Orchestra Strikes, The Winter Of 'Spring For Music' And A Fertile Face For Opera
September 28, 2012
By Anastasia Tsioulcas
The biggest news of the week was the walkout at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which forced the cancellation of the first Saturday night concert of the 2012-13 season. Management and the players wrestled over players' health care contributions. How does their compensation stack up, you may ask? "The current average salary of CSO musicians, who have a base salary of $145,000, is $173,000. An offer that would have paid musicians a base salary of $151,000 in the final year of the contract, which was rejected, was 'the last, best and final contract [offer and] would have kept the members of the CSO orchestra among the best compensated in a US orchestra.'" (I should add here that various members of my extended family have played with the CSO as tenured members, interim players and subs.)
More context: "The strike resulted in the cancellation of a concert under Riccardo Muti's direction Saturday night at Symphony Center and threatened several more scheduled concerts this week, along with a scheduled tour to New York and Mexico in early October. It comes as a serious blow to the reputation of an internationally celebrated cultural institution at which labor contracts have been hard-fought over the years but have generally been settled without backroom contention boiling over into the media before they were signed ... Lurking behind all this labor unrest and management resistance is the suspicion that the old business model is outmoded. But nobody is quite sure what the new business model should and could be."
After missing opening night, everyone came back to the table and struck a deal. Not everything is rosy, however: "Bruised feelings exist on both sides. Among other things management wasn't happy about that Saturday night strike, and musicians weren't happy to see their average salaries being discussed publicly, and neither side agrees with the other's math."
Musicians in Atlanta reached a last-minute agreement with their management, averting a cancellation of the beginning of their season: "The deal will cost players $5.2 million in compensation over two years, change their pay structure, and cut their numbers significantly. In return, ASO President Stanley Romanstein and a handful of other top ASO executives will forfeit 6 percent of their collective salaries."
Yet more labor contentiousness, this time from Twin Cities: The Minnesota Orchestra made what it termed its "final contract proposal" to its musicians Tuesday night; over in St. Paul, the members of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra made a new proposal to their board. Both contracts expire Oct. 1 at midnight.
Spring for Music, the recently founded effort to bring North American orchestras to Carnegie Hall each spring to highlight creative programming (and which we here at NPR Classical have been webcasting live each year in partnership with WQXR), will be ending as of 2014. Mary Lou Falcone, one of the program's organizers, says that they "could not raise the money for another season or sell another presenter on the idea."
And philosophical questions from Philly: "Despite troubles in the front office and the boardroom, the thing they exist to support — the ensemble itself — continues to operate at a superlative level. Review after review is a rave. ... Has Philadelphia ever had a sports team that has scored so consistently high? But that will end if management can't figure out how to package, market, and pay for it. For the orchestra to get through the next few years of planned deficits while raising endowment to a level necessary for an organization of its ambition, something like $200 million must be raised."
Reynold Levy is stepping down from as the president of Lincoln Center. During his 10-year tenure, he saw the organization through an enormous redevelopment of its 16-acre campus and raised $1.3 billion in funding. He told the New York Times that his secret was "changing the economic model at Lincoln Center — finding sources of recurring revenue that have nothing to do with ticket prices."
Also in New York: A new public high school is set to open next fall, focusing on contemporary music and how to carve out a career as a classical musician in this DIY era. It's an expansion of the existing Special Music School, which currently exists as a kindergarten-to-8th-grade institution in partnership with the Kaufman Center (which runs Merkin Hall).
I'm not making this up, you know: For an installation this past weekend at the V&A Museum in London, a mezzo-soprano named Louise Ashcroft grew algae on her face, which were nourished by her breath. Post-performance, the audience was invited to "taste her song" — in layman's terms, to eat the algae. Called Algae Opera (of course), the piece was created by artists Michiko Nitta and Michael Burton. Go look at the picture on iO9 right now — and ponder the possibilities for a future Ring cycle. Erda, perhaps?