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Another US orchestra votes to strike

It’s Seattle.

The players in the orchestra and the opera house have been asked to take a 15 percent pay cut, on top of previous reductions.

They have a fairly new executive director, Simon Woods (He arrived from Scotland in April 2011) and decided to draw a line in the sand.

Negotiations continue, but in the present climate it’s more likely than not that Seattle will be next on the picket line.


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  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Recycling is a wonderful thing. Simon Woods was Artistic Administrator of the eminent Philadelphia Orchestra before his Scottish sojourn. Do we see a pattern here? Let’s send Carnegie Hall’s Clive Gillinson ($1M+/year) in if they need heavy artillery. Paul Revere would be saying: “I told you so…”

    PS: Bill and Melinda (Gates) live in Seattle.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      PPS: And Simon Woods also did a stint with New Jersey Symphony around the time of the famous string instrument purchase and subsequent scandal but I don’t know if that mess was his fault.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        The Clive G remark was a lame attempt at humor and I apologize for placing B & M outside of the city gates.

    • No, they live in Medina, Washington and have no interest in the SS. Just as Clive Gillinson would ever imagine moving to Seattle for that job, it’s all just wishful thinking. Who would jump a perfectly stable ship to land on one with a leak in its side?

      • While correct, Medina is 8.6 miles from Seattle and (theoretically) 15 minutes away. Comparatively, SeaTac Airport is 14.6 miles and (theoretically, again) 20 minutes from Seattle -Mike

  2. You have to remember where the money comes from in the first place. In the US it’s private charity giving,(only about 33% comes from ticket sales) basically, musicians are recipients of charity!! It’s pathetic, but as the saying goes “beggars can’t be choosers” and until the US “state” values Art and is prepared to pay for it, the musicians will continue to be subject to these strong arm tactics, which they will lose, in the face of financial reality.

    • Paul D. Sullivan, Boston US says:


      With the current political climate here in the U.S. , the likelihood of the federal government support of the arts is nil.
      Remember, it’s not only musicians that are taking salary and benefit cuts, but also millions of U.S. workers. My younger brother, a gaming concept artist, has been laid off 4 jobs in the past 6 years, and now has been taking on as a contract artist with zero benefits. His wife, a graphic designer has not had steady employment for over two years, and can only get contract work here and there for a week or month at a time; no benefits. Their monthly insurance premium is $1800 bucks, and it all comes out of their pocket. My older brother lost his job of 22 years after a corporate buy out. The company was gutted and shut down, he left with nothing, while the new CEO and execs. sailed off in their golden parachutes Tough to start again at 56, but he did. In my line of work, merchant mariner, new ship board contracts are down some 35%.

      With millions here unemployed or under employed and taking far worse wage and benefit cutbacks than many of the professional orchestra musicians, there’s little pity for them among middle class Americans. At least they can try to negotiate a contract having a union. Only about 12% of folks here belong to a union, and many of those are federal employees.

      • One more reason for the expansion of unions, not their demise.

        One difference between recession-laid-off Americans and orchestra members: orchestra management has been agreeing to contracts, then running back to suck any advances away through concessions for decades.
        Whether it’s a recession or a time of economic boom, musicians at most orchestras are kept at barely middle class wages. Not everyone teaches, or can teach, and why orchestra members must have a second job to live is a question to ponder.

    • Derek,

      You may want to check your facts. As you might already know, things are done a little differently in Seattle, and the Seattle orchestra’s earned income through ticket sales is by far the best in the country. If I remember correctly from articles I read the last time this was in the news the musicians more than cover their end of the overall budget through ticket sales. So your rigid, one size fits all musicians, “beggars can’t be choosers” insult is out of place. By any model the musicians are the successful part of this partnership.

      • Well, let’s not kid ourselves. First of all, do you have a source or a citation that demonstrates how great Seattle’s ticket sales are? And how great are we talking – is it one of the rare symphonies to hit 50% of income being earned as opposed to donated? Even that, to my mind, still means it’s supported by charity.

        And if that’s the case, let’s not use this extraordinary example to beat your own drum. Derek is correct that the vast majority of symphony orchestras and other large ensembles generally see no more than 1/3 of income being earned.

        It is not indicting anyone to point out that symphonies survive primarily on charity. This has always been the case and always will. Saying “beggars can’t be choosers” is obviously not a helpful prescription, but it’s worth examining one’s sense of entitlement when considering where one’s income is coming from.

        • One of the articles I was thinking of had this quote:

          “Seattle Symphony ranks very high nationally in the number of performances each year, and the variety of series,” notes Woods. “Of the top 20 national symphony orchestras, Seattle ranks first on percentage of earned income (primarily ticket sales), but 19th in endowment size.” from the Seattle Symphony CEO in this article

          I understand your comments about charity and entitlement, and you obviously know more about the non-profit world than me, I’m not a professional fundraiser or anything, but to my way of thinking the Seattle musicians are doing a good job, first in the country! I know Seattle supposedly likes to come in second when it comes to city rankings, but I like Seattle being number one.

