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Frederick Zenone, cellist who mediated labor disputes with orchestras, dies at 74

Frederick Zenone, right, was among the leaders of a 1978 musicians strike against the National Symphony Orchestra. He is shown here with William Foster, left, and maestro Mstislav Rostropovich.
Frederick Zenone, right, was among the leaders of a 1978 musicians strike against the National Symphony Orchestra. He is shown here with William Foster, left, and maestro Mstislav Rostropovich. (Joe Heiberger)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 10:12 PM

Frederick Zenone, who spent 30 years as a cellist with the National Symphony Orchestra and exerted a greater influence on the musical world as an advocate for the rights of musicians and a consultant who specialized in mediating labor disputes within orchestras, died Oct. 22 of esophageal cancer at a hospital in Savannah, Ga. He was 74.

Mr. Zenone had been a trumpet player in his youth and was studying to be a music teacher when he was introduced to the cello at age 21 - an exceptionally advanced age for someone who became a professional classical musician.

While teaching in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, he devoted 10 years of his life to mastering the nuances of his new instrument and its repertoire. In time, he left teaching to embark on a career as a full-time cellist.

When Mr. Zenone joined the National Symphony in 1969, the orchestra was in the midst of a contentious six-week strike. He later joined joined the NSO's orchestra committee, which represented musicians in contractual talks, and became the committee's chairman.

In 1978, he was one of the leaders of a strike that delayed the opening of the NSO's fall season. In a dramatic show of musical solidarity, Mr. Zenone and another of the orchestra's labor leaders, William Foster, marched on the picket line with the NSO's music director, Mstislav Rostropovich.

Outside Washington, Mr. Zenone was active in several organizations that promoted the rights of musicians. In 1974, he joined the board of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) - a group within the American Federation of Musicians union - and served as chairman from 1980 to 1986.

While still performing with the NSO, Mr. Zenone began participating in labor contract negotiations involving other orchestras and opera companies throughout the country. His goal, according to people who worked with him, was to secure better salaries and working conditions for musicians without alienating the orchestra management or the listening public.

Among other things, Mr. Zenone helped orchestra musicians win the right to ratify labor agreements and share royalties from recordings. He helped establish the Code of Ethical Audition Practices, which has become the standard by which musicians compete for openings in orchestras.

In 2003, he negotiated a then-revolutionary contract for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. To keep the renowned ensemble financially solvent, he and another mediator suggested that the musicians' salaries be reduced. In return, the musicians would gain greater control over artistic matters and personnel.

As a consultant, Mr. Zenone was called on to help mediate labor-management disputes involving orchestras in Toronto, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Honolulu, San Diego, Denver and other cities.

In an online appreciation, Robert Levine, a Milwaukee Symphony musician and former chairman of ICSOM, called Mr. Zenone an "orchestra statesman."

Frederick John Zenone was born Jan. 26, 1936, in Latrobe, Pa. He was studying music at Indiana University of Pennsylvania when he switched from trumpet to cello.


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