Phoenix Symphony Plays the Blues, Arizona Department of Corrections Honcho Charles Ryan Attends Marcia Powell’s Memorial Service, and a Democratic Loser Writes a Book on How to Win

BOCK'S BIG WIN

Richard Bock's lounging in the proverbial catbird seat these days, in more ways than one. The über-popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives just aired an episode featuring Bock's 12-seat Italian eatery, Giuseppe's, at 28th Street and Indian School Road.

Hosted by fun-lovin', spiky-haired personality Guy Fieri, the show's been known to have a Midas effect on the small, mom-and-pop operations it spotlights. And Fieri loved Bock's dishes, his Bolognese ragu, which Fieri dubbed "crazy good," and his osso buco three ways: using beef, veal, or pork shank — take your pick. They're all recipes Bock picked up from his time in Florence, Italy, where he was employed for eight years as principal cellist for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra.

Diners, Drive-ins and Dives host Guy Fieri (left) with Phoenix cellist and restaurateur Richard Bock.
courtesy of Richard Bock
Diners, Drive-ins and Dives host Guy Fieri (left) with Phoenix cellist and restaurateur Richard Bock.

Bock even entertained Fieri with little a string and bow action. If you missed the program, no worries. You can bet the Food Network will repeat it, which is all the better for Bock, as it acts almost as a rotating commercial that he doesn't have to pay for.

The irony is that last year, when Fieri and his crew came to town to film the episode, Bock was embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Phoenix Symphony, where he'd been principal cellist for 24 years. As I discussed at length in a March item for my blog, Feathered Bastard, Bock was one of several musicians at the symphony who had filed age-discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Although the EEOC refused to comment on the complaints, they involved allegations that veteran players were being harassed and forced to take demotions or leave the symphony so they could be replaced with younger, more compliant players. The symphony denied the allegations and claimed Bock had broken a state law regarding the confidentiality of the mediation process. Actually, the law the symphony cited had to do only with the admissibility of evidence and carried no criminal penalty.

First, the symphony suspended Bock, then fired him in January. Bock fought back with a lawsuit, alleging discrimination, unlawful termination, and a hostile work environment resulting from the actions of music director Michael Christie, CEO Maryellen Gleason, and other symphony higher-ups. Bock and another musician, veteran principal violist Peter Rosato, went to the National Labor Relations Board, alleging retaliation and interference with their federally protected right to freely associate, organize, and come to each other's protection.

The NLRB brought a formal complaint against the symphony, which fought back with delay tactics and obfuscation. Gleason, in a conversation with me for the blog item, said that Bock "was, in fact, terminated for breaking an Arizona law."

But NLRB regional director Cornele Overstreet pointed out that the law in question, A.R.S. 12-2238, is essentially a rule of evidence.

"It is not a rule of criminality," said Overstreet. "It simply guides how the court looks at evidence."

As the date for an NLRB hearing drew closer, the symphony caved. According to David Kelley, deputy regional attorney for the NLRB, the board approved a settlement agreement whereby Bock and Rosato withdrew their complaints. Settlements were reached between the parties, and the Phoenix Symphony was made to post and adhere to a list of promises not to do anything to interfere with the rights of its employees to engage in "protected activities," such as filing age-discrimination charges with the EEOC or banding together for mutual aid and assistance.

The notice reads like a validation of the charges the NLRB laid at the symphony's doorstep. Specifically, the NLRB's complaint charged symphony muck-a-mucks with threatening employees with reprisals, giving employees the impression they were under surveillance, interrogating them about collective activities (the musicians are represented by the American Federation of Musicians, Local 586), and promulgating an overbroad rule of confidentiality, one in conflict with the National Labor Relations Act.

The actual agreement between the NLRB and the symphony does contain a line about how "the charged party does not admit the commission of any unfair labor practices." But the fact that it must promise not to harass or retaliate against its employees, and then post notices of same, makes clear who got the upper hand in the fight.

After the settlement, Bock sent an e-mail to his colleagues telling them what took place. His attorneys and the NLRB were confident they would win, he said. Negotiations ensued. And he was given two options: return to the symphony with his back pay restored; or drop all claims in exchange for a financial settlement.

"After some thought, I realized it would be impossible to return and play music for people like Christie, Gleason, and [symphony general manager Jay] Good," he wrote in the e-mail. "[They] have stained this orchestra for the first time in history and any pleasure I would have had in playing in it."

