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.
After graduating from college in 1957, he taught music at elementary schools in Bristol Township, Pa., and Princeton, N.J. All the while, he continued to polish his skills on the cello, studying with two renowned teachers, Orlando Cole and David Soyer - the latter of the Guarneri String Quartet.
Before joining the NSO, Mr. Zenone performed in chamber groups and orchestras in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
In addition to the NSO, Mr. Zenone was a member of two D.C.-based chamber groups, the Allegria String Quartet and the Euterpe Players.
After retiring from the NSO in 1999, Mr. Zenone became president of the Symphony Orchestra Institute, which promoted classical music and helped musicians develop management and negotiating skills. He retired from that job in 2005 and moved from Vienna to Bluffton, S.C.
Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Patricia Larson Zenone of Bluffton, a retired music teacher in the Fairfax County schools; three sons, Brian Zenone, a violist who lives in Mulhouse, France, Mark Zenone of Vienna and Eric Zenone of Los Angeles; and three granddaughters.
With the NSO, Mr. Zenone spent 17 years under the baton of the imposing Rostropovich. It was both exhilarating and terrifying, Mr. Zenone told The Washington Post in 1988, to play cello in an orchestra led by one of the most celebrated cellists in the world.
"I ran into him backstage after having some work done on my instrument, and he said, 'Hello, Fredchik,'â'' Mr. Zenone recalled, imitating the maestro's Russian accent. "â'I hear your cello has problems. â¦ I can hear it.'â"
"It's a unique experience," Mr. Zenone concluded, "playing for someone whose ears and eyes know exactly what you are doing."