As ICSOM prepares to celebrate our 50th anniversary this August in Chicago, I have been studying the lives and work of the musicians who have held the position of ICSOM chairperson before me, and I am humbled and inspired by their accomplishments. I suspect, though, that many of our current members are unfamiliar with the names and accomplishments of the leaders who are so responsible for the success of ICSOM and who have had such an impact on the lives of musicians today. While the musicianship and leadership of each of these nine former chairs of ICSOM deserve volumes of appreciation, here are a few all-too-brief observations on their achievements.
George Zazofsky (1962–1969)
A retrospective in the April 1972 issue of Senza Sordino said that “between 1962 and 1969, ICSOM and ZAZOFSKY were virtually synonymous.” The first chairperson of ICSOM was a violinist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) from 1941 until 1970, when he left the orchestra to become professor of violin and chamber music studies at the University of Miami. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Zazofsky was an annual soloist with the Boston Pops and also performed the Berg Violin Concerto with the BSO under Erich Leinsdorf. He served on the faculties of Brandeis University and the New England Conservatory of Music.
Zazofsky was a courageous, even revolutionary leader. Senza Sordino described him as “a leader when leadership was what our organization desperately needed.” Under his watch, and under an enormous amount of scrutiny, ICSOM created new bylaws and developed a purpose statement — a statement still in use today. Zazofsky began the movement that would lead to the AFM Symphony, Opera, and Ballet Strike Fund, as well as hiring independent counsel for ICSOM, a move strongly opposed by the AFM. During his tenure, ratification of symphony contracts by the musicians became more common, and ICSOM earned the right to participate in national media negotiations.
Chairman Zazofsky once said, “All these events couldn’t have culminated successfully without the labor of love, dedication, and good common sense which prevailed in all member orchestras.” He passed away on August 19, 1983, at age 69, just three days before he was to have attended the annual ICSOM Conference. The New York Times reported the news of his passing. Today, there is a plaque in Boston’s Symphony Hall honoring George Zazofsky as the first chairperson of ICSOM. The plaque reads, in part, “Symphony, Opera, and Ballet Musicians Are Forever in his Debt.”
Sam Denov (1969–1970)
Born in 1923, Sam Denov remains active as an author, having just published a new memoir, Boom and Crash Musician: A Percussive Memoir (2012). His latest book follows his 2002 opus Symphonic Paradox: The Misadventures of a Wayward Musician as well as a classic instruction book for percussionists, The Art of Playing Cymbals: A Complete Guide and Text for the Artistic Percussionist (1966). [Editor’s Note: Denov’s latest book is available from www.outskirtspress.com/crashandboommusician. There is also an inexpensive Kindle edition (without photographs).]
Chairman Denov joined the percussion section of the Chicago Symphony in 1954 and retired from the orchestra in 1985. A veteran of the United States Navy who served during World War II, he also was previously a member of the San Antonio Symphony and the Pittsburgh Symphony. He served ICSOM in many capacities. He was one of the delegates to ICSOM’s first meeting in 1962, the first vice-chair (1963–1966, and again in 1968–1969), and also served as editor of Senza Sordino (1965–1966).
During Chairman Denov’s tenure, ICSOM initiated a relationship with the National Arts Council and continued the effort to create the AFM Symphony, Opera, and Ballet Strike Fund. He served as one of the first trustees of the Strike Fund. In Chicago, Denov was one of the founders of Chicago Musicians for Union Democracy, which in 1962 defeated James C. Petrillo, veteran president of Local 10 (Chicago) and former AFM president, in one of the pivotal moments that led to the creation of ICSOM. In that capacity, Denov also helped desegregate the Chicago local.
Delegates at the 2009 ICSOM Conference in Norfolk, Virginia passed a resolution by unanimous consent honoring Chairman Denov for “his many contributions as an early leader in the orchestra field” and expressing “ICSOM’s respect and admiration as an ICSOM founder.”
