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Breaking: Atlanta locks out its musicians

We have just received the following grim release from the musicians’ committee. For the story up to now, see here.

Atlanta Symphony Musicians Offer $4 Million Over Next Two Years to Close Budget Gap; Woodruff Arts Center Executive Board Refuses, Locks Out Musicians and Cancels Healthcare Benefits
Atlanta, GA, September 4, 2012: On August 24, in an unprecedented effort to
reach agreement on terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, the Atlanta
Symphony Orchestra Players Committee (ASOPA) offered very deep cuts in the
Orchestra to the Atlanta Symphony Management negotiating team and the ASO
Board. The $4 million in concessions offered by the 88 current Musicians of the ASO
would be combined with parallel income cuts for those on the approximately 75-
member ASO administrative staff who are paid at least the minimum salary of ASO
ASO negotiators and staff, together with ASO board members, applauded with
appreciation the musicians’ enormous offer of concessions, expressing privately that
musicians have given enough – that the musicians should hold firm while an
agreement was worked out with others. They also asked ASOPA to avoid talking
with the press or even releasing full details of the talks to the Orchestra musicians, a
request with which ASOPA agreed and has cooperated fully. Meanwhile, the WAC
cancelled the musicians’ August 31 paychecks, as well as their health, dental, and
disability insurance.Page 2
Despite behind-the-scenes efforts by ASO Board and community leaders in
communication with the WAC Executive Board, many frustrated ASO board
members and staff now stand beside ASO musicians in dismay at the WAC
Executive Board’s refusal to allow any compromise.
As informal discussions continued into last week about how to close the dramatically
reduced gap between the musicians’ and ASO’s proposals, an ASO Executive
Board Committee member communicated the reaction of the Woodruff Arts Center
Executive Board to the progress in an e-mail message shared with musicians by
ASO CEO Stanley Romanstein. “…[W]hile the gap has been substantially reduced, …
the WAC Governing Board has made the final decision that the ‘best and final offer’… can
be no less than the $2.6M in concessions presented in our last offer. As you know, the
WAC signs the union agreement so they do have the last word in these matters. They are
fully prepared for a work stoppage”.

The message goes on to say that “while the support of the ASO Executive Cmte would
be preferred, the final decision lies with the WAC Governing Board. Due to representations
made to investors and key donors as well as the rating agencies, we must achieve and
balanced budget and we require that half of the $5M gap comes from the contract with
the musicians.” Acknowledging an “alternative solution…crafted…by the ASO [that] was
reviewed by [WAC Executive Board members and staff]…that option was rejected as the
union concession was still less than the $2.6M that they are requiring.”

The e-mail added: “With regard to negative PR, they feel that the ASO and the WAC are
sufficiently prepared and ready to deal with this matter. They consider the risk of not
achieving a balanced budget is far greater than any negative PR. This applies to
considering the implication to fundraising, ticket sales and the negative impact to other
divisions of the WAC. Therefore WAC Governing Board has decided that there is no need
for an extension to further internally discuss options or PR implications, the senior team at
the WAC Governing Board has reviewed the matter and has made a final decision.”
The communication ends with the assertion that “the team is making plans to deal with
the impact of the work stoppage. Therefore we will redirect our energies in that direction,
continue to update and execute on our PR plan and determine next steps on
The WAC’s assertion that there is a $5 million budget gap misstates the facts:
According to the ASO’s own budget documents, the deficit for Fiscal Year 2012 was
$2.7 million, and a $1.5 million deficit is budgeted for Fiscal Year 2013. The
Musicians have offered $2 million in concessions for each of the 2012-13 and 2013-
14 contract years. Additional administrative staff cuts that the parties have agreed to
would further bridge the gap, as would aggressive initiatives to review all costs and
expenditures of the ASO and its subsidiary entities, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
morePage 3
and SD&A Teleservices, to reduce waste and find other savings. Yet, somehow
finding that half of the made-up $5 million gap equals $2.6 million, the WAC
punitively insists that the musicians alone – the costs of whom comprise only 28% of
the ASO budget — bear the entire budget burden.
Most arts executives and boards across the nation realize that for a non-profit to
deeply cut and demean its primary product is not effective either for fundraising or
fulfillment of its mission to the community. Community leaders and the musicians
wonder when the ASO as an institution will be able to chart its own destiny, in light of
the clear evidence that the WAC cares only about penalizing the musicians,
regardless of how much damage is done to the award-winning legacies of ASO
artistic leaders Robert Shaw, Yoel Levi, Robert Spano and Donald Runnicles.
The Musicians’ reality is that:
1. As of August 26
, ASO musicians have been without any pay or benefits, also
known as being locked out.
2. On August 31, health, dental, and disability insurance policies for all musicians,
several of whom are battling cancer and other debilitating health crises, have
also been cancelled by the WAC as threatened. This is contrary to Stanley
Romanstein’s denial of that fact reported in the August 26 edition of the AJC:
“The musicians — who are full-time employees — had feared that if a deal was
not made, they would be locked out without pay and health benefits. ASO
president Stanley Romanstein has denied that, but in a letter to the musicians
from executive vice president for business operations Donald Fox, he indicated
that they had no authority to continue benefits beyond Aug. 25.”
3. All musicians’ access cards to Symphony Hall and parking decks have been
4. Extra off-duty police have been hired at an undisclosed cost to patrol the WAC
campus, creating the armed camp effect apparently sought by the WAC, despite
no statements, threats or actions by ASO musicians that would necessitate such
tactics and expense.
5. All scheduled work for the Orchestra through September 24 has been canceled.
6. The WAC Executive Board’s actions threaten the ASO and the WAC itself,
especially coming at a time when the WAC admits that the ASO budget gap is
so close to being bridged. Their insistence on $2.6 million in cuts to the
musicians alone, regardless of any other factors, certainly implies a misplaced
priority of budgeting over mission, and suggests that they do not have in mind
the best interests of the Atlanta Symphony, the communities it serves, or Atlanta
itself, whose world-wide reputation the ASO enhances.

