In Memoriam: Sandor Balint

by Duncan Patton, Principal Timpanist

The MET Orchestra mourns the passing of Sandor Balint, a member of the MET's first violin section since 1956.  Sandy's contributions to the MET Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera are immeasurable, not only as a superb musician, but as a longtime member and chair of the orchestra's negotiating committee.

Sandy Balint grew up in the South Bronx and Harlem.  He began violin lessons at the age of 7 and subsequently entered Music and Art High School.  At the age of 17, Leonard Bernstein accepted him into the newly formed New York City Symphony.  Shortly thereafter he joined the New York City Opera orchestra.   He made his Carnegie Recital Hall debut in 1956.   In the same year, he won auditions for both the MET and the New York Philharmonic.  He liked to say that the MET paid better at that time, due to the extra recording work the company was doing.  That work dried up shortly after he began, but he wound up staying for 58 years anyway!  In addition to his performing at the MET, he performed and also organized numerous concerts of solo and chamber music in and around Bronxville, NY, where he made his home.  These often included his wife Joyce, a violinist and mandolinist.

Sandy was first elected to the MET Orchestra's negotiating committee in 1959.  He went on to participate in numerous negotiations and served as chair of the committee for every negotiation from 1977 to 2000.  Prior to 1960, musician contracts were negotiated in a private meeting between the local Union president and the manager of the MET.  Orchestra members played 7 performances a week, there was no insurance, no pension, no sick pay, and no job security.   In the early years, much of the battle was actually with the Union, in the attempt to gain direct musician representation at the bargaining table.  Sandy was on the committee for the historic one-day strike of 1966, when, after two and a half years of playing without a contract, leading up to the opening of the new opera house at Lincoln Center, the orchestra achieved the 5 performance contract, medical insurance, a 5 week vacation, and the right to arbitration.

By 1980, Sandy was the chair of the committee and led the orchestra through its second major job action, the 4 month lockout which resulted in the 4 performance contract.  This was the most bitter period in the MET's labor history and would not have had a successful resolution without the leadership and great personal courage of Sandy Balint.  He went on to lead committees which built upon this success.  The respect the orchestra commanded in these years enabled him to negotiate a series of early settlements, which helped the MET to flourish through a long era of labor peace.  It is not too much to say that the artistic growth and increased international renown which the orchestra achieved throughout the 80's and 90's was built upon the hard-fought gains achieved through the strength of a unified orchestra, led by its committee chair, Sandor Balint.  We remember Sandy with immense gratitude, as a colleague and as a leader.

AFM President Victor Fuentealba and Sandor Balint in the August 1980 issue of Allegro Magazine

AFM President Victor Fuentealba and Sandor Balint in the August 1980 issue of Allegro Magazine

MET Violinist and former Committee Chair Sandor Balint in the August 1980 issue of Allegro Magazine

MET Violinist and former Committee Chair Sandor Balint in the August 1980 issue of Allegro Magazine