Atlanta Locked Out
At midnight, September 6, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians found themselves locked out for the second time in two years. Management of the ASO/WAC (Woodruff Art Center, the parent corporation) issued a Last, Best and Final proposal to the negotiating committee by email on September 5, and a subsequent counterproposal was dismissed as “inadequate.” Health insurance is paid only through September 30, and at this writing the orchestra is in its third week of being locked out. Management has now “postponed” all concerts through November 8.
The lockout comes after the indignity of ten weeks of furlough agreed to in the contentious 2012 contract. Besides compensation, remaining issues involve the complement (and who determines it) and the quality and cost sharing of health benefits. On these issues, management proposes to listen to input, but retain the sole final authority to make decisions.
The orchestra is united in this effort, with the public also extremely supportive. Music Director Robert Spano and Principal Guest Donald Runnicles composed an open letter in support of a resolution. The musicians are extremely grateful to their ICSOM colleagues, for their outpouring of moral and financial support; to the AFM, for promptly placing the ASO, ASO Presents and the WAC on the Unfair List; and to the AFM Strike Fund and Local 148-462, for getting the first checks to ASO musicians quickly. For more information about this lockout, please visit the musicians’ website at www.ATLsymphonymusicians.com or visit them on Facebook at ATLSymphonyMusicians, or tweet @ATLSymMusicians.
Banner Bicentennial in Baltimore
On Saturday evening, September 13th, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of its Music Director Marin Alsop, participated in Baltimore’s “Star Spangled Spectacular,” a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the writing of the poem “The Star Spangled Banner,” by Francis Scott Key. Key, an attorney from Maryland, watched the bombardment of Ft. McHenry from a British ship, where he had been sent to negotiate the release of an American prisoner. Key penned The Star Spangled Banner, later set to music—a British drinking song!—on the morning of September 14, 1814, upon seeing the gigantic American flag still flying at the fort after the night’s battle.
The two hour concert, broadcast live to 92% of all PBS stations, was part of a weekend-long celebration of the occasion. The BSO performed in the concert tent at Pier Six, part of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, just across from Ft. McHenry. The PBS show was hosted by Jordin Sparks and John Lithgow, and an impressive number of pops and classical celebrities performed, most of them with the BSO: Denyce Graves, Paulo Szot, Smokey Robinson, Melissa Etheridge, Kristin Chenoweth, Kenny Rogers, Pentatonix, the US Navy Band Sea Chanters, Train, and Little Big Town. Composer/arranger James Kessler composed some original pieces that accompanied the narration to the story of the battle, which was a turning point in the War of 1812. He, the library staff, and other BSO staff helped keep things running smoothly for this elaborate Dick Clark production.
San Francisco Opera Orchestra Musicians Ratify Four Year Contract
On September 2, 2014, after almost four months of bargaining and a one-month contract extension, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra ratified a new agreement that creates a stable working framework through July 31, 2018. The orchestra made major concessions in each of the three previous contracts, including a 7.4% reduction in the annual compensation guarantee in 2011-12. This time, the musicians were galvanized and steadfast in their resolve to halt the endless parade of concessionary contracts and set a course toward recovery.
With the addition of a new Supplemental Fee, the agreement calls for an effective increase of 5% in the annual compensation guarantee in the first year, followed by 3% increases in each of the next three years. Wages will increase 14.8% over the four years of the new agreement, from $81,179 in the expiring agreement to $85,280 in the first year, then increasing to $93,187.75 in the fourth year. The new contract also provides for improvements in many other areas, including pit environment, long-term disability, seniority, retirement bonus, retiree medical, and parking.
In anticipation of the Company’s upcoming expansion into the adjacent Veterans Building/Wilsey Center for Opera, a new provision for Wilsey Center work anticipates different programming possibilities in that venue. Massive premium increases in the PPO medical plan over the past two years—to over $45,000 per year for each family—was a major focus of the negotiations. Healthcare consultants for the Union, Ilene Levinson and Glenn Risso of NFP CA Insurance Services, helped design a suite of plan choices aimed at providing more cost-effective, yet flexible coverage that will yield savings to the organization without sacrificing the healthcare needs of the Orchestra.