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  1. Geoffrey Lamb says:

    Perhaps in Atlanta, and in Indianapolis, the prudent option should be to fire the ASO/ISO boards and allow the musicians to run the show (as with Wiener Philharmoniker). These boards, based on the ‘results’ claimed, seem to be the root of the problems for mismanaging the business of the orchestras.

    • The Vienna Philharmonic is a very poor example. It is the same orchestra as the state owned and operated Vienna State Opera Orchestra which pays their salary, benefits, and pensions. The musicians just run the Philharmonic on the side as a nominally private enterprise so that they don’t have the share the profits with their employer, the Austrian federal government. In addition to all of the above, the government gives the Philharmonic a yearly subsidy of about 4 million dollars, rehearsal and concert spaces, administrative assistance, and massive help with publicity. The real issue with all of our collapsing orchestras is that our archaic funding system by private donations from the wealthy doesn’t work.

      • If the German orchestra scene is so great, then the ASO musicians would be willing to settle for what musicians make in Germany, right?

        What the average run-of-the mill German orchestra player make these days, about $45.000 per year?

        • C. Cincinnati says:

          I unfortunately agree with you Pete. I understand that these are highly trained and skilled people, but they seem very well compensated at an average of $113,000? With full benefits and 8 weeks vacation. Could they live fulfilling lives on less?
          I do find the actions of the of the WAC very shameful though. So please do not take my comments as more than just open dialogue.

          • Marius Maximus says:

            Just a thought about the idea that symphony musicians are “very well compensated”. Please bear in mind that most American orchestras require that musicians provide their own instruments. At least in the case of string instruments such as the violin or cello, these instruments are all antiques; newer violins, cellos and basses simply do not have the sound quality of much older instruments. Imagine having to pay for an instrument of which the price tag varies from $250,000 to $3,000,000 (and even more for very fine instruments), then consider how much a musician has left over after making THAT monthly payment!

        • My wife played in the Munich Philharmonic for 13 years. When she left in 1993, the solo winds were making about 140 thousand a year. That’s about what an orchestra with Atlanta’s quality and status would be paid in Germany.

          Even German towns with 120 thousand residents, like Ulm or Pforzheim, have 52 week opera houses with seasons about 5 months longer than even the Met’s seven month season. These small towns pay their musicians much less and so this reduces the average you of which you speak.

          I would say the average for all orchestras is now more in the 60 thousand range, though I haven’t researched the number. A little town might pay its musicians 45k, but with full health insurance and pensions. Can you name a town in the USA with 120 thousand residents with a 52 week season orchestra where all members get 45k/year, health insurance and pensions?

          • No. Taxpayers in any sized town woldn’t fund such an orchestra. The Kansas City and Nashville orchestras are in the $45,000 to $50,000 range and they play around 42 weeks per year.

            By the way, Kansas City just opened the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (which includes a concert hall and a separate opera theater) of which the $250+ million budget was almost entirely paid for by private donations.

            Can you name me a town in Germany that built a $250 million performing arts center that was funded privately?

          • Petros Linardos says:

            William, I’d be very interested to read your take on comparing rehearsal conditions between US and German orchestras. For all I know, US musicians unions adhere to strict rules on the number and length of rehearsals, often with a detrimental effect on the quality of performances. I am sure that Celi uniquely got his way with rehearsals in Munich, but how are things today? Do German top tier or radio orchestras rehearse more? (I know that some of the radio orchestras are among the very best, like the Bavarian Radio Symphony.)

          • No Pete, Europeans don’t use private donations to build concert halls. They would consider the idea somewhat primitive, a form of cultural plutocracy. Every larger E uropean city has a concert hall and an opera house. They are paid for by the people through their taxes which creates great communal pride in the arts. Kansas city has a metro populution of about 2.1 million, but pays its orchestra about the same salary as a German city of 120 thousand.

          • Petros, I can’t broadly generalize about rehearsal conditions, though I would say they are better in Germany and most European countries because they are more financially stable. The New Mexico Symphony recently went bankrupt and reformed as the New Mexico Philharmonic. It is limping along on a very limited budget. They recently performed Holst’s “Planets” with one rehearsal and used a synthesizer for the chorus. This sort of thing is becoming more common in the States for regional orchestras. On the other hand, I think rehearsal conditions for top German and American orchestras remain roughly similar.

            The German musicians union is very strong, but I think it would actually object if rehearsal time were too limited. In Munich, Celibidache would sometimes rehearse two weeks for a concert series, but that was a very unusual exception. The city (which owns and operates the orchestra) went along with that because he had a large following and they could repeat the concerts many times.

            Munich has four symphony orchestras and two opera orchestras, all with 52 week seasons for a city of 1.2 million. The top groups jealously compete with each other (The Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Munich Phil, and the Staatsoper Orchester.) If rehearsal conditions caused them to be inferior to the competition they would become concerned.

            One oddity in large European opera houses is that they rotate the musicians because they sometimes do up to 8 performances a week. A conductor will come in and rehearse the orchestra, but on the night of the performance there can be quite a few players who haven’t been in the rehearsals.

        • According to, the yearly salary for the rank-and-file musician in the Berlin Philharmonic is 90,000 Euros. Principal players earn 15% more.

          I’m sure ASO musicians would be happy with this.

          • That’s a distorted estimate for the BPO, consisting just of the official salaries. The players own a parallel company, which doubles their income from commercial activities.

