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

An investment broker calls striking musicians ‘disgusting’. How, exactly?

There have been a number of hostile posts and articles about the San Francisco musicians’ strike, but this guy takes the biscuit. You might like to let him know what you think of his expert views. Read here, then wash hands carefully.


There is also a brutal piece by Manuela Hoelterhoff on capital-friendly Bloomberg.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Performing Artist52 says:

    WOW! I would like to see a talented high school student take over his business and see how well they do! Good grief! He thinks he can play an tamborine or triangle because they look easy. Does he read and count music? He is disgusting!

    • You know: Actually a talented high school student probably *could* take over his business and do as well. He picks stocks. Some will win, and some won’t. We all know the story about how Warren Buffet bought Sara Lee stock: he went out and bought samples of their products–L’Eggs pantyhose–and passed them out to the ladies in his office, and asked them later what they thought of them. Now, that’s not genius, that’s just good sense and clever. I think a high school kid could swing that.

      • In fairness to Warren Buffet, I am sure that I have grossly oversimplified how he picks his investments. The folks in that industry will spend seventy hours a week staring at numbers on a monitor, and I’m sure that analysis takes *some* skill. It’s just funny, that *they* can take a risk, lose a bundle, and still come back another day. A principal trumpeter cracks *one note* in a lifetime, a bassoonist has *one bad reed,” and suddenly everybody remembers that one “bad night.” (And, don’t get me started on athletes! Barry Bonds, the home run king for the Giants, whiffed more times than he connected.)

  2. Joseph R. Olefirowicz says:

    His e-mail address is on his company’s website. Come on, everyone: dig in!

  3. Petrushka says:

    You mean this guy?…

    “I am always available to discuss the financial markets over a fine meal as long as I don’t have to pick up the check. I’m more than happy to meet in person with members of the media, corporate leaders, other assorted big-shots, and attractive women. Especially attractive women. See ya!”


    • butchkoch says:

      Does he have any issues with a $480,000 a year [minimum MLB salary] that high school kids can do for free?

    • Ah. Perfect. I found this part of his biography most enlightening:

      My impetus for launching this project was the frustration I felt after working at dead-end jobs in several well-known investment firms. I had the misfortune to work myself like crazy for bosses who couldn’t have cared less about what I did and couldn’t wait to throw me away. I accomplished next to nothing at those brand-name firms for a couple of reasons. You see, I am not to the manor born, which makes it hard for me to impress the multigenerational preppie types who predominate in institutional finance. When you’re sitting around an office with people who have been handed extraordinary advantages on a silver platter, you find out first hand how lack of a blue-blood pedigree hurts your credibility and your career.

      Alfidi Capital LLC is my personal push-back to those firms that saw less value in me than I see in myself.


      I wonder if it is difficult walking around carrying that five ton bitter-tasting chip on his shoulder. The problem could not be his incompetence, could it? No, it is always someone else’s fault.

      • Well, wait a minute, Janey, that’s really interesting! “I had the misfortune to work myself like crazy for bosses who couldn’t have cared less about what I did and couldn’t wait to throw me away.”

        Maybe, just MAYBE, it’s possible to get him to see that he is suggesting that the bosses treat the musicians exactly the way he was treated?

        I wonder, would getting him to shadow a real, live, working musician (particularly one who has to make reeds in addition to practicing and performing) for a week help him see what it’s really like on our side of the stage? Maybe he can join an orchestra for a foreign tour, and see what the reed/woodwind players’ lives are like with jet lag and travel thrown in…

        If he has never played an instrument, never developed an appreciation of music, etc., it’s not fair of us to expect him to understand our perspective. I mean, yeah, most decent, sensitive people WOULD understand our perspective, even if they’ve never lived it, but I’m starting to wonder why there are so few decent, sensitive people in this world!

        So maybe there’s a way we can show him what he is unable to see?

    • I *almost* feel sorry for the poor guy. He couldn’t keep a job, he can’t afford dinner, and he can’t get a date.

      • And, if he calls his lawyer about my post, he can’t take a joke either. :-) (He’s probably a nice, entertaining guy, even if a bit off in his observations of what symphony musicians do.)

    • Graf Nugent says:

      Classy guy, obviously. Nice to see the esteem in which he holds our profession, too, as if investment bankers were somehow a superior race…

  4. No problem, dude. I’ll send someone over with a big truck to take every bit of audio equipment and recordings you own; clock radio, car stereo, televisions, CD’s, ….every last bit. Making that kind of statement tells me you likely don’t have the imagination or understanding to fully appreciate what musical artists actually DO. THAT’s pretty “disgusting.”

    • Exactly, Jeffx9 – that’s what I tell people too. I wrote an article 10 years ago called A Day Without A Musician”, and things are worse now for us than they were then. You can’t be a music-lover and musician-hater at the same time – you gotta pick one. And if they are disrespecting the Olympic athletes of music, the symphonic musicians, what hope is there for the rest of us?

  5. James Brinton says:

    If he uses the same math skill on his investments as he does on musician salaries, he will be bankrupt in a heartbeat. So sad.

  6. Clyde McConnell says:

    Let’s hope these two screeds don’t presage changing attitudes about the arts generally. “It can’t happen here”? Don’t bet on it.

  7. If recent history is correct the “credit default swap” designed by this type of guy put the economy in a tailspin, not trained musicians trying to make art and pay rent.

    When George Plimpton played triangle with the New York Philharmonic he found out how hard it is to play in an orchestra.

    Let this guy put his money where his mouth is: let him walk in an play only bass drum on a Rossini Overture, every missed note is $20.00. That could the most expensive 5 minutes of his life.

    Put up or please be quiet Mr. Alfidi.

