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The Veterans of Classical Music

Getting older can be a delightful experience for performers of classical music. At Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, June 6, the Senior Concert Orchestra will perform a program of works by Mozart and Elgar, among others, conducted by David Gilbert. The orchestra, composed of retired professional musicians from the New York area, has been performing since 1966 as an offshoot of the Senior Musicians’ Association, part of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. The Carnegie Hall audience will experience the pleasure of hearing orchestral musicians playing solely for the joy of it, a rare phenomenon.

Decades ago, Frank Jankovitz—one of the Senior Concert Orchestra’s founders—identified longevity with creative wisdom. And last year, in a study from the British Psychological Society’s Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, orchestral musicians explained that playing in an orchestra was the “essential means by which they could socialize with like-minded people, and experience camaraderie, teamwork, solidarity, and friendship.” Hence they felt a “lifelong passion for music and music performance.”

This kind of passion can be heard for free on Wednesday (tickets are available at the box office before the concert). If you like what you hear, and have the means, you might think of making a voluntary donation to Local 802’s Fund for Disabled Musicians or its Emergency Relief Fund.

Alas, such joy and continuity are scarcely available for music writers who are retired—sometimes forcibly—after years of service. Peter G. Davis’s summary dismissal, after decades of writing music criticism for New York, is a loss to our local culture. Davis wrote informative, cogent, and tasteful articles, making him a rare commodity among critics. Undaunted by the often-stagnant classical music scene in New York, where the same podium-hogging conductors repeatedly perform the same works with the same ensembles, Davis invariably lent a fresh ear to each performance. He could be demanding and acerbic with performers, but always held the highest artistic ideals in view.

Davis is reportedly planning to retire to his country home and work on a (very welcome) revised edition of his still-unrivalled The American Opera Singer: The Lives & Adventures of America’s Great Singers in Opera & Concert from 1825 to the Present. But this is cold comfort to faithful readers of his magazine work. Worse still, Davis’s dismissal echoes the way other veteran music critics are currently being treated. In 2005, the stellar Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer accepted, as he reports, a “blanket early-retirement incentive offer made to every employee who had been [at the Globe] seven years or more,” after long years of devotion to the cause of classical music in New England.*

These oustings are rarely, if ever, commented on in print—either because salaried music critics are an envious bunch, or because they fear a similar fate. It is thus left to classical-music lovers themselves to take a moment to defend the veteran critics whom they appreciate (by writing letters to the editor, for instance) before they go the way of Dyer and Davis.

*This sentence originally misstated the terms under which Dyer left the Globe.



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