Ralph Mendelson (1970–1974)
The December 1971 issue of Senza Sordino reported:
For the crucial contract committee the members of the New York Philharmonic inevitably look to Ralph Mendelson who has become, over the years, their articulate spokesman and highly skilled negotiator. His keen grasp of detail, his inordinate patience and tenacity have won him the respect of our union chieftains, our legal advisors, and, one can be sure, the respect of management. That his talents have now been recognized by the constituent bodies of ICSOM is a tribute to their good sense.
Chairman Mendelson was a violist with the New York Philharmonic for 26 years, until his untimely passing in 1979 at the age of 52. He was involved with ICSOM from the second meeting in 1962, served as vice-chair (1969–1970), and was one of the first trustees of the AFM Symphony, Opera, and Ballet Strike Fund.
A veteran of the United States Navy and a graduate of Juilliard, he served on the faculty of Hunter College, and performed as a member of the New York Chamber Quintet and the Musical Arts Trio.
To honor the service of Chairman Mendelson, ICSOM established the Mendelson Fund, which has provided scholarships to students for events such as the Congress of Strings. Currently, the fund is maintained by a one dollar per capita dues contribution that provides support for the Sphinx Organization, a wonderful institution that encourages diversity in the field of symphonic music.
Upon his passing, Senza Sordino reported that Chairman Mendelson was “was one of our most knowledgeable and articulate spokesmen … astute, introspective, highly intelligent, totally dedicated and totally involved.”
Irving Segall (1974–1980)
Under the leadership of Chairman Irving Segall, orchestras achieved a new and elevated level of influence within their locals.
A violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1963 until 1994, Segall also served as chair of the Philadelphia Orchestra members Committee, and previously performed with the Baltimore Symphony as well as the WCAU Radio Orchestra. He loved playing so much that even after his retirement from the orchestra he continued to perform as an extra musician with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Known for his wonderful sense of humor, Segall also performed with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis.
During the tenure of Chairman Segall, who had previously served as vice-chair (1972–1974), ICSOM achieved a voice in the grant funding process for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and Segall was ICSOM’s first representative on the panel.
A website, at www.irvingsegall.com, has been established dedicated to his memory. A biography on the website states:
Men who came to the bargaining table pounding fists, ready to plunge political knives into the backs of their opponents, were met by Irv’s love for people and his compassionate nature — and they were calmed. They truly felt that they had been listened to and heard. He built bridges and lasting relationships — he made friends of everyone he met. Irv was devoted to justice. He had a very strong sense of what was “the right thing to do.”
Upon Segall’s passing, Fred Zenone wrote, “Our lives are better because Irving Segall was among us.”
Frederick Zenone (1980–1986)
Widely acknowledged as one of ICSOM’s most visionary leaders, Chairman Zenone achieved unprecedented liaisons with many groups, including the American Symphony Orchestra League (now the League of American Orchestras), the NEA, and the Major Orchestra Managers Conference. One of the most famous pictures in ICSOM’s history, published in the New York Times, is of Zenone walking arm-in-arm with Mstislav Rostropovich (then the music director of the National Symphony) and current ICSOM Media Committee Co-Chair Bill Foster while on the picket line in Washington, DC.
Chairman Zenone was a cellist with the National Symphony Orchestra from 1969 until 1999. His tenure as ICSOM chair was marked with great achievement for the organization and musicians everywhere. Among other things, his pioneering work led to the creation of the Audition Code of Ethics, a new audio/video agreement for orchestras, the AFM bylaw requiring that locals pay for delegate expenses to the ICSOM Conference, a jointly funded study on musicians’ health issues, and the requirement that symphony, opera, and ballet agreements be submitted to orchestras for ratification. He was instrumental in the development of “swat teams” that would travel to troubled orchestras to work with managements to solve problems. He also worked to open lines of communication with European orchestras. He served on the Orchestra Panel for the NEA from 1980 until 1983.
The 1999 ICSOM Conference was dedicated to Zenone to honor him upon his retirement from the National Symphony. After his retirement, he continued his work as an advocate for the field by serving as president of the Symphony Orchestra Institute.
