Thursday, December 29, 2016


A new series, of which I am very excited, is coming to these pages soon. I intend to offer the first installment of WOW immediately after recovery from the New Year's Eve festivities. That could easily be early on the morning of 1/1; I'm a pretty boring partier, unless I travel to Prairie du Chien, WI for the annual "Dropping of the Carp" (no, I'm not kidding).

What exactly is WOW? Stay tuned.

By the way, it has NOTHING to do with "World of Warcraft".

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"The strike is o'er, the battle won" (sort of)

After three long months, the Fort Worth Symphony strike has ended. While a protracted "negotiation" resulted in nothing, as one party refused to meet (wonder who that was?), federal mediators managed to accomplish the impossible in two days. It didn't hurt that an anonymous donor came forward with $700,000 to help balance the books.

One has to wonder: where was this person hiding all this time? Why didn't orchestra development personnel identify him/her well in advance of this mess? Oh wait, for all intents and purposes the FWSO development office is non-existent--or at least headless, as there have been five (or is it six?) VPs of Development over the past five years.

From what has been released, here's what we know of the four-year contract:
  • A wage freeze in years 1 and 2.
  • 2% increase in year 3.
  • 2-1/2% increase in year 4.
  • Eliminate 7 vacation days.
Bass Hall, Fort Worth: $4100 per rehearsal/performance in rent.
The next performance of the FWSO will be on New Year's Eve and the remainder of the season will go forth as originally scheduled.

So, it's over but can it be called a victory for the players? Not really although this is a far cry from Amy Adkins's "last, best, and final offer" presented before the strike began. Still, the organization can take much from this mess:
  • The statement announcing the end of the labor dispute, released last night, stated, This agreement was reached after two days of federal mediation and more than a year of good faith bargaining. Focus on the last three words. There was no good faith bargaining because management--time and time again--refused to meet.
  • The FWSO pays something to the tune of $4100 in rent every time they open the doors of Bass Hall, whether for concerts or rehearsals. In Dallas? Meyerson Hall is had for $1 per year! Of course, the DSO helped to raise money to build the place while in Fort Worth, the bulk of the money came from the family of  the current Chair of the FWSO Board. Oh.....wait......
Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas (damn gorgeous!)
$1 rent for the whole year!
  • As earlier stated, the Development Office is in a shambles. Right now, that is the most important task of the Board, CEO Adkins, and all of the stakeholders of the organization. The economy long ago recovered in Fort Worth. Any statements that "the money isn't there" are patently false. This needs to be fixed or heads need to roll.
And the silent Music Director has finally offered very non-committal platitudes:

"I’m thrilled the strike is resolved,” said FWSO Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya. “I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate the New Year than with the return of the Orchestra and its wonderful musicians. I will be proud to conduct its return concert on New Year’s Eve. I would like to take this opportunity to say to our community: This orchestra belongs to all of us; it raises our quality of life, it impacts our economy directly and indirectly. I’d like to ask the people of Fort Worth to help the orchestra come back not only strong but stronger than ever."

May it be so, at lease until the next "negotiation".

Monday, November 28, 2016

When all is said and done, it's deja vu all over again

For those who crawled under a rock the morning of November 9, the news of the past week included
  • A ballot recount in Wisconsin possibly followed up by Michigan and Pennsylvania.
  • Hillary Clinton's lead in the popular vote surpasses two million.
  • The death of Fidel Castro. 

  • The end of the two-month-long strike at the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Bob Batz, Jr. reports in the Post-Gazette, The musicians, who went on strike Sept. 30, on Wednesday ratified a new five-year contract that includes a 10.5 percent pay cut in the first year, but thanks to a contribution from an anonymous donor, the actual pay cut will be 7.5 percent. Wages will be restored to pre-strike levels in the fifth year.

According to a recent press release, the musicians’ salaries are frozen in the second year; there’s a 3.3 percent increase in the third year; a 2.0 percent increase in the fourth year; and restoration to the 2016 base salary — approximately $107,000 — in the fifth year of the contract. It runs through Sept. 5, 2021. So in five years the orchestra will return to its 2015-16 wage. One has to seriously wonder: Why did this have to happen?

So much for the "last, best, and final offer" (such a predictable but old and tired phrase). “We asked the musicians to be a partner in the solution to the exceptionally difficult financial position we are working to correct, and we are grateful for their sacrifice,” PSO President and CEO Melia Tourangeau. “They have, indeed, come together with us in a powerful way to help position the Pittsburgh Symphony’s future.”

Speaking for the musicians' committee he chairs, Micah Howard called the concessions “painful and substantial,” but noted, "Both parties came together in the spirit of true compromise, to ensure that we can resume performing at Heinz Hall.”

Heinz Hall, originally Loew's Penn Theatre, Pittsburgh
Contract talks commenced early in the year, but there were no active negotiations until June. Federal mediators attempted to smooth out the discussions, but nothing was moving forward as the orchestra's management was entrenched in its insistence on an immediate 15 percent pay cut. Again, if there was wiggle room, why didn't Tourangeau & Co. bargain in good faith? Management took nearly a month to share accurate financial information to the players.

