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Chicago: all’s quiet on the midwestern front

The musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will meet in a few hours (9 am Tuesday) to ratify a peace agreement before they go into rehearsal at 10 with music director Riccardo Muti.

If, as expected, the strike is called off, it will be one of the swiftest resolutions ever seen in a US orchestra dispute. Credit is due to both sides – to the CSO president Deborah Rutter and to the musicians – for entering instant mediation and emerging with faces saved.

Rutter, in negotiating a new three-year deal, was not demanding the kind of wage cuts seen in Atlanta, Minnesota and other battle spots. She was actually offering a 4.5 percent pay rise, tempered by an increase in the musicians’ contributions to soaring health insurance costs. That, for the players, was a sticking point.

However, looking around at declining wages in US orchestras, the players needed to retreat from an unnecessary confrontation. According to recent salary figures that we have seen, three musicians were in the quarter-million bracket and the concertmaster, Robert Chen, was earning more than the chief exec. Sympathy for the players’ case was notably muted across a devastated sector. They beat a swift retreat – or that’s how it appears at this hour.


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  1. Remember, in 2010 The Cleveland Orchestra went on strike for one day only, resulting in cancellation of their Bloomington IU residency. I think CSO has already been on strike since Saturday so they can’t beat the record set by TCO just yet. That said, I wish orchestras never went on strike. I remember years ago in Poland the musicians were wearing ribbons as sign of protest agains their low wages, but decided to play the concerts nevertheless.

  2. Weeping tears of joy!

    The CSO musicians, in the midst of the worst US general economic conditions since the Great Depression, will not have to endure the agony of losing their financial standing: $144K average wage, $18K medical benefits, 12 weeks vacation, less than a 28 hour ‘work’ week, generous pension, et al.

    Can’t wait to rush and buy my $100+ CSO tickets and make my contributions to the annual and endowment funds to support these poor struggling artists!

    Just have to find myself a minimum wage job with no benefits first ……………

    • Civil Civilian says:

      It was 144k minimum salary… Average was more like $175k, which didn’t include extra pay for media or various other extra activities.

      But this “28 hour work week” is a mischaracterization that needs to die a swift death. No musician could accomplish what the CSO musicians accomplish without having invested thousands and thousands of hours in practice. Many musicians rehearse at home, and all of them have been practicing for many years.

      Also, I recommend Gallery tickets. They are much, much more affordable, and the sound is excellent up there.

    • 28-hour ‘work’ week? Sure. Because they do not need to practise or anything, do they? And they never go on tour, do they?

      And is $144K the arithmetic mean or the median (if it is the mean, then the figure is skewed by the minority of top-earners to a greater extent than if it is the median)? Sure that is outrageous. After all, none of the musicians have any debts to pay for their expensive instruments or their training?

      Of course the CSO is, within the profession, well-paid, but not outrageously so, especially given its status as an élite American orchestra.

    • Helen T (are we related??): You can come over to my place to listen to the CSO anytime, What do you prefer, Reiner? Solti? Barenboing? Got ‘em all. Might even be able to serve a Levine or Martinon. There are single malts and plenty of beers in the fridge, too.

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