          • Norman, I was addressing Pete’s assertion that ASO musicians would be willing to settle for what a German orchestra would pay.

            Since ASO musicians are obviously NOT “run-of-the-mill orchestral musicians,” but among the very best in their field, I chose a German orchestra that also includes those who are among the very best in their field.

            Since ASO musicians do not own a parallel company, I only compared the salaries. Perhaps that makes my comparison less valid.

            The ASO is one of only a handful–fewer than 20 orchestras–of comparable orchestras in the entire US.

            It saddens me to think that the WAC doesn’t care that they are destroying not only the orchestra itself, but also an important part of our culture, in Atlanta and the surrounding communities. I’m betting that most of those in charge over there are the product of schools who slashed their music programs, so these managers reached adulthood without an understanding or appreciation of the importance of music.

            As music in schools continues to bear the brunt of the budget cut ax, and more generations of arts-ignorant people become school board members, arts board members, members of local government, and CEOs of companies who USED to donate to the arts, we will see more and more of this kind of attitude.

          • All very good points, Alison.

          • An aside for the sake of clarity: I am NOT Allison Vulgamore (who spells her name with 2 “L’s”).

            Not being from Atlanta, I didn’t realize she was still being discussed in ASO issues; I probably should have picked another sign-in name.

          • No-one would have mistaken you for the double-L. She never answers mails.

          • Well, that’s a relief!

          • Mr. Lebrecht seems to have a rather distorted perception of the BPO players’ financial situation.

            90000 EUR per year gross is correct.
            Though the “side”-company you are mentioning is not doubleing the income in the least (I wish…).

            If the year goes well (that means a few extra CD recordings, video broadcasts and a hopefully successful start in Baden-Baden this Easter) a tutti player makes 120k EUR the most.
            Principals not much more.
            Compared to American orchestra (where contracts are negotiable and result in irresponsible wages for concertmasters in – let’s face it – rather mediocre orchestras…) a rather modest income but what the heck, who cares, it’s mostly about music anyways.

          • The Berlin Phil has its own pay category and is the highest paid orchestra in Germany. It is important to remember that the musicians make a good bit more than their base pay. Celloman below mentions that tutti players make about 120k Euro per year. That is about $150,000 for a tutti player. Celloman also refers to American orchestras as “mediocre.” I wouldn’t want to pop his bubble of superiority but our top orchestras compare very well internationally.

          • “Celloman also refers to American orchestras as “mediocre.” I wouldn’t want to pop his bubble of superiority but our top orchestras compare very well internationally.”

            Mr. Osborne, you might have misunderstood: I am just pointing out that no concertmaster in any average/middle-class/mediocre European orchestra will earn nearly as much as a concertmaster in any average/middle-class/etc. American orchestra (thanks to freely negotiable contracts). It would be interesting to compare total wages (all musicians) of orchestras. I wonder which role those figures play in the financial crisis of orchestras.

            To insinuate that I call ALL American orchestras mediocre, is plain wrong. There is top orchestras everywhere…

        • Harold Kupper says:

          A German Orchestral musician has the benefit of universal healthcare and higher education costs mostly covered. You see, they live in a society or cuture, we live in economy.

        • First of all, I wouldn’t say that the Atlanta Symphony is an “average run-of-the-mill” orchestra. Second of all, the salaries of German musicians vary a lot. For example, I (a tutti orchestra musician in a German orchestra, not the Berlin Phil by the way) make significantly more than that after taxes. And that’s after pension contributions, unemployment insurance and health insurance have already been taken out. Plus it’s way more secure than in the American orchestras, and I have a lot more free time than my American colleagues. Not to mention it’s way cheaper to live in Germany than in the US (the average family doesn’t need 2-3 cars, you don’t have to spend $20,000+ per year per child for college, food and rent are much cheaper, etc).

          When will the US realize that supporting the arts and education is just as important, if not more, than supporting things like sports?!

          • True that about sports (and certain other things) vs the arts. But it’s probably going to take a serious grassroots effort for us to get there (as probably alluded earlier by another commentator). And how should/can we ever do that?

            For one thing, if you’re the kind of old school musician/educator that still scoffs at something like the Suzuki approach to “talent education”, then you should really reevaluate and reconsider the goal and realities of Suzuki’s philosophy and approach and not prejudge about certain aspects as have been done for numerous decades now although the tide does seem to be changing gradually over recent years/decades.

            Personally, I love both sports and the arts and would happily have chosen to become either a professional baseball pitcher or a concert violinist *IF* I actually had the talent for either one, and no, I do not come from a wealthy family that strongly encourages either interests, but I come from a blue-collar 1st gen immigrant family (from Hong Kong to the USA) who would hold mostly to old school ideas about the arts (and the pragmatic costs of such). But I’ve grown up to love the arts nonetheless and to encourage/support it as best I find I can responsibly do, including supporting my own little sis in her education in photography (contrary to the desires of my understandably pragmatic parents), helping out others in what little ways I can, and sending my own kids to violin lessons w/ reasonable quality instruments (for their levels) *and* actually pour in more personal involvement/efforts than typical old school approaches would likely demand — yes, I even learned to scratch out streams of notes in rhythm, etc. to resemble what I would fondly imagine to be music at the most basic, but still personally satisfying, levels as ideally espoused in the Suzuki approach (not just for the primary student, but for the whole familyl/community). :-p

            In any case, back to the grassroots. I don’t know what other ways would work, but certainly, from my own experience (of ~6 years now), the Suzuki way definitely seems to be a good, effective one that has very great potential toward what’s needed here. And no, we don’t need to call it “Suzuki”… that’s really just a name… though it’s a prominent one w/ a strong, growing movement that should be promoted and encouraged, even if some might still be too old school to fully believe in its approach and beliefs about “talent” — and no, I’m not here to argue that nobody’s born w/ certain (perhaps, genetically, if not spiritually, empowered) predispositions and “gifts” toward certain talents.

