The 4th International Orchestra Conference (IOC) took place in Montreal at the beginning of May, hosted by the Guilde des Musicians et Musiciennes du Quebec (GMMQ), Local 406 of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada. The IOC is a creation of the Fédération Internationale des Musiciens (FIM) which is the only global organization for musician trade unions, guilds and associations. In attendance for ICSOM were myself, George Brown, Paul Austin, Peter de Boor, and Kevin Case. ROPA was represented by Naomi Bensdorf-Frisch and Karen Sandene. Attending for the AFM were Ray Hair, Alan Willaert, Jay Blumenthal, Tino Gagliardi, Rochelle Skolnick, and Debbie Newmark. Keynote speaker Allison Beck, former US Director of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, opened the conference with a call for solidarity and vigilance on the part of our musicians’ unions worldwide.
The purpose of this conference is to give symphony orchestra and opera musicians an opportunity to collectively identify the numerous challenges that face our profession and to share experiences and concerns that affect their livelihoods. In addition to the musicians, union representatives, management and administrators were invited to participate in panels and open discussion. Twenty-nine different countries were represented by almost 300 delegates at the conference. The majority of the discussion took place in English, but there were simultaneous translations available in French and Spanish (and English for the occasional non-English presentation).
Despite vast differences in funding and governance, there is much that our orchestras share in common. Over the course of three days, eight panels of participants explored a variety of topics relevant to our industry. What has become known as the “Oslo Call” from the 2014 IOC, “Support for symphony and opera music, which is a precious and fragile part of our cultural heritage, is a prime responsibility of national, regional and local governments,” was further explored in the first panel moderated by Jay Blumenthal, Public Value of Orchestras. It was determined that advocacy for orchestral institutions is essential within the political framework and it should be the right of every citizen to have access to live orchestral music. Orchestras, which are part of our common cultural history, can play a prime role in promoting social cohesion in a fast-changing society.
Former ICSOM MAL, Jennifer Mondie, and the Executive Director of the Jacksonville Symphony, Robert Massey, both spoke on the next panel, Business Models of Orchestras–What’s working? While there is no “one size fits all” business model, transparency and accountability are vital to good governance. There is a balance between financial and artistic imperatives; decisions need to be made with musician involvement. Though orchestras will remain non-profit enterprises, it is vital to recognize their positive economic impact, which extends far beyond the concert hall.
Orchestras Integrating Digital Tools and New Approaches explored the use of digital access of performances and its varied success. The Berlin Philharmonic has been able to increase both its live audience and digital subscriber list, while the New York Philharmonic has just released a major portion of its newly digitized archives. Australian orchestras have successfully used streaming for performances and teaching across great geographic distances. Obviously, these digital tools cannot replace the unique experience of a live performance and there remains the issue of monetization of these new formats in which musicians must be fairly compensated.
Responsibility and Accountability: The Role of Musicians on Orchestra Boards. While an ever-increasing number of orchestras have musicians serving on their boards, they should not overlap the authority of the union as the legitimate negotiating party. It was agreed that the voice of musicians is irreplaceable in shaping the future of their orchestras, both artistically and practically, but there remains the potential for conflict of interest amongst the musicians themselves and between musicians and their union.
SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick moderated a panel on Bullying and Harassment–Respective roles of the Union and Management. It is not enough to have an established policy against bullying and harassment in the workplace—effective training in interpersonal communication and early intervention are necessary where conflict arises. Both management and the Union must be prepared to ensure a workplace that is free from harassment and have the skills to represent musicians, who may be more vulnerable to the imbalance of power that exists in the close collaboration and emotional engagement of the orchestral workplace.
It would seem that the only countries left in which orchestras do not have to continually justify their very existence are Germany, Austria, and Canada. Elsewhere, the Practical Aspects of Outreach and Education are being used to connect with new audiences and educate our public, both young and old, in the tradition of orchestral music. Aspects of accessibility, programing, school concerts, and the increasing use of social media and networking were shared, with the caveat that they should not undermine the core musical mission of our orchestras.
President Ray Hair moderated a panel, Recorded Broadcast and Rights of Musicians, which explored the economic value of media, that needs to be shared fairly with performers, in relation to the promotional value of media to the orchestra as a whole. We must be vigilant that new forms of online music distribution will generate fair revenues for performers through statutory rights to equitable compensation.
Finally, The Role of Unions in Safeguarding the Future of Orchestras, moderated by IEB Member and Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi, highlighted the role that unions play, not only in improving working conditions and salaries, but in preserving the very existence of orchestras that find themselves in crisis. Cuts are never caused by quality issues. In times of economic crisis, unions can play a crucial role in ensuring equality of sacrifice and in educating politicians, decision makers, and the general public about the value and importance of a positive future for our orchestras.
In addition to musical interludes offered by several Canadian chamber groups during our breaks, two concerts were presented at the new Maison Symphonique de Montreal on Place des Arts. On one evening, the Montreal Symphony played with competition winners from the Concours Musical International de Montreal. At the close of the conference, the Orchestre Metropolitain played under Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who was designated Cultural Ambassador to the IOC. In his words, “We must not forget that the more we gather together, the stronger we are. It is important to be represented so that our rights are respected in the various aspects of our work.”
In the concluding remarks of the conference, it was noted that although some orchestras have seen improvements in their economic standing, many are still experiencing declining funding and loss of relevance within their communities. International solidarity campaigns are an essential tool to address these challenges and FIM is a platform to help orchestras worldwide in their struggle to remain viable and intrinsic to our way of life.