Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Bait and Switch

January 06, 2010


Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera

The Los Angeles Times today reports that flutist Mathieu Dufour has reneged on his reported plans to leave the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the principal flutist spot with the Los Angeles Philharmonic he had assumed earlier this season. Having fulfilled the obligations of a trial period with the orchestra here in L.A., Dufour has elected to leave in favor of continuing his relationship with the CSO according to the reports. Dufour has received wild praise in the press and I among many other L.A. Philharmonic fans have noticed his superb contributions to shows this season and last since his appointment by Esa-Pekka Salonen in 2008. While the L.A. Times article goes on to offer a myriad of potential reasons why Dufour has backed out of the position after his trial period ended, it also points to disparaging remarks he made about his time with the L.A. Philharmonic so far this year that appeared in yesterday’s Chicago Sun-Times.

So take your pick. Did Dufour back out as he is quoted as saying because he discovered suddenly that our local orchestra has “no tradition of sound and no tradition of working together as a dedicated ensemble”? Or was it the reported pending shoulder surgery or love of all things Midwestern? Certainly while all these are possibilities, it seems odd that these issues weren’t clear earlier in the process of hiring a new principal flutist. Which leads me to wonder what else could possibly be different in the orchestra of 2008 that he signed on to for a probationary period compared to the orchestra of 2009? Could it be that the love fest with new music director Gustavo Dudamel is not all it’s cracked up to be as the organization’s PR machine would have you believe? Back in September, the L.A. Times told us the Dudamel had actively interacted with Dufour and "spoke with him very extensively" on prior visits to Chicago. But it appears that if there had been any selling of the L.A. Philharmonic position going on at the time, it hasn't panned out that way now. Maybe the Salonen L.A. Philharmonic was a little more tempting than the reality of the haphazard playing we’ve had here since his departure. I would imagine it would be very different joining an organization that has a reputation as a leader in the contemporary music world from one that has a lot of ¡electrico! but lots and lots of work to do on their sound. Or maybe not.



Instead of quoting newspapers and speculate, let's see what Mathieu himself wrote to the LA Phil musicians just two days ago.

"Due to personal circumstances, I felt it very necessary to return to Chicago in January. As some of you may have heard, I need to have shoulder surgery this February, and felt it best to have the surgery in Chicago, and remain there during my recovery.
I would like to address a recent article published by a newspaper critic in Chicago, in which I was grossly misquoted. I beg you not to pay any attention to it. The Chicago reporters seem to like slanting every article to favor Chicago’s orchestra, even if it makes everyone else look bad. I never said or thought any negative things about the LA Phil, in fact I feel quite the opposite.
The decision to leave LA was extremely difficult for me, as I had a truly memorable and enjoyable time playing with all of you. For me, the concerts we played together were a thrill and I was excited to be on board the new journey that the orchestra is taking with Gustavo Dudamel. For my colleagues in the wind section, I felt that we had a wonderful rapport with each other and were forming a tremendous bond that was very difficult for me to leave.
My fiancé and I have very personal reasons for our decision to go back to Chicago. My decision to leave your orchestra does not diminish in any way my warm memories of the time we spent together, nor my feelings about the kind of musicians you all are. It is my deepest hope that you will please not pay attention to any kind of media that may be written about this, as the papers seem to distort everything I’ve ever said, and this has been extremely upsetting to me.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for your orchestra, for all of you as colleagues, and for the great things that you will surely do in the years ahead. I will always look back on my time in LA with nostalgia, and wish you all the very best success and great times to come."

Looks pretty clear to me.
Sure. Why not? It sounds as good as anything Tiger Woods has had to say in a press release over the last few months.

I'm sure Patner made the quotes in the Sun-Times article up just for kicks. And heaven knows there are no orthopedic surgeons here in LA either.

Get real. Neither the biased version of reality in the "newspaper" pieces nor the damage control letter that followed likely reveal the complete truth. More likely is something in between. Dufour changed his mind for his own reasons and then took bait that was offered to him by the press to make comments about the relative merits of the "Chicago sound" which didn't look so polite later when taken out of context.

If his letter makes artists from the LA Phil feel better after a perceived insult, bully for them.
The letter from Mathieu shows beyond any doubt that he and Patner cannot both be telling the truth. At least one of them is a liar. That means that the quotes attributed to Mathieu by Patner were either invented by a liar or uttered by one. In either case, those quotes should be dismissed and ignored because they have zero credibility. The end of story.
Hardly. It is true that either Patner or Dufour is lying. Why should we assume that the quotes in Patner's articles are lies? It is just a plausible that the quotes are true and when they later became embarrassing the letter was used to try and undo them.

Furthermore, nowhere in the letter, as it was published in the LA Times at least, does Dufour actually deny making the comments attributed to him. He states he was "misquoted', but that's not exactly a denial, is it?

