According to an Oregon Symphony newsletter, more than $5.7 million worth of tickets were sold for the season through December. That’s better than they did for the entire season last year. They also boast of a double-digit increase in attendance, with concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall averaging more than 71% full, with several of those virtually sold out.
Members of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra ratified a one-year contract on January 24. It provides for a wage freeze and higher health insurance copayments—the latter change unilaterally imposed by management before negotiations were concluded. According to committee chair Martin Anderson, the orchestra committee’s biggest disappointment was the failure to secure a multiyear settlement, which management originally sought but withdrew on fears of diminished funding and ticket sales because of the current recessionary economy. Complications in the process included: a seven-month bargaining period; friction with the New Jersey local union; the economic downturn; and the creation by the NJSO board of a “Special Board Subcommittee” to formulate a plan for the orchestra’s 2009–2010 season—to which they invited musician board members—while negotiations were still going on. The resulting board plan calls for significant cutbacks next season.
Battered by a $3.8 million deficit in 2007–2008 and a $26 million decline in endowment investment value as a result of the current worldwide economy, the board and the management of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra sought concessions from its musicians. According to delegate Paul Frankenfeld, although musicians have endured three years of wage freezes in the past two contracts since 2002, they nonetheless agreed to wage reductions of 11% for the first two years of their new CBA in order to avoid operational insolvency from declining credit lines. The restoration of current levels and progress are included in the final years of the agreement. The agreement also includes provisions for semi-monthly paychecks as a means of equalizing the difficulties of salary reductions.
After more than a century of punctual payrolls to Honolulu Symphony musicians, the Honolulu Symphony Society managed only one timely musician payroll during the entire calendar year of 2008. This dubious record is the result of a long-term lack of board leadership that was further tested by concert hall availability issues last year and the recession this year. During a challenging 2007– 2008 season, Honolulu Symphony musicians went up to 11 weeks late in pay before gradually being caught up a few weeks after their season ended in May. The Honolulu Symphony musicians have once again fallen behind in pay this 2008–2009 season, despite having accepted a wage freeze for the current season. This season, the crisis arrived even earlier and with greater severity, with even the very first payroll arriving late. Since then, paychecks have arrived sporadically. ICSOM delegate Steve Flanter reports that the musicians have not been current in pay during any of autumn or, so far, any of this winter. As of the third week of February, musicians were owed seven weeks of pay. [Editor’s Note: At print time, HSO musicians have fallen 11 weeks behind in pay.]
In order to keep the organization afloat, the Honolulu Symphony board decided last November that it would raise $700,000 in additional funds before January 1, 2009. This sum would have made it possible to get the musicians paid up by the beginning of the calendar year. Unfortunately, the board members’ response to their own call to action was lackluster. They raised only $92,000 of the $700,000 they had committed to, a shortfall that has meant further pain for the musicians.
Steve says that, just as they did last season, the HSO musicians have continued to perform throughout this crisis. No concerts have had to be cancelled, and the music is continuing for the people of Honolulu. “Once again,” Flanter notes, “we are keeping the board’s mission of service to the community alive, even as the board is failing to honor its commitment to us.”
But the HSO musicians are rapidly reaching a point at which they might not be able to continue to perform without pay. Many musicians have accumulated a great deal of personal debt, and some have been forced to leave the state in search of work. The HSO board has given no timetable for future pay. The implications of the growing possibility of a shutdown, even a temporary one, are serious. Unlike for the mainland, where it’s hard enough to recover from a shutdown, in Hawaii the lack of freelance options to augment income combined with high living expenses may prevent many from remaining in town without the orchestra. If the bulk of musicians leave, it might be extremely difficult for symphonic music in Hawaii to restart. Steve fears that, unless something changes dramatically very soon, the very survival of the Honolulu Symphony may be doubt.