            Anyway, the problem boils down to a serious decline from the mainstream’s interest in certain aspects of the arts like classical music while society as a whole (at least in the USA) steadily advances on consumerism, easy and instant gratification, etc., and a whole lot of that has to do w/ people’s education and upbringing. And as noted earlier, that won’t change unless/until there’s a mass movement toward reforms regarding our perspective on the arts at this level.

            For those who have been doing so, stop espousing the elitist notion that the arts are some such remote, intrinsically unattainable/unappreciable-for-most kinda haven/goal (that cannot be enjoyed/appreciated in any remotely casual, yet still very valid, way), which the mainstream will eventually, inevitably find offputting and tiresome after an earlier period of adoration and idolization, especially in this day and age of the internet, MP3 and vast array of pop culture interests. If you continue in all that, you’ll just force yourself deeper into the hole of being considered a dinosaur of little relevance me thinks, which I would personally be sadden to miss out for being in the interested minority (so far)…

            Also, while I’m at it, please try to think out-of-the-box a bit for real solutions to the problem, including learning from history to come up w/ something that would actually work. For instance, maybe, just maybe, the fact that classical music performance itself (that was once not too far aloof from the pop culture of its day) has gone thru a number of very real changes over the centuries for very important reasons, and today’s musicians/programmers/etc. should probably carefully consider that in all this. I’m not suggesting you need to start mixing in covers for Madonna’s, Lady Gaga’s or Katie Perry’s “music” or the like of course, but perhaps, some of the idolizing and reliving of the different, older era may need to be reexamined and perhaps translated into relevance for today’s mainstream.

            For instance, I don’t know if this could be a seedling inspiration for ideas toward that end, but consider what this guy might be doing for Pachelbel of all composers… and there are others on YouTube and elsewhere as well… ;-)


            Just some (potentially junk) food for thought here… Cheers!

      • Many factual errors here.

        The Vienna Philharmonic is not subsidized at all by the state, the contract has been changed in 2010. Rolex is sponsoring now with a significant sum but other than that self-financed.
        They do not get benefits with rehearsal and concert space (they have to rent the halls & offices in Musikverein, getting special rates though) nor is the administrative assistance paid (they have managed to have a very slim organisatorical structure with only 7 persons hired from outside [secretaries, accoutants], the rest [important positions such as CEO and chairman, travel agent, VPO shop, ticketing] are members of the orchestra doing this on the side [next to playing in the orchestra and the opera].

        Have been playing in this orchestra for a while and I must tell you that this self-governance gives you a completely different approach to responsibility (organizing concerts yourself), freedom (chose with which artists you want to work on a regular basis & where in the world you want to play which pieces) and “corporate” identity.

        • The special rates for rental facilities are indeed a significant subsidy. Since much of the administrative work done for the Staatsoper carries over to the Philharmonic (such as administering pensions, health care, sick leaves, pay roll administration for a large part of the member’s salaries, work substitutes, etc.) it does receive significant administrative assistance from the government. That’s why the Philharmonic only has to have 7 administrative personnel – a number that would be ridiculously small if the orchestra were fully autonomous and self-administrative. Again, the Vienna Philharmonic cannot be taken as an example of self-administrative orchestra. In terms of the work they do, they are not even half self-administrative.

          You are correct on one point though. I had forgotten that the government rescinded the subsidy because the orchestra has been so low at admitting women. It’s egregious sexism continues — but of course, that too will be denied.

          • It’s also important to remember that all members of the Vienna Philharmonic receive fulltime salaries from the Austrian Federal government as members of the State Opera Orchestra. That amounts to a massive subsidy, even if indirect, for the Vienna Philharmonic.

    • Tamara Meinecke says:

      Musicians taking control of orchestras is easier said than done. Here is Louisville, Kentucky, (another southern anti-union state) many suggested that we musicians take control. But we had no library, no music stands, no endowment, nothing—all that belongs to the Louisville Orchestra, Inc., and they weren’t planning to hand any of it over. And the other thing: I’m a VIOLINIST. I’m not a business-person, or a marketing specialist, or a numbers person. It takes everything I’ve got to be a good violinist (and wife and mother.) My job is supposed to be keeping my chops in shape and playing whatever the music director wants. *sigh*

      As long as the howling mob is in charge of U.S. society, as it apparently is now, all art will suffer. I fear that classical music is going through what biologists sometimes call an “extinction bottleneck.” Maybe times will be better in 30 or 40 years for classical music, but by that time two generations’ worth of skill, knowledge, and art handed down from master to student will be lost. I’m not the only professional musician in Louisville who has left, or is dreaming of leaving, and I’m certainly not the only professional musician of my generation who has changed or is changing careers.

      • This fundamental problem is happening all over though, not exclusive to the arts.

        Human society is an organic entity, so change is inevitable. IF people in the arts are unwilling to make certain necessary changes, then they will be replaced or, worse yet, the arts as we know it will just fade into oblivion.

        I think there needs to be some wholistic approach(es) to all this in order to bring all sides of the equation together to a sane level that can actually sustain long term success.

        Hopefully, the arts will run into cases like this (w/ the WAC) far less often than otherwise, but we all need to be prepared for some out-of-the-box thinking and changes me thinks. And if artists are true to their callings, then going out-of-the-box should not be some sort of impossibility, no? Sure, there will be some casualties, but the arts are not alone w/ suffering casualties these days. Afterall, we are ALL (w/ few exceptions) still mired in a great recession here, and things are not really looking brighter anytime soon despite what Wall St and some politicians might like us to believe…

        • ” IF people in the arts are unwilling to make certain necessary changes, then they will be replaced or, worse yet, the arts as we know it will just fade into oblivion.”