Choices now include five plans: Kaiser HMO and Heath Net HMO, two PPO plans, and a High Deductible plan. Premium contributions for both HMO plans were decreased to zero. A $4,000 Health Reimbursement Account was added to the Health Net HMO, and Chiropractic and Acupuncture riders were added to both the Kaiser and Health Net HMO plans. However, in recognition of the premium increases, the PPO plan design was modified and Employee premium contributions for all PPO plans were increased substantially. Nevertheless, all musicians, including those choosing the most expensive PPO plan, will experience net wage increases in the new CBA.
Columbus Hires New Music Director
Rossen Milanov, a forty-nine-year-old Bulgarian-born conductor, has been selected as the next music director of the Columbus Symphony. He will begin his tenure in the 2015-16 season and will appear on two programs with the orchestra in the coming 2014-15 season, during concerts January 30-31 and March 20-21.
Milanov replaces Jean-Marie Zeitouni, whose contract was not renewed by “mutual agreement”. The search process, lasting an unusually brief ten months, involved a search committee that included three musicians elected by the orchestra.
Milanov has indicated in interviews that he will live in Columbus, unlike his predecessor, a point of contention between Zeitouni and the Board. Milanov will retain his positions as Music Director of the Princeton Symphony and the Orquesta Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias in Spain.
Transition at the Kennedy Center
On September 1, Deborah Rutter officially took the helm of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, after twelve years as President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Rutter succeeds the outgoing President of the Kennedy Center, Michael Kaiser, who in his fourteen years there oversaw major renovations of the Center’s theaters, the foundation of the DeVos Insitute of Arts Management, and an increase in the annual budget from $120 million to $200 million. He will continue as Chairman of the DeVos Insitute, now at the University of Maryland. Rutter takes over the extensive artistic programming of the Center as well as a $100 million dollar expansion project of the Center’s facilities and a recent affiliation with the Washington National Opera. The National Symphony and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra both look forward to contributing to another era of artistry and growth at the Kennedy Center.
Puerto Rico Begins Recording
The Puerto Rico Symphony recently completed work on their second recording, four pieces by Roberto Sierra, a well-known Puerto Rican composer currently at Cornell University who has been composer-in-residence for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony.
With the orchestra having recently become signatory to the Sound Recording Labor Agreement, this recording follows their debut last year, a Latin Grammy-nominated recording of Cofresi, an operetta composed by Rafael Hernandez. A puertorriqueño like Sierra, Hernandez is better known for his latin pop compositions such as El Cumbanchero, a famous mambo-like tune, and Preciosa, considered Puerto Rico’s second national hymn. The reconstruction of Cofresi was commissioned by the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, and the recording received a nomination for best classical recording at the Latin Grammy Awards.
Nashville Ratifies Four Year Contract
Musicians of the Nashville Symphony ratified a four-year agreement on September 22 that includes two 3% increases and a wage re-opener for the third and fourth seasons; wages in year three can be no lower than year two as a starting point for negotiations. In addition, small ensemble education concerts will be moved out of regular weekly services and will be compensated at a scale established in a side-letter.
Orchestra acceptance was not guaranteed because the agreement came after a 15% cut in wages during the 2013-14 season and management’s initial proposals made no move to restore cuts. There continues to be great concern about the apportioning of the budget, since musicians receive less than one-quarter of the yearly budget. Musicians also stepped up last season to work harder than ever performing education and community engagement services and meeting with audience members, patrons and donors.
During the next two years, management and musicians will continue working together to spread a united message to the public that more needs to be done to return the Nashville Symphony to its rightful place, because saving the building was just the first step.