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July 29, 2010

Another major orchestra feels the pain; deep cuts proposed for Detroit Symphony

Not that there really is much comfort in knowing that other people are suffering the same fate, but news from the musicians of the Detroit Symphony speaks to the continuing stress of the economic downturn and its effect here in Baltimore.

Of course, the city of Detroit has been in trouble for a long time, so a lot of folks have wondered how the resident orchestra could maintain its position for the long haul. Musicians' salaries have been among the top in the country -- base pay of $95,000, almost $21,000 more than at the BSO. Leonard Slatkin is music director of the DSO.

Negotiations for a new contract in Detroit are going on, and not terribly well, judging by a press release from the players' side. (Similarities with the BSO's situation will easily be spotted -- and I'm sure it's only coincidental that the e-business that sent out the Detroit Symphony Musicians release is located in Baltimore.) The other side is sure to be heard from, but, for now, here are some highlights of the DSO musicians' release:

Salary cuts upwards of 28 percent, drastic cuts in their health insurance, elimination of contributions to their retirement benefits, and a sharp reduction in the size of the orchestra - those are key provisions of management's demands from the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as contract negotiations continue.

The musicians believe that this may be the beginning of a trend that will see managers of other symphony orchestras make similar demands from their musicians.

According to DSO cellist Haden McKay, one of the musicians' negotiators, the demands by management, in addition to imposing drastic cuts in salary and benefits, would drop the DSO out of the top ten, the majors, in the ranking of American symphony orchestras, with no opportunity to reclaim its position.

"The fall from the top ten would make it that much more difficult to attract internationally famous guest conductors and artists, as well as the best musicians," he said ...

"...a number of DSO musicians have already started to audition for open positions in other major orchestras. We've lost six musicians in the past two years alone ... [This] acclaimed orchestra has been reduced from 95 onstage musicians in 2001 to 84 currently, with further reductions called for by management. The continued use of substitutes places at risk the sense of ensemble and the tradition of sound and style that distinguish premier orchestras. However, management appears to believe that audiences won't perceive the difference ... [After] our making $3.4 million in concessions to 'save' the orchestra the past two contracts, once again, the musicians of the DSO are being asked to swallow still more severe cuts in salary and benefits to, once more, 'save' the orchestra."

...The musicians placed on the table a proposal agreeing to more than $9 million in cuts in salary and benefits, including cuts of 22 percent in next year's annual scale, 14 percent in 2012, and eight percent in 2013. "The musicians' proposal was rejected and management flatly refuses to negotiate when we meet," McKay said.


Posted by Tim Smith at 9:16 AM | | Comments (3)


I hope Slatkin has already taken substantial cuts. He must be a millionaire several times over by now. He's still pulling a big salary wit NSO, right? At least Alsop has the intelligence to understand the importance of demonstrating solidarity with the players.


Did Alsop take cuts at the BSO? I don't remember reading about that. Didn't the BSO musicians take a huge cut two years ago and then another this year?

I think this is the beginning of the gravy train ending for orchestral musicians. The reality is the AFM forced on the orchestra contracts by the inane lie that "the blank orchestra can't continue to attract and retain the best players..." with no consideration to whether the community could afford to support it, had the market for a 52 week season. Management really has the upper hand here, if you don't like the contract leave you are easily replaceable.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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