American Orchestras Face Financial Difficulties

Monday, November 22, 2010

The American orchestral scene has been anything but harmonious of late. As the Detroit Symphony Orchestra enters the eighth week of their grueling strike, two other orchestras recently took significant belt-tightening steps.

Musicians in the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra ratified a new two-year contract last week that cuts players’ employment from 52 weeks to 45. The new agreement also reduces their base pay for the current season by 13.5 percent.

The current agreement, adopted five years ago, expired July 31. It was agreed that the new contract would be for two years, allowing for a review of the FWSO’s financial situation in 2012 and the possibility of reinstating the pay cuts.

Meanwhile, contract talks between the Louisville Orchestra and its musicians have hit a sour note. Musicians released a statement last week contending that they have been asked to cut the number of contracted players from 71 to 55, and for the remaining musicians to accept lower pay. They also say they’ve been asked by the orchestra’s administration to play a shorter season, from 37 weeks to 31.

The musicians' union said the orchestra was threatening bankruptcy if the union did not agree to significant cuts and concessions. Speaking to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Robert Birman, the orchestra's chief executive officer, disputed the claims in the statement, but would not comment further on negotiations or the orchestra's financial health. The orchestra's troubles come on the eve of its 75th anniversary year.

Across the U.S., arts groups have seen attendance and donations slip over the last two years. Endowment values are rising in some quarters, but many lost significant income when the stock market went south.

The Detroit strike, which began October 4, is being closely watched, with no sign of either side being ready to concede. At issue are proposed pay cuts of about 30 percent and changes in work rules that would broaden the definition of the players’ jobs. So far it has led to the cancellation of 27 concerts. It is feared that where Detroit goes first, other cash-strapped cities may follow.

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Comments [2]

Kenneth Bennett Lane

The lack of humanities teaching in public schools from kindergarten on to graduation from high schools and to commercial radio and TV and film evangelizing rap and sexy dancing to the exclusion of the classics in literature and music and in representative artworks, preempts any serious consideration of the high points in the culture. Ergo, the small attendance at symphony and classic artist/s concerts.
No financial donations will be volunteered to any venture with so little self-guaranteed
attendance. Colleagues of mine, instrumentalists and conductors, have followed the lead of opera singers seeking their Quest, their Golden Fleece, fulfillment in Britain, Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries where state-supported artistic enterprises thrive with minimum political interference.; We have been the country with the most symphony orchestras of stature. In that respect we are now heading toward third world culture deprivation. We may NEVER be able to resuscitate what we now relegate to marginalized "vegetative existence."

Nov. 24 2010 04:39 PM
Michael Meltzer

So much is at stake, and mistakes at this point can only be undone at even greater cost and hardship than everyone is seeing now.
Everyone knows that if it hadn't been for unions, the musicians would still be selling shoes in the mall between rehearsals. But, that was then and this is now. The unions should bear in mind the lesson of Local 802, which was so intractable in its personnel minimums for clubs, restaurants and catering halls during a recession that it can claim single-handed credit for the creation of the discoteque, and the discoteque-style wedding or bar-mitzvah.
It's easy to say and tough to do, but everyone has to get real, and have some trust in each other, earned or not.

Nov. 23 2010 01:56 AM

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