War on orchestras

by Audiophilia on September 6, 2012 · 10 comments

in Audiophiles and Musicians

by Anthony Kershaw

Be in no doubt, orchestral administration boards are at war with their players.

Times are still tough. Many folks have lost jobs and homes. Orchestral musicians want to do their part in these lean times.

Many US orchestras are in the midst of contract ‘negotiations’. Many players have offered generous concessions in pay and benefit reductions. These negotiations on the part of the administrations are increasingly of the ‘take it or leave it’ variety. It began in Wisconsin, manifested itself orchestrally in Detroit, and is continuing in St. Paul, Atlanta and now Minnesota. And, I’m hearing rumblings of the same practices about to be foisted on many other US orchestras.

The passage to a job in a professional orchestra is tricky. To begin, only 1/50 get into good music colleges, 99% of those don’t make their full time living performing, and only 1% of that very talented 1% make professional symphony orchestras. They’re special musicians. Very highly trained. Pay them. Fairly. Imposing a 40K reduction in salary as I just read about the Minnesota Orchestra or in the case of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, a 67% pay cut, is simply unacceptable. Maybe the orchestras should reassemble and fire the board? There’s an idea (call the LSO, they’ll show you how to run your own orchestra).

In the here and now, boards, figure it out. YOU take a pay cut, and there are a lot of wonderful four figure conductors and soloists out there. Plan better. 40K conductors and soloists can take a pay cut, too.

The players want to pay their share, YOU do your job. Locking out artists such as members of the Atlanta Symphony and cutting their medical (after offering 4 million in reductions) is not how Beethoven would have handled it. Right?

{ 1 trackback }

Inglorious Basterds: A Young Person’s Guide to a Career in Classical Music — Audiophilia
09.10.12 at 1:27 pm

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike getzin 09.06.12 at 2:55 pm

It is time for an across the board nationally an orchestral revolution, and adopt at all costs a Berlin philharmonic model where the orch musicians themselves totally control the mgt, hiring/firing within their organization, and make the orch more powerful. All should ask for advice and support from the Berliners. Checking their success and proactive program especially the digital concert hall and foundation they formed themselves, what other choice do we have? Initiating within each orch an el sisters program can accomplish a major benefit to communities and with their great musicians. All mgt now cares about is $$$ and don’t know or care about the performing product. Time for these Ana intensive mgts to go!

Jim 09.06.12 at 8:00 pm

Nice thought, but in Germany the tax payers cover the cost of culture, including orchestras, museums, theater, and opera. The crux of the problem in the US is that the public is unwilling to fund large cultural institutions through their taxes. Yes, the musicians in Berlin have some control, and this helps them artistically, but it is not the reason for their considerable financial resources. They are essentially cultural ambassadors for Germany and are lavishly funded by the state. That model is not replicable in the US.

Dan Rasay 09.07.12 at 2:35 am

War on orchestras? Jim is right to point out that the public is often unwilling to support cultural institutions… it is a war on *culture* (I’ll leave that can of worms for now…)

Being a non-profit organization doesn’t mean that running multi-million dollar deficits year after year in a down economy is OK. Nor are orchestras immune to the market economy… all parties (musicians/staff/board) need to be honest about the local community’s demand for their art (ie. product) and the community’s current ability to support the org (ticket sales/individual & corporate giving).

If an organization has to raid their endowment to keep the lights on - musicians, staff & board members alike should be asking tough questions and make cuts ASAP… waiting until the 11th hour and then forcing *huge* cuts is an outcome with no winner.

Demanding that board members take a pay cut probably won’t go very far… just sayin.

admin 09.07.12 at 6:53 am

First, gentlemen. Welcome. And thanks for the thoughtful letters.

As for Dan’s last line. For sure. But, an act showing good faith, surely?

11th hour? Think Atlanta have been negotiating for a while. But, to lock them out, cut medical while three players are being treated for cancer made me ’shout’ for the first time in 16 years with the magazine! It’s been building for a while from the Anne Parsons debacle in Detroit. Minnesota was the straw. San Antonio and Indy are also in the crap.

But, you’re correct. When the smoke clears, others have to take a look at ways of keeping deficits down, incl. the union and especially players taking a much more proactive approach. Many are far too docile.

My suggestion of the LSO is a better model than Berlin’s unique situation. Far fewer public dollars, but a very strong player presence running of the orchestra. And for many years, it’s worked very well. Lots of juicy stories for another time :)

Others here have articulated well why the US model is in difficulty. And if Mr. Romney is elected, the meagre amounts the orchestras now receive will be removed, so he says.

Al 09.07.12 at 9:08 am

Just want to share a few facts: Elected board members of non-profits in the US DO NOT get paid. They are all volunteer by law. If boards decide that they need a paid staff, they hire a chief administrator (such as an Executive Director, CEO, Managing Director, etc.). The CEO reports to the board. That CEO may choose to hire additional staff and, in many orchestras, there are. Often, these CEO’s will be ex-officio members of the board, meaning they are only on the board b/c of the paid position they hold. The volunteer members of the board may choose to remove the CEO should they feel he/she is underperforming.

admin 09.07.12 at 9:41 am

Thanks, Al.

For sure, that’s why I use the word ‘administration’. But, as in business, there’s no such thing as a silent partner, and these unpaid members, thanks to $$$ influence, have a huge say in the running of the orchestra.

It’s always problematic when amateurs involve themselves with professionals, at least in my case. Every time.

An arts loving fundraiser with no agenda is something to be treasured.

Dan Rasay 09.07.12 at 10:09 am

Interestingly (from what I’ve read) the WAC (Woodruff Arts Center) Executive committee/board pulled health care benefits and physically locked the musicians out of Symphony Hall. It appeared that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA) and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) were still negotiating.

It also appeared that the WAC pulled benefits without the support of the ASO exec committee… one wonders if the bean counters at the WAC actually have a heart and care about maintaining artistic quality long-term.

Clear communication from all parties and artistic & operational excellence is essential. This doesn’t seem to be the case in the ASOPA ASO WAC ASOPA interactions (at least from my perspective on the opposite side of the country).

IMHO the San Antonio musicians had the right idea that will hopefully wake management & the board up… they filed legal charges.

admin 09.22.12 at 7:59 pm

Add another as of tonight (Sat Sept 22)

Chicago Symphony


Niel DePonte 09.25.12 at 2:54 am

There are other ways…but musicians must negotiate into their contracts seats on their boards. Years ago, I suggested at the Knight Foundation meetings on the future of orchestras that a hybrid model of management is possible. Musicians and boards must form RELATIONSHIPS with each other. These relationships must not be “managed” by managements. There must be ongoing connections formed between all stake holders in the enterprise. The musician’s union must also SUPPORT such relationships and participation on boards by members of the orchestras which it often does not. Communication on an ongoing basis between management, ALL board members, and ALL musicians must be maintained. Regular reports on ticket sales and development activities must be shared between all parties all the time. Managements should listen to the good ideas that the extremely intelligent members of their orchestras have to offer. Musicians should be an integral part of choosing music directors and music directors should be chosen not only on their ability to conduct, but on their capacity to implement strategic growth plans that the orchestra and board and management form TOGETHER, and those plans must be in service to their communities, serving the community as the community wishes to be served…which means you have to find out what the community wants from the orchestra in the 21st century…and it is not merely performing concerts. It is about being engaged with the community and it’s cultural development and especially in the area of the education of its children.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>