          I agree–but to what extent did we as a society make it necessary FOR the arts to make changes, because we allowed a generation of children to grow up without the arts?

          Asking people in the arts to make certain necessary changes is only a Band-aid fix. We have to make sure that the next generation grows up with a first-hand understanding of the arts. They need to play instruments and themselves in elementary school; they need to have art/art history in elementary school; they need gym (which should include some dance instruction).

          And we need to convince the idiots on school boards across the country what has already been proven: this will result in the higher test scores they emphasize.

  2. We b all playing’ jazz now…

    • Lloyd Gowen says:

      This is a continuing sad story. Every downturn of economy, or loss of sponsor becomes a rationale for a salary cut to the artists, who have rent, grocery bills, and health problems like anybody else. The community will bear the loss of a valuable resource that is hard to quantify in dollars. The training, practice, and dedication of the musicians means very little to some ‘management types’. This is a shame and embarrassment to the community which the orchestra serves. If the musicians leave, as some must, the loss will be even greater.

      • Um, isn’t that because a lower income must logically mean lower expenditure? So where the costs of creating a good – or the services, in this case – are overwhelmingly the salaries of the people providing it (ie the musicians), if income falls, then so must their salaries.

        Interestingly, for all those who attempt to make the argument that lower incomes shouldn’t be a reason for lower salaries (where should the difference come from? The magic money tree?); I’ve never seen anyone try to logical equivalent that higher incomes (or ‘profits’ to the management) shouldn’t mean higher salaries for the musicians. Surely if one is fair then so is the other?

        • My goodness did you not just read the article? The musicians’ pay comprises just 28% of the ASO’s budget (all a matter of public record), yet the WAC executive board wants 51% of the budget cuts to come from their salaries. They already conceded heavily back in 2009 to keep going forward; for what are they being disciplined?

          • Yes, I did.
            You will also note that the majority of salary increases – by quite some way – have been awarded to musicians.
            What they reap in the good times, should they not be prepared to forgo in the bad?

        • William Safford says:

          That argument is subverted by the fact that only part of the orchestra’s income comes from ticket sales.

          Most of the income comes from donations, grants, etc.

          Whose responsibility is it to obtain that income? Management and staff (assisted by the Board).

          So, to apply your argument to the facts, whose incomes should be cut? The lion’s share should be borne by management and staff; only some should be conceded by the musicians.

          According to what I’ve read, the ASO musicians offered a substantial concessions package, which asked for matched cuts by management and staff.

          It was rejected.

          The musicians — whose product is the raison d’être for the whole edifice — are now locked out.

          Is management locked out? How about staff? No.

          That speaks volumes.

          • One thing though. I don’t know if/what behind-the-scenes politics may actually be going on, but based on what we’re told, it’s not *all* of that management and staff that’s objecting to the compromise. It’s basically only the very top governing board, the WAC — or so we’re told — which is what makes this situation so odd, especially since the figures proffered by the WAC do not seem to jive w/ the ones given by the ASO board.

          • Not so.
            Management raises money BECAUSE of the performances of the musicians. Without those performances (or the possibility of them), no money raised.
            All the orchestra’s income is related to the musicians and the work they do. That’s their justification for the huge salary increases (or are you suggesting that if management pull in $5m in donations they should take a cut amongst themselves? I doubt you are).
            If they can justify huge increases, then so are huge decreases justified.
            Or would you prefer to say that the increases shouldn’t have been awarded, in which case even after the proposed cut the musicians are still better off than they would have been, as far as I can see.

          • William Safford says:

            Anon, you have it all backwards.

            Management (and the Board) raises money in order that there can be an orchestra to perform music in the first place. Only then can there be concerts, which in turn generate ticket revenues, which account for only a portion of total income anyway.

            Yes, the music also leads to more donations and more grants– or at least so we hope. A visionary, energetic, and munificent Board will build up the endowment, to provide a buffer against downturns such as is happening now.

            Sometimes the absence of music leads to more donations, if there be a will to keep an orchestra afloat. Other times not. Which will it be in Atlanta?

            One thing to remember about all this is that the Atlanta Symphony is not just a local per-service orchestra. It is one of the premier orchestras in the U.S. If the stakeholders want to attract and retain that caliber of musician, the orchestra will have to pay wages commensurate with the skills of the musicians. If not, there is a good supply of competent musicians from which to draw — as long as the orchestra does not try to pull what Louisville attempted: to field a scab orchestra. Otherwise, Atlanta may face the same problems that Louisville did (Craigslist — really?).

            If all the Board and Management — and the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia, for that matter — want is a third tier orchestra, they’re on track to attain that goal.

            Third tier orchestras play (literally) important roles in our country, in small markets or as additional orchestras in large markets. What a shame it would be, though, to demote a high-level ensemble such as the Atlanta Symphony to third tier status in as significant a city as Atlanta.

            Since several people have used sports metaphors, here’s another one. What if Atlanta decided to lock out the Atlanta Braves, and replace the team with a AA or Class A team? Would the community stand for it? (Maybe they would?)

            As of now, the orchestra is locked out and they are receiving no pay or health insurance, yet management continues to get paid, despite the orchestra having done is job well and staff and/or the Board failing to come through. Something is seriously wrong with this picture every time it happens, yet it happens over and over again.

            ManW: I don’t have inside information about precisely who is at fault and what factions may exist in management and the boards. What you wrote may be the case.

  3. My own thoughts are not too dissimilar to Geoffrey’s. The people with the performance skills are the musicians. They all know how to play. They all know how to organise practice and performance.

