In a show of operational harmony, the Kansas City Symphony and its musicians
have reached agreement on a three-year contract a full year ahead of
The new contract, effective July 1, 2014, and ratified by the Symphony board
recently, includes a boost in musicians’ base salary and other enhancements.
By all accounts, negotiations were amicable and compromise came easily
against a backdrop of orchestral pain and labor disputes across the country.
Symphony musicians have been locked out in Minneapolis for months. Contract
squabbles have erupted in recent years in New York, Chicago, Denver,
Indianapolis, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Fla., and elsewhere. The new
concert hall in Nashville, Tenn., has been on the verge of foreclosure, and
the financial future of its orchestra remains wobbly.
But here, the Symphony is coming off its second straight successful year in
its new performing home, Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the
Performing Arts. Ticket sales rose again, and the Symphony eked out an
unplanned $200,000 surplus on its $13.5 million budget.
“We wanted to settle early as a signal that not only are things going well,
but we all want to be part of a proactive plan,” said Frank Byrne, the
Symphony’s executive director and principal negotiator.
“We are very proud of the positive relationships and mutual trust between
our musicians, staff and board,” Byrne added in a statement. “Combined with
the transparency of our organization and our commitment to artistic
excellence and the Symphony’s future, these are key elements to our ongoing
Added William M. Lyons, the newly appointed board chairman: “I don’t mean to
sound boastful, but we do stand out right now as an orchestra performing
well on many fronts versus other orchestras across the country.”
The new contract covers 80 musicians and spans a 42-week season in which
Symphony musicians typically appear in more than 150 performances for the
Symphony, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Kansas City Ballet. In the
season that ended last month, Symphony musicians also made 60 appearances in
the orchestra’s Community Connections outreach programs at schools and
Musicians will see their base pay rise a bit more than 8 percent over the
three years of the contract. In the forthcoming 2013-14 season, the base
salary is $50,065; by the 2016-17 season, that will increase to $54,284.
Musicians also will get small increases in family health insurance coverage,
their retirement plans and seniority pay.
Although their compensation remains on the low end of the scale for
orchestras of similar size, the tradeoff for many of the musicians is the
Symphony’s relative stability and the long-running commitment by the board
and staff to aim high artistically and to improve musician well-being, said
Susan Martin, a Phoenix attorney who has represented Symphony musicians here
since a foundational labor agreement in 1998.
“No one would disagree that the musicians are underpaid,” said Martin, who
also serves as general counsel for the International Conference of Symphony
and Opera Musicians. “They deserve a lot more than they receive. But that’s
not the controlling factor here.
“What we see in the Kansas City Symphony is a culture of mutual respect,”
she said. “A lot of orchestras talk about respect, but the Kansas City
Symphony really practices it.”
Symphony officials and musicians are well aware that as the orchestra has
grown artistically in recent years, more of its players can compete
nationally and could move on to bigger outfits elsewhere and easily double
their pay. The Symphony just recently announced the departure of two
players, who took positions in Chicago and New York.
Their colleagues tend to view that as a badge of honor as well as an
opportunity to hire some of the best young musicians in the country, who are
increasingly attracted to a place with a reputation for labor peace and high
“I think that what perhaps makes the difference,” Martin said, “aside from
mutual respect, is a sense of optimism. Things are looking brighter and
brighter. That really goes a long way to helping the musicians accept
less-than-ideal terms and conditions.”
Brian Rood, a veteran trumpeter and chair of the musicians’ negotiating
committee, attributes the Symphony’s success to the rare continuity of
board, staff and artistic leadership. He and everyone else noted that
Shirley Helzberg’s longtime guidance – she recently stepped down from the
board’s chairmanship – has been crucial to the orchestra’s fiscal and
Rood also applauded artistic director Michael Stern’s leadership, not only
on the podium but in the community as a champion of music in general and the
Symphony in particular.
