Labor Tensions Hit High Note at Atlanta Symphony

Sunday, August 26, 2012 - 06:00 PM

The Atlanta Symphony remains scheduled for a fall visit to Carnegie Hall on October 27, an annual concert that is usually seen as a celebratory homecoming for its music director, Robert Spano. He previously led the Brooklyn Philharmonic to artistic highs from 1996 to 2004.

But financial and labor troubles now plague the 67-year-old Atlanta orchestra, and much uncertainty surrounds its fall season.

On Saturday night, the contract between the ASO and its musicians expired after both sides failed to agree on several key provisions including compensation packages, weekly salaries, the size of the orchestra and the length of the season.

Management is asking the musicians to take a near 20 pay cut in in the form of a 12-week furlough in order to eliminate a $20 million accumulated deficit. Players are willing to slice 11 percent off their compensation, but only if staff takes the same cut. The starting base salary in the orchestra is $88,400.

Also on the table is a cut in the number of players from 95 to 89.

The $20 million hole appears to have opened up quite suddenly. According to figures published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the accumulated debt grew from $1.1 million in 2003 to a projected $19.8 million in 2013. Expenses have mushroomed. Last year, while the orchestra brought in $40 million in revenue, it spent $45 million.

For now, negotiations continue. In a statement Sunday the orchestra said, “While the current contract between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Federation of Musicians expired on August 25, 2012, both parties are continuing to work towards a solution. Negotiations are ongoing. We have some serious budget issues to address but we are all striving for the same thing — a thriving music community.”

Other drama has developed around the negotiations including questions of "play synching." Earlier this month, it emerged that the orchestra played – to its own surprise – along with a prerecorded track at an Il Divo concert at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. The mix that was piped over the PA system had very little of the ASO, if any, and lots of an entirely different orchestra.

“The Il Divo singers were live, but the orchestra was relegated to the role of visual window dressing,” reported

The Atlanta Symphony is hardly the only orchestra in the process of negotiating new contracts in a difficult economic climate. In Minnesota, both the Minneapolis Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra are both staring down multi-million dollar deficits projected for the 2012-13 season. Minnesota Public Radio offers this primer on the situation in the Twin Cities.


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Comments [1]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Bonnton, NJ

The nation's orchestras are all in the same dilemma. Audience size has greatly diminished and the remaining patrons are not doling out funds as previously. Talent uncompensated financially seeks other venues and teaching. The Minnesota, Seattle, Philadelphia, Atlanta and dozens of other orchestras may soon disband and the New York City Opera because of the Koch brothers taking over the former State Theater of Lincoln Center appears to be forced to go under. Their orchestra also was one of the best. If young singers have no place to prepare for the big time except to sing in smaller European opera houses, where the interest there is to help their own citizen, then BIG TIME STUPIDITY HAS TAKEN OVER OUR "CULTURE." What is the point of reducing our so called spending budgets to the point where nothing of value exists in the USA? My cousin MICHAEL BLANKFORT wrote both the books and screenplays for the 1953 film THE JUGGLER Hollywood film made in Israel starring KIRK DOUGLAS and the 1950 Hollywood film BROKEN ARROW starring JAMES STEWART and JEFF CHANDLER [Cochise]. The music for THE JUGGLER was composed by opera composer GEORGE ANTHEIL, in whose opera VOLPONE I sang the tenor leading role [Mosca] in its professional world premiere in NEW YORK in 1953. ANTHEIL, famous for his opera TRANSATLANTIC and BALLET MECHANIQUE looked exactly like Peter Lorre. I am a romantischer heldentenor. I have sung four solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall. As part of my Ten Language Solo Debut concert at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, I opened my three hour concert with the Invocazione di Orfeo from Jacopo Peri's opera EURIDICE composed in 1600, the first opera, composed in the same year as Shakespeare wrote HAMLET. It, and from the same concert, can be heard my singing Florestan's "Gott, welch Dunkel hier ! from Beethoven's FIDELIO and "Sound an Alarm" from Handel's JUDAS MACXCABAEUS in the live performance on my three websites,, ,, and It received rave critical notices in newspapers and magazines. My voice teachers were the legendary MET OPERA singers Alexander Kipnis, Friedrich Schorr, Frieda Hempel, Martial Singher, John Brownlee, Karin Branzell and Margarete Matzenauer. As an opera composer myself ["Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare"] I fully comprehend the assumed urgency of recognition of the still living. I am the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute in Boonton, NJ where I train actors in all the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers in all the Wagner opera roles. My singing of TRISTAN, GOTTERDAMMERUNG SIEGFRIED, SIEGFRIED, SIEGMUND, RIENZI, LOHENGRIN, WALTHER VON STOLZING PARSIFAL, ELEAZAR, FEDERICO, ORFEO and OTELLO can also be heard at RECORDED SELECTIONS on the three websites.

Dec. 25 2012 07:20 PM

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