an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Nobody wants to audition for Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Musicians of the ASO have written a reasoned letter to their board, telling them that the ensemble is quickly gurgling down the drain. The musicians are being asked to take a 25 percent pay cut, on top of prior concessions, as the orch faces a $20 million deficit.

They report that many of their number are looking for other jobs, and that Atlanta can no longer attract the calibre of musicians it requires to remain a frontline contender.

At a recent ASO audition, only one-third of the usual number of candidates appeared, none of whom was qualified for even a temporary position. Numerous orchestra members are preparing for auditions elsewhere. Three have been invited to play with the New York Philharmonic this coming season, and may not return.

Worse, the board is putting a gun at the players’ heads: The WAC board and ASO executives have announced that if we do not agree to their demands before August 25, they will lock out the Orchestra and cancel our healthand dental insurance. 

Here’s the public face of the orchestra.

And here’s the musicians’ letter in full:

August 9, 2012

 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,

 

We hope your summer is going well. We wish this letter were simply a greeting to look forward to great music-making in a new Atlanta Symphony season. Unfortunately, we write instead with an urgent plea for your intervention to avert a catastrophe that threatens to derail the upcoming season and cause permanent damage to the ASO as a whole.

 

On May 15, ASO management announced a new business model to “ensure the continuation of great musical experiences [and]…find new ways to deliver our art for the 21st century….a template for the future that other orchestras could emulate.” Yet in contract negotiations, the ASO management is insisting on terms that will hurl us backwards rather than propel us forward, gut the heart of the Orchestra, render untenable the work lives of the very musicians who create these great musical experiences, and make it difficult if not impossible to retain them or attract new talent.

 

Last winter, several of you astutely questioned ASO executives’ erroneous claim that they were prevented by law from discussing contract negotiations with the board. ASO executives reassured you at a subsequent meeting on March 12 that the Draconian terms they had presented were “just the first proposal.” Five months later, they have not retreated from extreme measures that would strip the orchestra of its artistic integrity. They propose to reduce the total musicians’ expenses by 26%, slashing each musician’s compensation permanently by over $20,000, reduce the number of musicians from 95 to 89, and reserve the right to impose further reductions at their will.

 

The WAC board and ASO executives have announced that if we do not agree to their demands before August 25, they will lock out the Orchestra and cancel our healthand dental insurance. While ostensibly bargaining in good faith, they clearly planned for this confrontation by scheduling the start of the 2012-13 season weeks after our contract expires, later than any season has ever begun before. Management apparently believes this will intimidate musicians yet pass unnoticed by the public and other interested parties, such as yourself.

 

Within the music world, the turmoil has already attracted plenty of attention. The troubling state of affairs has hurt the orchestra’s reputation and threatens to inflict long-term damage. At a recent ASO audition, only one-third of the usual number of candidates appeared, none of whom was qualified for even a temporary position. Numerous orchestra members are preparing for auditions elsewhere. Three have been invited to play with the New York Philharmonic this coming season, and may not return. Even without further reductions, the ASO ranks 14th in salary out of the top 18 full-time American orchestras. We must take steps to stanch this talent drain, and resolve conflicts that will otherwise hasten the demise of a great orchestra.

 

Is this the “template for the future” that the ASO management claims to aspire to achieve as a model for others to emulate? Certainly it does not live up to the WAC’s commitment to “never sacrifice the quality of the art.’’ Nor could the ASO expect to add to the 27 Grammy Awards it has brought back to Atlanta. Rather, it would cause irreparable harm to the orchestra and generate years of ill will.

 

We musicians are fiscal conservatives ourselves – we have to be in a profession in which our incomes do not rise significantly over the course of our careers even in the best of times as most professionals’ do. We do understand that changes are required, and are willing to help the ASO achieve a stronger financial position. The boards and management of the WAC and the ASO, as well as the musicians, must all play a fair part in achieving that financial stability. At the same time, we know that the financial problems of the ASO are not that the musicians are “just too expensive;” after all, the costs of employing 95 musicians comprise a mere 28% of the total ASO budget. The sacrifices must be shared. Management has claimed they have made cuts in staff compensation comparable to those they are demanding of us. We have yet to see any proof of this statement.

 

As many of you are aware, Orchestra musicians already made difficult concessions in 2009. We made others earlier to create the complement we have, steps we took — together with the Music Director — because both sides understood how important it was for artistic excellence. Those agreements, negotiated in good faith, helped propel the Atlanta Symphony to its place as one of the nation’s preeminent

symphony orchestras, which in turn burnished Atlanta’s image as great city. Today, the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) board of directors proposes to undo that compact, taking away those benefits without any recompense.

 

The WAC board does not seem to understand or value what it takes to make a great symphony orchestra. Each member of the Orchestra devoted years to practice and individual study with eminent teachers before qualifying even to participate in the grueling audition process one must pass to play in the Orchestra, and each of us must continue to practice for many hours every week (whether being paid for our work or not) throughout our professional careers. Our instruments put many of us into debt that dwarfs student loans, auto loans, and even mortgages. ASO musicians’ level of expertise is comparable to that of major-league athletes, surgeons, lawyers or top engineers: it takes virtuoso musicians and years of working together to develop the cohesive, subtle, powerful sound that the ASO capably produces week after week. If it was easy to plug musicians into a group and sound fabulous, every city would have an internationally recognized orchestra!

 

It is glaringly apparent our institution must evolve in order to thrive in the 21st century. Other orchestras — Los Angeles, Boston, St. Louis, Houston, Nashville, National, San Francisco, and the New York Philharmonic, to name a few — have made exciting innovations in what they offer patrons and the larger communities they serve and in how they fundraise. The Dallas Symphony just announced a balanced budget after expecting a shortfall of $6.5 million. They expanded their donor base, added significant corporate and foundation support, and generated positive responses to new marketing and audience development initiatives – all areas where the ASO falls short. Atlanta has just as many Fortune 500 headquarters as Dallas. Yet the many creative ideas we offer for programming to reach untapped and underserved audiences meet with silence and inaction.

 

The WAC model for supporting and evaluating the ASO must be reevaluated. The WAC board historically judges and punishes the Orchestra failing to produce a profit in each of its venues and activities – an entirely unrealistic goal. At the same time, the board impedes you, our ASO leaders, from forging relationships with corporations, foundations, and others that would enable us to raise additional funding, and redirects funds that could help us to other uses. One need only compare the WAC’s corporate donors to the ASO’s to see how few corporate contributions reach the Orchestra.

 

We are eager to realize the potential that exists, and we imagine you are, too. We hear only about what the ASO can’t do – they can’t find sponsors, corporate or individual donors, or government support. They can’t sustain future summer concerts. (Yet watch Stanley Romanstein speaking just last summer about our summer home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhLjoQnEewg.) And while management touts education and community engagement, they actually propose to cut community outreach by ASO musicians instead.

