Philharmonic players, fired on misconduct grounds, are reinstated

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Philharmonic players, fired on misconduct grounds, are reinstated
Jaap van Zweden leads the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall in New York, Dec. 5, 2019. Karsten Moran/The New York Times.

by Zachary Woolfe

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The New York Philharmonic has been forced by an arbitrator to reinstate two players it fired over allegations of unspecified sexual misconduct, the orchestra said Monday night.

The Philharmonic dismissed the players — its principal oboist, Liang Wang, and associate principal trumpet, Matthew Muckey — in September 2018. Both men denied wrongdoing, and the players’ union filed a grievance challenging their dismissals. The case was heard by an independent arbitrator, who found that the players had been terminated without just cause and should be reinstated.

“We are profoundly disappointed by the arbitrator’s decision,” the Philharmonic said in a statement, adding: “While we obviously disagree with the arbitrator and stand by our original actions and decisions in this matter, we will, as we must, abide by the arbitrator’s ruling and reinstate both players.”

The case was an example of how organized labor can struggle with sometimes conflicting interests as it grapples with a sharp uptick in misconduct cases in recent years. After New York City Ballet fired star dancer Amar Ramasar in 2018 for sharing vulgar texts and sexually explicit photos of a dancer with a colleague, he won his job back through arbitration with the help of his union, to the dismay of some women in the company.

That delicate balance was reflected in a statement about the Philharmonic reinstatements from the players’ union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which said, “Our union exists to ensure the rights of all members are protected. That includes those who report harassment in the workplace as well as those who have been subject to potentially unjust termination.”

No details of the allegations against Wang and Muckey have been provided. The Philharmonic has said only that the two players “engaged in misconduct,” and in 2018 the orchestra retained Barbara S. Jones, an attorney at Bracewell and a former federal judge, to investigate. Following the investigation, the orchestra terminated the players.

In its statement Monday, the Philharmonic quoted from the ruling by the arbitrator, Richard Bloch, that “nothing in this opinion should be read as concluding that all doubt has been removed concerning the actions” of Wang and Muckey.

Alan S. Lewis, an attorney representing Wang, said in an email that “the 20-day arbitration hearing (which took place over the course of eight months), at which Liang testified, finally allowed all of the facts to be fully examined, and after that hearing, Arbitrator Bloch concluded that the Philharmonic had simply failed to prove any misconduct by Liang.”

Steven J. Hyman, a lawyer for Muckey, said that he “is eager to return to his position at the Philharmonic.”

Wang joined the Philharmonic in 2006 as its principal oboist, a key position from which he provides the A pitch the orchestra tunes to, serves as de facto leader of the woodwinds and has frequent solos. Muckey also joined the orchestra in 2006.

It is unclear when the reinstated musicians will get to play with the Philharmonic again. The orchestra has canceled the remainder of its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. And while not yet canceled, its summer events — including outdoor concerts in city parks, scheduled for June; a planned tour of China in early July; and performances at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival in Colorado, scheduled for late July — may well not go forward, either.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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