Upper balconies in Guadalajara’s august Teatro Degollado resounded with bad vibrations on the evening of Friday, June 19, as a cadre of ticket holders in sympathy with musicians who have been “congelados” (frozen out) and replaced by players on short contracts staged an unprecedented protest lasting a few minutes.
A chorus of boos rumbled through the darkened auditorium just as the director of the Jalisco Philharmonic Orchestra, Marco Parisotto, took the stage after the intermission in the all-Tchaikovsky program, ready to lead the orchestra in its third piece of the night, “Francesca da Rimini.”
The protesters may have numbered as few as ten, but their chants, augmented by the hall’s excellent acoustics, made them seem as many as 50.
“Queremos nuestra orquesta!” (We want our orchestra), they shouted, and “Fuera!” (Get out) — apparently aimed at the “scab” contract musicians.
The surprised audience appeared to respond reflexively to the interruption, taking up a counter-chant, “Queremos la musica!” (We want music) and applauding Parisotto when he asked the protesters, “Quieren salir?” (Do you want to leave?).
Parisotto, surrounded on the stage by pained-looking musicians, then responded to the audience support, declaring, “Hay gente que pagó su boleto” (There are people who paid for their tickets).
When the protesters renewed their chants, one or two audience members screamed their support of Parisotto and others taunted the protesters with “Fuera!” The disturbance soon dissolved, although discontented boos sputtered to life again at the end of “Francesca de Rimini.” Some in the audience then renewed their show of support for Parisotto with a standing ovation.
Behind the theater after the concert, a longtime orchestra member who had been onstage that night, when asked about the disturbance responded, “I don’t get involved,” typifying the understandable reluctance of those in the rank and file to comment on the freeze-outs and sidelinings, forced retirements, hiring of outside musicians on contract, unexpected auditions for longtime players, the move to unionize and the reported authoritarianism in the administration.
Others were willing to speak out, but not to be named. “The people being frozen out are some bad musicians and, also, people who are trying to organize a union,” explained an orchestra insider, adding “I’ve never heard our orchestra play so well as they did ‘Francesca da Rimini.’”
But another asked why the group should be referred to as “our orchestra” since, “In ‘our orchestra,’ there only remain 12 musicians. Now it isn’t the same JPO. The only thing that remains is the name.”
Speaking about bad musicians, another musician explained that, “There are always a few ‘rotten apples’ that try to get by putting in as little effort as necessary, but they are definitely in the small minority here. A great director inspires musicians to be great, he doesn’t just replace them all willy-nilly.
What this guy is doing is just ridiculous! There’s practically no one left! And it’s not just the locals or the Mexicans — he is replacing everybody, including the foreigners.”
“I was upset by the disturbance,” admitted a longtime musician who played Friday night. “And ‘Francesca da Rimini’ has a disturbing theme, which added to my emotion.” (The piece is based on a part of Dante’s famed poem “The Divine Comedy” in which the poet encounters Francesca da Rimini in Hell.)
“The only time I’ve heard of something similar was when Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ premiered in Paris and the audience rioted,” noted another observer.
Local media in the main have voiced criticism of the protesters, with a writer in the city’s oldest newspaper El Informador calling them “reventadoras” (troublemakers). However, in newer and unedited electronic media such as Facebook, support for Parisotto and the orchestra administration is scarce.
“The intention is to fire the ‘frozen’ members, since they represent a very big economic load, and to eliminate their positions and later have only workers with short contracts,” alleged one comment posted on Informador’s webpage with the above article.
On Monday, a bombshell was dropped on alternapalabra.com when Jose Gorostiza, a distinguished conductor with a long history of artistic and administrative involvement in Jalisco orchestras, published an open letter to Governor Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval criticizing director Parisotto for “a great injustice” against those local musicians he has tarred as “technically deficient.”
And on Tuesday, another development rocked the scene when Gorostiza’s wife, JPO violinist and co-concertmaster of 25 to 30 years, Jolanta Michalewicz, won the first step in her labor lawsuit against the orchestra. (Michalewicz had recently been moved to the body of the orchestra— see Guadalajara Reporter, May 15.)
Ironically, Parisotto had asserted on the afternoon just before the outburst at Teatro Degollado, that “there is no crisis in the OFJ, only people inventing one.”
In Sunday’s concert, according to a comment on the newspaper page criticizing the protesters, there were “private security guards to avoid another blow-out,” although, the writer stated, there should be freedom of expression in a public building and “there is nothing illegal about booing.”
An observer at that concert reported shouts at the beginning of the performance. “I suspect protesters were ushered out,” he said.