    It may be time for them to organise their own performances, in alternative venues, that (a) give them an income, and (b) take away the ability of middle-men to dictate to them. Bugger them: if their turf is stuffed, don’t play on it. Lay your own turf and play on that. Work with people who want to work with you, and stuff those who don’t.

    The writer Herman Hesse once wrote that if you fear someone, it is because you give them power over you. Take the bloody power away, and stuff them. In the end, if crunch comes to crunch, middle-men need the skilled people more than skilled people need middle-men.

  4. The overwhelming problem is the very nature of the “business”. In virtually all other businesses, when you experience a serious downtown, you reduce headcount, not salaries across the board. This is not possible in a symphony orchestra in broad terms, where player headcount is dictated by repertoire and convention. But US orchestras should take a serious look at the size of their administrations which are mutliples of London orchestras and many artistically comparable European orchestras too.

    • Yep, the middle-men, who in the early days may start out facilitating a process.

      But as time goes on, a whole new sub-industry grows, whether it be within an organisation, or outside. Then, like any industry, their focus becomes more on their own survival needs than the original rationale for their existence. We see this with institutions of all sorts, which generations on begin to exist for themselves.

      Solutions aren’t simple, but creating your own turf is one of the solutions. And if that might sound a bit tough, well then, consider whether you want to do that, or play by someone else’s rules to facilitate their lifestyle.

      When it’s win-win, fine.

      When it’s win-loss, stuff them. Move on and leave them to wallow in the mud that remains from their ‘oh poor me’ tears.

      One of my favourite quotes goes: “it’s better to be your own person than to be a fool in someone else’s paradise”.

      • In actual practice, what they probably need is to get connected and build good, strong relationships w/ appreciative, non-musician professionals (and other benefactors of all shapes and sizes) who would help champion their cause so that they can actually, realistically move on. But in the process, also learn from history and their own life lessons that they cannot expect to be coddled as artists who don’t need to know anything else and thus could easily be taken advantage of. Still, since they need to focus on music itself, you really cannot expect them to run the show all on their own. They should just learn enough so they understand what’s going, where they’re headed and voice their concerns and help steer the “ship” as need be while somebody else does the day-to-day work of running the business aspect.

        Sure, if we’re talking small groups like for a small chamber ensemble of 3-5, they may be able to do a whole lot more on the business side, but for something so large as a symphony orchestra, that’s just not realistic.

  5. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    It sounds like the problem is with the WAC Executive Board. Sometimes a small group, especially one holding power, gets itself into a “group think” that any outsider would question. The musicians are 28 percent of the budget but the WAC insists that the musicians must make up for 100 percent of the deficit? Really? The ASO Board and musicians should work together to separate from the WAC. It seems to be an overly complicated relationship that doesn’t have the ASO at the top of their mission. Only the ASO Board and musicians would put the ASO first.

    What more proof does the US need that linking healthcare to employment is a moral disaster?

  6. Mike Getzin says:

    The ASO musicians must act, which will take collective guts, to disband the Orch organization and restart itself using the Berlin Philharmonic model, where the Orch musicians totally control its destiny rather than this corrupt situation. St Paul Ch Orch is going thru hell right now and must d the same thing. With no product to present, WAC is dead in the water. The Orch can re-establsh itself non profit, create its own foundation, and hire themselves by vote who would mage it, and have the voting power to hire/fire anyone in the Orch org by secret ballot. The Berlin Phil should be contacted immediately for advice to make this happen. El Sistem can be a major Educational outreach to be part of the Orch program. Do something soon.

    • Fine as a theory.
      But the figures suggest such an organisation would lose $5m a year, even with all the funding that makes it happen already. Where will that come from? Or why do you believe that deficit would magically vanish with players managing it themselves?
      I can’t think of any other player-managed orchestra which has achieved this – all require funding (ie not normal income from ticket sales or concert / commercial activities) to make it work. If that funding isn;t enough – and the experienced fundraisers in current management can;t raise enough to cover the player demands – why would anything managed by the players be any different?

  7. My mother is a member of the ASO, and I would just like to say one thing: Shame on you, WAC.

  8. This is horrifying, not to mention most likely illegal. It’s just another example of what managers are taught at LAO conventions, and the bottom line is union-busting. The ASO management CHOSE to fail.

    • another orchestra musician says:

      Exactly. It’s union-busting. And management is in a strong position; I don’t see it easily being made to bend. The question is how the musicians will choose to adapt. Personally, I hope they will find the means to free themselves of the WAC.

    • Well, I am an orchestra manager and while I can confirm that the LAO doesn’t really teach things like this, it is an organization obsessed with unions and how to ‘deal’ with them. Seminars on this union angle and that union angle. For my money, the time and money would be better spend on advocacy and learning better ways to sell tickets and raise money. LAO, despite its veneer of inclusiveness, is still a managers club run by a good old boy board. Despite this, there indeed are some staff members there doing excellent work in the areas I favor.

  9. another orchestra musician says:

    Seems to me that the ASO musicians’ arguments, and those of the commenters, above, overlook the obvious: Woodruff Arts Center management sees a labour glut. WAC management knows that musicians are in oversupply. WAC management is standing fast because it feels confident that it can produce salable orchestra concerts at a significantly lower cost than heretofore.

    For WAC management, a symphony orchestra is not a corps of unique specialists to be reverently nurtured, but a unionized horde of labourers that happen to wear formal attire when they appear before an audience. WAC management does not lose sleep over the state of an oboe player’s reeds, or over the lack of a Heckelphone for Alpensinfonie. WAC management banks confidently on the assumption that few among its grey-haired patrons hear the difference, or care. It knows that its target audience consumes concerts primarily as a social event and a spectacle, to which symphonic music is but a pleasing backdrop.

