Doing business with the Met

Buried in a long piece in the New York Times on the “new Met” were the following tidbits:

Since Mr. Gelb took over, the Met budget has increased by about $60 million. The box office is up, but meanwhile personal and corporate donations, which the Met depends on to balance its budget, are down, thanks to the economy, and so is the value of its endowment. The Met’s projected deficit for next year is about $4 million.

In the spring Mr. Gelb (whose own pay had gone up more than 30 percent since he started, to $1.5 million) asked the stagehands union to take a 10 percent salary cut. Instead its members agreed to forgo a 3 percent raise this season in return for a one-year extension on their contract, which was about to expire. Both the singers’ union and the one representing the orchestra, however, have declined to negotiate until the Met agrees to let them undertake a confidential analysis of the opera’s business plan. Alan Gordon, the executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the orchestra union, said, “I’m sure there are problems, but I don’t think anybody sees the Met going under, no matter what happens,” and added: “We want to do due diligence, just like an investment bank. I’m certain that if our members thought the Met needed help, they’d be willing to give it, but what kind of help needs to be demonstrated.”

Of course the credibility of any story on the Met is somewhat compromised when the writer believes that AGMA is the “orchestra union,” but put that aside for a moment. The real story is that the Met’s budget has gone up by $60 million over the past few years (around 30% or so, I believe), the head guy’s salary has gone up by a comparable amount, the projected deficit for the current season is 5% or less of its budget, management has asked its unions for cuts – but has apparently not yet agreed to let the unions do an analysis of its plan for righting the ship.

“What kind of help needs to be demonstrated” would appear to be an understatement in the circumstances.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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