“I believe that people do have a sense of relief here,” Rood said Tuesday,
“but I think we’ve come to expect that of ourselves here in Kansas City. The
difference here is that we have all the ingredients for a successful
“You have to have musicians who are dedicated and committed, and we have
that in Kansas City. People come to the stage with excellence on their
minds. But it’s not just musicians. We have a terrific staff that is very
Lyons, the board chair, was proud of the fact that ticket sales cover nearly
40 percent of expenses, making the Symphony one of the top producing
American orchestras of any size. But the bottom line, he said, remains a
challenge each year with considerable fixed costs coming from musician
compensation and Kauffman Center rent.
“I think we’ve done a very good job in our negotiations with musicians,”
Lyons said, “of getting that balance of providing advancement in their
compensation with not outspending our revenue stream.
“I think we’re in an exceptionally good place. We can now look four years
ahead of having a stable musician relationship. That allows us to
concentrate on making music for the city.”
And making music, of course, is the heart of the matter.
“Anyone who talks about classical music dying need only take a look at
Kansas City,” said Martin. “It’s alive there. It’s so exhilarating. It’s
Management and musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra have settled a
new contract more than a year before the current one expires.
The agreement calls for a 4 percent wage increase for the 2013-2014 season,
a wage freeze in 2014-2015 and a 3 percent increase in 2015-2016.
The annual base salary for 2013-2014 will be $104,114, and the current
number of musicians, 99, will be maintained.
Two years ago the musicians, who are members of Local 60-471 of the American
Federation of Musicians, accepted a 9.7 percent wage reduction for the first
two years of a three-year agreement, with a wage reopener in the third year,
which is this one. Today’s agreement essentially bypasses the third year of
the current contract and begins again under the new provisions.
“It won’t get us back to where we were, but it gets us close,” said bass
player Micah Howard, the musicians’ union representative. “In the climate
we’re in now, this is a great contract. It keeps the PSO as a destination
for the world’s best talent.”
He was referring to several other orchestras across the country that have
endured bankruptcy, strikes, a lockout and a cancelled season.
James A. Wilkinson, Pittsburgh Symphony president and CEO, said PSO members
make up “one of the best orchestras in the world. It’s extremely important
we continue to reward them by keeping their salaries within the top 10 in
“We lost one musician to Chicago last year [violinist Sylvia Kim] and are
losing another to New York [violinist Shaun Shaun Yo],” he said. “We don’t
want to lose any more, and in fact are in the midst of hiring now.”
The PSO has had a string of deficit years on its roughly $31 million budget.
Its last fiscal year, ending in August 2012, showed a deficit of about $3.5
Mr. Wilkinson has said he wants to have a balanced budget in 2014-15. If the
orchestra is able to do that for three seasons in a row, he said, it will
qualify for the last $12 million of a $29.5 million gift by the Simmons
Family Foundation, given to the PSO in 2006.
On Monday, the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra accepted management’s latest proposal and its conditions, which include a significant salary cut and the downsizing of the orchestra from 34 players to 28. After a lockout that began Oct. 1 and lasted 191 days, they will play their first official concert on May 9 at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, a program of music by Schoenberg, Robert Schumann and Mozart featuring cellist Steven Isserlis and conducted by Thomas Zehetmair.
The lockout is over, but all is far from copacetic. Along with signing a three-year agreement, the musicians called for “the immediate commencement of a search for a new SPCO leader with proven orchestra management experience, and the vision and skill to substantially increase revenues.”
“We’re eager and excited to return to the stage and play music again for our loyal audiences,” said Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee, in a press release sent yesterday afternoon. “But we remain deeply concerned about the artistic quality of the SPCO for future generations.”
We spoke with Mason Smith later that day.
MinnPost: How are you feeling, now that the lockout has ended?
Carole Mason Smith: It’s a relief to know that we’ll be getting back to work, that we’re going to have revenue coming in to every household. But it’s a regressive agreement, and there’s no improvement over the course of the agreement. Besides being personally difficult on musicians and their families, it makes it more of a challenge to remain competitive musically. So that’s something we’re going to have to work out.
There are going to be a lot of changes. We’re really going to have to scramble to be competitive. With all the openings we’re going to have, because of people leaving and taking incentivized retirements, it’s a real concern. We won’t know until June [how many people will stay].
