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

Chicago: the new pay deal

There has been much disputation of salary figures during the short strike by Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians.

Here’s what was agreed in the settlement:

Under the terms of the newly ratified agreement, CSO musicians will receive a 4.5% increase in salary over the three years of the contract, with weekly base minimum salaries of $2,805, $2,840 and $2,910 each year, respectively.

The restructured healthcare plan design includes an increase in cost sharing through member contributions over the life of the contract.

The defined benefit pension plan remains unchanged, offering approximately a $75,000 annual pension. 

No player in the orchestra will earn less than $145,860 a year. That will now become a benchmark for the rest of America’s Big Five.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Good! Unions work. This is a hard-working bunch, just like any major American orchestra. They deserve it. If America has the finest orchestras in the world (which I think is the truth, plain and simple) but the suspicious nature of the conservative legislative body in America that views artists as moochers and layabouts and refuses to support said artists, then the private sector ought to give the orchestra members what they deserve. Period.

    • Top 5 European orchestras > Top 5 American orchestras

      Great they could agree something so quickly.

      • “Luciano”: Pont two — yes. Point one — if you think there are *five* European orchestras better than Chicago and Cleveland then you have not heard all seven of those orchestras.

        • Interesting challenge, Andrew. I don’t like ‘better’, bur orchs of comparable character and quality:
          1 Vienna Phil
          2 Berlin Phil
          3 Concertgebouw
          4 Bavarian Radio
          5 Dresden Staatskapelle
          6 Leipzig Gewandhaus
          7 Mariinsky Orch
          8 LSO

          • I agree, Norman. I was responding to “Luciano”‘s absurd statement — which he now follows up with more talking through his hat nonsense. For the sake of discussion, let’s accept your list above. And if we do, then there’s no question in my mind that if Chicago and Cleveland were added to it they would be in the first five of a total of ten. Beyond that will have to wait fir another day. ;-)

          • Absolutely agree, Andrew.

        • Of course my first statement was overly simplistic. The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the world’s great ensembles – no question. San Fran and NY seem to be in good form too. Chicago? 99% of the orchestra is amazing and deserving of a top five place as you say. BUT – an orchestra is only as strong as its weakest link. If you allow a prominent solo player to walk on stage who is consistently playing well below par you are damaging your brand, and that has been going on in Chicago for a few years now. That would not happen in any of the 8 Euro orchestras that Norman has listed.

    • Nandor Szederkenyi says:

      Lloyd, I would be a bit more careful to make such “plain and simple” statements.

    • And in the interests of debate… Unions are part of the reason why US orchestras are sometimes not as good as they could be. In a top European orchestra, you will basically never here a solo player who is past their prime. That is not the case in the US and the Chicago Symphony is a case in point.

      • another orchestra musician says:

        Even were playing quality not an issue, the monotony of seeing the same faces sitting onstage in the same chairs, for decades on end, can and does numb the interest of concert-goers. It may be every bit as deadly as the concert-goer memory of “…how marvelously musician X used to play, when he first came to the orchestra….”

  2. Emil Archambault says:

    This is ridiculous. To pay this increase, ticket prices will only go up, which will limit the audience for the concerts. For the concert on Sept. 29th (Muti&Mutter), prices range from 58$ to 151$. Prices will only go up.

    The musicians are overpaid. This financial model rests only on an assumption of philanthropy, which can disappear at any moment. Time for orchestras to get a sustainable business model.

    • Roderick Branch says:

      “Sustainable business model” is a euphemism of the business consulting world for an enterprise that is revenue positive, i.e., where operating revenue equals or exceeds expenses. That will never be true of a cultural institution such as a symphony orchestra in the United States, where, unlike other countries, the government provides no financial support. The way you’ve used it reveals a basic misunderstanding of how these organizations work, particularly at this level.

      Ticket sales generate about one-third of an orchestra’s revenue. Ideally, endowment returns generate another third. Donations (i.e., philanthropic support) must make up the remainder. Given that musician salaries generally represent about one-third of expenses, I think you’ll agree that cutting salaries beyond a certain level (particularly as compared to peer ensembles in the country) isn’t the right solution. To use another business consulting term, it destroys the organization’s “value proposition.” You only need to look to places in the United States where advisors have convinced management to balance the budget on the backs of musician salaries to see what effect that approach has on quality as well as morale and group cohesion (which are part of quality anyway).