    In the worldview of WAC managers, executive administrators, not horsehair-wielding artists, are king. And why shouldn’t they be? A single ASO orchestra vacancy draws hundreds of qualified applicants. An administrative vacancy, perhaps a few dozen. Critics and audiences worldwide drool over performances given by bright-faced, eager student orchestras and community orchestras; why should WAC management believe that only highly-paid, battle-worn professionals are capable of satisfying the ASO’s artistic requirements? All the more so, given that the ASO’s most internationally renowned asset, its Chorus, is volunteer.

    In sum: faced with the Fair And Balanced attitude of WAC managers, ASO musicians will need to either develop arguments more persuasive than heretofore, or swallow a very bitter pill.

    • Paul Scanling says:

      I would argue that the audience really does care about the music, although probably not at the level that most of the musicians would like. While the audience does enjoy the all-volunteer chorus, as well as the outstanding youth orchestra, they really do want to hear top level musicians perform.

      I would point out that the number of applicants for job openings in the ASO has dropped significantly in the last year. I would also point out that the ASO has had trouble retaining good young talent because the much publicized pay scale puts them well below their colleagues across America. I may remember incorrectly, but the ASO was listed as 14th in salary.

      If the WAC board does indeed view the musicians like you say, and I find that likely, then that is a sad state of affairs for Atlanta.

      • another orchestra musician says:

        I hope you’re right and that my premise is wrong, doubly so as regards the mindset of the WAC board. Because it really would be a sad state of affairs.

    • William Safford says:

      You may be correct.

      On the surface, it does appear as if there is a glut of musicians.

      Then again, maybe the WAC management should look at how many recent auditions have failed to fill the opening.

      Here is commentary on one of them:

      Do you think that WAC management will advertise for musicians on Craigslist, as Louisville did? (That action was risible.)


      An aside: on the TV as I type this is the Democratic National Convention. Right now the network is giving airtime to the Creative Coalition, to discuss the importance of the arts to our country. That’s good news.

      • another orchestra musician says:

        It is undeniable that in recent years, many orchestras have experienced difficulty filling vacant positions. Whether this stems from an actual shortage of satisfactory job applicants, or more from a dysfunctional hiring process, is open to debate. Musicians, in North America particularly, may lay the blame on a desiccated feeder system for young professionals; management may incline to believe that unreasonable expectations, even outright capriciousness, on the part of musician audition committees are the root of the problem.

        • William Safford says:

          All those are possibilities. One may apply in one situation, another in a second one, and they may overlap one another.

          I spoke with at least one member of the audition committee of the audition I cited. Based on what was told to me, I am confident that that position was not filled because none of the auditioners proved their mettle that day. Of course, that’s just one example.

          Any management considering attempting to field a scab orchestra should reflect on the experience of the 1987 NFL strike and the replacement player games. It may have suited the NFL’s short-term financial goals, but the games were a farce, and the long game ended badly for management.

          (BTW, my inner geek enjoyed your reference to a Heckelphone.)

  10. Another Opinion says:

    The true shock of all of this is how little money this actually is in Atlanta, a city full of wealth and multi-national corporations. It points to pathetic fund-raising on the part of the ASO. There are hundreds of people in ATL who could write a single check for the amount in dispute. That they aren’t doing so is proof of a woeful lack of connection between the ASO and the Atlanta community. Tragic mismanagement of talent and potential resources.

  11. If WAC is prepared for a negative backlash, then I say let ‘em have it. Give them all they want and more- they deserve it. If the musicians and board are on the same page, then it’s time they leave them behind and start over. As Steve says, it is better to chart your own course with less than be at the mercy of someone who has little regard for you. There may indeed be an oversupply of musicians, but they will have to work a lot of overtime to find the right kind of desperate morally-deficient scab to work for them- it’s not as easy as they assume. If they have no product to put on their stage, then they can pretend to be philanthropic elsewhere. There are better qualified people with the resources who understand what the arts stand for. It’s time to sack WAC.

  12. Marius Maximus says:

    The ASO should separate from the WAC. They should talk to their patrons and supporters, pass the hat around in order to generate some capital and get this done. Until this matter is (reasonably) resolved I shall simply redirect to the trash any offers from the WAC or anything associated with it (such as the High Museum of Art) to renew my membership or provide any other financial support. We can all vote with our feet, and mine are carrying me away from the Woodruff Arts Center.

  13. I would like to see more information about this statement: “…approximately 75-member ASO administrative staff who are paid at least the minimum salary of ASO musicians.”

    While the executives are likely making six-figure salaries, lower-level staff members at arts organizations earn far less. Many earn in the 20s and 30s. These people have no union to fight for them. They are the ones trying to raise money and answer the phones to speak to angry patrons and often can’t even say much when negotiations are underway.

    Best of luck to the ASO!

    • Michael Granados says:

      As a former ASO staff member in the post of Season Tickets Director my salary of $38,000 in 2005 was about half of what an ASO musician makes. Given that I can only say that the statement is an outright fabrication. The players association has been very careful todate not to make a blanket statement like this and I am very displeased to see this in print. Please itentify more clearly who issued this release. Was it the ASOPA? I would like to have words with those responsible.

  14. ASO Advocate says:

    Please, please do not let any of this deter anyone from patronizing the Woodruff Arts Center. A boycott will only hurt lower level employees like myself.

    While my upper management has essentially forbidden any of us from discussing this with, well, anyone, I am here to say that most WAC employees side with the musicians and labor. The ASO is the only division that has the luxury of a union. The rest of us wish we did. In fact, we were subjected to an all WAC meeting in which we were commanded to chant, now all together, “Negotiations are ongoing” over and over. I am shocked at how hamfisted our management has handled this situation. And trust me, the issues with ASO are not the only labor vs. MGMT issues at hand.