We need to bring to your attention one more related issue, that of the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater at Encore Park, which we believe merits close analysis. The amphitheater was touted as the Orchestra’s new summer home and a revenue center that would fund the Symphony and support our work there and elsewhere. We all sacrificed for this initiative, agreeing to lean contracts, concessions, and reallocations of funding in the expectation of added revenue in the future and a superior summer home where we could build new audiences. But after millions of dollars invested to build and run VWA, the income has fallen dramatically short of promises and projections. Unlike the Orchestra, VWA was designed for the purpose of generating revenue to support various functions of the ASO. Perhaps fiscal conservatism and the level of due diligence we exercise in our audition procedures should have been – and now must – be applied to VWA.

We need for the ASO to exercise strong and visionary leadership and for the WAC to fulfill its role as the supportive parent organization of a renowned symphony orchestra. We believe new WAC CEO Virginia Hepner when she says she cares “all about artistic excellence…having more arts and culture…and world-class art and education,” values we share with you as well.

 

The WAC and ASO boards need to get to the bottom of the current precarious fiscal condition and right the ship – without throwing the Orchestra, its most precious cargo, overboard. Musicians are willing to play a part in cutting costs. On August 2, we submitted our second proposal, which includes deep concessions. We proposed not only cuts in compensation, but also a permanent reduction in the size of the orchestra (with additional unfilled positions), two weeks of furloughs, and contributions to our health care premiums. These add up to a contribution of more than $2 million over two years. We are still waiting to see that sacrifice is shared and felt equally across the entire ASO organization.

 

The future of the ASO hangs in the balance. Your actions will determine whether the ASO remains the prize-winning orchestra in which so many people have lovingly invested for many decades.

 

We thank you, as always, for your generous gifts of time, support, and leadership, as well as for your friendship. We are equally grateful that you appreciate and understand the value — and the need — of together finding an economically viable solution that does not compromise the excellence the ASO has painstakingly built over generations. Please take action to avert the disaster we all face without your help, and work with us so that the ASO as a unified organization can ensure its future.

 

Sincerely,

 

The ASOPA Committee on behalf of all ASO musicians

 

ASOPA Committee: Daniel Laufer, President / Joel Dallow, Vice President Bruce Kenney, Secretary / Michael Moore, Treasurer At Large Members: Lachlan McBane, Sandy Salzinger, Christina Smith, Colin Williams E-mail contact: ASOPAPresident@gmail.com

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    When such a situation arises, one must always look at what and who came before. The need for Draconian measures doesn’t happen spontaneously and is usually the result of years of management problems. I would examine the financial health of ASO during Ms. Vulgamore’s tenure and compare it with the current situation. Why did she leave for Phila Orch which was already in dire straights before her arrival. As I understand it, Atlanta is especially complicated because of the oversight by the Woodruff Arts Center Board and the governance of the ASO Board. I think we all need to watch this situation closely because ASO has been a treasure for many years, brought to international prominence by Robert Shaw (who, I believe, made one of the first ever digital recording with them many years ago). He also founded the ASO chorus which was remarkable under his guidance. I would also watch Robert Spano’s (MD of ASO) public reaction to this situation. He could well be a viable candidate elsewhere…

  2. The beginning of 2011 and the perilous condition of the western economy brought great difficulties to orchestras and arts organizations everywhere. In the USA, orchestras had been dependent for many years on private donations, and the consequences of that dependence were becoming increasingly difficult in times of economic restraint. There was a wide debate that was taking place in American society, as to the importance of the “difficult” arts

    Detroit Symphony Orchestra
    DETROIT
    Michigan 55/6 Waterfront Avenue
    Edinburgh
    Scotland

    28th March 2011

    Dear Friends

    We are nearly in the month of March and near the end of the long Scottish winter. The snow, wind and rain from the Forth estuary, have been growling and moaning outside my window for months. This morning, sunlight filled the room as I opened the door, and the breeze from the sea, gently lifted the curtains and my spirits. I don’t take part in the rough and tumble of orchestral life any more but your predicament is, of course, a familiar one that is becoming more widespread in these troubled times.

    When I was a young man, I travelled with a chamber group to give a concert in a village in one of the affluent southern counties of England. Having finished our afternoon rehearsal, we all went into the church hall for a pre-concert meal that was meant to have been organised by the local music club. The trestle tables were bare and the room was empty except for a dramatic scene that was being enacted in the corner, in which the central tragic character was a lady, in cashmere, pearls, and considerable distress, who was being attended to, and consoled, by a small group of people. Eventually her sobbing incoherence, and anxiety to communicate the reasons for her disquiet, culminated in the loud anguished cry, “ But what sort of food do musicians eat!!!”

    This hapless lady, sobbing and squeezing her sodden handkerchief in the heart of rural England, had been too frightened and bewildered to perform the relatively simple task allotted to her, of providing food for us, apparently because it would have involved some understanding of the mysterious and unknown dietary requirements of itinerant musicians.

    Mistrust and semi anonymity have been constant companions in our countless disputes with managers, critics and agents for many years here in Britain.

    At one point in the sixties, the Royal Philharmonic orchestra officially did not exist, having been excluded from performing at the Royal Festival Hall and deprived of its Royal status. On the death of Sir Thomas Beecham the RPO’s players were informed that they were not entitled to any benefit from his musical legacy, and that the orchestra should disband. The British Arts Council, the Royal Philharmonic Society, the music critics of the London newspapers, the heads of the major record companies, and the international agents were by and large in agreement with that view.
    That was the beginning of a long winter for us, and there were to be many more to come, and I was reminded yesterday of those unhappy times, whilst reading about your current and depressingly familiar travails. Our enemies did retreat eventually, but that did not happen without a protracted struggle accompanied by a torrent of libel, slander and antagonism that was directed at us as a penalty for daring to ask for some degree of control over our own lives.

    During one newspaper exchange about players’ salaries, a retired army major from Cirencester was infuriated to discover that orchestral musicians got paid AT ALL! and somehow managed to connect the whole thing with the battle of El Alamein! But embattled as we were then, that eminent orchestra is now still very much in existence, as you will know, and entertains the public of most countries of the World to this day, having control of its own affairs under the guidance of a board of directors, elected from and by the orchestral players themselves. This is of course, by no means a perfect system, but it offers the players SOME degree of autonomy. How else can music be made?

    We are the music makers
    And we are the dreamers of dreams,
    Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
    And sitting by desolate streams; -
    World losers and world-forsakers,
    On whom the pale moon gleams:
    Yet we are the movers and shakers
    Of the world forever, it seems.

    The doors and windows are wide open to the sea. The sun is shining at last, and the gulls are cheering you all on to victory.

    Very best wishes, huge admiration and good luck.

    Terry Johns

    P.S Every orchestra here in Britain, has at one time or another in its history been crippled by the excessive fees charged by conductors, agents, and management, and they have been threatened, cheated, misrepresented or lied to, but I can only say that for myself that this has been a small price to pay for the glittering gift that I was given.

    But we, with our dreaming and singing,
    Ceaseless and sorrowless we!
    The glory about us clinging
    Of the glorious futures we see
    Our souls with high music ringing:
    O men it must ever be
    That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,
    A little apart from ye.

