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Monday, August 13, 2012

Lockout Looms at Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Musicians, management throw down over budget cuts.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Labor issues are heating up in Atlanta.
Image from Gone With the Wind © 1939 MGM.
The plague of cutbacks and labor unrest that has visited orchestras across North America has now made its way south. At the Woodruff Center for the Arts in Atlanta, GA, an ugly confrontation is brewing between the Board of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the musicians of that ensemble.

In an August 9 letter to the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, members of the orchestra's Players' Association outline a proposed 26% cut in total musicians' expenses, a pay cut of $20,000 per musician, and a reduction in orchestra size from 95 members to 89.

The letter furthermore delineates the Board's threat to "lock out the orchestra and cancel our health and dental insurance" if the above conditions are not agreed to. It is added that the Board's decision comes in conjunction with the decision to start the 2012-2013 season in October, (which is apparently weeks later than usual), after the expiration of the players' current contract.

The musicians are asking the orchestra to consider cutting elsewhere, pointing out that the players' salaries and insurance meets less than 28% of the annual budget. They have also proposed a smaller orchestral reduction, less Draconian pay cuts, and contributions to their health care premiums.

The letter points out the effect that the situation in Atlanta is having on orchestra membership, both present and future. Turnout for recent auditions is drastically low, and ASO musicians are seeking gigs playing in other cities. Here's an excerpt:

"ASO musicians’ level of expertise is comparable to that of major-league athletes, surgeons, lawyers or top engineers: it takes virtuoso musicians and years of working together to develop the cohesive, subtle, powerful sound that the ASO capably produces week after week. If it was easy to plug musicians into a group and sound fabulous, every city would have an internationally recognized orchestra!"

The full text of the letter can be read on Norman Lebrecht's blog Slipped Disc.

The ASO opens its 2012-2013 season on Oct. 4.

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