    Greed knows no bounds like that of an investment broker.

  8. Linda Grace says:

    Same old same old, fat cat union busting.

  9. He is involved with the SF Symphony Pierre Monteux Society. Unbelievable.

  10. Rosalind says:

    Perhaps he is looking for a new career opening as an orchestra CEO?

    Petrushka – I am laughing loudly at your post. Ah, the things we find on the internet…

  11. I’m not an “investment broker” or broker of any kind. It says so in my FAQ. I just blog about buisness, that’s all.

    • Amy Adams says:

      You must be delighted at all the positive attention this has brought your blog.

    • You’re also not an expert on anything related to the economics of the performing arts, nor a professional musician. You just blog about business. That’s all.

    • Oh, I apologize, Mr. Alfidi. I *did not* read your FAQ.

      Orchestral players are a tough crowd. When a new guest conductor steps onto the podium, he has about ten seconds to make an impression. If the players sense in that first ten seconds that Maestro doesn’t know the score, they don’t look at him for the rest of the week.

      If you, Sir, choose not to do *your homework* before writing and posting your thoughts about the arts industry, then please don’t expect us to bother reading what you have to say about the banking sector, about the retail sector, or the high-tech sector.

      Tough world, isn’t it?

  12. Francis Schwartz says:

    I do believe that is is not worth getting into a lengthty exchange with this rather obtuse gentleman.It would be sufficient to send a a suggestion box filled with good advice accompanied by a large jar of petroleum jelly.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    “Making over $85K per year to do something a talented high school musician can do for free is pretty generous.”

    Maybe I should have taken an econ class in high school. Surely that alone would preclude my “need [for] institutional research or paid advice to be a successful investor.” That is to say, “I require only my own judgment, and that is what you see on display at Bullshit Capital LLC.”

  14. Wow. And this is what society rewards.

  15. Oh, and he probably thinks that the brainiacs who trashed the economy should be paid even more to do the same thing again.

  16. James Brinton says:

    He can be found here if anyone would like to communicate directly…

  17. Timon Wapenaar says:

    It’s hard to be both excessively offensive and tedious at the same time, but somehow the Alfidi has done it. I should have stopped reading after “The BLS reports…”, but macabre fascination forced me on. Having actually finished this piece of pseudo-economics, I am now obsessively checking my mail for comrade Brezhnev’s congratulations. Wish me luck!

  18. He sounds like the type of person I’d want to avoid in a social situation.

  19. Paul D. Sullivan, Boston US says:

    Well, I had to take a shower after reading his comments on the SFO’s musicians. Further delving into his blog is even more disgusting. I mean REALLY disgusting!!

    “The greedy geezers and unions of the Alliance for Retired Americans don’t want to fix entitlements.”

    “Striking musicians
    Greedy losers hate their jobs
    Replace them all now ”

    ……..”The fate of mid-tier retailers like J.C. Penney is obvious to me. Survival options include closing underperforming stores, rebranding into deep discount chains, or following Wards into bankruptcy and online rebirth. The deep discount chains will have plenty of competition at the bottom of the food chain because many Americans will keep getting poorer. The elite chains will do well because their clientele in the finance, pharma, and energy sectors own our planet anyway. I’ll wait my turn on the courthouse steps to bid on the bankrupt shopping malls formerly anchored by Penney’s. The vacated sites will make excellent permaculture installations and their former shoppers will make dedicated subsistence workers.

    I’ve chosen sides in the class war. Jeeves, pass the Grey Poupon. Smithers, release the hounds. Conchita, make mine a double (*wink*). God bless America, the land of opportunity.”………

    Favorite Quotes

    “(all Tony Alfidi originals)
    The iron laws of history favor action, not contemplation.
    It’s your choice: economic annihilation, or bonanza.
    The great genius of the human animal is its ability to mask savagery with civility.
    If you take Yogi Berra’s fork in the road, make sure you give it back to him when you’re done with it.
    I never burned any of my bridges. They burned me instead.”

    Taken from the link provided by Petrushka (above) and Alfidi’s Facebook page.

    Here’s his disclaimer copied directly from the bottom of his site.

    “Legalistic Disclaimerism

    Alfidi Capital is a private investment research firm. Alfidi Capital is not affiliated with any broker-dealer and does not manage money for clients. All information mentioned in this blog is derived from public sources. Alfidi Capital makes no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. Alfidi Capital and its owner, Anthony J. Alfidi, may from time to time hold long or short positions (including options, warrants, rights, and other derivatives) in the securities mentioned in this blog. This blog is provided for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation or solicitation to execute a transaction in any investment product. Investors should consult with a properly licensed and registered investment professional before making any investment decision. The bottom line: Enjoy reading this blog, but the risk you take with investing is entirely your own.”

    This crass man (and founding GENIUS of Alfidi Capital) seems to spend more time writing his blog than doing any work.

  20. Ann Diaz says:

    (415) 317-9005

    This number is his publicly listed cellphone according to his google plus profile. Just saying….

  21. Chris H. Smith says:

    This is typical of someone who will not and/or cannot see the other side of an issue. What Mr. Alfidi doesn’t see is all the music lessons that had to be paid for, the college and/or conservatory tuition that had to be paid for, and the fact that people who do there life’s work for free eventually cannot live.

  22. The comment that exposes the worthlessness of Mr Alfidi’s judgement is: ‘Making over $85K per year to do something a talented high school musician can do for free is pretty generous.’ Talented high school students could do many great things – even trade on the stock market, price derivatives and plan investment strategies, but presumably Mr Alfridi thinks his extensive professional expertise in finance, doubtless gained by years of hard work, couts for something and adds value for his clients. What is so different about world-class musicians in leading symphony orchestras?

