Our prediction that six US orchestras will be unable to open their 2012-13 season is starting to look over-cautious. Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra downed instruments this weekend in the course of negiotiations for a new, three-year contract. They are officially on strike.
Chicago is where the present inflationary cycle started when Henry Fogel, the former manager, caved in to a union demand for a $104,000 starting wage for a 20-hour week. It kicked in eight years ago and obliged other top orchestras to break the six-figure barrier in order to stay competitive. Even if they didn’t, Fogel – who left Chicago with a deepening deficit – undermined other orchs that were trying to maintain balance in their age bill.
As a result, CSO musicians have enjoyed good wages and conditions ever since. The current average salary of $175,000 looks wildly generous in recessional times. However, to blame the musicians for the present dispute, as the organisation’s president is now doing, is both disingenuous and unlikely to yield a quick or satisfactory resolution.
‘The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is extremely disappointed that the musicians have decided to strike. Looking around the country, it’s clear that the more prudent path would be to work with us to ensure their future, rather than engage in this action,’ said CSO president Deborah Rutter.
True, up to a point. But you have to ask why the organisation allowed talks to drag on as the season-opening deadline drew so near. Nobody negotiates well with a gun at their heads and musicians under pressure act no differenly from any other human species.
The problem here is not the intransigence of musicians. It is the language of orchestral management in the US that has to change before there can be peace, a commonality of interest and the prospect of renewal. Ms Rutter needs to talk soft and put away that big stick. UPDATE: Ms Rutter’s people say she has been doing just that, for several months.
If she wants tips on conciliation, and on getting on with musicians, she should listen to the recent Lebrecht Interview with her music director, who (I expect) will be much distressed by this turn of events.
UPDATE: PEACE AGREEMENT REACHED: http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/09/chicago-alls-quiet-on-the-midwestern-front.html