Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Symphony Timpanist David Herbert Explains Why He's Ditching S.F. for Chicago Orchestra

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 12:25 PM

David Herbert follows the drum beat to Chicago - JG PERCUSSION

As we told you yesterday, roughly 100 of the SF Symphony musicians went on strike in protest of a prolonged wage battle with their management. The musicians, who canceled today's performance, are demanding a raise, citing the astronomical rent in San Francisco and real concerns that the local talent will leave San Francisco.

In an open letter to symphony management, the musicians crafted a clever analogy for poaching in the orchestra world. "Next season we are losing a world-class timpanist, David Herbert, to Chicago, which would be like the San Francisco Giants losing Buster Posey to the Dodgers."

Apparently, classical music is cutthroat.

To punctuate the ongoing protests, Herbert has decided to publicly explain what led to his departure.

See Also: SF Symphony Goes on Strike

First off, he blames symphony management for creating a "hostile and unappreciative" working environment. Now might be a good time to tell you that his contribution is perhaps one of the coolest parts of the symphony -- he plays the kettle drums that wake everyone up during a dramatic number.

In a letter to the symphony community, which was copied to SF Weekly, Herbert wrote, "I will always admire and respect the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony and our music director, Michael Tilson Thomas, but as an artist and as an employee I want to be in a workplace where I am valued and supported by management, and where I am considered an asset rather than an inconvenience."

Herbert outlined two main gripes with the local Symphony: a cultural disconnect between musicians and management, and a failure to provide musicians with the practice space they need in order to rehearse. He detailed how because of the lack of space, he was forced to rent his own practice area and furnish it with extra instruments.

Now Herbert is leaving the SF Symphony for the Chicago Symphony -- one of only two orchestras where musicians make more money than those in San Francisco's.

Here's his full letter:

For eighteen years I have had the incredible opportunity and privilege to serve as Principal Timpani of the San Francisco Symphony. These years have been the best years of my musical life. As a member of this world class orchestra I have shared with my colleagues the honor of winning multiple Grammy Awards. We have benefited from daring and visionary projects brought to life under the leadership of our Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, and we have had the enduring support of our great audience, a strong donor base, and a generous and enthusiastic Board of Governors.

Unfortunately there has grown, over time, a cultural disconnect between the San Francisco Symphony Management and the musicians of the orchestra who make the music come to life. The increased divide between my colleagues' service to the music and the failure of the San Francisco Symphony Management to recognize such commitment has been disheartening.

In contrast, the Management of the Chicago Symphony has worked and committed resources to growing a culture and philosophy that puts the music and the musician first. They are making that fact very clear by their commitment to me economically and artistically. As a result, my ongoing pursuit of excellence as Principal Timpani of that great orchestra will be allowed to flourish.

The work ethic required from every member of the orchestra is enormous and our practice away from the stage is integral to that excellence. Every musician in the San Francisco Symphony spends at least as much time in our personal practice and preparation as we spend with our colleagues in rehearsal and concerts. As Principal Tympani, the arrangements, organization and support needed to arrange on site access to instruments and space in which to practice is a necessity. The management of the Chicago Symphony has recognized this as a given and have done nothing to impede my abilities to perform at the absolute highest level by offering ease and unrestricted access to instruments and consistently reliable space in which to practice at Orchestra Hall.

Again, in sad contrast this has not been the case with the Management of the San Francisco Symphony. While I have had support and as much encouragement from our stage technicians as they could provide under difficult conditions, I have had no cooperation from our management and instead have encountered only a negative attitude with little or no attempts at problem solving. This has exacerbated an already impossibly challenging and unmanageable workplace. I was eventually forced to rent, at my own expense, practice space at another location and to purchase additional instruments.

I will always admire and respect the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony and our Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, but as an artist and as an employee I want to be in a workplace where I am valued and supported by management, and where I am considered an asset rather than an inconvenience.

And there's his swan song.

  • Pin It

About The Author

Kate Conger

Kate Conger has written for SF Weekly since 2011.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"