This week's concessions


Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians will take a 12 percent reduction in salary this season, followed by incremental increases in the second and third years of a newly ratified three-year contract.

…Terms include salary increases of 2.7 percent for the 2010-11 season and 7.8 percent for the 2011-12 season. Musicians have agreed to greater individual contributions toward health care benefits and a limited reduction in pension earnings.

ISO president and CEO Simon Crookall said the contract would result in approximately $4 million in savings during the next three years.

and Utah:

Utah Symphony musicians, in what officials are calling an “unprecedented” agreement, will become this year’s largest donor to the state’s largest arts organization, said Pat Richards, chair of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera board of trustees.

The union musicians, who made the proposal in the face of the nation’s continuing economic downturn, will donate $1.3 million in salary and benefits to their employer, forgoing a 5 percent salary increase that was due to them this fall, and also giving up four weeks’ salary and continuing a cut of 50 percent in matching pension contributions. Local 104 of the American Federation of Musicians also agreed to leave four positions vacant in the orchestra — one bass, one viola, one cello and one violin.

The average salary and benefit cut for the musicians for this season, counting the 5 percent raise that was contractually mandated, is 19 percent, said Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO of US | UO. “I was really pleased they were willing to be partners,” Tourangeau said.

…In return for the musicians’ donation, the US | UO board has agreed to raise an additional $1 million. If the board fails to match the donation, US | UO will have to pay the musicians what they were owed under the original contract, Porter said.

I wrote about concessions and why we’re so prone to them a while back on my other blog, and I think it still holds.

…for what it’s worth, salary fluctuations over time are likely an inevitable consequence of how orchestras have to do business. Look at the question in light of these two basic facts:

  • Orchestras need to commit to spend money – on musician salaries, conductor fees, guest artist fees, and concert hall rental – far in advance of when the revenue to pay for them can be predicted with much accuracy. (As an industry, we believed until this year that at least endowment income was exempt from that statement. We were wrong.)
  • Orchestras have few options for downsizing the required labor force to create the end product if that product is to remain artistically (and hence, at least in terms of ticket sales, economically) viable. Brahms symphonies require a lot of very good musicians on stage in order to be worth listening to. Marketing and selling tickets requires staff. Fundraising requires staff. Operations require staff. Guest artists (especially the bigger names) are not fungible in terms of attractiveness to audiences.

Add to these the undeniable fact that no arts institution can be insulated from the vagaries of the global secular economy and its local manifestations. The end result is that the only feasible responses to a projected downturn in revenue caused by those vagaries are 1) running deficits; or 2) decreasing what’s spent for costs on expenses that can’t be eliminated – which in practice mostly means decreasing pay.

The first option is obviously not a permanent solution. And, given that no one has a clue how long the current vagary will last – or even if it’s a vagary and not, perish the thought, a permanent change in the economic climate – temporary solutions don’t make much sense.

That really only leaves option #2, which seems to be the conclusion that lots of orchestra managers, boards, and musicians are reaching, albeit with various degrees of reluctance.

It’s a bitch.

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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