    There is a larger issue, however, over how orchestras are owned, governed and run. Musicians need to take control of their orchestras. Few of us joined the profession dreaming of management, but the alternative – of having non-musician administrators and boards in control – looks to be collapsing. Is it time for the San Francisco musicians and others to look to what the London Symphony Orchestra did in 1904, re-form and govern themselves?

  23. Granted that Anthony Alfidi is a gross and disgusting boor, his is just an extreme viewpoint on one side of a completely lop-sided flight from reality that characterizes all sides of the current crises of the big orchestras. .
    My notion of what needs to be done is that we must change the system, do away with many of the traditional big city orchestras and invest in smaller, more autonomous ensembles with links to municipal and government funding, but a private enterprise component as well. Musicians in the big orchestras are risk-adverse, both in economics and in the daring needed for performing the classics and moderns with the vitality they merit. When is the last time members of the New York Philharmonic went on strike, claiming that they were forced to churn out performances that were too dull and predictable?
    With all this being said, Anthony Alfidi is a crass oaf, no doubt about it. He should wear more flowers in his hair.

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      How do you capture municipal and government funding when municipalities and governments are broke? If you ask me, the sooner the symphony orchestra weans itself off corporate/government funding, the better. My alternative model would be one which has its roots in education (orchestra as product of conservatoire).

      • At some point, I think the battle for music, like others, has to be won in the political sphere as well, at least in the case of gargantuan organizations that are beyond the finances of the little individual.

        My fear for the world of education is the same as it is for the world of taxpayer-supported music — that the hijacking of government by the impulses of crude commercialism will make it just as hard to find adequate funding for music in the academy as it is to find funding for orchestras at large.

        Local autonomous control is another avenue, but this is how many US orchestras came up in the ’30′s. Ultimately, as they grew in size, they became subject to the group-think of an emerging culture of orchestra management, which then sold them into participation in the nationwide star system controlled by newly-emerging impresarios, which became a system that led them into the financial abyss they are in today. Point being, if something is capable of succeeding, it is capable of being bought out, plundered and driven into ruin by the governing forces of modern society and economy.

    • It’s true that symphony musicians are to some extent participants in a system of group-think, as are all the overwhelming majority of folk who take a job working for others rather than devise a path of financial independence or radical survivalism.

      I think it’s hard to avoid, though. To some extent, audiences come back to hear old things over again as well as to expose themselves to something new. And every performance, to some extent, is being compared to 100 years of recorded performances as well as 220 years of continuous schools and traditions of performance. To cultivate the kind of exacting standards of performance that will bear the scrutiny of this constantly refined and cultivated public ear for music is a discipline and practice that presupposes some kind of stability and lack of turbulence in the musician’s life. Even touring musicians start out with many years of carefully nurtured cultivation.

  24. David Boxwell says:

    This guy (a fine product of Notre Dame) thinks he’s one of the “makers” and the union “thugs in tuxedos” are just “takers.” He embodies every crude Ayn Rand cult-worshipping Master of the Universe wannabe (there are hundreds of thousands of them here in the US) who has debased American culture since 1980.

  25. You may mock his style but he has a couple of points. Parody with other orchestras : SF is not Chicago in quality or stature nor is it in as wealthy community as LA where Dudamel is creating excitement. The idea that orchestral musicians are unique and difficult to replace is fatuous. For every position in SF there are dozens of quality players in high level orchestras who would love the pay and benefits SF offers. Nobody doubts the quality of the SF Symphony but in the current arts economy they are not being realistic. Corporate sponsorship is not what it was 10 years ago and private sponsorship is the responsibility of the board as is the long term health of the orchestra. There is just a chance that the board is acting responsibly in the orchestras long term interest.

    • “Parody: 1.): a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule”;

      “Parity: 1.): the quality or state of being equal or equivalent.”

      As to the economic arguments, I am surprised to read this far into the comments on the politics and economics of the symphony orchestra in the U.S. on a site bearing Norman LeBrecht’s name without encountering evidence of awareness on anyone’s part of the points made in at least one of his books, “Who killed classical music?”

      I don’t know what the specific economics of the SFSO are like, but unless they are radically different from other orchestras, the bulk of the orchestra’s expenses are taken up with paying for a venue and competing with other orchestras for the services of the guest artists who are supplied through the US’s star system; orchestra musician pay is closer to a roundoff error in the orchestra budget. The management effort to squeeze salaries comes from the same capitalistic class-war DNA that impels WalMart suppliers to save 20 cents off the price of a $20 T-Shirt by paying its third-world laborers below-poverty wages. The rules of economics being what they are, the US will pay for its lack of passion for European classical music, and for the shallowness of its infatuation with bright shiny objects and glitzy internationally-known soloists at the expense of real quality orchestra playing, by watching its large ensembles disappear one by one.

      They came into being in the 1880′s when the movers and shakers not only prized the spiritual treasures of high culture, but also prized the impact culture had on society at large. There was another large boom in the 1930′s when the ruling class actually feared it had frittered away its priviledge to govern, and sought to win back the acquiescence of the governed and to stave off a slave revolt of the masses, by making society less harsh and desolate — just long enough to quiet things down. Seventy years later, the lessons forgotten, the ultra-big bankers are back to plundering the economy rather than helping build it, and trying to convince the average person that the inevitable Ponzi-scheme collapses of fractional-reserve banking and debt-based currency systems are in fact the personal failings of the individuals in society at large. In this scheme of things, the rule of the jungle again trumps the shared expectations of a civilized rule of law, and our symphony orchestras become the canaries in the coal mine of laissez-faire trickle-down robber-baron crony-capitalism.