    • José Bergher says:

      I own many recordings by the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. All those recordings are magnificent. (Among my favorites are Schumann’s “Manfred” (with George Rylands); Händel’s “Love in Bath”; Beethoven’s C major Mass and “The Ruins of Athens” overture; Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy,” with Primrose.) I also own recordings by the same great orchestra under Sargent and Stokowski. May it never lose its self-governing status; may it never succumb to the temptation of merging, that aberration that is sometimes invoked to remedy the lack of financial resources. Long live the Royal Philharmonic!

  3. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    The video is typical of current marketing strategies which result from the advice of highly paid consultants. A segue to ASO and ASOC performing Carmina Burana might have been a nice touch at the end but…i must stop now before I really get into trouble LOL.

    • Wow. I thought the video featuring Ms. Banks put the orchestra in a good light. She obviously has a passion for music. If she can translate her passion to the masses and have some of them buy tickets, that is a great thing. I also didn’t get the feeling that Ms. Banks had littered her mind with “current marketing stategies”. She seemed to be speaking from the heart, and that came through in the video.

      My sympathy is with the musicians and with the effort to keep great music making in Atlanta. Let’s hope this can be achieved. We’ll see.

  4. harold braun says:

    Very alarming.Wonderful orchestra.I hope they find a solution,like Philadelphia.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      The jury is still out on Phila Orch solution after 15 months in bankruptcy. They have only bought time until they see how much buzz the new MD can create. The same foxes are still guarding that henhouse hoping a new rooster will solve all the problems.

      I wish Atlanta the courage to become the first self-managed American Orchestra like many of the great European ensembles. Throw out the non-profit Boards who are just amateurs (pros in their own field but losers when it come to orchestra management). The musicians should all resign along with Spano and Runnicles and form their own self-run ensemble. The CEO’s salary in any orchestra should be capped at 10 (or even 5) times the salary of the lowest paid full-time administrator; the MD’s salary should be no more than 5 times the salary of the lowest paid full-time musician. Soloists must be capped at a fee per concert which is equal to no more than twice the MD’s fee per concert (divide salary by number of concerts).

      If EVERY full-time professional orchestra in America followed similar rules, there would be no need for bankruptcy actions and perhaps they would be forced to hire more American conductors and soloists and more young artists in general. Even sports teams realize that compensation structures are out of control, hence the massive league taxation for teams that exceed the salary caps. Unless orchestras start thinking more creatively concerning everything from programming to budget, they are doomed to continue past mistakes.

      • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

        Capping the music director’s salary at no more than 5 times that of the lowest paid full-time musician is the best idea I’ve heard in a long time. Many orchestras resemble Walmart in the wide disparity between the musicians’ salary and that of the conductor. It’s no wonder that orchestral musicians’ morale is on a par with that of prison guards.

      • Russell Maddox says:

        Robert – there actually is a self-managed orchestra in the US: the Louisiana Philharmonic. Admittedly they’re not on Atlanta’s level. but they do have full time musicians and run things themselves.

      • This is sheerest nonsense. The Atlanta Symphony could be paying Robert Spano ZERO, and yet the orchestra would nonetheless be in deepest financial peril. No American orchestra has become mired in debt because of the salary paid to its Music Director.

        The gulf between INCOMING REVENUES and RISING EXPENSES is the problem—in Atlanta and everywhere else. Orchestras simply are not generating enough revenue to keep up with skyrocketing expenses.

        For many American orchestras, revenues now account for as little as one-fifth of annual expenses.

        It has become a structural problem. Giant endowments may be the only means of long-term survival for virtually all American orchestras.

        “Forced to hire more American conductors and soloists and more young artists in general”: Well, that provincial remedy will certainly continue to keep ticket-buyers at bay in Atlanta. Why do you think Atlanta has such a grave attendance problem—dating back to 2001, I might add—in the first place?

        (By the way, if the Atlanta Symphony were to become self-governing, which of course will not happen, the existing endowment would as a matter of law still belong to the Board Of Trustees of the old organization and would not pass to any new self-governing orchestra.)

  5. Sounds like the Colorado Symphony Orchestra from last fall getting ultimatims like this from their (thankfully mostly former) board.

    • Yes: thank you for noting the uncanny resemblance to the ultimatums, not negotiations, in Denver last fall. While we’re on the topic, let’s not forget the ultimatums in Detroit. And don’t forget Lousiville. And don’t forget Fort Worth. And don’t forget Indianapolis, Minneapolis, or St. Paul, which, just like Atlanta, are having the 40% gun held to their heads right now, too. In most of these cases, musicians actually attempted to negotiate in good faith by countering plans to their managements, many of which were very close to what was being rammed down their throats. They were met with hardline insistence on taking every cut being forced or facing shutdown of the orchestra (which makes no sense: there’s plenty of room to negotiate when a true negotiation is taking place, but, as noted, a true negotiation has not taken place in any of these cases, only intimidation and ultimatums). With orchestras like Dallas, Nashville, San Diego, LA, NY all not having these issues, the economy cannot be cited as the instigator for all of this strife. Such an epidemic. Where on (League) earth could (of) it (American) be coming (Orchestras) from?

  6. Luann Nelson says:

    The ASO is a jewel for the city of Atlanta and the entire Southeast, and I hope that those in charge are stating their case strongly both to important local businesses and to the Fortune 500 with local operations that a city that lacks a major orchestra can hardly call itself a major city. My son was a member of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, which many of the ASO members work with diligently, for two years, and Mr. Michael Moore was a great help and inspiration as he auditioned for Tanglewood, for college auditions, and for master classes as competitions. He drove from North Carolina to Atlanta, over three hour each way, but it was well worth it to him. The ASO truly gives to the community and to young musicians and its musicians do not deserve to bear a disproportionate burden.

  7. Nuvakwahu says:

    Detailed story here: http://mo.accessatlanta.com/AccessAtlanta-sharing_/aso-must-slow-tempo-1494346.html

    Most interesting is the debt progression (bottom of story) from 2003-2013:

    2003: $1.1 million

    2004: $1.1 million

    2005: $1.8 million

    2006: $2.8 million

    2007: $4.2 million

    2008: $5.1 million

    2009: $9.3 million

    2010: $12.6 million

    2011: $15.5 million

    2012: $18.2 million

    2013: $19.8 million (projected)

  8. Transition to self-rule would be horrifyingly unpredictable. Big arts donors i the US seem to worry that the lack of employee status will result in sliding musical (quality) standards, as in corporate situations. This is preposterous. Musicians strive for excellence to impress each other, not audiences and conductors. Any US orchestra has more than enough brainy, energetic members to figure out how to hire the management personnel needed to put itself on a sound financial basis. The problem has always been that US non-profit law causes orchestras to elect and rely upon boards of directors who know nothing about the business, to make decisions. Not surprising that an economic downturn has brought on orchestral bankruptcies. I’ve been told that only 15% of businesses in the US have funded their pension plans to the extent required by law. Orchestra managements are probably just as bad. Small wonder that several boards of directors have taken the chicken way out, that is, bankruptcies, to get out from under their carefully negotiated, long-standing promises to their employees. When the level of cultural sophistication in a city isn’t high enough to provide visionary leadership for its cornerstone arts institutions, the institutions need to find leadership from among the committed, expert few-in this case, the musicians themselves.

