FYI: From NYTimes - Major Orchestras Contract Issues
New York Times
September 16, 2004
Four Major Orchestras Facing Contract Issues
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
At the Philadelphia Orchestra, management says its contract with the musicians is a "roadmap to extinction." The players of the Cleveland Orchestra, which has racked up a $7.4 million accumulated deficit, are demanding pay parity with their colleagues in Boston. In Chicago, a former federal judge was called in to mediate.
It is contract negotiation time at some of the nation's most important orchestras, when the world's most exquisitely trained musicians go into hard-hat mode and artistic administrations act like cost-cutting bosses.
But this year is unlike any other.
In an extraordinary alignment of the stars, four of the so-called Big Five orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, coincidentally have multiyear contracts expiring now, precisely at a moment of serious economic hardship. It is also a time when, more broadly, many wonder what future classical music has in the larger culture. And this round features one of the most publicly acrimonious negotiations in recent memory, at the Philadelphia Orchestra, which struck for 64 days in 1996.
The Philadelphia and New York contracts expire at 12:01 a.m. Monday, the day before the opening night for each; Cleveland's expired on Aug. 29 and the Chicago Symphony's on Sunday, but both were extended until the end of October. The New York Philharmonic, too, is expected to "play and talk."
Contracts are up for other orchestras, including the major ensembles of Washington, Cincinnati and Minnesota. But attention naturally focuses on the traditional flagship institutions in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago.
Combined, these aircraft carriers of the classical music world have endowments of $800 million. Yearly budgets range from $36.5 million in Cleveland to $70 million in Boston. All but Boston are running deficits.
Management and musicians are locked in negotiations at various levels of tension.
Matters are worst in Philadelphia, where each side has hired an outside public relations consultant and waged the fight on rival Web sites. The parties in Chicago and Cleveland have remained tight-lipped, though there are signs of fraying nerves. Relations seem smoothest at the New York Philharmonic, although with the musicians just back from vacation, it is a little early to tell.
Across the board, the decline in the stock market has eaten into endowments, which orchestras beefed up substantially in the fat years of the 90's and so now depend on even more for income. Sept. 11, too, put a dent in giving. Attendance is down or flat at many orchestras, and revenue from recordings is drying up as major recording companies cut back sharply on new classical projects. At the same time, health care and pension costs are soaring just as much for flutists as for flight attendants.
"It's getting closer to the bone," said Jack McAuliffe, the vice president of the American Symphony Orchestra League. "I think it just makes it a more intense negotiation, because everything matters."
Many orchestra executives argue that there is no recourse but to cut employee costs. Minimum salaries in the Big Five all exceed $100,000 a year, but that is deceptive. First-chair players can sometimes triple that, and most players in the trenches earn more than the minimum in overtime and seniority payments. Vacations are usually eight or nine weeks a year.
Meanwhile, pension plans are generally on the fixed-benefit model, meaning that the orchestras finance them fully and guarantee a set amount at retirement age, instead of a pay-as-you-go plan like a 401K.
Typically, the Philadelphia Orchestra said, half of its costs go to musician salaries and benefits. Another quarter goes to administration, marketing and fund-raising.
The musicians say that the salary numbers can be deceptive in other ways. Pay may seem generous for seven or eight concerts and rehearsals a week, but that does not take into account a lifetime of study, hours of daily practice and the high cost of instruments. Meanwhile, they note, executive directors are paid in the mid-to-high six figures and music directors in the millions.
Underneath lies a deep sense of preserving hard-won gains. It was only in the mid-1960's, when the New York Philharmonic became the first orchestra to institute a 52-week season, that orchestra playing was even considered a year-round job.
David Zauder, a retired trumpeter of the Cleveland Orchestra, recalls playing on tour with the Boston Pops early in his career.
"I wound up sleeping in a park bench one night because I didn't have money for the hotel," he said. "What's happening today is musicians are afforded five-star hotels, and we fought for that."
As Donald Miller, chairman of the Cleveland Orchestra's musicians' committee and a percussionist, put it: "We start our professions at age 3, and we work at them for 25 years before we have an opportunity to do them for a living. We have an entire generation of time before we can even begin to reach the level necessary to be here. We didn't get into this business for money, but having said that, we're not going to do it for nothing."
The musicians' other argument for keeping up minimum salaries is the need to attract the best colleagues. The quality of the ensemble, after all, is the ultimate issue in an orchestra's working conditions, they say. (But contracts also specify minutiae of working conditions, like the length of intermissions and temperature limits for outdoor concerts.)
Quality is just what the players in Philadelphia, where a strike in 1996 took a particularly ugly tone, say is at stake.
Management says that it has reduced its projected $4 million deficit to $1.8 million through administrative job reductions and pay cuts for its music director, Christoph Eschenbach, and managers, and it is now time for the musicians to give something back. The orchestra is asking the musicians to make up the savings through any combination of pay cuts, changes in work rules and a reduction in number of full-time musicians, to, possibly, 100 from 106.
"Our current trade agreement is a roadmap to extinction," Richard Smoot, the orchestra's chairman, wrote in a letter to the public on the orchestra's Web site.
The musicians have countered with proposals including extra performances and a benefit concert by Riccardo Muti, their former music director. A spokesman for the orchestra, Steve Albertini, said the suggestions would bring a one-time-only benefit, and permanent savings need to be built in.
In a highly unusual situation, both sides have taken their arguments public, wrangling over various proposals and accusing each other of distorting their respective positions.
Management promises that its proposals would never harm the orchestra's artistic level.
"We want to preserve the jewel of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Orchestra," said Mr. Albertini, a public relations executive hired to present the orchestra's case. The players have their own outside public-relations man.
But John Koen, a cellist and the chairman of the players' committee, says that reducing full-time positions - even though the same number of musicians would always be onstage through the use of substitutes - could undermine the orchestra's fabled artistic tradition.
For example, he said, one position singled out is the full-time second harpist. The "Philadelphia sound" is partly based on decades of playing large French symphonic works, which often require two harps. Eliminating that job would run counter to the tradition, he said.
The Chicago Symphony and its musicians are living up to a news blackout. On Sept. 3, the orchestra announced the appointment of Abner Mikva, a former judge on the United States Court of Appeals, to mediate. For years, Chicago paid its musicians well, raising the bar for other orchestras, partly the result of flush times but also of an avoidance of confrontation by management.
The financially secure Boston Symphony holds the lead now, having begun a four-year contract in 2002 that provides for a minimum of $108,000, a prize eyed by others.
The Cleveland Orchestra says money must be saved.
"Because of our financial situation and because of the economy of northeast Ohio, the association needs costs to go down," said Gary Hanson, the executive director. It has already cut or frozen administrative salaries and reduced the pay of its conductor, Franz Welser-Möst.
Both sides make efforts to sound amicable, but a strike in Cleveland - where the orchestra is a beloved institution on a landscape without as many cultural giants as New York or Boston - would be particularly damaging to the city's prestige.
"It's a factor in a community's self-esteem," said Thomas W. Morris, Mr. Hanson's recent predecessor. "And there's enormous value in the beauty or the challenge of serious music, the same way there is in serious art or serious literature. In a funny way, we probably need those things more than ever."
Re: FYI: From NYTimes - Major Orchestras Contract Issues
Wow, this happened to me too. The brass section of my Personal Orchestra has been hearing rumors about an up-coming Big Band release. They're so worried about their jobs, that some of the trumpets and trombones have been playing in pick-up bands trying to learn how to swing! It's not pretty.