      I still have to marvel at the idea of an investment banker calling a classical musician “disgusting.”

      The only long-term plan for an orchestra in a culture that will indebt the taxpayers for 50 years to sponsor a football stadium, but doesn’t want to pay its musicians well enough to allow them to devote themselves to cultivating the highest artistic standards, is to go back the way we came, and to have our orchestras revert to middle-school community ensembles where everyone plays for free. The occasional car dealership or investment firm can step in to sponsor Beyonce or Celine Dione to perform with the group in a special concert at the football stadium if the movers and shakers think cultural appearances need to be goosed a little bit. I’m sure this is a cultural and social model with which all the investment bankers and classical economists can get on board.

      Perhaps professionally-trained musicians would play for free if they could eat for free, be sheltered for free, have their children educated for free, etc. After all, if playing in a great orchestra is payment enough by itself, then the bankers and economists who consider it such an honor would be equally honored to feed and shelter a real live orchestra musician for free.

  26. Simon Styles says:

    Sorry to be so obvious, but what an idiot, clueless about what it is, and what it means, quite apart from what it entails, from what it costs to be a professional musician. I am both surprised and shocked at the ignorance of these people, who presumably would label themselves “arts- lovers”, but I guess you live and you learn, or maybe you don’t…..

  27. Timon Wapenaar says:

    Aldin-din obviously hasn’t turned on his television this year. “Blame the victim” is so 2010, and the same mendacious rubbish we heard when Greece started to go under: lazy, corrupt, lying, cheating, swindling, oily, swarthy demn foreign Johnnies brought it on themselves. Only this time musicians are “disgusting”, “greedy”, “spoiled”, “selfish brats” who are to blame for the cancellation of concerts. Alfiedie’s solution is the same the Troika demands of the Greeks and Spaniards: lower wages and an end to complaining, or excommunication. Here is what he hasn’t (can’t?) tell you:
    1.Bowen’s Cost Disease: very briefly, the number of work hours needed to produce a performance of a Beethoven symphony hasn’t changed very much, while the number of work hours needed to produce an automobile has significantly decreased. As a matter of fact, modern orchestras tend to spend more time rehearsing than orchestras of the 19th century, so the ‘inefficiency’ of the symphony orchestra has increased with time. While greater productivity in the rest of the workforce has resulted in an increase in the hourly wage, the symphony orchestra cannot cut corners the same way, and we wouldn’t want it to either. On the surface, this would seem to support Afdini’s ‘argument’ (I’m using the word in its loosest possible sense), but only if you believe that a symphony orchestra is meant to function the same way as an automobile plant.
    Afindi, having ignored this important principle, then claims that it is because “non-marquee” acts and music promoters operate in a “free market” (on which exchange is this wacko trading?) that they are somehow better adjusted to the economy (presumably by operating with a lower base wage). He has failed to take into account the principles behind Bowen’s Cost Disease, however, and if we do we see that these musicians have actually increased their “productivity” (which is musically impossible, but as far as the current economy is concerned, it’s appearances that matter) by making use of the technologies of amplification and reproduction. This will never happen with a Beethoven symphony, of course, because you cannot reproduce a live performance, and reducing the number of players and covering the deficit electronically would be… nauseating.
    2.Plugging the Gap: The modern symphony orchestra has never been profitable, and the gap between ticket revenues and the cost of running the orchestra has traditionally been filled by some combination of state/corporate funding, subscriptions, and, in the US, the orchestral endowment. It strikes me now that had Afnidi actually been in charge of investing the money belonging to one of these endowments, his tune might be a different one.
    3.The 21st Century: During the 20th century, the symphony orchestra in the west was able to sail with the oily tide of capitalism. This tide has now turned, and the orchestra of the 21st century will have to make do without the state, the corporation, much of its revenues from ticket sales, and with endowments which earn no interest. The reason for this is that you cannot unwind USD700 trillion worth of derivatives (how much of that is on Afidnidl’s books?) when the GDP of the entire planet is only about a tenth of that. To say nothing of ballooning government and private debt in the US, the UK, Japan, and Europe. To say nothing of a 300-year bond bubble (also this bubble Adfnidl has probably been blowing… the nebisch) which must surely pop once it becomes clear that the governments issuing these bonds are never going to be in a position to pay them off. Prices will go up, while wages will stagnate and decline, and this is exactly the drama being played out in San Francisco, and it is all thanks to weasels like Adfindli and the Bloomberg Boys, may they all develop halitosis.

  28. Let’s put it this way, if he was a successful CEO, he wouldn’t have the time to write this.

  29. Greg Hlatky says:

    More proof, as though more proof was needed, that MBAs are boils on the rump of humanity. Another jackass with the all-too-common Dilbertian pointy-haired-boss attitude that “Anything I can’t understand or do has to be simple.”

  30. So someone who does a job that high school kids are put in jail for is commenting on something high school kids do for free.

    Let’s bail him out, so he can call professionals parasites.

  31. PK Miller says:

    OMG–I’m not a fan of unions. My beloved mother had some very UNladylike things to say about unions after a stroke loosened her inhibitions. But this guy is waaay over the top. OMG–what a smarmy boob! Anthony, SF Orchestra should tell you, “ok. You’re on! Let’s see how well you can play any instrument in the orchestra. And no, NOT, O Mio Babbino Caro” on the kazoo! (Might actually improve it–sorry–not a mega-fan of Gianni Scichi!!!) Let’s see how well he does. It IS harder than it looks! I had an absolute debacle w/the oboe as a freshman in high school a millennium ago. If it doesn’t have a keyboard or I can’t sing it, I have no aptitude for it! I have great appreciation for orchestral musicians. Maybe the SF Orchestra’s members should give him investing advice!

