Atlanta Symphony Labor Talks Approach Nervous Crescendo

Monday, August 25, 2014 - 04:00 PM

Robert Spano conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Britten's 'War Requiem' at Carnegie Hall Robert Spano conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Britten's 'War Requiem' at Carnegie Hall (Melanie Burford/NPR Music)

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.


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Comments [3]

I am unable to believe that a major metropolitan area such as Atlanta can't (or won't) sustain a major symphony orchestra such as the ASO. Can it be the financial backers are in fact wealthy, but musically ignorant? Or is this some additional attempt at misguided anti-union bashing?

Aug. 26 2014 02:35 PM

Sadly but increasingly true throughout the musical arts community is the financial reality of maintaining a world class orchestra. Not all metropolitan areas can support such an entity. The artists rightfully deserve fair compensation for their skills but average salaries in the range of 60 to 80 thousand dollars per year put an enormous strain on smaller markets. Add to that the compensation of the Director and all the support personnel and you have a hugely expensive operation. Even a local orchestra will cost $60 per seat with the majors going for well over $100 per seat. I live in the NYC metro area and orchestras are frequently performing in halls that have many empty seats.

Aug. 26 2014 10:52 AM
David Fortner from Houston

So the folks that couldn't figure out how to run the Minnesota Orchestra moved to Atlanta? Same arguments and tactics.

Aug. 25 2014 04:51 PM

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