Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune
The recent fervor over NFL replacement referees has come to a boil, and in a similar manner, American orchestras are facing labor disputes of their own. Fortunately, the Louisville and Philadelphia Orchestras have (partially) resolved their issues from last year, but the latest news of trouble with the Minnesota and Chicago Symphony Orchestras is alarming.
Here is an excellent article about the Minnesota Orchestra, featuring Steve Campbell, principal tubist. It tells of the players side of the story from one of the more common trends of major orchestras cutting back during troubled financial times.
Orchestra musicians have a big public relations task in this contract fight; justifying their salaries to the public. The state’s median household income is almost $57,000. The average Minnesota Orchestra musician makes $135,000 a year; the guaranteed minimum for the SPCO is almost $74,000.
Steve explains our side of the story; the years of training, the expense, the stress, the disappointment and the dedication required. I understand that the average players pay may be above the state’s median income, but compared to other professions, such as lawyers, doctors, and politicians, I think that the $135K is reasonable – and appropriate to attract and retain world-class musicians.
Here is a follow-up article from September 25th. It speaks of a possible lock-0ut on September 30th. The players are facing a significant pay cut. The chair of the negotiating committee said: “We are having a difficult time understanding a proposal of a 30 to 50 percent pay cut for musicians, while at the same time, building a $50 million lobby (at Orchestra Hall),” I sincerely hope that the situation resolves itself. The last time I heard that orchestra, it was an amazing experience (read about it on the post “Hammer Time!“)
In a few weeks I will return to Louisville KY for the Klezmerfest. Last year the Louisville Symphony went on strike and have come up with at least a one-year solution. I hope that Minnesota doesn’t get to that point. In related news, I was shocked to learn that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike this past Saturday.
Many things simply boil down to the issue of money, and in the current economic troubles, it is no surprise that organizations are having significant trouble maintaining a bottom line. N0 profession is recession-proof, and musicians have always been told to “have a backup plan”, but to hear that some of the nations top orchestras are having trouble is ominous. I hope the best for these orchestras and their audiences and sincerely wish them luck in resolving their differences. I would hate to see the orchestral version of “replacement refs”.