Peer Review – A Well-Established Practice


Volume CII, No. 9September, 2002

Lenny Leibowitz

Following is the text of a letter Local 802 counsel Lenny Leibowitz sent to the New York Times, in an effort to clarify the issues in the Mostly Mozart negotiations. The Times chose not to run the letter.

In the Metro article entitled “Echoes Feared from Mostly Mozart Strike” (July 31), Robin Pogrebin writes: “. . . the peer review process is beginning to gain currency in the rest of the country. The North Carolina Symphony Orchestra and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra of Ohio have adopted it.”

The fact is that peer review of dismissals of musicians in symphony orchestras for alleged artistic deficiencies has existed in this country since 1969. Currently, besides the two orchestras mentioned by Ms. Pogrebin, over 65 other orchestras throughout the nation use the precise system of peer review as proposed by the Mostly Mozart Orchestra musicians. Some on that list include the orchestras of San Francisco, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Houston and the orchestra which originated it in 1969, the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.

Basically, the process is that a committee of musicians (the only other employees of the institution who are qualified to evaluate musicianship), elected by the orchestra, hears appeals by musicians who have received notice from the music director that their services will no longer be required because of alleged musical deficiencies. The committee interviews the musician, perhaps other members of his/her section, and the music director, and might ask the aggrieved musician to play a private audition for them. If they conclude by majority vote, taken by secret ballot, that the decision of the music director was based on purely artistic considerations, and that the musician was treated fairly – e.g., given notice of the alleged problems, given an opportunity to adjust or improve, etc. – then the decision to dismiss is upheld.

The process has been eminently successful, as demonstrated by the fact that no orchestra which has adopted it has eliminated or significantly modified it, and there have been no reports of any music director candidate for any of these orchestras refusing the job because of the existence of the process.

Obviously, its success depends on the integrity of the musicians who serve on the committee, who must not treat the process as merely lifetime job protection for their colleagues. That integrity is demonstrated by the fact that, over the last 30 years, peer review committees have upheld the music director’s decision over 80 percent of the time.

If music directors had demonstrated such integrity in prior years, and not dismissed musicians for other non-musical reasons “disguised” as artistic, there would never have been a need for the review of their decision by the only other musicians at the institution who are qualified tell whether the decision is reality-based or not.

The musicians of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra are not seeking to break new ground or to join some trendy new fashion. They are merely seeking the same kind of fair treatment and job security that their colleagues throughout the nation have enjoyed for over 30 years.