  3. “Emil”: The Saturday concert is the *one* gala benefit concert (for education and community activities) of the entire season. And guess what! It will sell out. Let us know when you will be presenting a concert of your own artistry. While you sell tickets to that, I’ll hold back the crowds.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Sorry about that, I guess I fell on the wrong concert. If I repeat the experience with the one on November 29th (a standard concert), the tickets range from 27$ to 135$. However, apart from the Flynn Gallerty priced at 36$ (with about 20 seats at 27$), the minimum price is 57$ in the upper balcony, and at least 71$ per ticket at the lower balcony. That’s not what I would call accessible ticket prices. The orchestra might still sell out, but you have to wonder what type of public the concerts are directed to. If the goal is to attract a wide public, it is not with such expensive tickets that this objective will be achieved.

      And what in all the world does “my own artistry” have to do with that?

  4. I usually find myself on the side of the musicians in matters such as these, but the situation is–as Emil put it–ridiculous. I have little sympathy for organizations with overly generous health care plans to which the employees make little to no contribution. I encourage the musicians of the “Big 5″ to examine what kinds of health care coverage are covered in other professions (outside of Congress) before complaining about having to pay 5%. And yes, ticket prices in Chicago are steep and getting steeper (almost as much as the stairs in the upper balcony of Symphony Center–formerly the only ticket this “middle class” musician could afford.

    • Again, nonsense, “Brian.” The Gallery seats — where the sound is better — are less than the Upper Balcony. Terrace seats are excellent and well-priced. Rush tickets in all oarts of the house are available for most converts, senior and student tickets for many. You want to hold your cake and you want to eat it, too. I am sure you can buy “cheap” tickets from Emil to hear him play.

  5. James Brinton says:

    I won’t say the pay rates seem high to me, but would like management to know that I am available and play a mean triangle.
    NB: High ticket prices are an issue at a time when orchestras are trying to build audience size and attract younger listeners.

    • another orchestra musician says:

      In fairness here, the CSO does offer nosebleed gallery seats in the $30 price range – pricey for people on fixed, low incomes or earning working-class wages, but not crazy expensive.

  6. I’m always somewhat flabbergasted when the subject of classical music’s elitism is raised and Exhibit A are the supposedly exorbitant ticket prices orchestras charge. Let’s have some context, please: the cheap seats in Orchestra Hall run between $31 and $37. Most folks in Chicago shell out more than that for dinner. Perhaps it’s not exactly pocket change, but it’s probably also not an amount that will break most people’s banks. True, you’re sitting in the Gallery, and you might feel a bit removed from the action onstage from time to time (at least that was my experience when I held a CSO Gallery subscription several years ago), but you get to hear one of the two or three best orchestras in the country (and certainly a top 10 ensemble when you bring the best European groups into the discussion) playing usually pretty good music. Yes, you can pay well over $100 for prime seats, but the point is you don’t have to (especially if you’re a student or senior, for whom – as Andrew has already noted – there are rush tickets and special ticket prices for most CSO concerts).

    Now let’s compare the CSO to some other Chicago area ticket prices. If you want to take in “Good People” at the Steppenwolf, you can expect to shell out $61 on a weekday evening or $86 for a Saturday night showing. If you want to catch the Bears at Soldier Field, the lowest ticket prices start at $101. If you want to catch the lowly Cubs in action for the last time next weekend, you can get “limited view” seats (probably preferable this season) starting at $8, but decent view infield seats start at $24. And this isn’t even getting into ticket prices for pop acts – which tend to start in the $100s. Remarkably, the CSO is a little pricey in comparison to one of Chicago’s other musical treasures, Lyric Opera, which has tickets starting at $20.

    So, is classical music elistist? Well, it can be – but not because it’s overpriced. If anything, tickets to classical events are far more affordable than other offerings in the arts and sports, and that probably won’t change anytime soon.

an ArtsJournal blog