Music: Rhapsody in White

Boris Sokoloff, manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra, says, "I’ve been with orchestras for 25 years. Boards never have anything to do with who’s in the orchestra. They could be bigots and it wouldn’t make the slightest difference. They have nothing to do with selecting musicians." In the Philadelphia Orchestra and in every other orchestra, it is the musical director who makes the final choice. Usually he calls on opinions of first chair men, the concert master and personnel director if he wants them, but he is the one who is responsible for the ultimate decision.

That is why the case before the New York Human Relations Commission, in which two musicians are accusing the New York Philharmonic of having refused them employment solely because of race, is so curious. The charges are leveled against the Philharmonic Society rather than against Leonard Bernstein, who was then musical director. Hearings began July 10th and were still dragging on in October. When Bernstein was called to testify at the end of September he was puzzled and reportedly a bit peeved since his name had been dropped from the case.

There is something almost comically ironic about a man who has for so long been associated with civil rights causes having to defend himself against charges of discrimination.

Complainants J. Arthur Davis and Earl Madison (the cellist who was turned down by Philadelphia) had both been permitted to play in final auditions, Bernstein testified, in 1961 and 1967, respectively, even though they had not passed preliminaries. In fact, Bernstein indicated that this had been done because of their race. But they didn’t have it.

Very few black musicians show up for symphony orchestra auditions. According to Bernstein, the problem is that very few Negroes have been prepared for classical musical careers because of lack of proper training, bad teachers and the economics of the long periods of preparation that are necessary. "It’s basically a societal problem," he said at the hearing. "I don’t think there’s any lack of musical talent among black people. But many young blacks, musically gifted, to this day still demur at the prospect of what lies ahead — the long, hard years of study coupled with a defeatist notion, ‘I’ll never make it anyway and some people are against me.’ "

In the past some people surely were against them — or if not actively against them, then certainly not actively for them. A knowledgeable source close to the Philadelphia Orchestra says, "People waited too long. There are extremely few musicians available now. To wake up suddenly at this late date…" He shakes his head sadly. "The system just isn’t conducive to preparing anyone quickly."