Atlanta Symphony Labor Talks Approach Nervous Crescendo

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In news that has an aura of deja-vu about it, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its musicians have been in contract talks for eight months and are now approaching a September 6 deadline that is prompting murmurs of an impasse.

It was at this time in 2012 that the orchestra – battling a projected $5 million budget deficit and mounting debt – hit a stalemate and locked out its musicians for four weeks. When two sides settled, musicians agreed to a two-year contract that included a 16 percent pay cut; the length of the season was reduced and the size of the orchestra trimmed, from 93 to 88 players.

A symphony spokesman tells that the ensemble has made "significant progress" in reducing its budget deficit since that time but remains in an "unsustainable position." On the table now are unspecified cuts to salaries and health care as well as changes in work rules. Musicians warn that further cuts will compromise the ensemble's artistic excellence and its historic standing in the region. According to, a number of players have left the orchestra since 2012, with notable gaps in its string section. Two recent auditions failed to draw viable candidates.

An orchestra spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The ASO's fall season is scheduled to open Sept. 25. Last April, the Atlanta Symphony, conducted by Robert Spano, played two concerts at Carnegie Hall, including a performance of the Britten War Requiem, which WQXR broadcast live.