  9. Walter Benester says:

    The main reason nobody wants to audition for ASO is because older players simply don’t allow young (and gifted)take their places.Sadly,the old glory of the orchestra is long gone,and the only way to save the orchestra is to make excising players re-audition each year.

    • Walter, I don’t buy that one bit. I personally didn’t audition for Atlanta because of the issues going on there, having it always been a job that I would have loved being in, since I’m from the south, it pains me to see whats going on there. A draconian measure was tried with my orchestra as well and we persevered and found new found life with help from new blood on our board. The ASO is filled with talented young players, look at their principal oboe chair, she’s in her early twenties and is an absolute powerhouse of a player.

    • I went to plenty of ASO concerts last season. I thought the younger generation was quite well-represented.

      • Walter Benester says:

        Some players are sleeping during the concerts. After 30 years of playing they clearly have no interest in playing,but don’t let young invade their territory.After the ousting of Yoel Levi the orchestra has lost it’s ability to communicate with the audience.The only way to end the collapse of the symphony is to hold open auditions for every seat.

        • Mr. Benester. Is this annual re-audition/interview only to apply to orchestral musicians, or would you apply it to all employees in any line of work including yours? If so, then please invite me to be on the interview panel for your job, so that I may be as insensitive and ill-informed as you obviously are.

          • Walter Benester says:

            Mr.Greenlees,
            Annual re-audition would help to bring new talent and make “old talent” practice some.In most professions re-qualification is required every few years or so (doctors,pilots,teachers and so on).Thankfully I have been retired for years.

        • Luann Nelson says:

          I don’t know who you’re talking about but if you take a look at the brass players at least half the group is very young. The principal flute, clarinet, and oboe are all young and quite fabulous. My daughter has studied with principal flute Christina Smith, and she is a lovely person and a lovely musician. And in defense of the veterans of the ASO, Michael Moore has been principal tuba for many years, but anyone who impugns his musicianship or professionalism is completely out to lunch.

    • If the audition to which they are referring was the substitute viola audition, the reason for fewer applicants was because it was a one year audition. I feel that this is an inaccuracy within the article.

      As for 3 players going to the New York Philharmonic this year, I wonder if that refers to the upcoming viola audition (in New York). While the article is phrased to suggest that three ASO members will play with the NYP this season, it is possible that they may have just been invited to audition.

      My point is this: the situation for musicians is very bad. However, this does not mean that we should resort to misrepresentation to prove our point. The first paragraph sets a bad example.

  10. ruben greenberg says:

    The “full-time” symphony orchestra may become -is maybe already becoming-a thing of the past, superseded by especially assembled orchestras like Abaddo’s Lucerne Orchestra, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and many period-instrument ensembles; The reason is jaded rehearsals, concerts and repertory of the usual institutionalised symphony orchestra. Perhaps this is something one should accept and it is time to move on to something else. Of course, there is the sociological and economic issue of musicians having to earn a living, but seeing as it is so difficult to get into a top professional orchestra, their members only represent but a tiny part of working professional musicians.

    • Abbado’s Lucerne Festival Orchestra is full of fine musicians from top orchestras in Europe. This is the main reason that they are so special. Sounding the death knell for these full time orchestras, which in my playing experience sound anything but jaded, would by definition also eventually wipe out the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

      • another orchestra musician says:

        Exactly right, DG. To a significant extent, the orchestra makes the players – not the other way around. Conservatories and ad hoc freelance ensembles are not sufficient to produce great orchestra musicians. Only prolonged experience working in an ensemble of high calibre, under competent musical leadership and in an acoustically appropriate setting can achieve this.

  11. ruben greenberg says:

    The traditional symphony orchestra may become a thing of the past, superseded by ensembles such as Abaddo’s Lucerne Orchestra, the Budapest festival Orchestra, youth orchestras and period instrument ensembles. The reason is the jaded rehearsals, repertory and performances of the former. Perhaps this is a natural evolution one should accept and a way of bringing enthusiasm back to the world of Classical music which is wont to become a world of routine. Of course, musicians must earn a living, but seeing as it is so difficult to pass a rehearsal to get into a full-time orchestra, this only enables a tiny percentage of musicians to have a steady, well-paid job. Most professional musicians are not members of a full-time symphony orchestra.

  12. :) instead of inviting 400 unqualified people, invite 30 and treat them respectfully , e.g. Pay food, hotel, travel , honestly … We Americanos can learn “good manners” and fair business practices from our European cousins ..

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Excellent point. The other travesty is that American orchs often have auditions for which candidates have spent hundreds, or even thousands of dollars for travel and lodging and then accept no one only to start the process over forcing many of the same candidates to spend even more money. Are American orchestras so good that after listening to 200 violinists, none of them are good enough to play last stand 2nd violin? I doubt it.

      Government support of the arts in European countries give orchestras a financial foundation more than equivalent to endowment income. The problem is the resulting governmental control and endless bureacracy that come along with that largesse. When the American financial model works (Boston, inspite of being artistically leaderless, LA, San Francisco, and several others), it is at least on the level of the European system, if not better; but when it doesn’t function, the result is Phila Orch bankruptcy, Atlanta in distress, Delaware Symphony on the verge of non-existence, etc, etc, etc. If Jesse Rosen is reading this blog, please tell us what the League of American Orchestras is doing to help handle these crises. My cynical side wonders if there will be lawyers booths at the LAO annual meeting offering expert bankruptcy advice, citing chapter and verse.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Don’t get me started, LOL. Another thing stuck in my craw is the willingness to take virtuoso students direct from conservatories into major American orchestras sometimes even before they graduate. The New World Symphony under MTT is an excellent training ground for conservatory grads and provides a bridge for them between the rarified world of the top-level conservatory, and the sometimes cruel realities of life in a professional orchestra.

        Major American orchestras should require that their candidates have at least a Diploma or a Bachelor Degree from an accredited institution before they are accepted for audition and they should send accepted musicians under 25 to New World Symphony or similar situation for a 2 year internship. The Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic is one of the few examples of this approach, I believe. (I know that others will gleefully correct any errors).

        • Robert, why should musicians need a Diploma or a Bachelor Degree? Because they should learn the value of incurring $200,000 in student debt before they can take an under-paying job with an American symphony orchestra? 50% of recent graduates are defaulting on their loans, not just in music.
          What are you really suggesting?

          • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

            I’m suggesting that musicians in a symphony orchestra are more that musical robots or technicians who, as they age, might lose their manual proficiency and sometimes become disenchanted, unhappy people, They are artists who need the intellectual tools to continually grow as artists and as human beings. No graduate of a major American conservatory or post-secondary school of music incurs $200K in debt after undergrad studies. The best students receive massive financial aid from the best schools unless their parents have resources to cover tuition and room-and-board. One hopes that those top students are the candidates to become soloists and/or members of the best ensembles, small or large.

            I’m suggesting that people are better citizens when they have a broad-based liberal education that includes the arts, literature, history, the sciences, etc. whether they are performing artists, visual artists, physicians, politicians, or software engineers or athletes. Members of a symphony orchestra are a community treasure just like school teachers and civic leaders. Do you expect any less than the best possible education before these leaders embark on their career of choice?

