A composer is suing the Brooklyn Philharmonic for abruptly cutting short his environmentally themed symphony in mid-performance at a concert almost five years ago — a show that left the songsmith fuming and critics appalled.
Composer Nathan Currier is suing the cash-strapped Brooklyn Philharmonic for $250,000 because it lopped off the climactic finish of his “Gaian Variations” in a ballyhooed concert at Avery Fisher Hall on April 21, 2004.
Currier claims that the philharmonic trimmed the work in order to avoid paying overtime to its unionized orchestra.
“The meaning of the piece was utterly lost,” he griped to The Brooklyn Paper.
“Gaian Variations,” with orchestra, soloists, vocalists and dancers rhapsodizing on the Gaia theory that the Earth is a living organism, had an approximate running time of two hours and five minutes. But when two 20-minute intermissions were factored in, Philharmonic officials feared their musicians would earn overtime for more than three hours of serenading, the suit contends.
The complaint, filed in Kings County Supreme Court on Monday, depicts a hasty and harried scene backstage to shorten the “contemporary classical” piece to avoid the orchestra’s self-imposed three-hour limit.
“During the second scheduled intermission, [Brooklyn Philharmonic CEO] Catherine Cahill called [Currier] backstage for an emergency meeting,” the court papers claim.
Cahill demanded that Currier personally pay the overtime wages or trim the work, which took him five years to compose and had already cost him $72,200 to stage. Currier claims he removed several sections of the piece to comply with the “outrageous ‘eleventh-hour’ demands.”
But the biggest shock was yet to come.
Instead of playing the abridged version, the orchestra simply stopped playing at the first proposed cut and walked off stage, approximately with 15 minutes left on the clock before overtime kicked in.
“As a direct consequence of [the Philharmonic’s] arbitrary, capricious and inappropriate ‘butchering’ of the performance, … the audience in Avery Fisher Hall was deprived of an appreciation of the totality of the creative work,” the lawsuit charges.
The New York Times, a Manhattan newspaper, clearly agreed. About a week after the amputated artwork was staged, the Gray Lady weighed in with a scathing review that called Currier’s piece “dreadful” — though it’s unclear if the newspaper’s critic was reacting to the fact that the piece was cut, or that it was staged at all.
“[At the end], I felt liberated,” critic Allan Kozinn wrote. “About half an hour earlier, during a disquisition on daisies, black-clad dancers gyrated down the aisles and onto the stage, and I wondered if I had died during the afternoon and this was hell.”
The Brooklyn Philharmonic declined to comment, saying it had not yet been served with the complaint. Ironically, given that the orchestra has just been sued for trimming a composer’s work, the Philharmonic announced two weeks ago that it would trim its own spring season to save money.
Currier’s attorney, Alex Roshuk, said his client, whose career highlights include teaching at Juilliard and receiving a Fullbright grant and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, would be willing to settle the suit if the Philharmonic agreed to play the piece in its unadulterated entirety