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Detroit Symphony Strike Has Ripple Effects

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All eyes in the orchestral world these days are focused on Motown, where musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra went on strike on Monday over plans to cut their wages by a third. Concerts this weekend with music director Leonard Slatkin have been cancelled and musicians are picketing outside the orchestra's home, the Max M. Fisher Music Center.

The orchestra has scheduled a special chamber recital on Monday by violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Robert Koenig in place of the scheduled season-opening orchestra concert, in which Chang was slated to play Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1. (In a phone call, Chang's manager declined to comment on the program change.)

Haden McKay, a cellist and the players’ spokesman confirms that DSO musicians plan to picket that performance. Meanwhile, the musicians plan to perform what amounts to a competing program at Temple Beth El in suburban Bloomfield Hills on Sunday. That performance was scheduled six weeks ago in anticipation of the fact that the talks were going to break down.

As the two sides prepare for a protracted battle, ripple effects are being felt. Restaurant owners around the vicinity of the Max M. Fisher Music Center say they'll loose up to 40 percent of their business if a strike drags on. Editorial writers are also weighing in.

The Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes notes that a strike won't “change the fact that people making more than $100,000 a year don’t make a particularly sympathetic proletariat in a state where the median income is less than half that, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly north of 13 percent, and cities and towns are teetering near financial collapse.”

In response to management demands, musicians have offered a 22 percent salary reduction, although it includes a built-in restoration of much of the cuts over the course of three years. Michigan’s median income has fallen 21.3 percent between 2000 and 2009.

Across the Atlantic, Guardian music critic Tom Service writes that American orchestras offer a cautionary tale as the U.K. pushes to slash arts funding. “The bigger issue is that orchestras all over America will find themselves in a position where their communities simply can't afford them," he writes, "and that unless management and players accept massive cuts in pay, they will have no audience and no future.”