            I’m suggesting that a conservatory is not a trade school, or a technical institute which certainly have their role to play in society. A school of the arts is a place where the best student artists are called to follow a special career that will influence them and their audience for as long as they perform and perhaps as long as they live and even beyond thanks to recordings.

            I’m insisting that the current model is broken…the orchestras that realize that and take innovative steps will survive, the others will become the next “fill in the blank.” Every person need the best possible education, including performing musicians, whatever the costs.

        • Stuck in your craw?? What is a craw? Where is your craw??

      • Robert when you say that “No graduate of a major American conservatory or post-secondary school of music incurs $200K in debt after undergrad studies” you picked an awfully high number $200K. That statement might be technically true. However, I would propose that you are incredibly naive to the debt levels of most conservatory students. I personally know several friends of mine who are well over 100K in debt after conservatory. They are of varying levels of ability. Some of them perhaps should have not pursued so much schooling at great expense for a career that is unlikely, but others are FANTASTIC as players, people, and teachers and they still can’t find a position. The entire system is untenable in my opinion. Not sure what to do. hate to just sit back and watch us slowly sink…but it seems to be the only option on the table at the moment…

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Dear Musician,

          I didn’t pick that $200K figure, it was my dear friend Sofia in the previous message in this thread to whom I replied. I agree, in general, with your assessment of an untenable system from conservatory to the grave with major orchestras and other presenters as the core of this problem. Let’s face it, if one can afford to pay or can pay by getting loans, most schools keep their doors open to such candidates. A leader of a major music school said about 30 years ago (!!) that we would all be better off is there were fewer schools luring students into a profession with little prospect of earning a real living except for the highest very small percentage. He had a point.

          Those who run schools blame the profession while the profession (League of American Orchs and others) blame the schools. I know this for a fact having personally been the target of verbal attacks in public meetings along with another colleague from a famous and VERY large American school (not beginning with “J”). Those who were running orchestras at that time (about 20 years ago) claimed that the decline of the symphony orchestra was rooted in the schools. I know that some schools heard that complaint and have reacted with a better instructional model; the problem is that most orchestras are stuck in the 1980s and 1990s when everyone was doing a little better. Granted that our choices are limited but incompetent senior management and arrogant Boards don’t help our chances of improving situations like Atlanta.

  13. Octavio Cortes says:

    The very moment any musician stops playing to the expected excellence level, his or her musicianship is placed in question. Auditions happen, and musicians are replaced, period. And there are plenty lined up to audition. Meteorologist on the other hand still get paid even if their assessment of future events weather wise are wrong, and this is a privilege in any profession, not being able to do what you are expected to do, yet still get paid to continue doing it. No respectable company allows this kind of practice from management; any respectable manager knows that his or her position will not be there for long if the expected performance of the company is not achieved, period. Allowing a world class orchestra such as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to go the slightest bit into debt is practically criminal, for there is no excuse when it comes to the quality of the product. It would be yet another huge shame for the United States to have another one of its best in the world orchestras fail to adapt to the times, definitely due to the lack of the kind of great management that other orchestras have attained. Musicians can make a living outside of an orchestra, and a very decent one. In fact, many not so “decent” musicians make even more money than members of symphonic orchestras. And this is something that managers or artistic institutions should always have in the back of their minds. The music always goes on, crisis, wars; or even catastrophes have never stopped the music, because music drives society, not the other way around. Music was around even before religion, for music is a form of entertainment based on natural principia. Society does not make music, music makes society, since the same kind of creative drive is responsible for both since the beginning.
    I wish the best for all members of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, whether it will be that their poor management predicament is resolved, or that they find other venues to continue doing what they have proven again and again they know how to do best, for this, what they do, cannot be placed in doubt.

    • David Johnson says:

      “The very moment any musician stops playing to the expected excellence level…Auditions happen, and musicians are replaced, period.”

      Would that this were true. At an ASO concert this month, I sat close enough to the orchestra to see how bored some string section members looked throughout — not only their faces, but their body language and playing energy clearly expressed utter disinterest. One bass player didn’t even bother to finger a series of repeated rapid passages, preferring instead an apathetic glissando while the rest of his section churned out sixteenth note triplets. As in academia, tenure can be a problem; multi-year renewable contracts for each position might be a solution.

      • Proper stage deportment is important, as well as everyone performing their parts properly, and this leadership should ideally come from the music director. If it doesn’t, then the musicians should put peer pressure on their colleagues. We are performers and should show the audience that we are playing for the joy of making music. But I am a little disturbed by this unfounded theory that there is a lot of “dead wood” in the ASO. There were many great musicians when I was there 24 years ago, and I know for a fact that there are today. However, there are provisions in the trade agreement to remove tenured musicians, and that’s an artistic decision made by Spano.

        But what’s the point of making a post like this? To justify an irresponsible and damaging proposal by a seriously flawed management? Just to vent and be a hater at a time when the product of a major cultural institution (the musicians of ASO) needs your support? And instead you come up with this?

        • David Johnson says:

          I presented a problem that bothers me and offered a potential solution to it, in the context of the current negotiations. In a larger sense, the point is to question why I, an audience member, should uncritically offer unstinting support to ASOPA in these negotiations when I am unsatisfied with its members’ capacity or willingness to regulate one another in order to produce a first-class musical experience. I do not question that there are many very talented musicians in the ASO. However, it is disingenuous to purport that their presence precludes the presence — or forbids open discussion — of other orchestra members whose comportment or playing is detrimental to the ensemble. This is a long-standing problem for the ASO. I have seen and heard it myself over two decades of concert attendance here.

          I do not think the administration’s first proposal is a good one. It appears unfair to the musicians, will probably not result in a sustainable business model, and would, as you say, adversely affect the artistic product. Moreover, as a potential donor, I expect transparency and accountability from organizations that I support; the present brouhaha throws into sharp relief that ASO (and WAC?) has failed to justify adequately the root causes of its financial situation. Until an independent audit shows where the money has gone, there is no basis for constructing a reasonable contract for the future.

          • David, thanks for your response, it makes a lot of sense-I just get impatient when people start to criticize the musicians in some way, sometimes implying that they are getting what they deserve. Since your response does clear that up, I would encourage you to write to the personnel office of the ASO and bring this to their attention. As a ticket holder, you have every right to expect everyone on that stage to be playing their hearts out. If you know any of the musicians, you should tell them what you have been noticing.

            We aren’t always the best policemen of ourselves, but I always appreciate hearing from our audiences, both the good and the bad-it’s the best way to gain perspective. I would also encourage you to write to and/or contact management and board members, perhaps even city officials so that ASO can get away from WAC and act like a responsible management for a major symphony orchestra.

      • Walter Benester says:

        Mr.Johnson,
        The problem is they are bored on stage,but guard the audition rooms and don’t let anyone come close to target their seats.

        • Walter, we all know you are just trying to bait people – it would help if there was a semblance of reality to your posts. While I confess to being slightly annoyed by them at first, now I find your statements quite entertaining. We could all use some comedic relief on this board (or, in your words, “bored”).

