Each summer I like to say something hopeful and encouraging to all who gather here: ready to work, ready to be part of something wonderful, ready to create something beautiful and meaningful. And this summer is no different. I have so much confidence in you, and confidence in what we are doing. I believe in you, in your gifts, and especially in your ability to use very hard, purposeful work to make something of lasting value from those gifts. I believe what we do is important and that our society values it, as it should.
Julia Bogorad-Kogan, Principal Flute, recently performed a Mozart concerto with the Xiamen Philharmonic on the southeast coast of China. She will later perform with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., and the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
In a show of operational harmony, the Kansas City Symphony and its musicians
have reached agreement on a three-year contract a full year ahead of
The new contract, effective July 1, 2014, and ratified by the Symphony board
recently, includes a boost in musicians’ base salary and other enhancements.
By all accounts, negotiations were amicable and compromise came easily
against a backdrop of orchestral pain and labor disputes across the country.
Symphony musicians have been locked out in Minneapolis for months. Contract
squabbles have erupted in recent years in New York, Chicago, Denver,
Indianapolis, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Fla., and elsewhere. The new
concert hall in Nashville, Tenn., has been on the verge of foreclosure, and
the financial future of its orchestra remains wobbly.
But here, the Symphony is coming off its second straight successful year in
its new performing home, Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the
Performing Arts. Ticket sales rose again, and the Symphony eked out an
unplanned $200,000 surplus on its $13.5 million budget.
“We wanted to settle early as a signal that not only are things going well,
but we all want to be part of a proactive plan,” said Frank Byrne, the
Symphony’s executive director and principal negotiator.
“We are very proud of the positive relationships and mutual trust between
our musicians, staff and board,” Byrne added in a statement. “Combined with
the transparency of our organization and our commitment to artistic
excellence and the Symphony’s future, these are key elements to our ongoing
Added William M. Lyons, the newly appointed board chairman: “I don’t mean to
sound boastful, but we do stand out right now as an orchestra performing
well on many fronts versus other orchestras across the country.”
The new contract covers 80 musicians and spans a 42-week season in which
Symphony musicians typically appear in more than 150 performances for the
Symphony, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Kansas City Ballet. In the
season that ended last month, Symphony musicians also made 60 appearances in
the orchestra’s Community Connections outreach programs at schools and
Musicians will see their base pay rise a bit more than 8 percent over the
three years of the contract. In the forthcoming 2013-14 season, the base
salary is $50,065; by the 2016-17 season, that will increase to $54,284.
Musicians also will get small increases in family health insurance coverage,
their retirement plans and seniority pay.
Although their compensation remains on the low end of the scale for
orchestras of similar size, the tradeoff for many of the musicians is the
Symphony’s relative stability and the long-running commitment by the board
and staff to aim high artistically and to improve musician well-being, said
Susan Martin, a Phoenix attorney who has represented Symphony musicians here
since a foundational labor agreement in 1998.
“No one would disagree that the musicians are underpaid,” said Martin, who
also serves as general counsel for the International Conference of Symphony
and Opera Musicians. “They deserve a lot more than they receive. But that’s
not the controlling factor here.
“What we see in the Kansas City Symphony is a culture of mutual respect,”
she said. “A lot of orchestras talk about respect, but the Kansas City
Symphony really practices it.”
Symphony officials and musicians are well aware that as the orchestra has
grown artistically in recent years, more of its players can compete
nationally and could move on to bigger outfits elsewhere and easily double
their pay. The Symphony just recently announced the departure of two
players, who took positions in Chicago and New York.
Their colleagues tend to view that as a badge of honor as well as an
opportunity to hire some of the best young musicians in the country, who are
increasingly attracted to a place with a reputation for labor peace and high
“I think that what perhaps makes the difference,” Martin said, “aside from
mutual respect, is a sense of optimism. Things are looking brighter and
brighter. That really goes a long way to helping the musicians accept
less-than-ideal terms and conditions.”
Brian Rood, a veteran trumpeter and chair of the musicians’ negotiating
committee, attributes the Symphony’s success to the rare continuity of
board, staff and artistic leadership. He and everyone else noted that
Shirley Helzberg’s longtime guidance – she recently stepped down from the
board’s chairmanship – has been crucial to the orchestra’s fiscal and
Rood also applauded artistic director Michael Stern’s leadership, not only
on the podium but in the community as a champion of music in general and the
Symphony in particular.
