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Vince Vitrano: Not For Broadcast


CREATED Feb 27, 2014
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Lee Erickson is back on the job. 

After several weeks of asking, the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra responded to my inquiries. Susan Loris confirms Lee Erickson is again at the head of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. I will update the information I've learned in a moment, but first I do want to address another topic broached in comments to my original post. 

Mr. Erickson's sexual orientation is of no interest to me, nor is it in any way a motivating factor in my coverage. This story is not about whether the Chorus Director is gay. It's not really even about Lee Erickson. It's about whether the MSO is willing to be honest and transparent with its guests and donors. As I stated in my original post, it's for the MSO's constituents to debate whether Erickson's alleged behavior ought to disqualify him from doing his job. I take no position on that. 

The integrity of MSO's leadership is an important point as it presides over millions of dollars in funding from foundations and individual donors. That effort has been severely compromised, as evidenced by the 5 million dollar emergency campaign for cash to keep the symphony alive. The Erickson case provides an opportunity for insight into the willingness of this leadership to be transparent. 

Back in November, we (TODAY'S TMJ4) reported MSO suspended Erickson after his arrest. Susan Loris was widely quoted stating exactly that. In fact, the statement read Erickson was suspended "pending the outcome of the investigation."

Weeks after ignoring my repeated requests to know whether Erickson had been reinstated, Loris finally responded via email claiming Erickson had been granted a leave of absence and had since returned. "At his request, a leave of absence was granted and Mr. Erickson’s work with the MSO Chorus was suspended in late 2013 after the announcement of a police investigation," she wrote to me in an email.

That doesn't sound like the same tune MSO played in November. Granting a leave of absence at the request of the subject is hardly a suspension. Either Erickson was never truly suspended and that statement was false at the time, or the MSO is now trying to rewrite history.

The second issue here is "pending the outcome of the investigation." I have another request in to the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office today, but as of Tuesday the investigation into the allegations against Mr. Erickson is ongoing. The DA's office confirmed charges against Erickson are still possible. The case is still open. 

Yet another discrepancy in this statement from MSO is the claim that Erickson was brought back earlier this month. A source provided documentation and information to me that indicates Erickson was likely back on the job in January. The information comes from a local artist who tried out for the chorus, and was shocked to see Erickson conducting the auditions.

I am following up for clarification with MSO on the questions I've raised here. I give Ms. Loris credit for ultimately responding. 

Saving the symphony is a noble action undertaken by our community, but let's face it, we're not talking about a food pantry here. I recognize feeding the soul, as the arts do, is as important in our community as feeding the hungry. Still, the emergency campaign by MSO leaves a 5 million dollar hole in other worthwhile ventures. It's not like they printed the money. Donors might instead have funded small theater, local music festivals, youth music programs, or any number of arts groups that now will do with less, because MSO ran out of money, again. 

The issue here is not Lee Erickson. It's the survival of the symphony and the leadership provided by stewards of those millions in well intended donations. If that leadership has trust issues with the community, it will have trouble surviving.

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