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How to lose a musical war of words

The following statement by Dave Gaudry, chair of the San Francisco musicians, was issued some 20 hours after the company announced that talks had broken down and the East Coast tour would be cancelled.

Gaudry, exhausted after all-night talks, makes no mention of the tour, or much else that might attract public goodwill. He is trapped in the minutiae of negotiation, speaking the rhetoric of confrontation.

The musicians, if they are to win this dispute, are in dire need of a media advisor. They have lost the first round. Here’s the statement:





The Musicians have been negotiating in good faith with Symphony Management to try to reach a deal before the Carnegie Hall tour begins. At 4:30 Sunday morning the talks broke down.

Even though the Musicians believe that the Symphony is in excellent financial condition, they have attempted to address Management’s concerns more than half way. Unfortunately,  opportunistically attempting to seize on the misfortunes of other Orchestras, SFS Management continues to insist that the Musicians accept draconian cuts in compensation and benefits and concede work rule changes that would set back by decades the protections in the Musicians’ contract designed to ensure artistic excellence.   They have attempted to justify this policy with talk of “operational deficits”  which were largely the self- created results  of outsized programming and spending an additional 11 million dollars last year on a Centennial Celebration, providing enormous bonuses  and compensation to top executives and consultants and directing resources away from the core mission of the Orchestra. Even with all the additional spending the SFS has experienced significant  growth in the endowment, reported  a 32 million dollar surplus to the IRS,  and is projecting substantial growth in revenue this year.

The Musicians’ concern over vacancies in key positions, defections of their most talented musicians to better paid orchestras and Managements’ demands for erosion of essential contract protections has them willing to stay out on strike until Management makes a fair contract offer – one fitting for an organization in solid financial condition and that will help to maintain the artistic quality of the orchestra that has taken so long to build.

In the meantime, we continue to believe that Management, especially given the public money it receives, needs to make public the Symphony’s finances.

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  1. Nameless Musician from Nameless Orchestra says:

    This is making the rounds on FaceBook:

    “via Jeff Anderson: I want to share my colleague Paul Welcomer’s observation on what is happening to the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony. He is spot on.

    “Here’s a more complete and accurate perspective on why we are out on strike. It really is about the administration shifting priorities without transparency. Our orchestra is thriving – enough to do wonderful media projects, splash out for a $10million year-long celebration, give the high-level management big raises, make our music director the highest paid in the country, take huge tours, etc. (These are all things I have no problem with, BTW) But when it comes to negotiating the musicians’ contracts, we are expected to give back decades worth of work rules for a less than inflation raise? We said no.”

    Thanks Paul.”

  2. There is a new reality in America. The decline in attendance and the decline in donor levels has been a trend for at least two decades. Before that, America’s top orchestra musicians negotiated substantial salaries putting them way ahead of their European colleagues. That was then. Now there is a new and more modest reality facing them and the sooner they accept this, the better it will be for everyone.
    This was already discussed here:

    • Your arguments fails because surely the management and MD would also be taking their fair share of this decline too in their pay too, but as with all the arts it is full of parasites who are taking their cut of the work’s work – tell me if the conductor’s rendition of Mahler 9 is wonderful it’s a wonder he can’t stand up there and do it without his orchestra isn’t? What is the point of the management team without their orchestra – we have such backwards mentally here – go to any orchestra’s website and you have to search high and low to find who actually plays in the orchestra – everyone else is far more important that the poor schleppers who are making the music! This lady is bob on the money:

    • The conductor spoke of strikes. We don’t have strikes – we have lockouts. Big difference. Is it a coincidence that the same law firm is representing the managements of the MN Orchestra, the SPCO, the MN Wild (pro hockey team) and Crystal Sugar, all of which have locked out their employees (and in the last case resulting in utter devastation of an entire community).

      • Good point re: the SFSO’s law firm and its representation of managements of other companies that have locked out their employees.

  3. yeh shen says:

    The musicians in SFSO deserve a wage increase to keep being attractive to the best talents out there as one of the very top orchestras in the US. San Francisco is one of the two highest cost of living cities in US. For example, the minimum salary 145,000 dollars of SFSO is actually over 40 thousand dollars less than that of Chicago Symphony when cost of living is taken into account, according to government data. I don’t understand why media outlets don’t state this very obvious point in a way that average persons can understand. Check out this fact on

    • another orchestra musician says:

      One would probably find that Chicago’s ostensibly lower cost of living is largely a consequence of the many slums contained within its city limits. San Francisco’s slums, by contrast, lie beyond its city limits, on the other side of the Bay.

      Fundamentally, if musicians are willing to give their best only when they are paid the most, one cannot be surprised to see them lose their audience. I’ve no sympathy for the administrative executives and star conductors gouging symphony orchestras of millions simply because they can; but the argument that musicians must necessarily be paid on parity with their very best-paid colleagues if they are to play well is lame. And do we really imagine that the players of San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, fed up with their own employers, and eager to score this week’s fattest contract, are going to engage assassins to create vacancies for them in Chicago?

      Skilled professionals working at a high level deserve to be paid good wages. This point is beyond contest. Questionable, on the other hand, is whether art music is well served by the system of winner-take-all. Nothing in my own experience suggests to me convincingly that it is. Putting service to one’s ego ahead of service to one’s art and one’s community seems to me, rather, a ticket to malaise of precisely the sort that American symphony orchestras are experiencing.

      • i think you are misunderstanding the whole point i was trying to make. i did not state, nor hinted, musicians only give their best efforts when they are paid highly. instead, i was trying to point out that cost of living difference make SFSO recruitment of the best talent less competitive and their management should not lose their sight on that. i don’t know how your brain can come up with the idea that if musicians are not well paid, they will slack off from their work…. hmmm

  4. Marc Geelhoed says:

    Point of order: The cost-of-living comparison between San Francisco and Chicago has nothing to do with the location of “slums” and attendant crime. The Tenderloin district in San Francisco is full of SRO hotels and crime and located right downtown, while in Chicago, ghettos and crime-ridden neighborhoods are on the far South and West Sides. Most white-collar Chicagoans have to go far out of their ways to find themselves in those neighborhoods. The real reason for Chicago’s lower cost-of-living is what has always driven property values: supply and demand. In Chicago, there’s a lot of residential real estate; in San Francisco, there is not. Which is partially why there are about 3 million Chicagoans and fewer than 1 million San Franciscans. “The other side of the Bay” is Oakland and Berkeley, not San Francisco.

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