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In praise of striking musicians and happy orchestras

Brian Lauritzen, radio host of the Los Angeles Philharmonic broadcasts, has published a broadside against the online attacks on the striking musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, principally the diatribe by Bloomberg’s Manuela Hoelterhoff.

It’s a strongly argued piece, with many facts that need to be stated and some that are disputable.

Lauritzen is right to say that the LA Phil have enjoyed two generations of industrial peace as a result of the enlightened managements of Ernest Fleischmann and Deborah Borda. He ignores the witless manager who held the job between Ernest and Deborah, a man whose ineptitude was unable to shake the orchestra’s astonishing esprit de corps through his miserable interregnum.

That spirit does not prevail in the San Francisco Symphony, which has a long  and troubled history of industrial disputes going back more than a generation, with rights and wrongs on both sides. Such things get embedded in an orchestra’s DNA. It is a huge challenge for any management or set of players to surmount them.

The San Francisco strike is unfortunate, but not unpredicted. This issue is not so much money as a mindset of confrontation that has dogged the orchestra for the past generation. What’s needed is not more noise. It’s a good mediator who can see the big picture.

Brian maintains that these musicians ‘deserve a fair wage’. Of course they do. But they won’t get one unless they carry the community with them.

Read Brian’s piece here.




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  1. harold braun says:

    Mr.Lauritzen really hits the mark! Bravo!

  2. In looking at this whole situation, do you think that livable wages was really the best way for the musicians to approach this issue? There seem to be greater concerns that are being lost to the sheer size of the paychecks (I don’t exactly see how comparing them to the musicians in Tucson makes them look any better).

    Having read over all of the materials, it seems that the musicians have two complaints.

    1. They are not being given raises simply to meet the increased cost of living and inflation (this being a somewhat different argument than the “we need to pay more otherwise we will lose people to Chicago and LA).
    2. They are concerned over the general management of the orchestra, specifically the multi-hundred-million dollar renovation of the concert hall. The concern stems from the fear that this is a “boom-time” plan, which will ultimately harm them if multi-year planned gifts are not continued AND, going back to the first complaint, given that they have access to several hundred million for a renovation, that they are denying cost of living raises.

    The Musicians’ Union has tackled this entire problem poorly – the photo at the top of your post has a picketer with sign reading “World class orchestra, low class (cut off, presumably ‘wages’)”. This is the cognitive disconnect. Starting salary in the $140ks, average in the $160ks – they are paid like an orchestra of their stature. In fact, using their argument (that they are losing players to Chicago and LA, the only two orchestras who pay higher wages), meeting or exceeding the top pay will lead to a bidding war between the orchestras that is realistically not feasible to sustain. There are legitimate concerns – but low class wages are literally 1/6 of the average orchestra salary.

    There is no question that the non-musicians who have written some of the more scathing comments don’t “get it.” But most don’t. Most people go to an orchestra to hear classical music, but don’t really have a basis of comparison to understand what separates a mid-level orchestra from a world class orchestra.

    Yet most unfortunately, the union has made a very large legal assertion about the management of funds, which if true, would be criminal. They assert that funds are not being properly accounted for in the annual 990 tax filings. All of these documents are legally required to be made available (which, in addition to being available through certain non-profit sites online, the orchestra admin has sent to the orchestra committee), and that they are reviewed by a third-party tax expert prior to submission. I am still at a loss for how the members of the orchestra could make this claim on a hunch (they have not actually brought any evidence to support this wild claim). It is the equivalent of saying “I think you murdered someone, because there are fewer people here than I expected.”

    I really hope that the orchestra committee learns to tailor its message. It is frustrating to feel like you generally support what the musicians are asking for, while at the same time agreeing with their (really offensive) opponents who state that they come off like teamsters.

    • Most of the comment by NSW (practically all of it starting from “The Musicians Union has tackled”) is based on the erroneous presumption: the sign carried by striking musicians says nothing at all about wages. What it does say is the following: “World class orchestra – low class MANAGEMENT”. This is a very different message from the one invented by NSW. So most of that comment would have to be changed accordingly.

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