A lawsuit filed by an acclaimed oboist who lost his job with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra struck a sour note with a federal court judge.
U.S. District Judge Michael A. Telesca refused to overturn an arbitrator’s decision that upheld the July 2012 firing of Pierre Roy, who had been the orchestra’s principal oboist for more than 15 years.
The orchestra fired Roy after fellow musicians complained he engaged in disruptive behavior toward some of his colleagues, according to court papers.
The arbitrator gave Roy a fair hearing, Telesca wrote in a decision last week.
Fellow musicians accused Roy of deliberately playing off-tempo or off-pitch many times during rehearsals in order to “sabotage” the other musicians, the judge noted.
Their complaints also included Roy engaging in physical and verbal confrontations with the other musicians, mocking and mimicking others during rehearsals and making exaggerated gestures so as to distract them from playing.
Witnesses also said Roy “defiantly questioned the maestro’s direction … and made off-color remarks to his colleagues that were perceived as insensitive or offensive,” the judge wrote.
Telesca disagreed with Roy’s claim that arbitrator Robert J. Rabin failed to consider both sides of the story.
“Rabin carefully analyzed and discussed the evidence before him and delivered a thorough, well-reasoned and balanced 48-page decision,” Telesca wrote. “Although Roy’s current circumstances are unfortunate, he sets forth no grounds, statutory or otherwise, to set aside the arbitration award.”
Roy, 51, of Amherst, had some crudely worded criticism for The Buffalo News and a BPO attorney during a brief telephone interview Monday, but he gave no detailed comments on Telesca’s decision.
A spokeswoman and two attorneys for the Philharmonic declined to comment on the case.
But Roy’s attorney, Steven M. Cohen, expressed bitter disappointment with Telesca’s ruling.
Regardless of the fact that some of his colleagues considered him to be “temperamental,” Roy’s disagreements with other musicians never prevented the orchestra from making “magnificent music,” Cohen said.
Classical musicians have worked through disagreements for centuries, and in more recent history, “so have rock bands, like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and especially the Rolling Stones,” Cohen said. “It hasn’t prevented them from making great music.”
Cohen said he feels the arbitrator treated Roy unfairly by refusing to listen to some tape recordings that Roy made, which, in Cohen’s view, would have proved that the BPO continued to make brilliant music even while musicians were having arguments and disagreements.
“The bottom line is that Pierre Roy is a brilliant and incredibly accomplished oboist, a world-class musician,” Cohen added. “To say that because an artist might be temperamental that he’s unfit to play with an ensemble just contradicts the truth.”
The orchestra had fired Roy once before his 2012 dismissal.
The orchestra fired him in June 2010, though the facts behind that dismissal didn’t come into play in the 2012 firing. But Rabin, in his arbitration ruling, called the prior dismissal and the settlement that brought Roy back to the orchestra in January 2011 essential to understanding what happened more recently.
In June 2010, he had a challenging solo part in Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.” Scarce parking that evening around Kleinhans Music Hall delayed him. And then the location of a group photograph that had been planned for the musicians changed. By the time he found them, the photo already had been taken, and the photographer refused to take another. Roy berated and cursed an administrative staff member, according to the arbitrator’s report.
Then he couldn’t find space backstage to warm up. He knocked over a sound shield as he looked for a place and swore at a staff member. Roy acknowledged he had “a kind of meltdown backstage.” He said he told a staff member that he was going to his car to relax because his hands were shaking and he was having trouble breathing.
Symphony managers, however, said that as the performance time neared, no one knew where to find him. They worried they might have to cancel the concert. Roy reappeared just before show time. Another oboist testified that he looked angry as he slammed his music sheets down on a stand and then cursed her. The performance went on, and Roy played well in the opening piece and also a duet from the balcony.
But music director JoAnn Falletta said his actions had a negative effect on the orchestra’s performance that night. The next week, the symphony fired Roy.
The symphony reinstated Roy in 2011, after he agreed to undergo anger management training and apologize to the orchestra.
Eventually after his return, Roy’s confrontational behavior during rehearsals rattled some of his fellow musicians, to the point that symphony officials placed a plexiglass shield between one musician and Roy, according to Rabin’s arbitration decision.
“In February 2012, there were several incidents of intimidating behavior directed towards Christine Davis, the principal flutist. One incident involved Mr. Roy swinging his oboe into her space, causing her to feel threatened,” Rabin wrote. “Following this incident, a plexiglass shield was placed between Ms. Davis and Mr. Roy. During a subsequent service, Mr. Roy knocked on the shield and said ‘bulletproof,’ rattling Ms. Davis and others.”
Other musicians testified about “mocking gestures” and unusual behavior by Roy. They accused him of intentionally playing off-key during one rehearsal in an apparent attempt to throw off some of his fellow musicians.
That incident resulted in a warning letter sent to Roy by Falletta, who called his “lack of musicality” “shocking and disruptive.”
The orchestra’s “ability to perform in harmony requires an atmosphere free of outside tension and stress and a concentration on the conductor, the music and the other musicians. Any unnecessary stress has the potential of throwing off the required concentration and adversely affecting the quality of the music,” Rabin wrote.
A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, Roy earned praise since joining the Buffalo orchestra in 1995. A Buffalo News concert reviewer called his musical skill “truly magnificent” and his playing “immaculate.”
During the arbitration, several musicians supported Roy, citing their good relationships with him and admiration for his musical skills and professionalism.
From a financial standpoint, the firing is costly for Roy.
Roy would have made at least $965,000 in salary and $413,000 in benefits if he had continued playing with the orchestra until he turned 65, according to a Buffalo News analysis.
The News based its analysis on court papers filed by BPO attorneys describing the salary and benefits the musician would have been paid in 2012-2014. He would have made just under $57,000 in 2013-2014, in addition to health benefits worth more than $20,000 and pension benefits worth more than $3,900.
In addition to the BPO, Roy sued the union representing the orchestra’s musicians, the Musicians Association of Buffalo, New York Local 92.
The arbitration decision “demonstrates that the union argued vigorously against Roy’s termination at all stages of the proceedings,” Telesca wrote in his ruling.
Cohen called an appeal possible, but unlikely. Since Roy’s firing, he has performed as a guest musician with several other orchestras and received excellent reviews, the attorney said.