  14. First: Stop whining. Second: Try making a living in NYC as a musician where I can no longer afford my apt or my house and still have to pay for two more years at NYU for my youngest child. Third: Say the word and I’d happily and gratefully be down there in a heartbeat to have steady playing work. ‘Nuff said.

    • First: It sounds like YOU’RE whining – why would you attack members of your own profession? Sour grapes from not winning an audition? I was a member of ASO back in the late 80′s – the musicians then, and now, are world-class and earned their way in by taking auditions and going through the tenure process. Explain to me how it can be whining when musicians of the ASO are touted as a great orchestra by management and the public, and now are told they have to make these draconian cuts? Why shouldn’t they fight for the compensation that they have proven themselves worthy of?

      I was chairman of our negotiating committee in ’09-10, and I feel that cuts are a bad way to go. The musicians of ASO have, in a way, brought this situation on themselves by being so ultra-cooperative with their management, and even volunteering cuts (3 years ago) to help out the organization. Admirable, perhaps, but this has encouraged ASO management to ask for more concessions, as everyone has painfully found out. Maybe I’m a little militant, but I would rather have an organization go under than accept, or especially volunteer pay cuts.

      You see, cuts only encourage mediocrity, they only encourage not working your asses off to insure the future financial stability of the institution. Since I left Atlanta in 1990, the population has grown by at least 1.5 million (correct me if I’m wrong), they had the Olympics, all these things going for it – did the ASO take advantage of this? Nope, their salaries have remained stagnant for years, ASO salaries should really be near the top five of major orchestras considering all the resources there in Atlanta. Perhaps it’s the South, though. Maybe it just isn’t possible to sustain a world-class arts institution there.

      In any event, I wish my colleagues in Atlanta all the best. Regime change might be one alternative. The best solution is to get some talented, brave new board members who recognize the importance of a major arts institution in what is supposed to be a major city, and lead the ASO into a stable future, not the one proposed by the present leaders – their vision will only lead to a not-so-slow decline. I mean, who in their right mind would want to give money to a greatly reduced artistic product? Get rid of these bozos on the board and management if you can.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Ainsi-soit-il, aka, Amen.

      • Er, anyone hoping to lead into a brighter future has to tackle the debt first. Anything else is daft whilst this is untackled. Sure, get rid of those who got the orchestra into that much debt, but it must be tackled before the band can get anywhere further. How do you suggest doing that, other than reducing outgoings significantly all round?

        Far from the players needing higher salaries, the crippling overspend of the orchestra rather suggests that they don’t; or that it sure can’t be afforded.

        • Who said anything about higher salaries? Well, I guess I did when I was referring to the lost potential of Atlanta’s growth vs. ASO’s decline over the last 20 years. I never suggested raises for this negotiation, but cuts of such a nature as proposed would seriously compromise the artistic product – all you really would have left is a shell of the ASO. It would be a case of the cure (so-called), killing the patient.

          Anon, you write “anyone hoping to lead into a brighter future has to tackle the debt first. Anything else is daft whilst this is untackled”.

          Too bad you appear to blindly take the ASO press releases at their word. One has to understand that what an arts institution chooses to spend its money on is purely arbitrary. I hate to say this, but one can’t always take managements at their word – I have learned this through experience. But what one can do is demand a due diligence financial investigation of the ASO and its mommy, the Woodruff Arts Center. The negotiating committee should have the local union pay for their own highly-qualified accountant to look at the books, and then see where the money is going, and where it has gone. That’s the ONLY way to know the truth. And maybe management is not lying and is being perfectly honest in stating their fact and figures. Their draconian proposal is still arbitrary, and dangerously so, for the reasons stated above.

          Let me throw out one fact: The annual budget of the ASO is not too much less than the Cleveland Orchestra’s, maybe 5 or 6 million. However, the percentage of the annual budget going to musician salaries is MUCH greater in Cleveland, so much so that the base salary of a TCO musician is around $122,000, where the ASO’s is around what, $75,000 – 80,000? I think I can clearly see where the overspending lies in the ASO, and it ain’t musician salaries.

          Too bad that the ASO is underneath the Woodruff Arts center umbrella. If ASO was an independent institution, I think it could fare better – just my opinion.

    • Walter Benester says:

      Ellen,you are correct.Instead of practicing music and working on producing slightly more musical and less robotic performances, they are forming a “committee” to save their chairs and salaries so they can continue to have worry-free life with the dental coverage.It is surprising the board did not let them all go,just like US President Reagan did in 1981 to 11,000 air traffic controllers.

      • I’m not sure that free dental healthcare would be enough to give me a ” worry-free ” life.
        I would love to know how qualified you are to label these musicians as musically robotic. Are you suggesting they continue playing with a smile on their faces without trying to safeguard their livelihood?

  15. Aside from the financial and morale issues … that “public face of the ASO” in the video would be enough to scare me away from EVER wanting to hear the ASO again. Are they serious??!? She represents the ASO to the public?
    No wonder they’re in dire times. As for Spano, I hope everyone enjoys his last season or two here in Atlanta. He
    will be in front of a much more prestigious orchestra any time now.

    • You have not been following Spano’s career the last ten years.

      Spano is not in demand anywhere. He has no European career. His list of American reengagements has been tiny. As a general rule, American orchestra musicians have given Spano bad surveys, and requested that he not be reengaged. Spano is what’s known as a “One And Done” guest conductor.

      Many persons familiar with Atlanta’s situation believe that Spano, a Vulgamore hire, IS the reason for Atlanta’s attendance woes.

      • Nuvakwahu says:

        Old Adage: It’s the manager’s job to bring the patron in & the music director’s job to keep them there. But everything is new, right?

      • I have been following his career over the last *22* years, much more intimately and I do mean intimately than you have. Trust me on that. I won’t respond to the rest of your post because any response I give will fall on deaf ears (or blind eyes). Have a nice day.

        • Nick, you might want to check out Spano’s schedule to see how far off the mark you are about his engagements.

          I had someone from a New York agency check Spano’s book for the next year. Spano has no European engagements at all. Not one. In addition to his work in Atlanta, Spano will conduct one weekend in Cincinnati and one weekend in Toronto—and that’s it for North America for the entire 2012-2013 season.

          I knew Spano’s engagement book was bad—but I didn’t realize it was THAT bad. His is the engagement book of someone totally not in demand. By comparison, even James Gaffigan’s book of upcoming appearances is better than Spano’s—and Gaffigan gets European dates, too.

          • Drew Lewis says:

            Drew seems to be fond of using this blog to denigrate musicians of whom, for one reason or another, he disapproves. Witness his recent (June 2012) personal attacks on Nikolaj Znaider embedded, if I recall correctly, in comments on PD’s despatches from Jerusalem. He presents himself as some sort of private investigator, claiming to sleuth out information supporting his slurs, which he then hangs out on display like dirty laundry.

            In Mr Znaider’s case we were led to believe he had got hold of personal information from ‘a very close friend’ in the office of the violinist’s legal counsel. In Mr Spano’s case he ‘had someone from a NY agency’ check the conductor’s engagement book.