The classical music world is one that is uniformly polite and respectful in public almost to a fault. However, privately musicians and artists of all stripes hold the kind of opinions attributed to Dufour by Patner. While they may not be true, they are hardly outside of the realm of possibility. I've heard plenty of performers dis colleagues and peers when they figure they are sufficiently out of range. In fact it was this very rupture of the sense of decorum that led to the letter to begin with. Who cares wether or not Dufour made disparaging remarks about the LA Phil? He's still employed. I imagine musicians of the LA Phil can handle it one way or another. Why bother with an apology letter at all unless you did something you felt bad about in the first place. If the quotes in Patner's article weren't true and Dufour was well known privately by all parties involved not to hold such opinions in the first place, why would he even right such a letter to apologize. Obviously he was worried someone involved has reason to take the quotes seriously.
And if you don't believe me, check out this very reasoned comment from the Culture Monster blog from the LA Phil's own Jim Wilt published today.


"Wow. Just wow. I didn’t realize orchestras were competing against one another, like sports teams. I thought we were in the business of creating music. While I think it is great that some of you are very proud of the CSO (they are a great orchestra), it’s not a competition. On any given day, orchestra B can play every bit as good as orchestra A, and it does not detract from orchestra A one bit. There is plenty of room for great music.

This is an unfortunate situation. Not so much that Mathieu has chosen to return to Chicago – he tried LA and found that the CSO was a better fit for him, for whatever reason. It is better for both orchestras that he is in a place where he feels he belongs. LA survived before him, and we will do just fine after him. The unfortunate part is that there were missteps on both sides of this situation, with a journalist sitting on the sidelines licking his chops at the prospect of a good story. The LA Phil should not have announced his appointment until it was final; I’m quite sure that won’t happen again. Mathieu knows by now that nothing said to a journalist is “off the record”. While we were all a little hurt by that Sun Times article, we were all joking about it within a few hours of it breaking. If anything, it gave us a little rallying point, and was the punch line to a very funny moment mid-rehearsal this week. The letter that Mathieu sent was written with good intent, but I don’t think anybody was buying it. I’m sure he felt badly about the possibility of hurting anyone here – he is a good guy, albeit naïve. I personally would have respected him more if he just admitted that he said what he said, but didn’t expect to see it in the paper. That it is found its way into the hands of the journalists was shameful, and did nothing but perpetuate this ridiculous non-story. Let him get on with his life.

I find it distressing that so many of you feel the need to pile on right now, taking every (anonymous) cheap shot you can at this orchestra, which is not a faceless entity, but one comprised of human beings going out on stage each day and doing the best job we know how to do. These people are my friends and colleagues, and I am proud to share the stage with them. From where is this vitriol coming? There seems to be some hidden agendas being exercised here, by folks lacking the courage to identify themselves. Here’s some advice: if you don’t like listening to us, find another orchestra worthy of your time – there are plenty out there right now in need of support.

Jim Wilt, LA Phil"
You have just demonstrated how easy it is to distort other people's words. In one of your comments above, you have managed to misrepresent both my and Mathieu's statements.
You are asking: "Why should we assume that the quotes in Patner's articles are lies?" Who said we should? Of course we shouldn't, and i certainly have never made such an assumption, but your comment seems to imply that i have, which is untrue. You continue: "It is just a[s] plausible that the quotes are true and when they later became embarrassing the letter was used to try and undo them." If by "true" you mean that those statements were in fact made by Mathieu, then you are absolutely correct and i have never denied such a possibility. But my point is that if the quotes were genuine, then Mathieu showed himself to be a liar by denying making them, which makes the content of all his statements highly suspect and therefore unworthy of serious discussion.
You also stated that "nowhere in the letter, as it was published in the LA Times at least, does Dufour actually deny making the comments attributed to him. He states he was "misquoted', but that's not exactly a denial, is it?" Nothing can be further from the truth. What he actually wrote was - "grossly misquoted" - which is probably the strongest possible term. Then he also wrote: "I never said or thought any negative things about the LA Phil, in fact I feel quite the opposite." That certainly is an emphatic denial of all those negative comments attributed to him. He then added: "the papers seem to distort everything I’ve ever said." Can't be much clearer than that. You are also questioning the need for his apologizing if he was not guilty of those remarks. But the letter makes it perfectly clear that he is apologizing for leaving the orchestra so abruptly in the middle of the season without saying goodbye to his LA Phil colleagues - not for the statements that according to him he never made. There are no contradictions there.
As far as Jim Wilt is concerned, i can only say that he is a marvelous musician and a very fine man - i like Jim and respect him very much. But that does not mean that i have to agree with every word he has ever said. In this particular case, i do agree with many of his points, but not all of them.
So, i do stand by my earlier comments fully and with complete confidence. The two scenarios that i described (and you seem to agree with me on that) are the only ones possible, which means that in either case those infamous quotes attributed to Mathieu by Patner should be ignored because they have zero credibility.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?



Opera Reviews '10-'11

Opera Reviews '09-'10

Opera Reviews '06-'09

L.A. Phil Reviews '09/'10

L.A. Phil Reviews '08/'09

L.A. Theater Reviews


Follow Along


Los Angeles

Follow me on Twitter