This past year, ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow and I coauthored articles and worked together in establishing relationships with important media contacts. In advance of ICSOM’s annual conference in August, we spoke about our upcoming event with two local journalists: a reporter from a Salt Lake City newspaper and a Utah arts critic.
While their articles were published just a few hours apart, they could not have been more different. The heading of the first article, “We Are Losing Orchestras,” was in vast contrast to the second article’s basic title, “Symphony Central.”
Note that the title of the first article has since been updated to read “How a Conference in Utah Could Help Save the Symphony World.” Over the top, perhaps, but an improvement.
However, when a British blogger picked up the first story, he added a leading statement that was even more sensationalist: ICSOM was holding a “crisis meeting” in Utah. This was in stark contrast to the second story’s mostly accurate opening statement, which reported on “the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians’ annual conference.”
News flash: a scheduled annual conference is not a crisis meeting.
ICSOM immediately notified the blogger to provide correct information. While we had hoped for a retraction, or even a follow-up article, the best we received was the placement of our statement (provided below) as an update provided underneath the post.
The 2019 ICSOM conference is not a “crisis meeting.” Rather, it is our 57th annual conference. We’ve been holding it every year since 1963, in good times and bad. While there is always discussion at the conference regarding the challenges facing our orchestras, we firmly reject the notion that there is a “crisis” among ICSOM orchestras; to the contrary, despite a small number of workplace disputes over the past year, the vast majority of ICSOM orchestras are alive, well, and thriving.
In fact, the majority of ICSOM orchestras who recently bargained successor agreements have settled with progressive, non-concessionary contracts. This includes the Atlanta Symphony, Columbus Symphony, the Florida Orchestra, Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, Hawaiʻi Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, MET Opera Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony, Nashville Symphony, New York City Ballet Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Oregon Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Phoenix Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, San Francisco Opera Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Utah Symphony, and Virginia Symphony.
Similarly, the quote “we are losing orchestras” was taken entirely out of context. In the interview with Deseret News, that statement was made in the course of discussing economic crises in 2003 and 2008, in which some orchestras indeed faced difficulties. That is simply no longer the case.
Orchestras, like other arts organizations, will always require the support of patrons. But the arts in America are an economic engine: according to Americans for the Arts, the nonprofit arts and culture industries generated $166.3 billion in total economic activity and supported 4.6 million jobs in 2015. Creative solutions to the economic challenges that face orchestras are evident in the hundreds of cities across America that support orchestras of every budget size. ICSOM sees a bright future for symphonic music, and for ICSOM orchestras in particular.
Is the answer never to speak to a reporter again? Or to avoid bloggers altogether? Hardly. But it is understood that news of a falling sky will attract more attention than a report about a sunny one.
Let’s be clear about this. It is a fact that an overwhelming majority of ICSOM orchestras whose collective bargaining agreements expired in the past two years have settled with progressive contracts.
Of ICSOM’s 52 member orchestras, 30 had contract negotiations for successor agreements since October 2017. Of the 30, 27 of them ended up with a positive outcome. (For those counting up the names in our response above, the other orchestras who belong on this list include the Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, North Carolina Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Symphoria.) Not concessionary. Zero crisis. Good news. Clear skies.
Let’s not ignore the struggle of three ICSOM orchestras and their musicians, however. The Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra had a six-day strike in October 2018, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had a seven-week strike last spring, the longest in CSO history. Today the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony continue to fight in order to preserve their jobs. (Note: As of September 23, there is a contract agreement in Baltimore. See “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been” on page 1.)
Let’s do the math. Ten percent of recently-negotiating ICSOM orchestras experienced serious labor action. Ninety percent of ICSOM orchestras in recent negotiations experienced non-concessionary bargaining.
And it isn’t just at the bargaining table where most ICSOM orchestras are not in crisis. The San Francisco Symphony’s gala in early September was their most successful fundraising event ever, raising more money for their programs and education than their recent centenary celebration. The Alabama Symphony Orchestra announced that September’s Maestro’s Ball, their largest annual fundraising event, was record-breaking, allowing them to continue their community outreach program Changing Lives Through Music. In August, owners of the Cleveland Browns made a major donation to the city’s music programs, including $1 million to the Cleveland Orchestra. By next summer, the venue for the San Diego Symphony’s annual outdoor concert series will be a permanent, ultramodern structure, a $45 million project (Note: See “San Diego’s New Summer Venue” on page 10). In August, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra announced that they received an $80,000 grant to hold sensory-friendly concerts. And the Philadelphia Orchestra received the largest gift in its history, a record-breaking $55 million, of which $50 million will go into the orchestra’s endowment and $5 million will go into general operating costs. Bravo to these organizations, plus others who have achieved recent financial success!
ICSOM delegates recently voted on the location of our next three annual conventions: Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Grand Rapids. At this time, all of them will be in August and none are planned to be crisis meetings.