            There’s a stink of rotten fish about Drew’s activity.

          • Spano has a bad engagement book. Spano has had a bad engagement book for years and years and years. Is one supposed to pretend otherwise, and observe the fiction that Spano is in demand by the world’s most prestigious ensembles, appearing regularly at the world’s most exclusive venues in the most exalted repertory?

            You might want to tally how many European engagements Spano has received since 1999. It will not take you long to do the count.

            Then you might want to add up the number of Big Five appearances Spano has enjoyed since 1999. Once again, a couple of minutes will be all that is necessary for you to devote to the project.

            The man is in his fifties. The career remains a modest one. There is a reason why Spano will be appearing in Perth while the Salzburg Festival and the Proms are in full swing.

          • Bill Thomas says:

            Does Mr. Spano’s new position as Music Director of the Aspen Music Festival and School count for nothing?

      • Walter Benester says:

        Spano brings the kind of “new and modern”music to the audience,that people in general don’t want to hear.

        • Paul Pellay says:

          Oh please! I should have known that the old canard about “new and modern” music that people in general don’t want to hear would surface at some point. He’s done Jennifer Higdon and Chris Theofanidis ad nauseam, and that’s it! If he had done Elliott Carter or Pascal Dusapin or Helmut Lachenmann on a regular basis, I’d understand this observation. Not agree with it, mind you, but understand, yes.

          • Klaus McGillan says:

            Paul,general public does not like to spend money to hear “new and modern”.They want Mozart,Beethoven and Brahms.

    • William Safford says:

      Just out of curiosity, what do you find objectionable about the video and the employee portrayed therein?

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        I know that you’re not asking me, but I shall reply anyway. I find nothing objectionable about the employee or her brief vocal performance. What I find difficult is a video about an orchestra that doesn’t show what the orchestra actually does. She talks about Carmina Burana, fade to O Fortuna…….video of the orch and chorus…she returns and continues the pitch….fade to another big moment (and there are a few) with conductor whipping the troops into a frenzy…..I object to a video that is produced by someone who has no idea what the Atlanta Symphony and its great tradition of performing symphonic works for orchestra with chorus is about.

      • Linda Grace says:

        @William Safford: there is nothing objectionable about the young woman at all. She is lively, smart, and personable. However, it is not my experience as a long time orchestral audience member that I care in the slightest for these attributes or this job, unless someone has messed up my tickets. I didn’t buy them because of her. Are you listening, high paid consultants?

        • William Safford says:

          Linda and Robert: I agree with both of you about the lady in question. I found her charming.

          That video is just one part of the message. Here is the YouTube description for that video:

          “Meet the behind-the-scenes team of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra — a staff of musicians, singers, and arts aficionados who helps bring our artistry, education, and community initiatives to life.”

          So, she is *one* face of the ASO.

          A YouTube search with keywords “atlanta symphony staff chat” brings up several other videos, by the likes of the Principal Librarian, Rebecca Beavers; and the Manager of Community Programs, Ahmad Mayes.

          So, my original question stands for Nick: what is so egregious about the video of that lady that it “would be enough to scare [him] away from EVER wanting to hear the ASO again”?(emphasis his)

      • In my opinion, I think one should go back and read the letter written by the musicians. They simply state,
        “This is the public face of the orchestra,” leaving the viewer/reader/listener to *read between the lines.*

        • William Safford says:

          I just reread the letter.

          The musicians do *not* “simply state, ‘This is the public face of the orchestra.’” Best that I can tell, Norman Lebrecht wrote that.

          So, don’t make us read between the lines. What about that video offends you?

          • Talk to the hand, Bill. You wouldn’t understand anyway.

          • William Safford says:

            Nick, I gave you several chances to present an alternate interpretation of your comments. I honestly hoped that maybe you objected to the omission of a musical clip from the orchestra (as Robert Fitzpatrick wrote), for example, or maybe you’re not fond of Carmina Burana, or maybe you once had a bad experience with the ticket office.

            I think you’ve made your point abundantly clear to all of us. I think we all now understand where you’re coming from.

            How sad.

          • Billy, you “gave me” several chances to … ? Dude, nobody “gives me” chances. I speak as I please. Since you apparently understood all along what I was referencing (re: your next to your last statement) then why did you continue to badger me about it. And, yes, it is “sad,” because I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that “public face of the ASO” couldn’t discern Bach from Bartok, Beethoven from Bernstein, or Bloch from Berlioz. BY the way, I’ve conducted six performances of Carmina Burana, performed it thirteen times, and have never had a bad experience with the ticket office. Run along, now, and soil someone else’s sandbox, dear.

          • William Safford says:

            So, Nick, if “nobody ‘gives [you]‘ chances,” and you “speak as [you] please,” please do so. Don’t be shy. Be explicit, and let us know exactly where you stand on the topic of that video and that lady.

            It’s funny that you think that I was “badgering” you. I thought I was giving you multiple opportunities to speak as you please — which includes correcting at least one inaccuracy in your previous messages.

            If you do “speak as [you] please,” why didn’t you do so previously, and why did you post at least one inaccuracy, and why haven’t you acknowledged it? After all, isn’t your entire objection to that video and that lady based on that inaccuracy?

            Also it’s funny that you jump to the conclusion that that lady “couldn’t discern Bach from Bartok, Beethoven from Bernstein, or Bloch from Berlioz.” You may be correct, or you could be completely mistaken, but how interesting that you automatically jump to that conclusion with scant evidence.

            Do you claim to be a conductor for the ASO, or for some other ensemble(s)?

            So, who is soiling whose sandbox? Perhaps some self-reflection on your part is in order.

  16. Perhaps someone should look into the for-profit business, S,D & A Telemarketing, which is owned by the “nonprofit” Atlanta Symphony, and sells concert and theater subscriptions nationally. And pays their employees $10.50/hour.

  17. Ferdinand Levy says:

    Musings on Why the ASO Must Seriously Address its Musicians Demands

    It is somewhat upsetting to me that the ASO did add administrative staff positions this year and also lost some staff members to other nonprofit organizations in the Atlanta area. Did it lose the good ones to higher paying jobs and hire less efficient ones?

    As the ASO sank deeper into debt, there seemed to be no inclination on Dr. Romanstein’s or the Board’s part to question whether the higher level officers of the staff could be doing a better job in managing the ASO’s resources and outputs. If the marketing, financial planning, development heads, executive VP, etc. were not improving in their positions or trying new ideas, it would have seemed reasonable to bring some new “blood” into the administrative staff. If an officer has not shown innovative and creative ideas and programs to improve his unit’s performance for five or more years, he/she isn’t going to do it in the future.

    Nonprofit administrators whether in the arts, health, education, etc. fields do not have tenure as the ASO executives seem to have regardless of their performance. After all the musicians have to perform at a superb level to receive tenure and to demonstrate periodically that they deserve to maintain it or be “bought off.” It just doesn’t seem fair or prudent that administrators who have not grown in their jobs every year should have sinecures.

