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Atlanta’s war of words: Lockout king accuses musicians of untruth

Dr Stanley Romanstein would like the world to know that the musicians he has locked out of their workplace and whose wages he has stopped are only telling half the truth. In the interest of balance, we publish his statement:




The musicians’ press release erroneously seeks to drive a wedge between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) Board and the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) Governing Board. This is a mistake, both in fact and in strategy.


The ASO and WAC Boards do appreciate the strides the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA) has made from their original position, but the Boards have been united in saying that it is not enough.


Unfortunately the ASOPA representatives continue to oversimplify the complexity of the ASO’s annual budget and deficit to suit their argument. While it’s true the deficit for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 was $2.7M, it is important to note that is inclusive of $1.8M in non-sustainable sources (i.e. bequests and one-time gifts) without which the true operating deficit is $4.5M. This deficit is expected to trend even higher in FY2013. The fact is the ASO has been running an annual deficit of nearly $5M and the accumulated deficit is approaching $20M. We have had a member of ASOPA on our Board of Directors for 15 years, and we have had two Orchestra musicians on our finance committee for a decade, so this should not come as a surprise to the Orchestra.


ASOPA continues to state that we are asking them to shoulder the sole burden of lowering expenses and balancing the budget, ignoring the fact that, since 2006, average staff compensation has been reduced by 1.7%. During this same period, average musician compensation has risen 23.6%.


Since negotiations began in March, our position has been that total compensation must change, and we’ve offered choices about how that happens. The average compensation of the musicians is $131,000, which currently includes 100% free health and dental coverage, free instrument insurance, retirement pension, and eight (8) weeks of paid vacation.  We have asked our 68 staff members to forego raises, endure layoffs, accept weeks of mandatory furloughs, and to contribute to a healthcare plan which asks them to shoulder between 17 and 31 percent of their health insurance costs — and they have. To increase revenues we’ve asked our audiences to pay slightly higher ticket costs and, overwhelmingly, they’ve said yes.  We’ve asked donors to make even greater personal financial contributions, and they’ve responded generously.


It is true that the musicians allowed their contract to expire on August 25, despite an offer on the negotiating table, so they are no longer being paid a salary.  The musicians are now inactive employees, and therefore ineligible for benefits. It is unfortunate, but this is not news to ASOPA  — whether this was fully shared with the players they represent is something we cannot confirm.


Again we applaud the distance the ASOPA has come, but we cannot settle at this amount if we are to ensure the long-term health of the Orchestra. We have presented the Musicians’ Union with our last, best, and final offer — they have yet to respond.


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  1. Tamara Meinecke says:

    No mention of how much the number of staff has increased.

    No explanation of the guards. A lock-out is bad enough, but that’s egregious.

  2. Ferdinand Levy says:

    I sent the following e-mail to Stanley Romanstein, PhD:

    Dear Dr. Romanstein:

    Your underestimate the intelligence of your public with your statement of 9/4/12. There are errors of omission as well as commission in it. To wit-

    1. It’s a shame that $1.8 millions of bequests and gifts can’t be duplicated in 2012-2013. Dos that mean that you and the ASO Board are not going to pursue and successfully duplicate, if not better, this? Helping to successfully garner these types of gifts and bequests is part of your job. Isn’t cash flow what’s important?

    2. You say average staff compensation has been reduced by 1.7% since 2006. I presume turnover and hiring personnel at lesser salaries for the positions they are filling has more than a little to do with this. After all, if I am correct, Ms. Vulgamore was paid significantly more than you as present incumbent on the job. Assume the difference is in the $300000 range (I am not sure that’s correct, but it’s an example.) If there are 60 staff, that’s $5000 per person, which I assume would give a reduction on average of more than 1.7%. Obviously the general level of staff salaries must have gone up, if the end result was only 1.7% decrease.

    3. As an economist, I really think personnel should be paid his or her market wage. You will find out whether your musicians are being paid their market wage if the reduction the ASO proposes sticks, as some of those who can improve their lot will move. I say some, because family. and so forth might keep them here.

    4. In reference to 3. above, it is interesting to note that the executive staff hasn’t had much voluntary (much less involuntary) turnover. Small or lack of turnover of executives , so help me Jack Welch and other executives, college deans, etc., is a good indication that they are being paid too much and/or can’t get other jobs. If the players sacrifice, the staff should also. After all, no players, no orchestr, no staff required!

    5. Nowhere in your statement do you ask the question or tell how the ASO got in the financial shape it is in. The players didn’t make the decisions. The management of the ASO, the ASO board, and the WAC Board all approved budgets containing the spending and I presume the revenue estimates, specifically where the money was coming from, who was going to be responsible for getting the revenue, how it was going to be raised, and what changes would be made in the future if a planning budget proved to be unattainable.