“I believe that people do have a sense of relief here,” Rood said Tuesday,
“but I think we’ve come to expect that of ourselves here in Kansas City. The
difference here is that we have all the ingredients for a successful
“You have to have musicians who are dedicated and committed, and we have
that in Kansas City. People come to the stage with excellence on their
minds. But it’s not just musicians. We have a terrific staff that is very
Lyons, the board chair, was proud of the fact that ticket sales cover nearly
40 percent of expenses, making the Symphony one of the top producing
American orchestras of any size. But the bottom line, he said, remains a
challenge each year with considerable fixed costs coming from musician
compensation and Kauffman Center rent.
“I think we’ve done a very good job in our negotiations with musicians,”
Lyons said, “of getting that balance of providing advancement in their
compensation with not outspending our revenue stream.
“I think we’re in an exceptionally good place. We can now look four years
ahead of having a stable musician relationship. That allows us to
concentrate on making music for the city.”
And making music, of course, is the heart of the matter.
“Anyone who talks about classical music dying need only take a look at
Kansas City,” said Martin. “It’s alive there. It’s so exhilarating. It’s
Management and musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra have settled a
new contract more than a year before the current one expires.
The agreement calls for a 4 percent wage increase for the 2013-2014 season,
a wage freeze in 2014-2015 and a 3 percent increase in 2015-2016.
The annual base salary for 2013-2014 will be $104,114, and the current
number of musicians, 99, will be maintained.
Two years ago the musicians, who are members of Local 60-471 of the American
Federation of Musicians, accepted a 9.7 percent wage reduction for the first
two years of a three-year agreement, with a wage reopener in the third year,
which is this one. Today’s agreement essentially bypasses the third year of
the current contract and begins again under the new provisions.
“It won’t get us back to where we were, but it gets us close,” said bass
player Micah Howard, the musicians’ union representative. “In the climate
we’re in now, this is a great contract. It keeps the PSO as a destination
for the world’s best talent.”
He was referring to several other orchestras across the country that have
endured bankruptcy, strikes, a lockout and a cancelled season.
James A. Wilkinson, Pittsburgh Symphony president and CEO, said PSO members
make up “one of the best orchestras in the world. It’s extremely important
we continue to reward them by keeping their salaries within the top 10 in
“We lost one musician to Chicago last year [violinist Sylvia Kim] and are
losing another to New York [violinist Shaun Shaun Yo],” he said. “We don’t
want to lose any more, and in fact are in the midst of hiring now.”
The PSO has had a string of deficit years on its roughly $31 million budget.
Its last fiscal year, ending in August 2012, showed a deficit of about $3.5
Mr. Wilkinson has said he wants to have a balanced budget in 2014-15. If the
orchestra is able to do that for three seasons in a row, he said, it will
qualify for the last $12 million of a $29.5 million gift by the Simmons
Family Foundation, given to the PSO in 2006.
The musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra reluctantly accepted a shorter season and a 19 percent wage cut, the contract their employer insisted was the only chance to restore them to the stage.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman described the move as adopting “major concessions,” and the musicians’ committee representative called this a contract needed “to assure that there will be a 2013-2014 season.” It is now time to digest the impact of management’s dissonant six-month lock-out of artists recognized by many as the finest chamber musicians in America.
Let there be no doubt about the severity of this uncommon attack on our Minnesota cultural heritage. This lock-out was a course that no orchestra board should aspire to follow. While SPCO management will remind you of the challenges faced a few years ago in Detroit and Philadelphia following the banking industry fiasco and our nation’s economic setback, great orchestras that we in Minnesota would compare ourselves to, including the orchestras of Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, have in the last year proven their financial resilience and uncompromising commitment to artistic quality with healthy contracts and modest salary increases. In the past two decades, the only two noteworthy orchestras outside our community that have been locked out by their employer are found in Indianapolis and Atlanta. Here in Minnesota, where we find the incredible Legacy Amendment and an engrained commitment
to exhilarating music as a foundation of our quality of life, the recent priority of brick and mortar structures over the artistic viability of their tenant organizations is mindboggling. Literally thousands of orchestra fans in Minnesota and beyond, and nearly all of the artistic partners hired by the SPCO to lead its artistic image, have screamed that diluting this cultivated SPCO product is not a pathway to health.
In the last half year, principal chairs in the SPCO have gone vacant as gifted performers picked up their families and left for more secure employment elsewhere. Management’s “cost-saving” contract induces a further reduction of the orchestra by incentivizing retirements, and consequently four more musicians will leave the orchestra in the next few weeks. Targeting the more experienced musicians, the Society’s retirement plan is designed to assure that several others will also leave by the end of this season. Historically, brilliant musicians throughout the world have been drawn to the SPCO as a destination site, but the pay scale ravaged by the Society’s austere bargaining is now far below the top tier orchestras in this country. As explained by a member of the orchestra committee, Carole Mason Smith, “the vast difference between the new SPCO annual salary of $60,000 and the salaries of other major American orchestras, many of which exceed $100,000, will make attracting such musicians very difficult.” Previously touted as “America’s only full time chamber orchestra,” the SPCO is now clearly a part-time organization with four months each year when no concerts are scheduled.
