Orchestra Watch: Seattle Symphony May Strike; Philly Saves the Day

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Symphony orchestras around the U.S. are seeing the same kind of management-labor battles that have recently afflicted groups ranging from teachers to football referees. Musicians recently settled in Chicago and Atlanta after contentious negotiations. Labor disputes continue in Minneapolis and St. Paul; troubles are rumbling elsewhere.

Orchestra executives cite flat ticket sales and slumping private support as they seek major pay concessions from musicians, who warn about a loss of talent and reputation. In this season of discontent, it can be hard to keep up with the changes in the American orchestral scene so we're introducing Orchestra Watch, a new weekly look at the country’s hotspots.

Down: Seattle Symphony and Opera Authorize Strike

"Enough already" say the musicians of the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera, who have approved a strike authorization. It comes after months of contract negotiations, culminating in an Oct. 10 contract offer that called for musicians to take a 15 percent reduction in compensation in the 2012-13 season. The Seattle Times reports that the orchestra is projecting a balanced budget this season, but it's carrying an $11 million debt from past season. Its endowment – at $25 million – is also seriously underfunded.

"The Seattle Opera announced in June that had a $1 million shortfall in its $21.4 million annual budget for its 2010-2011 season," reports the Times.

 

Mixed: Indianapolis Symphony, Musicians Settle

The musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony have agreed to a new five-year contract that represents $11.5 million in concessions, including a 32 percent pay cut in the first year. The contract's final year represents an approximate 10 percent pay cut from the musicians’ current salary. The ratification of the contract (and a "bridge" agreement that extends to February) ends a bitter lockout that delayed the start of the 2012-13 season. The Indianapolis Star has more details.

 

Up: The Philadelphia Orchestra Plays Hero

The Philadelphia Orchestra may be having some money troubles, but they're nothing compared to the trouble nine-year-old Aidan Milligan was in after someone took his trombone. So the orchestra has come to Milligan's aid, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The fourth-grader, who has Down syndrome, had left the trombone in his case at the end of the driveway, so he wouldn't forget it on his way to school. The instrument was either stolen or mistakenly picked up by garbage collectors. The orchestra has offered to replace the trombone if it is not returned, and it has invited the Milligans to the season's first family concert on Oct. 27.

 

Mixed: Detroit Symphony Sets Records as Star Player May Leave

The prognosis for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra this season has been optimistic, with a few conditions. Last week, the orchestra announced that audiences for its classical and pops opening weekends set new records. A spokesperson told the Detroit News that 22,861 people, including internet listeners, took in the opening-weekend events.

Meanwhile, the DSO’s principal cellist Robert deMaine has been offered a job as principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, prompting concerns that he may follow on the heels of principal bassist Alex Hanna, who left for the Chicago Symphony in June. The DSO saw substantial turnover in the wake of the six-month strike in 2010-11, although a spokesman notes that it has hired 10 musicians this year (including a new concertmaster).

"The continued churn of personnel remains one of the primary artistic challenges facing music director Leonard Slatkin as he leads the orchestra through its post-strike rebuilding," writes Detroit Free Press critic Mark Stryker.