BROOKLYN (CN) – Composer Nathan Currier demands $250,000 from the Brooklyn Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, claiming that due to union rules the orchestra cut short his 2-hour piece, the “Gaian Variations,” after 33 of its 37 variations. Currier claims this “caused the world premiere performance of plaintiff’s composition to be destroyed;” brought a “scathing” review in the New York Times, whose critic wrote that the composer “seemed unable to end the work;” causing Currier “mental strain and distress, humiliation, exposure to public ridicule, disturbance of … peace of mind, social standing, and inviolate personality due to the acts of the defendant in breach of said contract.”
Currier says his piece runs for 2 hours and 5 minutes. He says he promised to pay the Brooklyn Philharmonic $72,500 to perform the world premiere, and that the contract allowed a maximum playing time, with intermissions, of 3 hours.
Currier says he asked ahead of time if the piece’s length would cause union problems, and was assured it would not.
But he says he found out – during the performance at Avery Fisher Hall on April 21, 2004 – that the American Federation of Musicians Union Local 802 counts any intermissions, no matter what their real length, to count as 20 minutes.
Currier says that rather than incur overtime, the symphony’s CEO decided, in an emergency backstage meeting during the performance, to cut variations 34, 35 and 36, and go right from variation 33 to 37, “the Finale.”
But rather than do that, Currier says, the orchestra stopped after variation 33, “acting or conspiring to willfully, wrongfully and maliciously terminate the performance in an arbitrary, capricious and abrupt manner.” He calls the performance a “butchering” of his work.
Currier, a much-decorated composer, says he has won the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim, a Fulbright, a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship at Tanglewood, and other awards.
Composers have a long history of mistreatment from musicians and critics. Joseph Haydn, while the toast of London, refused to conduct one of his late symphonies because the orchestra refused to rehearse it even once before the performance.
When a critic complained to Beethoven of the length of his Third Symphony, the master responded, “If I write a symphony two hours long, they will find it short enough.”
Tommy Dorsey hit a member of his band over the head with a clarinet.
Ned Rorem wrote in one of his published diaries that he wished musicians would stop calling him up and asking how to play his work.
Perhaps the best response to a critic came from Max Reger, who wrote, “Dear Sir, I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. Your review is before me. Soon, it will be behind me. Yours truly, Max Reger.”
Currier is represented in Kings County Court by Alex Roshuk.