In response to the recent firing of a longtime member of the Pacific Symphony, nearly three-quarters of the orchestra's members have signed a petition asking management to reconsider its decision.
Principal trombonist William Booth, who had played with the Pacific for more than 15 years, was fired after missing a rehearsal for one of the orchestra's family concerts, according to the petition. Booth further did not notify the orchestra of his absence within the time period specified in the musicians' contract, according to sources in the orchestra.
Booth, who did not return phone calls from The Times seeking comment, reportedly had a scheduling conflict with a recording studio date. He is one of many of the orchestra's players who also work as Hollywood studio musicians.
Fifty-six of the Pacific's current 79 musicians signed the Feb. 26 letter to executive director Louis G. Spisto, urging him to reconsider Booth's termination.
Booth, the petitions states, "made a mistake that could happen to any of us. . . . Schedule changes are confusing and potential traps for even the most careful of us."
On Friday, Spisto said: "Bill Booth was a fully tenured member of the orchestra. His employment was covered by the terms of our collective-bargaining agreement, which calls for musicians to attend a minimum number of concerts per year and give proper notification for their absences. Bill had the number of allowable absences and beyond [that] two unexcused absences.
"Under the terms of the agreement, a member's second unexcused absence is cause for dismissal. We were following the agreement with Bill, as we have done for others in the past. . . . If we do not uphold the contract," Spisto said, "I am basically saying to the players, 'You can miss any number of concerts and rehearsals and it's OK.' "
Booth reportedly has filed a grievance with the Orange County Musicians Union, Local 7 of the American Federation of Musicians. Frank Amoss, president of the Union, said he could not comment on the matter, nor confirm or deny whether Booth had filed a grievance.
Opinion was divided even among the musicians who signed the petition. Alexander Horvath, associate principal second violinist, said that he signed the letter "because I feel Bill is probably the best trombone player in [Los Angeles]. It's a great loss to the orchestra. On the other hand, I do understand Lou's position. He has taken things like this on an individual-case basis. I'm one of the best beneficiaries of his insight and fairness in this issue."
Another musician, one of several interviewed who asked not to be identified, agreed: "I'll miss [Booth] very much as a musician. I feel very bad. However, he violated a condition of the contract. Firing does strike me as being severe, but those are the terms that are negotiated."
Others, however, strongly disagreed.
"What the orchestra members are distressed about is that somebody can be terminated for an issue that is non-malicious," one musician said. "It's not trying to avoid service, it's not trying to avoid a commitment, it's not a musical question. The scheduling that goes on there can get very complicated. It's easy to get messed up."
Said another: "We have a unique situation, and it doesn't fit rules. I understand that management has a difficult time dealing with this. But there is always other work that comes in at the same time as a Pacific Symphony concert. You do a juggling act. You have to give up things to be [at Pacific concerts]. We all have lost money working for that orchestra."
The orchestra's use of working studio musicians, added another, "requires that management be rather flexible if they want to maintain the orchestra at its current level. If they want to change it, the Pacific Symphony is primarily going to be a youth orchestra."
All the musicians expressed fear that publicity about the matter might, in the words of one player, "damage the orchestra. We're worried that this will affect the funding. We hope that management would understand that everybody wants this orchestra to survive and be as good as it can be."