A press blackout with a very short lifespan

Detroit Symphony management and musicians met all day Thursday under a press blackout:

The status of contract talks between the musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra remained unclear early this afternoon in the midst of a news blackout by both sides in the dispute.

The parties met all day Thursday in an effort to settle the bitter 16-week strike that has forced the cancellation of more than 40% of the season. The talks, the first between the two sides since late November, started at 9 a.m. and went past 5 p.m., according to Greg Bowens, a spokesman for the musicians.

But further details are scarce, as representatives from both sides have declined to say whether any progress has been made or whether the talks were expected to continue today.

Meanwhile, the players issued a press release this morning announcing a slate of five February concerts in their ongoing series of self-produced events, including two full orchestra performances, two concerts in collaboration with local high school students and a chamber concert.

Evidently the talks did not go according to management’s expectations, judging from how quickly they broke the blackout:

Talks between Detroit Symphony Orchestra management and musicians appeared in jeopardy this morning, according to a management announcement that claimed the musicians had canceled Friday’s negotiating session and had yet to provide a true 3-year, $36 million proposal that they had previously endorsed.

The announcement raises doubts that the first face-to-face meetings between the two sides since late November might produce a quick settlement in the bitter 16-week strike.

That’s one way of putting it. Another is the headline and first paragraph from the lengthy press release management put out this morning:

Players Cancel Friday Negotiations, Second Proposal to Meet 36-month, $36 million Requirement Expected Friday;
Never Received

DETROIT, Jan. 22, 2011 — /PRNewswire/ — Thursday, in a full day of negotiations, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) proposed to spend an average of $12 million annually on musician compensation during the next three years – precisely the $36 million publically accepted by the union. The proposal included $2 million for extensive education and community engagement services throughout metro-Detroit and would result in annual player salaries of more than $87,000 for 34 weeks of work plus four weeks of paid vacation. Total annual compensation including healthcare and retirement benefits would be $141,000.

BAD musicians – BAD, BAD, BAD. Or at least that’s what the management wants us to think.

So what really went on? I’m guessing that the musicians still aren’t interested in management’s proposal to incorporate “extensive education and community engagement services throughout metro-Detroit” into their base pay, made that clear on Thursday, and weren’t interested in making it clear again on Friday (although it’s possible that the mediator chose to cancel the discussions, given that there was nothing new to discuss, and management simply chose to portray that as the musicians walking away from negotiations).

The musicians no doubt thought that their acceptance of the $36 million proposal from Governor Granholm and Senator Levin didn’t include their acceptance of management’s proposal on changing the nature of their jobs to include such “education and community engagement services.” Management apparently decided that their acceptance (quite a while after the musicians publicly accepted the offer) of the proposal had to include.

It seems to me that DSO management chose to mis-characterize both the nature of the musicians’ acceptance and the resulting annual salary, which of course is nothing close to the $141K that management would like readers to take away from the article – another example of the heat of battle driving out wisdom about the need to work together when this is all settled.

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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