    The musicians do their job every week; I would hope the management and the Boards do theirs as competently and as well.

    Your comments are as always welcome!

    Ferd Levy

  3. I can certainly see both sides of the situation, but I must ask if it is necessary to maintain a staff of 68 when the actual number of musicians is in the 90s (I believe that to be correct)? It is probably true that total compensation needs to change, but it seems unfair to drop the bombshell all at once. Why didn’t the orchestra management address the problem when the deficit reached five million dollars, rather than waiting until it has approached (or surpassed) 20? Also, the orchestra management is to blame for salary increases for musicians as they agreed to them, seemingly without any foresight.

    If the organization is to be saved, everyone–including the orchestral musicians–is going to have to contribute to the solution.

  4. I stand corrected as I hadn’t read Norman’s earlier post. If the orchestra is running a $5M deficit and the musicians have offered $4M, it is obvious that they have done their part.

  5. Stanley Romanstein says:
    “It is true that the musicians allowed their contract to expire on August 25, despite an offer on the negotiating table, so they are no longer being paid a salary.”

    Oy vey!

    But then, that *is* how an executive would tend to look at the situation, regardless of how abhorrent many of us find such a view. Maybe it’s good that he states it so baldly.

  6. Oh my, that “Ph.D.” at the top is so pompous! Not the message one wants to communicate when one is locking out his musicians. E tu Marie Antoinette?

    And the sides are not that far apart – difference between $2m a year and $2.6M a year. Ever hear of play and talk? The work stoppage alone will burn up that 600k difference in lost good will, 1/3 of which will never return.

    Well, the sins of Ms. Vulgamore have come home to roost and the bad feelings that have been smoldering beneath the surface have erupted in an ugly way. The pattern has become far to routine and far too predictable for this class of orchestra. Won’t be the last time either – looks to be and ugly fall season.

  7. William Safford says:


    We, the management, have failed at our job, which is to raise money to provide the infrastructure for the orchestra.

    So, having failed at our job, we want to stiff the musicians, who are, in fact, doing their job, which is to make music. Or at least the musicians were doing their job, until we stopped them from doing so.

    Since we failed to raise adequate money to pay their salaries, we locked them out, and canceled their health insurance.

    This, of course, saves a lot of money, at least in the short term.

    Because of this lockout, the musicians can’t work, they won’t get paid, and they no longer have health care coverage. Now they may not be able to pay their rent or get their chemotherapy.

    Incidentally, the community is denied the music that is the reason why the orchestra and all its infrastructure –including management — exists in the first place.

    But we, the management, are still getting paid.

    Got it.

    • You nailed it, except for one thing: ASO President & CEO Stanley Romanstein’s salary (that he continues to be paid during this lockout) is reported to be $314,000, and in 2010, ASO Executive Vice President for Business Operations and Chief Financial Officer Don Fox was paid almost $300,000, including a $20,000 bonus, representing a $30,000 increase over the previous year. Either of those salaries is more than 3 times the starting salary of $88,400 for a non-principal musician.

  8. I am shocked that the administration of the ASO needs 64 employees to carry out its work. Where I work in Zürich, with an orchestra of 100 full-time musicians, there are 33 members of administrative staff including Box Office and Stage technicians. They do a wonderful job, and there is a real sense of mutual respect between them and orchestra members. I can´t help wondering what these 64 ASO administrators have been doing to justify their salaries….

    • another orchestra musician says:

      Probably many of the ASO administrators are involved directly and indirectly in marketing and fundraising, as is the case at other nonprofit organisations. Direct government subsidy, such as that enjoyed by the Tonhalle and other Swiss orchestras, permits arts organisations to focus on their core mission, while avoiding administrative bloat. It also encourages performers and front office to regard one another as partners, not adversaries.

  9. harold braun says:

    Sack this Romanstein guy immediately before he destroys the orchestra completely! And cut the administration staff by two-thirds!

  10. Go Musicians says:

    I am a businessman. A successful, well-off businessman. The books must be balanced. The musicians and the hall and the employees must be paid, as must insurance, benefits, travel, etc.
    But WHY do all this? To make music. To enliven the world with music. To create beauty.

    Ms. Vulgamore arrived in Atlanta. Gutted the staff, gutted the ranks of the musicians, and fired Maestro Yoel Levi (which in itself killed all the plans for the new hall).

    But she supposedly balanced the books.
    Obviously, she did not balance the books. In fact, a thorough investigation should commence at once to find out why she was praised to the sky, lauded for her acumen . . . and yet left a large deficit and a severely gutted orchestra and infrastructure.

    Then Dr. Romanstein comes in. Unbeknownst to him there is this creeping debt. Add to that a severe recession.
    It is certainly understandable that the situation becomes difficult.