Asked about the settlement, Gleason had no comment. (Rosato's lawyer, Guy Knoller, indicated his client has also taken a settlement from the symphony instead of returning.) However, the symphony musicians recently accepted a 17 percent pay cut, supposedly because contributions are down, according to a recent symphony press release. But when Gleason and I talked in March, she argued that the decisions to demote or dismiss veteran players such as Bock were contributing to the symphony's well-being, which she portrayed in relatively rosy terms.

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7 comments
Chris Russell
Chris Russell

This story is so sad. The Phoenix Symphony musicians have been held hostage. I am close with several of the musicians and all have told me that music director, Michael Christie is a megalomaniac and that it is indeed true, that the symphony is actively replacing older talent with younger, who will bow to anyone's will to keep their jobs. This has been happening for months, under the radar. Please, Maryellen Gleason, realize it's about the music, not politics!!

jason richmand
jason richmand

Phoenix Symphony Liars

Why doesn't the Board of Directors fire Maryellen Gleason? She apparenly squandered a lot of money and then lied about the status of the business. On top of that she persecuted veteran musicians.At concerts I heard over and over from people like Cristie how well the Symphony was doing financially... Does anyone there tell the truth about anything? Christie never stops talking. I'd prefer a conductor who has some musical talent instead of the gift of gab. Personally, he creeps me out a little. The orchestra has traded musical richness the vetearns gave it for youth. Bring back the veterans and get rid of Christie and the higher ups...including C A Howlett, Chairman of the Board.

Jason Richmand,Phoenix

phillips
phillips

My husband and I moved here from Buffalo, New York where we were patrons of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. We attended many concerts where cellist Richard Bock enchanted us with his beautiful solos. We were thrilled to come to Phoenix and have the opportunity to hear him again this time with the Phoenix Symphony.. We were shocked to read your article and learn how terribly Michael Christie and management have treated this superb musicians and his colleagues. We couldn't figure out where the concertmaster, principal violist, horn player and then Mr. Bock were. We thought they may have been on sabbatical. We will no longer be returning to the Symphony.The Phillips Family, Scottsdale

Gary Jones
Gary Jones

Many thanks to Mr. Lemons for shedding some light on the current state of the workplace at The Phoenix Symphony. According to some, what was once a labor of love for these musicians has become a nightmare gig over the past few years. This music director came here with a very ugly agenda which seems to have had nothing to do with improving the music-making in the orchestra and everything to do with personal power and self-glorification, and he has been enabled every step of the way by Gleason. It is interesting to many that the players who have been injured by these evil management twins are some of the most visible and highly respected musicians of the orchestra, and mostly players who are in leadership positions. How long do you suppose they thought they could continue to cherry-pick these individuals out of the orchestra before their own patrons began to notice and question what was up? Things have been smelling funny at Symphony Hall for some time now......

Omar Tentmaker
Omar Tentmaker

Put bureaucrats in charge of artists and the outcome is predictable.

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Mr. Lemons isn't just whistling Dixie when it comes to the Arizona Democratic Party. I recently came across the "premier issue" of The Arizona Democrat, a tabloid sized monthly newspaper intended "to serve the voters of the state" with educational articles.

The issue, dated "May 2009", contains on page 11 an article by Spencer Albert titled "We Need a Real Law Man as Sheriff in Maricopa County!" which is all about Dan Saban and why we need to vote for him. "I believe Dan will be tough on crime. He has a proven record in successful law enforcement, is dedicated to changing the landscape for criminals here, and will put all law-breakers behind bars. This is the man we need."

Obviously, this article was written last year before the election. Note that another article on page 6, references the May 2nd, 2009 protest march and acknowledges that Arpaio was re-elected for a fifth term. So why does the Saban article now appear in the May 2009 issue of The Arizona Democrat? Way to support your candidate for Sheriff, AZ Dems. Oh well, there are no losers here. Everybody gets a ribbon for crossing the finish line, even if it is half a year past the close of the race.

The Arizona Democratic Party obviously has some talented and dedicated members -- there are some fine articles in The Arizona Democrat (though also some stinkers like a patriotic article bylined only as "Written by an Australian Dentist") -- but whether they're asleep at the wheel or just don't care, this sort of editorial failure merely emphasizes Mr. Lemons' point about a crisis of leadership.

 
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