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Beethoven Festival Faces Criticism For Not Paying Musicians

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 12, 2014 7:00PM

Chicago's own Beethoven Festival is facing public criticism for failing to provide full and on-time payment to musicians who participated in the September 2013 edition of the festival.

Impacted musicians began speaking out on social media following a June 4th email from Beethoven Festival President and Artistic Director George Lepauw in which he announced his intent to forge ahead with the 2014 festival despite the outstanding payments owed to some of the 2013 participants. In the same email, Lepauw would not guarantee full repayment, offering instead the potential for partial reimbursement later this month: "I am still waiting on some donor commitments to know just how much I can send this month. Hopefully it will be the remaining balance, but I can't make that promise at the moment. No matter what, there are funds for checks to be sent this month."

Those sentiments echo similar comments made by Lepauw in an email sent to musicians on November 1, 2013: "I am beginning to get helpful donor pledges, but payments from donors are not yet incoming." Since then, some musicians have received small payouts, but not for the full amount promised by the festival.

Started in 2011, the Beethoven Festival presents an ambitious, multi-media, multi-genre array of concerts and events. The 2013 edition included the Orchestra Prometheus Chicago (OPC), the festival's very own resident ensemble. While a small number of OPC players came from the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and Indianapolis Symphony, the majority were local performers who play in chamber groups throughout Chicagoland. These local players form the core of those who are still seeking payment for their services.

One musician, who wished to speak anonymously, described the situation as follows:

"Speaking for myself, and I know other people feel the same way, we have not made a big deal of this until now because we were giving the festival, and George, the benefit of the doubt. It was an ambitious and well-intentioned project, which could have a positive effect on the community. The fact that they are moving on with another festival without paying their debts to the musical community who dedicated so much to its success is an embarrassment and an indication of a lack of respect; it's unacceptable."

In a lengthy statement to the Slipped Disc Blog, Lepauw justified moving forward with plans for a 2014 festival by stating that the only "product" of the International Beethoven Project IBP—the non-profit that operates the festival—is "its annual festival, and without a product to promote, we lose our ability to leverage the purpose of our organization with our ability to raise funds."

But the IBP could be left with a severely compromised "product" if the deeply talented pool of local classical musicians boycotts future festivals. Another festival musician stated "I certainly won't be performing in or attending any future Beethoven Festival events." That sentiment was repeated by others who spoke to Chicagoist.

In addition, the IBP will undoubtedly have to scale back future festivals considerably. Lepauw described the total cost of the 2013 festival as "in the four-hundred-thousand dollar range, while the festival brought in approximately three-hundred-thousand dollars...Without a reserve or an endowment to reach into under such circumstances due to the fact that we are still a very young organization, we were left with a sizable debt by the end of the event."

Given the 9 months that have elapsed since the 2013 festival, most musicians who spoke to Chicagoist are not waiting by their mailboxes for a check. One stated, "I don't really expect to get the rest of my payment, but people cannot get the impression that it's OK to not pay musicians. This was not a union gig, and it might be a wake-up call that we have to get the union involved in more of these types of performances."

The Chicago Federation for Musicians was asked to comment, but did not respond.

According to the IBP site, this year's Beethoven Festival is scheduled for September 5-21. 13 venue partners are listed including the Chicago Parks District and the Chicago Loop Alliance.

By: Drew Baker