  32. Amy Adams says:
  33. This is the type of jerk who thinks that musicians should play for free because it’s “something they love”. I’d love to see him sit in on a performance of “Appalachian Spring” or “Bolero” and see if he still feels that it’s all so easy after he gets left in the dust.
    As the old adage goes, ” It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. Any valid points he may have had are negated by his attitude and ignorance.

  34. It isn’t the fact that the musicians are well paid that bothers this sort – it’s the fact that the players are acting collectively.

  35. Clay Ruede says:

    Mr. Alfidi:

    I read your screed against the SFO today. It appears that you have some ill-informed concepts of what a professional musician is and what it takes to make an orchestra a source of civic pride around the world. You exhibit a naive view of contract negotiation in such a context as well as a complete lack of knowledge of the issues at hand. There is a process at work that your blog post ignores. I will provide you with some background on this particular situation below.

    A strike does not occur in a vacuum. The process which brought these parties to this state played out over a year. These are not “union thugs in tuxedos,” these are some of the finest musicians in the world who you treat with a contempt that speaks more of your unjustifiable prejudice against organized labor than of their achievements. The median income in San Francisco is irrelevant to any discussion of this situation, as are all of the other figures that you refer to. You might be aware that San Francisco has one of the highest costs of living in the US. That is relevant. You might not be aware of the fact that the tools of trade for the majority of the orchestra cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire (which is a burden on the individuals, not the organization), and the maintenance cost for these instruments is expensive (a bow rehair, which should happen every few weeks is $100, and a set of strings for a cello is @$250 per month, not to speak of the cost of insurance, maintenance, and repairs to those instruments). These are uncommon expenses for a working person to say the very least. That is relevant.

    Your suggestion that a talented high school musician could perform at such a level is a ridiculous and absurd statement. Brain science has demonstrated that it takes the human animal 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. In the case of a musician, that is just to achieve mastery of the technique of an instrument (and not of the orchestral literature), and that presupposes an investment of thousands of dollars in lessons and tuition over decades of diligent and dedicated work. Then to be a candidate for such a position, it is thousands more hours to master the orchestral repertoire before you can hope to be invited to an audition where you will compete with 300-400 other masterful musicians for the job. It takes most people several years and many unpaid hours of practice, coaching, lessons, airfare and hotels and disappointment to get that job. The investment is huge, and the outcome is unlikely to yield success. It is certainly not an undertaking that is motivated by greed, unlike your chosen field. Your suggestion that the present conflict is about greed is ludicrous and demeaning. Here is an amateur orchestra (led by Brian Eno) such as you suggest is appropriate: and here the the orchestra that you demean:

    It is obvious that you have an opinion of unions that is based on a complete lack of knowledge of the history of the labor movement and the shameful practices that it arose to address. An orchestra must function as a finely tuned organization, where teamwork is valued over ego. It is fitting and appropriate that such a group represent and protect its interests through the auspices of a union. They are not the fantasy version of teamsters paying kickbacks to the mob that you suggest and they are not corrupt. They are not run by organized crime, and they are not parasites on society, unlike the members of your profession. They serve to elevate the human condition, to express the inexpressible, to enlighten and move, they are a source of pride in and a symbol of the cultural richness of the community they serve. They spend decades more attaining their skills than the finest surgeon, but you mock them and diminish their achievements and worth. It is people like you and attitudes like yours that are destroying the soul of our country.

    Below is some information about this situation that should clarify the dynamics at work that a person who reads and thinks critically should be able to comprehend and appreciate.

    Clay Ruede

    “Suddenly and ominously, the threat of a musicians’ strike is looming over the San Francisco Symphony. Suddenly, that is, for the general public, which rarely hears about contract talks until they reach an impasse.
    For the SFS management and the orchestra, represented by Musicians Union Local 6, it’s been a daily topic since the old contract ran out last year, on Nov. 24, and was then extended through Feb. 15, 2013. Negotiations began eight months ago.

    On Thursday, the orchestra voted unanimously “to authorize a strike if contract negotiations with management continue to stall.” The musicians set next week as deadline, in advance of the scheduled SFS East Coast tour, March 20-23. The next, pivotal, negotiating session is scheduled for March 12, with the participation of a federal mediator.

    The orchestra’s last strike took place in 1997. It was a work stoppage extending over nine weeks, forcing the cancellation of 48 concerts, and costing musicians, the organization, Hayes Valley businesses, and the whole city millions of dollars. Even at the end of the bitter dispute, member ratification received a relatively close majority of 54-41.

    Peace and prosperity have reigned ever since, SFS doing extraordinarily well, even during days of the Great Recession, which weakened or shot down many other orchestras. Besides winning awards, filling Davies Symphony Hall regularly, and receiving accolades on Asian and European tours, the Symphony has also built one of the country’s biggest endowments, its current market value estimated by management at $239 million (and at $272 million by the musicians).

    (For comparison, Boston Symphony has the largest endowment, showing $387.3 million in the 2011 tax return; New York Philharmonic ($195.5m) and Los Angeles Philharmonic ($137.6m) are way behind.)

    The most recent audited SFS operating budget was for the 2011-2012 centennial season: $79.2 million, with a deficit of $844,000.
    The Symphony currently employs 103 musicians, three librarians, 30 part-time chorus members, 29 part-time ushers, and 130 full-time administrative staff. The Musicians Union covers only orchestra musicians.