Chairman Zenone passed away on October 22, 2010, and his death was reported in the Washington Post, as well as in other major newspapers across the country. There was an outpouring of affection and admiration for this great leader. The League of American Orchestras posthumously awarded him their Golden Baton Award. The 2011 ICSOM Conference was dedicated to his memory. Zenone was called “an orchestra statesman” and “a transformational chair.” Brad Buckley wrote that Fred’s “influence will continue even though he is gone.”
Melanie Burrell (1986–1988)
Another in a long line of pioneering ICSOM leaders, Chairperson Burrell is the only woman so far to serve as ICSOM chair. I have never met Ms. Burrell, but recently we spoke by phone, and she was inspiring as she recounted her love for ICSOM and the excitement that surrounded the organization during her tenure.
A cellist with the Denver Symphony (the predecessor orchestra to the Colorado Symphony), Burrell also served ICSOM as regional vice-chair (1973–1981), and president (1984–1986, 1988–1990). During her tenure, the level of communication among member orchestras increased, and she was a strong spokesperson for the organization, being quoted prominently in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune among other major news outlets.
At the 1981 AFM Convention, she addressed the floor with a brave and courageous speech, stating that the Federation’s work dues structure was unfair to orchestra musicians. It was reported, however, that unsympathetic AFM delegates voted to continue the work dues. This speech led to the bylaw requiring that AFM locals reflect the work dues and other financial support provided by their member orchestras by paying for legal counsel in negotiations. The October 1987 issue of Senza Sordino reported:
One of the major endeavors this past season involved membership on the work dues committee established by former AFM President Victor Fuentealba following the 1986 ICSOM conference. Burrell described the many angles explored but to no avail, by the work dues committee. “Ultimately, the committee addressed the minimal services the union can provide to orchestras, and recommended a by-law expressing the need for orchestras to have legal representation during the negotiations and grievance arbitration proceedings.” The by-law was ratified at the AFM convention, although revised to include a phrase empowering the AFM president to determine what is “competent’ representation.”
Bradford Buckley (1988–1996)
Chairman Buckley, ICSOM’s longest-serving chair, is also one of the most iconic figures in ICSOM’s history. In many ways a larger-than-life figure, he is known for his “feisty, assertive style” in defense of all musicians. Buckley is regarded as one of the most ardent advocates for symphonic musicians that the field has ever known.
A contrabassoonist, Buckley joined the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) in 1968. He is also a former member of the Jacksonville Symphony. He served as chair of the SLSO Musicians’ Council for many years, as well as serving as vice-president of Local 2-197. A faculty member of Washington University, he has performed under the direction of Walter Susskind, Jerzy Semkow, Leonard Slatkin, Hans Vonk, and David Robertson as a member of the SLSO. He has lectured at the International Double Reed Society and recorded the Five Red Hot Duets for Two Contrabassoons by Donald Erb.
Within ICSOM, Chairman Buckley also served as regional vice-chair (1978–1982) and vice-chair (1982–1984). For many years, he was chair of the ICSOM Media Committee. He also played an instrumental role in the creation of the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), advising the founders of that great organization in 1984 as they followed the model established 22 years earlier by ICSOM. Buckley also has served as co-chair of the NEA Orchestra Panel.
The tenure of Brad Buckley was marked by an elevation of the profile of ICSOM, and an increased influence within the AFM. Most notably, the adoption of the Roehl Report served to create the Symphonic Services Division. The Roehl Report was one of the most significant achievements in ICSOM’s history, and it wouldn’t have been possible had Chairman Buckley not formed so many strong coalitions within the union and throughout the Players Conference Council.
In November 2011, Chairman Buckley announced his retirement from the SLSO at the end of that season, leading Roger Soren (formerly Louisville Orchestra, now Colorado Symphony Orchestra) to write:
Brad has been a mentor to so many ICSOM bassoon and contra players. He helped me both as an orchestra committee member and as a contrabassoonist, and I’ll always be in debt to him for that. Anyone who wants to hear great musicianship and a beautiful tone should listen to Brad play the opening of the Ravel Left Hand Concerto on the Slatkin/Alicia de Larrocha recording. Bravo, Brad, for all you’ve done for the orchestra world!
