Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Kill an Orchestra


More details are coming to light about management's offer to the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. Read more details here, from Robert Levine at the Polyphonic.org. It's sickening.

Levine reports that the musicians' yearly base salary is set to decrease from $111,566 to $77,896. Do the math; that's a 30% pay cut. (Some musicians earn more, based on titled chairs and seniority and such, but this what the typical musician takes home.) Again, I ask -- how would you react to your employer asking you to take a 30% cut in pay? Could you pay your bills if you were taking home a third less than you are now?

It gets even worse for extras and subs. (Extras are just that, extra musicians necessary to perform certain pieces; subs are substitutes for regular player who are on vacation, out sick, or otherwise absent for a given performance.) Currently, extras and subs earn the same pay as do the regular players. Under management's proposal, subs and extras not only have to suffer the same 30% pay cut as do regular players, but an addition 25% pay cut beyond that. That reduces their paycheck from the current $2,144 per week to $1,123 per week. That's cutting their pay almost in half.

(BTW, if you think extras and subs should be paid less than regular players, you don't know how this whole orchestra thing works. Extras and subs do the same work as regular players while they're there, but with an added degree of difficulty, especially for subs. A sub might get a call in the morning to report for rehearsals that afternoon, and then have to sightread music they've never seen or played before. I have a lot of respect for these non-regular players, and know that they're worth every penny they're paid. Read this blog post by sub violinist Jill Olson Moser to gain a fuller appreciation of this particular role.)

There's more to it than just the money, but geez, this is horrific. It's especially appalling when you realize that management is asking musicians to take this kind of pay cut at the same time the Orchestra is doing a $50 million renovation to Orchestra Hall. I'd rather stick with the current lobby and such than lose any of the talented musicians who play the music we love. It's a real slap in the face.

Also a slap in the face is the salary of Michael Henson, the Orchestra's President and CEO. Henson's current salary is $404,000 (up from $390,000 three years ago), and near as I can tell he's not taking any pay cut. (In case you're wondering, his salary is 1.5 times the average for that position in similarly sized non-profit organizations.) How can Henson justify his outrageous salary while asking the musicians who create the music to cut theirs by 30%?

Some observers are speculating that his is all a grand ruse by Henson and the rest of management to simply cancel the entire season that the Orchestra is playing outside of the under-renovation Orchestra Hall. The replacement venue is the Convention Center, which is less than ideal -- and, for all I know, might be more expensive than their normal environs. Heck, it's also possible that subscriptions and ticket sales are down for this out-of-Hall season. Rather than suffer lost revenues for this season, why not lock the musicians out and call the entire season a loss? I don't know if this is really the case, but it's certainly plausible.

This situation is unacceptable. If finances are really this bad, then cancel the expensive renovations, slash the CEO's exorbitant salary, and do whatever else is necessary to keep paying the musicians what they're worth. Since none of these other measures are even under consideration, this looks to be exactly what it is -- a frontal attack on some of the most talented musicians in this country.

If management gets their way, many of these players will simply leave for more acceptable positions elsewhere. Is that what we as an arts-loving community want? I don't think so.

I'm not sure what we can do for the musicians right now except voice our support for them and our discontent with Michael Hanson and Orchestra management. If this ends up as badly as it could, the Orchestra will lose a lot of community support -- and ticket sales. Do you really want to give your hard-earned entertainment dollars to the insensitive management creeps who want to punish the fine musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra? I certainly don't, and I won't.

It's that simple. Push through these draconian pay cuts and they'll kill the Minnesota Orchestra as we know it. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

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