    Ironically, it is exactly the Symphony’s robust financial health that is a main issue for the musicians, who feel they are not getting their fair share. The Players’ Committee, announcing the strike authorization, stated:

    Management is seeking freezes in musicians’ wages and pension, and cuts in medical benefits, while the musicians have proposed an agreement that will maintain the excellence of the Symphony and help to compete directly with their higher-paid peers in Chicago and Los Angeles … Management has awarded itself significant raises and is pursuing a building expansion at a cost of more than half-a-billion dollars …In the 10-year period from 2001 through calendar year 2011 top symphony leadership received salary increases in amounts substantially greater than the increases provided for musicians. The salary for the Executive Director Brent Assink increased by 79% — over 50% more than the increases for the musicians over the same timeframe. According to the latest IRS 990 forms, in 2010, the Music Director [Michael Tilson Thomas] was paid $2.4 million, 18.5 times more than the guaranteed base pay for musicians.

    SFS increased its budget by almost $11 million last year for the centennial celebration party [actually, for the season]. The improvements that the musicians are seeking in the next contract will cost less than the Centennial Celebration cost.”

    ““The members of the orchestra are fed up and willing to do whatever it takes to get a better contract,” said violist Dave Gaudry, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee. “The current management proposal calls for a wage freeze in the first year, raises of 1% in the second year, 1% in the third year. Their proposal calls for reductions in health care of close to $2 million. We take issue with the management awarding themselves raises of 4.5% to 9.5%, or in Assink’s case, about $280,000 in bonus over two years, while attempting net reductions in orchestra compensation.

    Assink’s initial response to news of the strike vote was:

    Our musicians are the center of our organization and are among the most talented in the world. We are working with the union representing the musicians and a federal mediator to develop a fair agreement that recognizes the musicians’ stature as one of the top orchestras in the country, but one that does not compromise the future artistic quality or financial stability of the institution.

    The administration states that musicians’ average annual salary is over $165,000:

    In addition to a minimum annual base pay of $141,700, musicians also receive radio payments [for broadcasts], over-scale, seniority and other added compensation that makes their average annual pay over $165K.Musicians receive 10 weeks paid vacation, paid sick leave, a full coverage health care plan with no monthly contribution for individuals, and a maximum annual pension payment of $74,000 upon retirement. In the past four years, SFS musicians have received salary increases of 17.3% (4.3% average increase per year).

    The musicians’ response:

    The base salary is $141,700. Musicians are paid $2,725 per week, which is the minimum weekly scale. There is some contractual overscale for Principal, Associate Principal and Assistant Principal positions. Our bargaining unit doesn’t receive bonuses, unlike the Executive Director who received a 34% bonus/compensation increase in 2011/12.The four-year agreement began in November 2008 at $2,400 per week so the increase was 3.38% per year since the date of the current contract. Musicians must contribute to the health plan if they have spouses or family members.

    Drew McManus’ blog Adaptistration reports a 2012 compensation figure of $495,044 for Assink on an operating budget of $71.6 million, and says that among the country’s symphony executive directors/CEOs, Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Deorah Borda receives $1.4m on an operating budget of $97m; Michael Henson of the deeply troubled Minnesota Orchestra, where currently musicians are locked out, the season suspended, receives $404,049 on a budget of $31.6m; New York Philharmonic’s Matthew VanBesien receives $860,210 on a budget of $77.3m.

    The union reference to “a building expansion at a cost of more than a half-billion dollars” broaches a complex story, which may persist long after the current compensation dispute is settled. The shorthand is “Lake Louise” for the parking lot on the corner of Franklin and Grove streets, flanking the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, the full name honoring the later benefactor, whose donation was essential to the building of the hall.

    Using that space as an extension or addition to Davies Hall has been under consideration ever since the hall went up in 1980. A decade ago, SFCV founding publisher Robert Commanday wrote:

    For the better proportioned yet still top standard opera experience to develop in San Francisco, the proper venue must be created, a theater seating from 800 to 1,000 with an orchestra pit and theater house, fly gallery and ample wings. There is a space and solution that beckon, a theater built on the parking area next to Davies Hall, the so-called “Lake Louise.” It would extend into and incorporate the existing but under-utilized Zellerbach Rehearsal facility, with its stage and associated facilities ready today and waiting.

    A SF Symphony spokesman says now:

    The SFS Board of Governors has, for a long time, been thinking about what might be needed to prepare the orchestra for its second century and best serve the next generation of artists and audiences. This includes identifying and growing new artistic programs and sources of revenue.Our hall was built in 1980. At this time, the organization is only in exploratory discussions about what better serving our musicians and audiences would include, in terms of potential expanded facilities for its home of Davies Symphony Hall. SFS musicians have been invited to and have participated in these discussions, which are only in the exploratory phase.

    The musicians’ spokesman insists on the accuracy of their estimate, saying that “one of the members on my committee was on a study group with management and board about the building project, our information on the cost of the project came first-hand through him.”

    David Gaudry, speaking for the orchestra, told SFCV:

    The musicians are in fact supportive of the notion to improve and upgrade the physical environment in which we work and perform, there are many elegant and exciting ideas on the table, and we’re thrilled there are the abundant financial resources to bring this about.On the other hand, to propose a musicians’ contract that is so regressive it will undercut recruitment and lead to more musician-defections to better paid orchestras, while such building plans are in the works, tells us the management of the SFS has completely lost its way.”

  36. “Making over $85K per year to do something a talented high school musician can do for free is pretty generous.” the man is obviously not to be taken seriously. I wonder how much he makes, and if a talented high school math student could do it for free instead.

  37. re: Manuela Hoelterhoff

    You know, the journalism schools at Columbia University, UC Berkeley, and Northwestern University are all churning out excess writers who would be delighted to have a job.

    And, unlike Ms. Hoelterhoff, most of them would be professional enough to actually research a subject before spewing an ignorant, venomous rant full of errors and half-truths, about a profession they clearly know nothing about.

