Sacked opera oboist loses appeal

WNO player’s claim of wrongful dismissal is rejected

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Murray Johnston, an oboist who was sacked by Welsh National Opera (WNO) for sub-standard playing, has lost his case of unfair dismissal against the company.

Johnston, 61, who was dismissed in September 2008, says that his departure from WNO came after 14 years of alleged bullying by music director Carlo Rizzi. However, an employment tribunal in Cardiff has ruled that the oboist’s dismissal was justified, given the harm that his playing might do to WNO’s reputation.

The tribunal had heard how, following concerns expressed by Rizzi, Johnston had been placed on a playing improvement programme from 2005, but that over three and a half years it had not produced any discernable results. It was at that stage that Johnston was asked to re-audition for his job.

However, Johnston’s solicitor Nick Smith told the tribunal that relations between his client and Rizzi had been very poor for many years, citing an occasion when the conductor had asked the oboist to stop singing during a rehearsal as the start of the decline. Johnston himself gave evidence of an occasion that he believed he was picked on, saying that Rizzi ‘stopped the rehearsal probably 20 or 30 times to criticise my playing. I felt victimised and bullied.’

Following the tribunal’s verdict, WNO managing director Peter Bellingham said that the decision to sack Johnston was ‘taken entirely on artistic grounds’ and was ‘one that is vindicated not only by the tribunal’s decision today, but also evidenced by the very high quality of playing in the orchestra at this current time.’

Jeremy Pound

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