Monday, January 18, 2010

Strike in Cleveland Points to Classical Music Woes

January 19, 2010
Strike in Cleveland Points to Classical Music Woes

CLEVELAND — One of the first high-profile labor tussles of 2010 is brewing at the Cleveland Orchestra, and it points to troubled times for the nation’s elite classical musical ensembles amid the Great Recession.

Orchestra members struck on Monday, the first such work stoppage here in 30 years. It was a day off for them anyway, so there was little immediate effect, but the strike forced the cancellation of a two-day teaching and concert trip to Indiana University and threatened a lucrative residency in Miami, both scheduled for this week. The two sides spent much of the day together in talks with a mediator.

In troubles elsewhere, the New York Philharmonic has just reported a record deficit for last year of $4.6 million, with nearly that much of a shortfall expected this season. The Seattle Symphony musicians have authorized a strike if need be.

Many of the nation’s top orchestras have reduced staff positions and administrative salaries in the last year. Orchestras have downsized seasons, canceled tours, programmed smaller works and left jobs open.

Current economic hardships, of course, are partly to blame. But industry experts point out that in the flush years of the 1990s, orchestras went on spending sprees without building up their endowments for a rainy decade. Now the crunch is on. At the same time, the old system of making the majority of ticket money from season-long subscriptions is breaking down. Big recording contracts are long gone.

In Cleveland, the fight revolves around several thousand dollars a year in salary for each player. But implicit is a debate over the worth of exquisitely trained musical artists in our society and how much we are now willing to pay for them.


The Cleveland players’ minimum salary now stands at $115,000, seventh in the nation, but most earn more through additional payments; principal players can earn two or three times that amount.

As the musicians see it, losing further ground will make it tougher to attract the absolute best players, and to keep them, threatening the orchestra’s greatness. “Continuity and stability have been the backbone of this orchestra,” said Michael Sachs, the principal trumpeter.

Mr. Hanson, the executive director, dismissed these arguments. “The proposal that we’re making is fair and reasonable and will not cause any artistic impact such as they’re predicting,” he said. Though the orchestra has been toward the bottom of the elite orchestra pay scale for a decade, he added, virtually no member has defected.

Read the full article HERE.

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