    I hope whoever hired her at Bloomberg is taking notes here.

  38. Don’t get wound up !
    If what he says is true, it doesn’t matter whether he is an investment banker or a toilet cleaner, and if it is false, then it also doesn’t matter. “Ad hominem” attacks, by him or you, don’t achieve anything.

    Aside from a barrage of cheap and ignorant jibes, that perhaps he considers clever or amusing, he is saying the same thing that quite a few other people have said (rather more politely).
    1) Are musicians in some orchestras justified in demanding pay and benefits well above the “market rate”, and
    2) given that some orchestras make a lot of money, and others lose a lot, and it is not much to do with the excellence of the players, and there are many other excellent musicians who cannot get a job at all, what is the “market rate” for musicians anyway ?

    • These two questions that PA asked remind me of a lawyer asking a defendant who pleaded not guilty in a murder trial: So was this the FIRST time you have murdered a man – answer yes or no? Both questions are based on incorrect assumptions and false argumentation. The only way to respond to these would be: 1) define market rate, 2) impossible to answer since the givens are mostly inaccurate.

  39. Art Serating says:

    This guy is counting on receiving your email messages not because he really cares about musicians or the San Francisco Symphony but because he knows that all this attention is going to enable him to acquire a huge new database of email contacts from which he can develop new customers for his financial marketing.
    Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

  40. Just remember, before you give the guy a hard time: to us, he is misguided. But, his thoughts resonate with many in the business community these days. The perception is out there that orchestral musicians are coddled, overpaid union thugs. We have to find ways of countering that, ways that won’t seem self-serving. That’s a tough mission in this day and age, with an economy still in recovery mode, and a conservative political and media landscape that encourages uncivil discourse.

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      “Recovery mode”? None of the structural issues which were behind the 2008 event have been dealt with. As a matter of fact, governments and banks have actually doubled down on the status quo (the rate at which debt is being created is increasing, the rate at which salaries are declining is increasing, the bailout-by-another-name, sometimes called Quantitative Easing, is now a permanent affair, and the concentration of capital in the highest earning sector of the economy is increasing). In other words, having seen one bubble pop, the solution seems to be to inflate others.

  41. I’ve just returned from the bathroom with my hands washed! I think Mr. Alfidi is sort of persons who fired Mozart from the Salzburg’s court, literally kicking his ass…

  42. Michael Antrobus - Oslo/Norway. says:

    Is the USA so full of these well paid ignoramuses (economic experts?) who suffer from the “American Disease”, colloquially called “verbal diarrhoea”?

  43. K. Scott Warren says:

    It amazes me that guys like this are considered the ‘smartest in the classroom’.

  44. Yep, everybody pay attention, this is what all working class musicians are up against. This guy is clearly not part of the 99%. That San Fran board and all the others in crisis are made up of people with this mind set. It is condescending, elitist, arrogant and dangerously ill informed about the realities of performing in a professional symphony orchestra. These are the same people who brought us Enron, the Savings and Loan debacle, the Dot Com bubble and the housing bubble. They are members of the plutocracy which has decided to turn our country into China, in terms of the average cost of labor, with no regard for the human cost of such a strategy. They are simply concerned with maintaining a rich get richer, poor get poorer, status quo. We do not hear much complaining about the people getting extremely wealthy on the backs of these “non profits”. Managements, Soloists and Conductors, as well as their Artist Managements. Our union is so weak it is unable to cope with the onslaught, as it also comes in the form of now several generations of people who have no music ed for the most part, and have the unfortunate opinion that music should be free in the form of downloads. This is a microcosm of the larger picture of income inequality in America. We used to import goods from third world countries and require that they lift and build a strong middle class, as well as improve the rights of labor. It is now the opposite. Business has now seen the advantages of cheap labor and weak or non existent unions, and they want to further that cause here in our country. (China is no longer a communist country but a military plutocracy.) Orchestras are a perfect target for this, as they are difficult to defend, being out in the upper income spectrum of union labor and vulnerable to a statistic spewing plutocrat like this fellow. These people are not stupid or ill informed at all, they spew dis information and generate hate with a distinct purpose, to bring down wages across the board, target the upper edges first, make them appear to be “the elites” in order to sway the public against them. This subject is complicated enough for a usually cogent Bill Maher to miss interpret and fall on the wrong side of, so you have to assume that the vast majority will be just as difficult to convince of the wrongheadedness of these arguments. San Fran is but a tree in the forest. We really need to remember the forest is what they’re after, while we fight for this tree.

  45. I’ve been thinking about the SF Symphony strike. People are aghast that with the base wage these players make, that they would have anything to strike about. And yes, they do make a good wage. The problem here isn’t that they make such a good wage, it’s that the rest of us are getting such crummy pay.

    I work days as a Linux/UNIX engineer. The wage I make today is all of $5k more than I made in 2001. For me to just keep up with inflation, I would have to make $31k more than I did then, instead of the $5k more I’m currently getting.

    Think back to your own rate of pay growth over the past 12 years. Google “Inflation Calculator” and let it do the math for you. Has your pay kept up with inflation?

    The only reason the SF Symphony players are getting paid as much as they do is that their union has fought hard to have their pay keep up with inflation. They’re not getting ahead. They’re just running as hard as they can just to stay in the same place.

    Has your pay growth kept up with the growth in the price of gas, medical care and housing? Betcha it hasn’t…

  46. Michaela says:

    Thanks for the link, Petrushka. Very revealing. Everyone should read it to realize that this guy is not to be taken seriously. He is deliberately advocating a radical, unpopular viewpoint probably just to call attention to himself and stir things up. He should just be ignored. Instead everyone is lavishing attention on him which is exactly what he craves.