    • Eric is right on.

    • The reason Orchestras take public and private money, is to keep ticket prices low. This is so EVERYONE can afford to go. Now, feel free to cut that money if you think only the rich deserve access to great music (or art from you partially funded museums, etc.). But, we, as a society value GREAT ART for EVERYONE, which is why there is the need to keep donations incoming. Otherwise, you’ll just have mediocre art for the wealthy.

  3. ghillie forrest says:

    If Bill and Melinda do not support SS, with all that lovely lolly to donate even in dribs to a local good cause along with their larger, no doubt worthier and more global causes, there is little hope. There’s a lot of money in Seattle, and the Gates lot are plugged into everyone that has it. if they ignore SS, others will see no need to support it.

    The younger business generation, offspring of the longtime supporters of symphonies, operas and ballets as places to show their importance to the social-business orbit of their communities, have grown up on radio rock, TV, graphic novels and movies. (Now they download the lot of them). They are unexposed to higher arts, indifferent to or intimidated by them. As state funding for the arts is about as dirty a term as is used in American politics, the loss — and it is inevitable — of a business community that knows anything about anything is going to be felt — from Atlanta to Seattle.

    • ghillie,

      Of course the fact that the arts have such a positive impact on local business is completely ignored by your post.

      Global causes are very worthy, and a foundation with the reach of the Gates Foundation is just the ticket for tackling those very worthy issues.

      However, local business and the well being of our communities, is important too. There are plenty of studies available that talk about arts organizations’ positive economic impact on the cities they serve, and how in many cases arts organizations create more revenue for their cities than the resident pro sports teams. That is something beneficial for local business and I’m sure Seattle’s large crop of millionaires are very aware of this positive impact.

      As for your comments about the younger business generation, that is just condescending. I can’t believe that your statements apply to the well rounded individuals who are actually capable of creating and sustaining a business.

    • This is the constant struggle of the professional fundraiser. Just because XYZ person lives in your town and has tons of money does not mean she wants to support your organization, no matter how worthy it is. Some people prefer to focus entirely on one area of philanthropy. Some people actually believe that symphonies are bourgeois indulgences that aren’t worth their investment. Some people don’t like to give to organizations that have even a whiff of financial trouble. Some people are only interested in buzz-wordy “game changing” grants and won’t even consider operating support for any type of organization.

      People have their preferences and their priorities, and just because the Gateses don’t give to the Seattle Symphony doesn’t mean “all is lost” for philanthropy in America.

  4. William Safford says:
  5. Bill Reuben says:

    I don’t hear that well used phrase “structural deficit” in this edition of the arts administration office cubicle land grab. Is that because the deficit is not structural and is just a figure to be thrown around for effect? Are we entering the era of the “pre-fabricated deficit”?

  6. Just back from a trip to Helsinki – note that Finland has a population as a country roughly equal to Chicago’s. They have two full-time symphonies in Helsinki, and are upset that they have begun to share administrative facilities. The fear is that the two orchestras will become more and more alike each other. Both orchestras regularly sell out their subscription series. Such a contrast; but young Finnish children regularly begin their musical education at age 2.

  7. Just for the record, Bill and Melinda Gates do support SSO. “William and Melinda Gates” is listed under Principal Benefactors in the concert programs, a list of donors that have given more than $1 million to SSO as of August 2012.

    I have faith in the new guys. Ludovic Morlot and Simon Woods have a strong vision for the Symphony both artistically and financially. A quote from the article Eric posted (

    “According to Woods, this year will be “at or a hair’s breadth away from breaking even,” the first time in years. Donations toward the $24 million annual budget will hit a new high of $9.5 million. Ticket sales, already a remarkably high percentage of income (45 percent), are up 2 percent. Woods has also brought in new department leaders for nearly every section of the staff.”

    Speaking from personal experience, the orchestra is sounding better, the house is fuller, and the marketing is outrageously effective. The Symphony has totally rebranded itself administratively as well as artistically.
    Yes, it is unfortunate that the hard-working and talented musicians of Seattle are being asked to take a 15% pay cut, and it is indeed a tough battle for the union. But I predict it will start to get better from here. It will take time, but it will certainly get better.

  8. Prof Doug Grant says:

    I think that unless administrators ( management rank) share the same percentage cut, there is a problem. If it’s “we’re all in this together”, maybe a solution can be found that avoisa rancor.

    The very well paid at the top of the management really need to accept an even higher percentage cut.

    The music director has to be included in this too, as do fees paid to soloists.

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