    The current contract situation is not a game for the players. They, like physicians, educators, attorneys,etc. have given their lives and earning a livelihood to their respective professions. Atlanta is fortunate to have great, dedicated, and superbly trained professionals in its orchestra. If they are not compensated appropriately compared to their peers around the country, they will seek and in most cases find jobs in symphony orchestras at least as good and famous as the ASO. The orchestra will have difficulty, if not an impossibility, attracting similarly capable players.

    We all realize that there is no such thing as improving productivity in playing a piece of classical music. Productivity in an orchestra only occurs by its presenting more concerts per week or month. Yet this takes more time on the orchestra’s part and keeps them from earning as much extra income as they have been giving lessons, performing in smaller groups, etc. As an aside it would also keep them from assisting young aspiring musicians…an activity which the ASO publicizes ad nauseam.

    The ASO Board is a different story. It is wonderful that its members are willing to give time and money to the symphony. But its also upsetting that many don’t own tickets to the COMPLETE SEASON of classical concerts.
    And even more, some seem to give less than they can or even not buy tickets under the excuse that their employer does. Innovation is certainly needed here. And a possible solution can be found in other cities, where the symphony boards, opera boards, civic center boards (e.g., Lincoln Center) are divided in groups each of which brings a specific acumen, e.g., money, administrative ability, specific knowledge of the art, etc. to the organization. In most cases, all member must buy a complete season to the concerts and if financially possible, give a minimum contribution. (The arts members may not be able to do this.)

    The Board members claim that the ASO does not get sufficient funding from the state, cities, or counties in Georgia that it serves. This is certainly true, but whose fault is it? The public weal funds Black History Month events, the Black Arts Festival, the Gay Pride Activities, Dogwood Festival, athletic facilities like the Georgia Dome, traffic control for athletic events, public executives’ travel overseas to attract business which may or may not occur, etc. Why can’t the public entities increase their level of public funding of arts organizations and the ASO in particular . The ASO is a $48millions business which certainly increases the spending with its concomitant jobs in the area by at least $150millions. Has the Board said so to the public in an effective manner? Why can’t the ASO as an arts and educational Institution bringing fame to the area at least have the three taxing authorities return the sales tax which it collects for them? If this is impossible, why should the ASO collect sales tax at all. If it didn’t, it could increase the tickets prices by that amount. After all, the private schools in the area present education including arts and do NOT collect sales tax. Perhaps the ASO should have Board members who are related in some way to the public governments in the area.

    Certainly given their past financial sacrifices and loss of relative standing economically speaking in the community, the ASO members are entitled to some sort of minimum recompense for their past assistance to the Board. The orchestra memnbers didn’t create the deficits. They are not management . The Board and the administrative staff did or at least they approved it. The Board, the public entities, and the public at large have to garner the resources to support the minimum demands of the orchestra members by doing the work they agreed to do. Otherwise, they will be responsible for losing a great cultural organization’s members to other cities and solidifying Atlanta’s reputation of being a “Losersville.”

    • Great stuff, Ferdinand. I was, and still am hoping that Atlanta will come through in supporting a world-class symphony orchestra. It’s the best chance the South has. With the exception of Dallas and Houston (and they have had their struggles in recent years), no large city in the South has been able to support a major symphony with the major-league budget that comes with it. Look at Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, SC, NC, all states with good orchestras, but not at the level the ASO is, or potentially could be. The last thing the metro Atlanta area needs is a community orchestra in Atlanta instead of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

      I don’t mean to disparage the South at all, having mostly grown up in Texas, but it seems that where classical music is concerned…

      • Bob Lynch says:

        Sounds like Detroit’s woes. This is not good. The dominoes must stop falling. After WWII when Winston Churchill was pressed to cut funding for the Arts, his reply was “then what did we fight for?” I hope folks get it.

      • You have forgotten Nashville, a serious up and comer. At the rate that Atlanta is going, the Nashville Symphony is going to eclipse it sooner than later.

  18. Klaus Ferils says:

    Sunday night’s concert at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre was billed as “Il Divo and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,” but what the audience heard over the sound system was not the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Instead, it heard prerecorded audio tracks by an entirely different orchestra.

    The Il Divo singers were live, but the orchestra was relegated to the role of visual window dressing.

    According to sources, the musicians were informed at the beginning of a three-hour rehearsal in the afternoon that another orchestra’s audio tracks would be heard by the audience. The tracks included instruments that were not present on stage, such as a synthesized bass guitar.

    Melissa Sanders, the ASO’s senior director of communications, confirmed late Monday that the ASO management on site at Verizon also didn’t find out until the rehearsal that while the orchestra would perform the music live, the audience would hear the prerecorded orchestra. Sanders said the ASO played live during the entire performance with live microphones hanging overhead.

    Nevertheless, the ASO was not in the mix piped to the audience through the sound system. The decision to use the prerecorded music was made entirely by the Il Divo tour, not by anyone from the ASO.

    “I was shocked,” said one ASO musician. “There was a sense of disbelief. I wondered why on earth they wanted to book the Atlanta Symphony for this gig if they didn’t want to hear the Atlanta Symphony.”

    According to sources, as the Il Divo conductor announced to the ASO musicians that they would go unheard, he explained that this was the first show Il Divo had worked with a major symphony orchestra. He said that, because so many of the local orchestras they use aren’t skilled enough to read or play the music for Il Divo, the company had prerecorded the orchestral parts to ensure consistent quality.

    Those audio tracks are loaded onto a computer wired into the sound system, and a special program plays the recorded parts in the appropriate places. It’s a practice that’s widely accepted in television production, and in pop and country music, but it’s rare to have an orchestra on hand as a musical prop.

    For those who missed the bus and don’t already know, Il Divo is the operatic crossover vocal quartet created in 2004 by “American Idol” fixture Simon Cowell. In many ways, the four male singers are meant to emulate the success of the Three Tenors, supplemented by a conspicuous “beefcake” factor: French pop singer Sébastien Izambard (some think intended by Cowell to be an avatar of himself), Spanish baritone Carlos Marín, American tenor David Miller and Swiss tenor Urs Bühler. Il Divo has sold more than 26 million records worldwide and has hordes of mostly female fans.

    Without question, the 5,000 or so people at Verizon Amphitheatre on Sunday were there to see and hear, perhaps in that order, the men of Il Divo, not the small contingent of ASO musicians as a backup band. One cannot blame the musicians, however, who felt disrespected. After all, the ASO’s own recordings have earned 27 Grammy Awards and the ASO was part of the bill.

    It was the first time the ASO has ever served as an “air orchestra” synced to a recording by another orchestra. Its outdoor performances at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta were prerecorded and that audio was used for the television broadcasts. But those recordings were of the ASO itself, not another group.

  19. William: I hold my opinion and it is shared by others (regarding the video.) No further discussion will issue forth from me. So, sod off, mate, and leave me alone.

  20. Chris Cooper says:

    So….. what are the chances that President Romanstein’s comments as to the Walton and Lassiter High School choruses in Cobb County not “reflecting the diversity” of Atlanta being a sudden boom in fund raising? What a stupid remark/action to take when every dollar in revenue and fund raising counts. I will be watching closely as to what the ASO follows up with to distance themselves from these obviously racist comments.

an ArtsJournal blog