    May I suggest the following:

    It’s about the level of attention he deserves.

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      I would have to disagree. Symphony orchestras rely on the funding provided by government and the private sector (in one form or another). Since 2008, the attempt to deal with a global debt crisis has seen these institutions look to cover bad debt by cutting back on expenses (“austerity”) and have justified this through attacking the validity of the institutions which have suffered cutbacks. The arts are always first in the firing line, and Alfidi’s rant is just an extreme example of the ad hominem “logic” being used to justify this financial pillage. As a matter of fact, it is because the dispassionate argument is almost impossible to make that the ad hominem one is employed so freely. Musicians have a responsibility to set the record straight, because to allow this kind of thing to go unchallenged when mouthed by the likes of Alfidi is to turn a blind eye to the more muted, though essentially similar, arguments being employed by the masters of capital demanding lower wages generally.

  47. Oleg Sherstiucoff says:

    “The reputation of one of the world’s greatest performing arts ensembles is at risk because these union thugs in tuxedos are unsatisfied with…..”
    What a douchebag,….I am sad

  48. I would say that Alfidi’s attitude may be typical of today’s bean-counters running many symphony boards. Not only don’t they have a clue as to what it takes to be a world-class symphonic musician, but many don’t even attend the performances of the orchestras that are in their care.

  49. One of many telltale signs of the lack of understanding underlining this hogwash is the assertion that SF symphony players are doing “something a talented high school musician can do for free”- i.e. music isn’t actual work and there’s a sense that remunerating people for it is somehow wrong.

    I’m pretty sure I could crash the financial system and cause widespread chaos for free (something Alfidi and his ilk gladly took a great deal of money to do). That doesn’t mean it would be a good idea for it to happen.

  50. I barely read this piece and I’m disgusted. There’s a point about money and financial health, but he doesn’t understand the arts world. Financial world does not equal arts world, and though his points may be sound on paper, they are not sound in the working world of classical music. I can tell you, as a former HS musician who didn’t go forward with performing music as a professional career after college, I can’t play to the level that the professionals due.

  51. Marcel Lange says:

    The man has a point. 141k base salary for an orchestra musicians seems well enough and no reason to strike – even if they get a reduction in payment.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      As long as the orchestra is a privately funded entity, it is completely a matter between the parties of that entity to negotiate their salaries and fair shares of that particular cake.
      Comparisons to other average incomes would only matter if it was publicly funded by tax money.

    • To ML: the word SEEMS in your comment was chosen very well. Unfortunately you omitted the next sentence in which you should have stated that you did not have enough knowledge of the situation to judge it objectively. But thanks for a nice try, anyway.

  52. There is a nice response to Manuela Hoelterhoff here, from public radio host Brain Lauritzen:

  53. If we don’t think this gentleman should be commenting on the arts as a business we think he doesn’t understand; what makes us think we have anything legitimate to say about him in his own profession, which all too clearly most of us don’t understand either? Are we not in danger of showing musicians as brazenly operating double standards when it suits themselves?

    • Anon, you are absoluty correct.

      While the outrage expressed by so many here is understandable, the hostile personal insults are weakening our case post by post. I’m afraid many here are unaware that they are shooting their own side in the foot with those insults.

    • Of course. No one wants to agree to a cut in one’s pay check, benefits, or spending power, so, yes, it becomes an emotional issue. And, for a jazz musician who just got stiffed from the bar owner about the agreed-upon fee for Saturday night’s gig, sure, a major symphony job looks like a pretty good deal.

      But, as I said above, Mr. Alfidi could have done some homework before posting. Maybe instead of giving us his first impressions of musicians’ salaries and benefits off the top of his head, he could have invited a young viola player–any of them, I’m sure that they are all attractive–to lunch to ask what exactly is involved in getting and keeping a job with the San Francisco Symphony.

      What did your viola cost? How do you finance that? What was your tuition at Juilliard? What are your student loan payments? After you are done with those two payments and rent here in SF, how much do you have left over each month? Is this your first job out of school? Where were you before? Oh! And, *that* paid how much? Wow! That’s below the Federal government’s poverty standards, isn’t it? When your job was advertised here in SF, how many wrote in? And, how many auditioned? Really? That many? Wow! I didn’t know. What happens to the others? How many auditions did you take before you won the job here? Who pays the travel expenses for that?

      Any other reasons I should not become a viola player? Trouble with your back? Really? Hearing loss? You don’t say! Oh, and I’d have to work Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights! What does that do for your family life or social life? When do you get to see the people who are important to you?

      Simple, human questions. He did not ask them before posting his thoughts.

      So, you know, just being human, it’s kind of hard for me to get excited about reading about what he has to say about other industries, if I am curious about any of them. There are too many other good sources for that, not only in print and online, but also the folks who work in those industries. I’ll turn to those sources before checking in with a guy who so badly whiffed on an industry that I know.

      Mr. Alfidi had his ten-second window to impress me. He struck out, and I’ve moved on.

    • Hi Anon,

      Folks who work in the financial sectors–especially those who deal in the bond and real estate derivative markets–don’t have all the answers on how it all works either. It’s complicated stuff!

      Recommended, entertaining reading: Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short” (published February 2011), about the crash.

  54. Wow, 70 comments, what a turn out. Makes me wonder whether this “Alfidi” a union shill? Does he actually even exist? Just when their cause was starting to flag, just when their members and supporters were starting to tire, grow weary, and see their morale slip… along comes “Alfidi”! And not a minute too soon!

    Paint up some new signs and and it’s off to the line.

an ArtsJournal blog