SANDOR BALINT (1928-2014)
by Duncan Patton
The MET Orchestra mourns the passing of Sandor Balint, 86, a member of the Met’s first violin section since 1956 and a member of Local 802 since 1945. He died on June 13. Sandy’s contributions to the MET Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera are immeasurable, not only as a superb musician, but as a longtime member and chair of the orchestra’s negotiating committee.
Sandy Balint grew up in the South Bronx and Harlem. He began violin lessons at the age of seven and subsequently entered Music and Art High School. At the age of 17, Leonard Bernstein accepted him into the newly formed New York City Symphony. Shortly thereafter he joined the New York City Opera orchestra. He made his Carnegie Recital Hall debut in 1956. In the same year, he won auditions for both the Met and the New York Philharmonic. He liked to say that the Met paid better at that time, due to the extra recording work the company was doing. That work dried up shortly after he began, but he wound up staying for 58 years anyway! In addition to his performing at the Met, he performed and also organized numerous concerts of solo and chamber music in and around Bronxville, where he made his home. These often included his wife Joyce, a violinist and mandolinist.
Sandy was first elected to the MET Orchestra’s negotiating committee in 1959. He went on to participate in numerous negotiations and served as chair of the committee for every negotiation from 1977 to 2000. Prior to 1960, musician contracts were negotiated in a private meeting between the local union president and the manager of the MET. Orchestra members played seven performances a week. There was no insurance, no pension, no sick pay and no job security. In the early years, much of the battle was actually with the union, in the attempt to gain direct musician representation at the bargaining table. Sandy was on the committee for the historic one-day strike of 1966, when, after two and a half years of playing without a contract, leading up to the opening of the new opera house at Lincoln Center, the orchestra achieved the five-performance contract, medical insurance, a five-week vacation, and the right to arbitration.
By 1980, Sandy was the chair of the committee and led the orchestra through its second major job action, the four-month lockout which resulted in the four-performance contract. This was the most bitter period in the Met’s labor history and would not have had a successful resolution without the leadership and great personal courage of Sandy Balint. He went on to lead committees which built upon this success. The respect the orchestra commanded in these years enabled him to negotiate a series of early settlements, which helped the Met to flourish through a long era of labor peace. It is not too much to say that the artistic growth and increased international renown which the orchestra achieved throughout the 1980s and 90s was built upon the hard-fought gains achieved through the strength of a unified orchestra, led by its committee chair, Sandor Balint. We remember Sandy with immense gratitude, as a colleague and as a leader.
Duncan Patton is the principal timpanist of the MET Orchestra.
JULIUS RUDEL (1921-2014)
by Susan and Garry Spector
The MET Orchestra mourns the loss of Maestro Julius Rudel, 93, who died on June 26. He was a beloved figure in the New York opera scene for almost 70 years and had been a member of Local 802 since 1941.
Maestro Rudel was one of the founding fathers of New York City Opera from its formation in the 1940s. He spearheaded the growth of City Opera while music director (until 1980) and was a driving force behind the careers of Beverly Sills, Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes and Samuel Ramey, among countless others.
He made his Met debut in October 1978, conducting Massenet’s “Werther” with Placido Domingo and Elena Obraztsova. He went on to conduct 269 performances of 20 works at the Met, including the Met premiere of Handel’s “Samson” with Jon Vickers in 1986. He conducted 42 performances of “Madama Butterfly,” 37 of “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” and 30 of “La Boheme.” He conducted “Il Trovatore” on the Met’s tour of Japan in 1988 and was a familiar presence at the Met’s parks series. His final performance with the Met took place in Montclair, New Jersey in 2005, conducting “Samson et Dalila.”
Many of us fondly remember the charm and élan he brought to his performances with us as well as the dignity he brought to his craft and the mutual respect which we held for each other.
We also enjoyed seeing a more personal side of him. It is an ongoing tradition within the MET Orchestra that each March, Principal Oboist Elaine Douvas bakes one of her delicious cakes and brings it, along with champagne on ice, to the Met cafeteria for an elegant “March birthdays” celebration. This takes place every year during one of the intermissions of a performance sometime in the month of March. Maestro Rudel shared a March birthday and was always issued an invitation to the party when his schedule was such that he was in the house at that time. He never missed a party, and he so obviously enjoyed fraternizing with us.
Susan Spector is second oboist of the MET Orchestra. Both of the tributes on this page first appeared at www.MetOrchestraMusicians.org.