Music and Musicians in the News

By Alex Martin

This past summer was anything but relaxing for the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera, arguably the most significant opera company in the world. A lockout seemed imminent as Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met, demanded 16% to 17% pay cuts along with changes in benefits, seemingly with very little wiggle room. And it wasn’t only the musicians who were facing this lockout threat. Fifteen of the sixteen unions associated with the Met also had contracts that were about to expire.

After a very public war of words ensued between management and the various unions, a federal mediator was brought in who then called for an extension of the lockout deadline so that a detailed report from an independent financial analyst could be submitted. The unions, beginning with the American Federation of Musicians, came to eleventh-hour agreements with Gelb and Met management, largely owing to the results of this independent financial review. The details of the new musicians’ contract have yet to be made fully public. However, the information provided suggests that while the contract was indeed concessionary, it was not nearly to the extent that Gelb had originally insisted upon, and included new restrictions on budgeting for future opera productions. In any case, the crisis was averted, and the Metropolitan Opera’s season will go on as planned, as many feared it would not. For more information, visit The Washington Post.

The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony, however, did not fare as well in their ongoing issues. Currently, the musicians are locked out (the second time in two years), and symphony management recently announced that they were cancelling all concerts through November 8th. In addition to disagreements over pay and benefits, a key sticking point is a provision that would allow management sole discretion to essentially shrink the size of the orchestra as, and when, they see fit. (This is a huge swing from the industry standard in which orchestra size is jointly determined by Music Director, Management and the Players, and then contractually set for the term of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between Musicians and Management.) Musicians argue that while this would cut costs, it would have a disastrous effect on the sound and cohesiveness of the world-class, critically-acclaimed ensemble. Current player complement (core membership) stands at 78 – down from 95 — owing to recent departures plus a reduction in the size of the ensemble, a result of equally troublesome negotiations two years ago.

The musicians, provided they can raise the money necessary, will perform free concerts in lieu of the originally scheduled performances that were recently cancelled. The orchestra’s music director, Robert Spano, in a climate where music directors have historically chosen to remain silent, has publicly spoken out in support of the musicians. To read more, visit the New York Times.

Recently, Stanley Romanstein, the orchestra’s CEO, submitted his resignation stating, “I believe that my continued leadership of the ASO would be an impediment to our reaching a new labor agreement with the ASO’s musicians.” To read more about Romanstein’s resignation, visit the Los Angeles Times.