In the artistic world of music, harmony between conductor and orchestra is paramount.
But in one loud clash, two musicians have apparently been engaged in a feud which has lasted 16 years. Yesterday, details emerged of the discord between Carlo Rizzi, the world-renowned Italian conductor of the Welsh National Opera, and principal oboe player Murray Johnston.
Claims: Murray Johnston leaving the employment tribunal in Cardiff, left, and in action as principal oboist with the Wales National Orchestra
The 61-year-old claimed he was ‘victimised, bullied, harassed and intimidated’ by Mr Rizzi after once ordering him to ‘stop singing’. The veteran oboist has been sacked after playing with the WNO for 34 years, performing in more than 50 recordings.
He is claiming wrongful dismissal, saying he was ‘persistently abused’ by Mr Rizzi, 50, who became musical director of the Cardiff-based company in 1992.
Their relationship ‘never recovered’ after a rehearsal two years later when Mr Johnston told Mr Rizzi to ‘stop singing’, an employment tribunal heard. The context of the order to the conductor, who had previously been at the Royal Opera Company, Covent Garden, was not explained.
But Nick Smith, for the oboist, said: ‘Rizzi’s behaviour was extreme on that day. He stormed off, locked himself in a room and kicked furniture about.’
Mr Johnston told the hearing he suffered bullying and intimidation by Mr Rizzi during his work with the 55-strong orchestra over the following years. The principal oboist had to re-audition for his job even though he had been doing it for decades.
Tribunal: Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi, who is accused of bullying Mr Jonston
Mr Johnston, of Radyr, Cardiff, told the hearing he passed his audition, but alleges he was subjected to an ‘attack’ by Mr Rizzi in front of the orchestra during a rehearsal.
‘He stopped the rehearsal probably 20 or 30 times to criticise my playing. I felt victimised and bullied,’ said the musician.
Mr Smith added that many orchestra members wrote letters to complain about Mr Rizzi’s behaviour.
‘The language of these letters was very, very strong,’ he said.
‘They are from numerous members of the union, some anonymous, some not.
‘They accuse Mr Rizzi of intimidation and harassment, of even making one woman ill.’
The tribunal was told that Musicians’ Union members wrote letters to opera managers ‘expressing anger at the treatment of Mr Johnston’. A motion was also passed accusing Mr Rizzi of bullying.
WNO managing director Peter Bellingham denied Mr Johnston was unfairly dismissed.
He told the hearing that Mr Rizzi felt the oboist’s standards had dropped to such a level, he was ‘holding the entire orchestra back’.
Mr Rizzi, who has since left the WNO, will not be giving evidence. The hearing in Cardiff continues.