So what comfort can we have in the future of the orchestra that carries this city’s name? The forecast for the SPCO rests on the ability of the Society to reverse its cost-saving mentality and tap community and music industry resources to nourish the talent of the core group of world class musicians who remain:
1. Management will change. The SPCO Society has not had a chief administrator with prior experience operating a symphonic orchestra in the past six years, and its negotiation table featured an interim director with no executive experience leading a non-profit arts organization and no intention to stay. The appointment of a new president with a music background has now been announced and allows a chance for a renewed emphasis on artistic quality.
2. The current donor base is dedicated and must remain. Major long-term benefactors, uncomfortably drawn into the politics and details of the negotiations over the past many months, have consistently demonstrated their heartfelt commitment to the SPCO. It is to their credit that this organization has survived this traumatic challenge, and their stalwart support will remain for years to come.
3. The lock-out has identified a huge base of patron support which must grow. As the musicians sponsored their own concerts, and the Minnesota Legislature contemplated funding the orchestra musicians directly, the nation witnessed this community’s incredible loyalty and support for our unique ensemble. The pride for this orchestra has increased during the stress it has faced, and organizations like Save Our SPCO will draw further attention to the value of this artistic product and press for organizational reform and the growth of patronage.
4. Internationally renowned conductors and guest artists must return. One stunning dynamic of this embittering lock-out has been the consistent vocal support and commendation of the musicians by those who have served as featured conductors and guest artists over the past decades, including all artistic partners who have led this orchestra in the 21st century and its visionary leader Pinchas Zukerman who returned to direct the orchestra during the lock-out. These relationships have been challenged by concert cancellations, and the Society’s commitment to the opinions of their artistic leaders must be reinforced.
5. With new leadership, revenue must increase. It is axiomatic that a music organization cannot cut expenses, particularly the product it is dedicated to present, as a means to health. The Society must restore its revenue sources to attract and retain world-class talent. New management should have the passion and appeal to stretch the scope of the donor pool and target the government funds and private grant sources essential to sustain artistic viability. The excitement of returning to the stage and the forthcoming new concert hall will draw new crowds. Virtually unnoticeable price increases as small as $2 per ticket are inevitable. Patrons currently pay more for their appetizer beforehand than they do for the world-class orchestra performance, and revenue has markedly declined since ticket prices were sliced. It should be easy to sell one of the finest artistic products in the world if the staff is given the tools and guidance to promote exciting and innovative projects.
6. A healthy operational structure must appear. The role of a Board of Directors of a non-profit arts organization is to hire gifted experienced administrators and provide them with the opportunity to do their job, not to micromanage their chosen personnel or step into the shoes of administration. Certainly those who have attempted the conflicting roles of simultaneously serving on the Board and the administration will now recognize this error and move out of the day-to-day artistic operation and back to the business world occupied by attorneys, merger and acquisition specialists, and financial leaders.
7. Many gifted musicians held the course and will play inspiring music. The lock-out of musicians by the current management left exemplary Minnesota citizens without income, health insurance or other benefits for over six months, but their families were sustained by local donations, the emergency support of organized labor, and the remarkable generosity of union orchestras throughout America which sent sizable donations to the SPCO musicians. Those who remain are still the finest group of chamber orchestra musicians this nation has seen. They remain here out of dedication to this art and the high quality of life found in Minnesota. Despite the hurdles imposed on them, and the loss of many of their colleagues, they will pursue a path of artistic excellence that honors the music and this community.
Brad C. Eggen is an attorney and president of the Twin Cities Musicians Union.
Claire Givens, of Givens Violins, donated free rehair or $50 equivalent in merchandise to all string players of the SPCO, publicized our concerts, and also has sold our buttons and lawn signs for donations directly to the Musicians. Thank you, Claire!
Jennifer Becker, luthier, donated free tonal adjustment or equivalent discount for repairs to all string players of the SPCO. Thank you, Jennifer!
Nancy Vernon and Eugene Monnig, co-owners of Cadenza Music, sponsored a house party, purchased lots of buttons and gave them away at the Minnesota Music Educators Convention, sold bushels of buttons and lawn signs for donations to the Musicians, promoted our concerts on their e-blasts and newsletters, and came to show support at the legislative hearings. Thank you, Nancy and Eugene!
Groth Music sold buttons and posted publicity for our concerts, as well. Thank you, Groth Music!”