Robert Levine (1996–2002)
Chairman Levine is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent musicians to ever lead ICSOM, and he is undoubtedly one of the most prolific writers about orchestral music and unionism that the field has ever known. Principal violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since 1987, Levine has previously been a member of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, and the London (Ontario) Symphony. He has also been a member of the Orford Quartet in residence at the University of Toronto and has performed at the Grand Teton Festival, the Palm Beach Music Festival, the Strings in the Mountain Festival, and the Festival Rolandseck in Germany.
Levine studied at Stanford University, the University of Reading (UK), and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. He is the president of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the AFM, and is also a member of the board of directors of the League of American Orchestras.
A senior editor at polyphonic.org (The Orchestra Musician’s Forum), Chairman Levine is a noted blogger, both on polyphonic.org and at his own blog, the AFM Observer. Countless musicians and union members followed the events of the 2010 AFM Convention by reading Levine’s accounts on the AFM Observer. He has also written for Harmony and the Union Democracy Review, among many other publications.
Levine has also served as editor of Senza Sordino, and his tenure as chair marked the advancement of ICSOM into the Internet age. Chairman Levine developed ICSOM’s first website in 1996 (along with Chairman Buckley), and also created the online news and discussion list, Orchestra-L. Orchestra-L was a visionary idea and has led to stronger communication within ICSOM, and stronger unity throughout the entire field. Orchestra-L followed the earlier version of online ICSOM communication, DOS Orchestra, from the early 1990s.
Under Chairman Levine’s leadership, relationships among the Players’ Conference Counsel were improved, and two “Unity Conferences” were scheduled, in Las Vegas and Ottawa, where ICSOM met along with ROPA, the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), and the Theater Musicians Association (TMA). His work led to an investigation into the structure of the AFM through the Investigative Task Force, as well as increased presence for ICSOM on AFM Convention committees. Six new orchestras joined ICSOM during Levine’s tenure (Charlotte, Fort Worth, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Nashville, and Virginia).
Jan Gippo (2002–2006)
Chairman Gippo is unique in the history of ICSOM chairs, as he was probably the only chairperson to emerge from an ICSOM Conference where he arrived not knowing he would be running for the office. He answered the call of duty at a time of need, and served with great integrity.
A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, Gippo joined the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) as principal piccolo in 1972. He has served on the faculties of Webster University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He has presented recitals and master classes across the United States and abroad, and he has raised over $120,000 to commission more than 15 new works for the piccolo. He has served as an editor for Flute Talk magazine and is the founder of the piccolo committee for the National Flute Association.
Within the SLSO, Gippo served as chair of the Musicians’ Council, and also as chair of the SLSO pension committee. As ICSOM Chair, Gippo memorably addressed the 2005 AFM convention, and continued the evolution into the internet age with the creation of Delegate-L, an internal on-line news and discussion list for delegates and committee chairs that provides for a more confidential exchange of information, along with the more public Orchestra-L.
I worked closely with Chairman Gippo, serving on his Governing Board from 2005 to 2006. Together we traveled to San Juan to meet with the Puerto Rico Symphony, and we worked together at the 2005 AFM Convention. Gippo announced his retirement from the St. Louis Symphony in 2008. Upon his retirement, I wrote: “His distinguished career is certainly one to be emulated. I was always impressed by Jan’s resolve. In an all-too-often insincere world, Jan is the genuine article.”
The accomplishments of each of these ICSOM chairs would not have been possible without the support of countless musicians who served selflessly on the ICSOM Governing Boards and on numerous committees over these past 50 years. The titles of some of those positions have changed over time, from vice-chair to president, from regional vice-chairs to members-at-large. The titles of secretary, treasurer, and Senza Sordino editor have remained constant, though, and those positions are perhaps the most labor-intensive, and as crucial to the operation of ICSOM as the chair.
In reviewing the lives and tenures of these remarkable leaders and musicians who have served in the top position in ICSOM, we can see that we all have a great legacy to preserve. We owe each of these legendary ICSOM chairs our gratitude. But even more, we owe them our commitment to service. We all should be inspired by their sacrifices and accomplishments as we work to emulate their successes in ICSOM’s next 50 years.
Note: the article was edited to correct the date of death of George Zazofsky.