The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CIV, No. 4April, 2004

The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The views expressed here do not express the views of Local 802. Please keep all letters to 300 words and send them to Allegro, c/o Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036, or e-mail Mikael Elsila, the editor, at


To the Editor:

In reading the president’s report in the March Allegro (“Unplugging the Virtual Orchestra”), I was interested in the claim some might make for using a virtual orchestra machine due to smaller venues or budgets.

I was the music director at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut for 20 years. Anyone who has been to Goodspeed knows it is an intimate space with a very small pit. During my tenure we produced many revivals of old shows by Gershwin and others. These were shows that originally used rather substantial orchestras, anywhere from 24 to 30 musicians.

Due to space constraints at Goodspeed, 12 musicians were about the maximum I could use. Considering the style of these old shows, and the periods in which they were written, I was determined to maintain an acoustic sound. While the use of virtual orchestras was not an issue (this was before they were in use), I even rejected the idea of replacing musicians with synthesizers. It would not have been a sound consistent with the style of the shows.

Over the years at Goodspeed, I found there were a number of ways to reduce an orchestra from 25-30 to 9-12 and maintain an acoustic sound that would remain true to the style and intent of the original orchestrations.

A string quartet is very effective in a 500-seat theatre. A good acoustic bass player can cover second cello lines. A good trombonist can cover French horn lines. The list goes on. We achieved this without synthesizers. Forget virtual orchestra machines!

The next time smaller venues or budgets are cited as an excuse to use a virtual orchestra machine, it might be well to recall the success of Goodspeed Opera House from 1969 to 1982: we had 62 unamplified productions and not one “music-producing machine” within miles of the pit.

–Lynn Crigler


To the Editor:

My colleague Carlos Izcaray, principal cellist of Orquesta Sinfónica Venezuela, was kidnapped and savagely beaten and tortured by National Guardsmen, in Caracas, Venezuela on March 1.

Izcaray was standing in the street close to his home, watching a demonstration against Hugo Chávez’ regime. Several National Guardsmen approached him. He explained that he was just a spectator, but they beat him up, threw tear gas in his face, arrested him, put him in a military vehicle and took him to headquarters, even after he told them he was the principal cellist of the orchestra and guest conductor for the week. They beat him up some more and applied electricity to his neck and head, and tear gas directly to his face. They also burned cigarettes on his skin and kept beating him up. His lawyer was not allowed to see him at all. But somebody at headquarters took pity on Izcaray and let him make a phone call. This probably saved Izcaray’s life. He was finally released on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Izcaray is in the hospital recovering from his many injuries and from dehydration He does not want to go home, as the National Guardsmen threatened to kill him if he said anything to the media.

Most Venezuelans want the dictator Chávez and his henchmen to step down. His many attempts at sabotaging a referendum have unleashed demonstrations all over the country. To stop them, Chávez has used the National Guard, paramilitary gangs, and the police forces of some cities. Results so far: 11 demonstrators dead; 1,758 wounded, at least nine (among them Izcaray) tortured, and 410 political prisoners. Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN just resigned in protest against these violations of human rights.

–José Bergher