The world of classical music can be a torturous, cut-throat world.
One of the greatest festival choruses in the country — the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which performs with the Boston Symphony — is in an uproar after a new boss required them to reaudition for their jobs and has purged dozens in what members are calling “a bloodbath.”
They’re volunteers, many of them from around the country, who donate hundreds of hours to practice and have to schedule family vacations and functions around the chorus’ schedule.
The new conductor — James Burton — also required the 300 members to take tests that included advanced music theory, the Boston Globe reports.
“[Burton] can populate this chorus with goats if he wants to, no one is debating that, but the way it’s been done is really unconscionable,” said Deirdre Michael, who resigned from the chorus earlier this month, calling the situation a “bloodbath.” “He was very charming when he was the candidate for this job. Everyone was excited, but we auditioned candidate Jekyll and got Mr. Hyde.”
Members say people learned they were ousted in the purge with unsigned form letters.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra boss says he’s sorry if that bothered them.
“All my life decisions in terms of staying here — every major life event — was [influenced by] the TFC,” said Sarah Daniello, who resigned earlier this month after 35 years with the chorus. “With [chorus founder John Oliver] we’d get roaring applause because we sang from our hearts. . . . [Burton] is a very corporate technician, and at this point we get polite applause.”
The chorus’ founder died in April. The new conductor wants to start over, the Globe says.
“He had no empathy for what people are feeling with John Oliver dying,” said Henry Lussier, who resigned this spring after 46 years with the chorus. “[Oliver] gave people wings. He made you feel like anything was possible. [Burton] likes to make people feel like they’re on quicksand.”
There’s more to singing than talent and technique. There’s passion, which several members say is being beaten out of the organization.
The chorus is about to perform at the iconic Tanglewood; its performance will honor those who are being ousted.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to want nothing to do with it,” said Hudson. “They call it the walk of shame.”