The Santa Monica Symphony

You probably already know that I play in the Santa Monica Symphony and that there is some weird bad stuff happening there, with right-wing radio host Dennis Prager invited to guest-conduct half of a fundraising concert.

I signed this open letter, and then was contacted by the Santa Monica Daily Press. I don’t know what they’re going to publish or when, but here are their questions and my answers:


Q: whether you’re playing

A:  I am not playing. I did not know who Prager was before Guido [Lamell, our conductor] announced he would be our guest. When I Googled him, the first thing that came up was his Twitter, and his post at that moment was in favor of eliminating the NEA. The Santa Monica Symphony has gotten NEA grants, as has the LA Philharmonic and just about every local cultural institution you can name, from Beyond Baroque to Self-Help Graphics. Why would we fundraise with someone who wants to destroy one of our sources of funds? Beyond this, of course, Prager insists that many members of the orchestra and community are abnormal, un-American, or subhuman: LGBT people, Muslims, atheists, etc. I do not think an event with him can be apolitical. Prager is not an artist who also just happens to believe or do terrible things (like Richard Wagner or Bill Cosby); promoting these ideas is his life’s work. It is an insult to the orchestra and audience to lend him our stage. I am heartbroken that Guido would do this.
Q: how many other SMSO musicians you think are concerned.
A: I don’t know. We haven’t met since the May 28 concert, and there wasn’t much discussion before then.
Q: Is it just a small minority?
A:  My impression, from a few brief conversations and some gossip, is that many people are concerned and that the orchestra’s board was quite divided. While musicians may wish Prager wasn’t involved, quite a few want to support the orchestra no matter what. Many are also excited about the opportunity to play Disney Hall. I also want the orchestra to thrive and think that associating ourselves with a hatemonger will alienate many of our fans and supporters.
Q: Are they active in trying to persuade others not to play or buy tickets?
A: Some are, as you can see from the open letter. I respect the other members’ choices to play or not. I understand that there are a lot of factors. For example, for those whose careers depend on freelance playing, maintaining connections and a reputation as easy to work with are very important.
Q: Have you heard from audience members about the decision to feature Prager?
A: Yes. Several friends, family members, co-workers, and musicians in other groups have asked me WTF is going on. It is sad. I joined after the 2013 organizational crisis, when Guido saved the orchestra from folding, and it has been a tremendous experience playing to consistently sold-out halls with some of LA and the world’s top musicians. Guido is not only a superb conductor, but he is so generous with his knowledge that I would often leave a rehearsal feeling like I had been to a strings master class. The Santa Monica Symphony has been an excellent orchestra, respected by musicians and loved by the community. Inviting Prager may have ruined this experience for a lot of people in and out of the band. I recommend that anyone concerned contact the symphony via info@smsymphony.org

I hope you can tell from this that my main emotions are disappointment and grief. Because of Proposition 13, there was no orchestra at my junior high or high school. I was a self-taught jazz and rock bassist, then eventually started getting offered gigs where I had to play as part of a string section rather than a rhythm section and my intonation and bowing had to suck less. So, I started taking lessons, and I quickly discovered that classical players know some stuff about the instrument the rest of us don’t. Imagine playing jazz with Renaud Garcia-Fons’ technique! (BTW, who’s got the Francois Rabbath/Ornette Coleman tape?) That was never going to be me, but anyway, I worked hard, felt real accomplishment that I’d made it into this band (and that I had a regular gig playing music everyone understood and respected, for a change), and now what? I’m not fired, as far as I know, but can I really go back in the fall like everything’s cool?

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