    But with good will, the musicians have ceded a HUGE amount of their salaries and benefits. Does it seem logical and fair that staff WILL NOT offer a concession? Does it seem fair that staff WILL NOT have a reduction in pay?

    Why cut the heart out of the patient when you are trying to save its life? The heart is the core of the ASO — the musicians.

    And where is the Board of Directors? Why don’t they each donate or raise significant sums?
    (as a sidebar — Between the Board of Directors and the Board of Councilors, how many of those 100+ can even read more than simple piano music?)

    No, heartbreaking as it is, I would recommend to the musicians to walk. Then there would not be any need for staff and management. Dr. Romanstein, you have it backwards. YOU ARE WORKING TO SERVE THE MUSICIANS. Not the other way around.

    I recommend separating the ASO from the Woodruff Arts Center.

    Let the ASO become independent, or a coop.

    Let the ASO rent space at fair market prices from the WAC.

    Yes, it’s time for the ASO to detach itself from the WAC and become independent.

  11. I am absolutely horrified and devastated by the recent bludgeoning series of events regarding the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It is clear that the mission statement of the orchestra, to make superb music for a lucky audience to enjoy, is no longer a goal that is important enough for its President and CEO to consider negotiations with its “family” members a viable option. It is also clear to me that the orchestra is no longer an entity that is valued and treated with the respect and dignity that it deserves. In my estimation, locking out the musicians and taking away their health insurance is a pretty extreme measure which, I guess, is one way to let the world know who has ultimate CONTROL?? I, for one, am appalled, embarrassed and absolutely nauseated that such superb, world-class musicians, many of whom are my personal friends and heroes in the music field, should be treated this way. It just feels good to vent. I have no idea what the solution should be. I do know that where there is a will, the music will continue. I just hope and pray that the orchestra can somehow get back on track SOON to be able to continue enriching the musical lives of all that live in the city of Atlanta!! It sure would be nice if mutual respect and dignity could be part of this equation somehow…???

  12. Trey Asmith says:

    Stanley Romanstein is clearly not the most trustworthy of leaders. He seems to have a great deal of trouble telling the same truth over time. It seems that the rot at the ASO is at the top and won’t be cured as long as Dr. Romanstein is still here.

  13. Robert D. Brown says:

    I agree with the comments about Romanstein. He appears to me to be little more than a hatchet man ready to cut amything and everything to get his narrow-minded way. I think Mr. Asmith has very valid point.
    The money figures, the logic, and even the truthfulness of Romanstein’s positions seem to vary with the situation. Is his secret agenda to destroy the orchestra? It certainly seems that way from his brutal tactics and tendency to bend the facts to his logic.

    I sense there is zero trust between the two factions, and as long as Romanstein is in his position of hatchet wielding, there will continue to be zero trust. He impresses me as a manipulator who would have been a good partner to Robespierre during the French Revolution.

  14. How are we, as a community that feels this art form and organization is important to Atlanta, supporting the efforts of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestras? For those of us currently on the outside of this battle, we must remember that there are two sides to it, that we can’t possibly, truly, know all of the nitty gritty details. We need to try to believe that everyone is giving, making cuts, and working hard to find a resolution. We should not fan the flames of dissent or deepen any developing rifts. We need this organization to open up its doors and continue its important work.

    As a former staffer at the ASO, I still have many friends in administration and amongst the musicians. I worked with the ASO for far more than a decade and developed friendships and a deep sense of family that remains with me today; despite the fact that my position was eliminated last January. I deeply empathize with the musicians currently ‘out of work’ and equally empathize with a staff that has made deep cuts over the past 10 years.

    I worked for multiple years in an under-staffed department, wearing any hat that was put on my head; many times for 60-80 hours a week. I lived through lay-offs, hiring freezes, furloughs and pay cuts. I did this gladly because it was for the great music making of tremendously talented artists and the message that the arts are an integral part of our community.

    I worked with terrific, wonderful musicians who gave well beyond the concert stage as they went into schools, hospitals, parks, and community centers on a weekly basis because was important to be that integral part of the Atlanta/Georgia community.

    Everyone, from staffer to musician, felt underpaid and, from time to time, underappreciated but each person also knew that the work was important and well worth it.

    The reality seems to be that despite all of the current sacrifices that have occurred to date, it’s not quite enough in these very trying times. There are more to come. That last step can be the most difficult one of all but I have faith that at the end of the day, the two sides will find a way to balance the budget together. I applaud the efforts of both sides and know that they will find the way to a final resolution.

    From the youngest intern to the eldest tenured musician, this is an organization of hugely passionate people. It takes all of them to make the great art happen. Once they have weathered these challenging times I know that everyone will come together again, playing and singing hallelujahs and celebrating the art that brought them together. I plan to be part of the standing ovation that day.

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