MP: The musicians have called for the SPCO to immediately start searching for a new leader. Dobson West is interim president; he wasn’t supposed to be there permanently. Was there any effort to find a new leader during the lockout?
CMS: They started it, then suspended it. Now it’s time to start again. I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anyone.
MP: Will the musicians have a say in choosing the new leader?
CMS: That’s yet to be determined.
MP: Did the orchestra, in fact, come close to not having a 2013-14 season?
CMS: You’ll have to ask the management. They said it was a real possibility the orchestra would cease to exist.
MP: Was that a turning point for the musicians?
CMS: We took notice of it, for sure. It’s not a matter of cost, it’s a matter of being able to find the revenue. To do that, we need new management, new leadership who will understand the idea of not sacrificing the product.
MP: What is the general mood of the musicians?
CMS: What we’re going to do right now is concentrate on making music. The sooner we can get back to that, the sooner we will find our own center and figure out where to go from there.
A lot of musicians have taken other guaranteed work, not knowing what would happen. You can’t blame them. But you won’t see everybody you’re expecting to see at our concerts. A lot of musicians – regular, core members – won’t be there. I’m glad we have our artistic partners coming in. It will make a difference to see Thomas [Zehetmair] and Dawn [Upshaw] and Edo [de Waart].
MP: When will the new season be announced?
CMS: I don’t know. I would assume as soon as possible. We’re behind. There was difficulty lining up a season because of uncertainty.
MP: Who planned the new season?
CMS: We have not been allowed inside the building [the SPCO offices] for seven months. I don’t know who planned the next season. I would assume the artistic director, Patrick Castillo, planned it, but he resigned last week. I hope he completed the season, but I haven’t seen it.
MP: When do you start rehearsals for your May 9 concert?
CMS: May 7. We were not allowed to have music until after the lockout was declared over – that’s at midnight tonight. Having music has been a big concern for a lot of our musicians, but management would not hand out music. We like to be prepared. This has not made it any easier.
It’s good to get back to work, but this is going to be really challenging. It really is.
For Immediate Release
Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony Hold Concert to Benefit Locked-Out Minnesota Musicians
SAN FRANCISCO- The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony will present a Solidarity Concert in support of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and Musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Musicians from the locked-out Orchestras in Minnesota will play with San Francisco musicians, and SFS Principal Bassoonist Stephen Paulson will conduct.
“All Orchestral Musicians in the Twin Cities are very moved and grateful for this wonderful gesture of solidarity by the SFS,” said Fred Bretschger, Assistant Principal Bass with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
The Grammy Award-winning Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony voted to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement on Friday, April 12. The term of the new agreement is 26 months, with wages increasing 4.5% over the life of the contract.
“While we have a new contract, these world-class musicians in Minnesota have been locked out nearly seven months,” said Cathy Payne, member of the SFS Musicians’ Negotiating Committee. “This season, many orchestras have faced lockouts, strikes, and devastating cuts in personnel, wages and benefits. It is important that we remain in solidarity with other musicians and support their efforts to maintain world-class music in Minnesota.”
The proceeds of the concert will benefit the musicians from both Twin City Orchestras.
“The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are deeply grateful for the support of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra Musicians, as well as all of our colleagues throughout the country, for the support they have shown us during our continuing seven month management-imposed lockout,” said Tim Zavadil, Chair of the Minnesota Orchestra Negotiating Committee. “Furthermore, we congratulate the entire San Francisco Symphony on achieving an agreement that continues to invest in the artists that create the music.”
7:00 p.m, Monday, April 29, 2013
St. Ignatius Church, 650 Parker Avenue at Fulton, San Francisco, California 94118
Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony with special guest musicians from the locked out Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
The building project, which is under the aegis of a nonprofit group that includes the four principal users of the Ordway — the Minnesota Opera and the Schubert Club also perform there — comes at a time when the musicians of the SPCO have been locked out in a months-long labor dispute. In Minneapolis, locked-out Minnesota Orchestra musicians have complained about funds going to the renovation of Orchestra Hall while big salary cuts are on the table.