    Woodruff Arts Center has become a bloated beast that is no longer serving it’s umbrella services. And make no mistake, WAC’s only reason for existence is to server the ASO, the High Museum of Art, and the Alliance Theatre.

    But once again, I implore readers, do not boycott the WAC. Many other people, from box office workers to theatrical technicians need your support. We don’t have a union to represent us. We have been forbidden from having a union. We tried it once. Everyone who supported it got fired.

    Support the arts, crucify the poseurs who take advantage of the artists, artisans and craftsmen.

  15. Fly the ASO right on back to Germany where they do be belonging’… there’s room in berlin philharmonie for the ASO, and Bob Spano will also be welcomed… Delta can sponsor bc they are based in Atlanta anyway!

  16. I’m just kind of glad that Robert Shaw is not here to hear this. Sad, very sad.

  17. Bob Wright says:

    Maybe I am just a dumb Rocket Scientist that also happens to be a Musician, but it is always the same old game of “Show Me The Money”. I understand that if the costs of doing business cannot be passed onto to Consumers of a particular product or service, then cuts must be made.. What ever happened to Teamwork, Fair-play, Professionality? If WAC want to cut their budget to make things continue to have any chance of still having one of the Best Orchestras in the World here in Atlanta, then WAC must have every facet of the WAC share in that responsibility by across the Board cuts in every department at the same proportional rate. The highly skilled and talented Musicians of the Orchestra should bear some of that fiscal responsibility but NOT a 51% drop in salary portion. I am not saying that members of the WAC are not talented and highly skilled in their own fields, but Symphony Musicians are every bit a skilled as any Brain Surgeon, Business Mogul, Millionare by inheritance, that is in charge of WAC. Even though many patrons of the WAC support through donations and endowments, that monies have not been made availible so that Executive Boards, Support Staff, Maintainence People, etc will have jobs. The money comes in to support the Symphony and the Arts which seem to be forgotten in this fray. Once again, musicians appear to be seen as day laboruers, mechanics and plumbers that have figured out a way to get people to pay for things they could do for themselves. It simply is not the case. In general, people (read WAC) see the Arts and Music as non-essential part of the human exsistance that most can live without. If they were of a different opinion, they would do everything possible to show how important the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is to how much we , as Atlantans and Georgians, think of ourselves as rational , thinking, beings capable of thought and emotion brought on by things greater than ourselves.

  18. Will Drach says:

    Romanstein needs to go. He’s a $300,000+ a year lightweight.
    Fox, Sparrow, Wade & Mirageas (Senior VPs listed on ASO website) all need to go.
    They are self-serving, duplicitous leftover Allison Vulgamorons.
    ASO board needs new leadership and the Vulgamorons still in place need to be replaced –
    (or maybe they can be shipped to the bankrupt Philadelphia Orchestra?)

    Woodruff Arts Center board is doing it’s job – at LONG last – imposing fiscal restraint.

    Hey, where’s the $100+ million donated to Vulgamoron’s Taj Mahal Symphony Center?
    How much has been spent, and for what?
    There’s a financial scandal buried in books there somewhere!

  19. So here’s my pie-in-the-sky, super-naive, Pollyanna fix:

    Why can’t the city government re-allocate money that they were putting towards sports towards supporting the arts? The people who claim “let the people who want it fund it” don’t seem to have any problem with stadiums being built.

    If athletes are going to command million-dollar salaries, why not put an arts tax on such salaries, so some of those millions go towards gym, music, and arts programs in the elementary schools?

    Sports are great–but not everyone is allowed to participate. Only those who are the best at tryouts make the team. But in school, anyone who wants to be in band or orchestra can be in band or orchestra. Nobody is excluded. There are no losers in music, only winners. But even those who make the sports team often end up “losing.”

    We are a nation of obesity, yet schools cut gym classes to once a week. Recess is often held indoors, without any activity at all, schools provide deep-fried chicken nuggest, high-fat pizza, sugary treats, and Pepsi for lunch, and then we wonder why the kids can’t concentrate on academics?

    And then, after they score poorly on their standardized tests, the schools cut art and music in order to have additional classroom time on math and reading, without realizing that kids who receive instrumental music instruction actually do significantly better with math and reading (and science and foreign language and eye/hand coordination and listening and science and…). Study after study shows tangible benefits to instrumental music instruction. The school boards almost always cut art without realizing that that, too, can be an academic support.

    Have test scores improved? No, they’ve gotten worse. And generations are growing up without being able to appreciate art and music, or anything except test scores.

    If every child were required to choose an instrument–any instrument–and if instruction in instrumental music and foreign language were part of the regular curriculum, along with daily breaks for exercise (gym) and art, you would see test scores soar.

    And the next generation of adults on the boards of ASO, WAC, school boards, and government, would actually understand what is important to the soul and culture of the community.

    They figured this out in other countries decades ago.

    What’s our problem?

  20. US military spending for 2012 is approximately 1.2 trillion dollars. See:

    One percent of our military spending is 12 billion dollars. That one percent of the military budget could fund 240 fifty-two week orchestras at 50 million dollars apiece. (Instead of 240 we have about 17 such orchestras.) Remember, that’s just 1% of the military budget.

    Europeans do not have such incomprensibly enormous (and wasteful) military budgets. That is why they can fund about 20 to 25 times more fifty-two week season orchestras per capita than the USA.

    The Project On Government Oversight has identified about 700 billion in wasteful defense spending. See:

    Imagine what 700 billion would do if applied to the arts, our schools, and the squalor of our urban environments. The sources of our problems go far deeper than WAC.

  21. Dan Christian says:

    The WAC Executive Board’s decision is an embarrassment to Atlanta. The WAC Board’s members are an embarrassment to themselves.

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