida," Wojtowicz says, "and slowly I realized that maybe there is no need for classical music here. And I'm very disappointed." Of course, the demise of the Philharmonic is a tragedy that calls into question the priorities of our population. But unlike its almost-as-elitist offspring, modern jazz, classical music isn't adept at cultivating new players and listeners among the young (especially non-white kids), so the genre's very survival is in peril. Just like Sunday's Latin mass, all things must pass.

 
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