So the music will finally return to Heinz Hall. Management, although accruing no ticket revenue, saved two months of salaries it didn't have to pay. And Music Director Manfred Honeck has finally spoken, “I am just delighted that we will once again experience the unique artistic excellence of our world-class musicians and be able to welcome our loyal audiences back to Heinz Hall. It is a special Thanksgiving blessing that the Board of Trustees, management, and our musicians have reached this exceptionally important agreement. I cannot wait to return to Pittsburgh to be reunited with my Heinz Hall family.” (Of course, he's probably paid whether or not he's on the podium.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


.....from Cicero, First Oration against Catiline.

I've been away from the blog for a few weeks and for a few reasons: first, to slog through the vitriol that flowed from the waning days of the Presidential campaigns, and second, to slog through all the vitriol of the aftermath of November 8. I'm not at all happy with the outcome (there, I said it!) but it is what it is, and all Americans need to hope that this great experiment in democracy will survive.

Speaking of survival:

The website of the Fort Worth musicians reported on October 24:

Despite a return to the negotiation table on Saturday, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) Management has announced today that it is unilaterally canceling concerts through December 31, 2016. This comes after rebuffing Musicians’ repeated offers to collaborate with Management to develop financial solutions to resolve the nearly seven-week-long dispute.

Management is so intent on getting cuts in any way possible; they are now taking it out on the people of Fort Worth directly,” said Musicians Union President Stewart Williams. “In our last meeting, we called upon Symphony President Amy Adkins to stop these cancellations and discuss ways for Musicians and Management to work together, not only to develop new revenue but also to better serve the community. She refused to consider any such options. Instead, she is forcing cuts through cancellations, slashing concert after concert, in reckless disregard for the people the FWSO serves.”

This action, of course, eliminates the highly successful (and lucrative) holiday concerts and assures the un-merriest of Christmases in that city. Oddly enough, an ad for Fort Worth (just the city) popped up on an arts blog I was reading. Their motto--"Cowboys and Culture"--has become only half right. However, the Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony will offer their own "Fort Worth Family Christmas Concert" on November 27 at the Will Rogers Auditorium, a nearly 3000-seat hall. Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya is nowhere in sight.

Will Rogers Auditorium: a bit bland but it used to be adequate for the FWSO.
The orchestra has not led an endowment campaign since 2000; the development office is in shambles (five VPs in five years) and Management insists there is no money to be found, even though there has been a 30% uptick in the economy since the draconian 13.5% salary cuts in 2011. An important note includes the efforts of the Fort Worth Opera, which, in three months this past summer raised over $1 million dollars and doubled its donor base. There is money in Fort Worth--lots of it. BUT, those donors are not going to donate to what appears to be "Management without Music."

I'll say it again: CEO Amy Adkins is out of her element; her unwillingness to even acknowledge the collaborative efforts of the musicians further demonstrates her administrative myopia.

AND, one must not forget the gold-digging Board Chair, Mercedes Bass, who left her first husband because he wasn't rich enough (and 27 years her senior), for her second, the son of one of the wealthiest men in America. Forbes estimated Sid Bass's net worth at $2.1 billion. Before their divorce, she'd done an excellent job of spending Sid's fortune, even donating $25 million to the Met. She has the dough to right the ship (the Dallas News estimated the settlement to be $300 million) Of course, the Fort Worth Symphony is not nearly as high-profile as anything in New York City. (other sources: NY Post and NY Times)


The same slash and burn philosophy holds true in the city of three rivers, which has morphed itself from a rust belt steel town to one of technology and culture (and great brewpubs!). But, "cancel, cancel, cancel" is management's solution to whatever perceived problem exists (PSI-Pittsburgh Symphony, Incorporated refuses to release the 2015-16 financials). This much is known:
  • $33.03 million = Total expenses in 2015, lower than either of the two previous years.
  • $21.2 million = 2015 contributions, an increase of some $13 million from 2014.
  • $124.1 million** = Endowment net assets, 2015.
**does not include assets held in trust by others, or the “1963 endowment” (which holds approximately $10 million in assets and provides ~$600,000 in operating support to the PSO annually. The PSI does not include the income from the 1963 endowment in its budgeting forecasts, for reasons that have never been explained to the Musicians.)

So it's the same old story: concerts canceled, management refusing to negotiate. On some of the latest news, check out this article from the Post-Gazette. The accompanying photo is, in a word, priceless!

And, of course, Manfred Honeck is nowhere to be seen. He--not Board of Trustees Chair Devin McGranahan nor CEO Melia P. Tourangeau--is the public face of the organization and should be leading negotiations in Pittsburgh instead of flying to his next gig.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A lot of GOOD THINGS are happening in the arts world.

Scott Chamberlain in his blog, The Mask of the Flower Prince, pointed out a list supplied by ISCOM Chair Bruce Ridge enumerating the good news from member orchestras.

  • The Atlanta Symphony announced that it ended the season with a surplus, and raised $13 million 
  • The Arizona Opera exceeded its fundraising goals
  • The Buffalo Philharmonic saw record season ticket sales and subscription revenues for the third consecutive year
  • The Charlotte Symphony received a $2 million gift
  • The Cincinnati Symphony raised over $26 million and signed a new contract that adds 15 new musicians over the next five years
Packing the seats in Cincinnati
  • The Dallas Symphony achieved a balanced budget and received a $5 million gift
  • The Detroit Symphony raised $1.4 million in one evening
  • The Houston Grand Opera exceeded its fundraising goal, raising almost $173 million
  • The Houston Symphony received a $5 million donation, the largest gift in nearly a decade
  • The Indianapolis Symphony saw ticket sales increase 15%, and subscriptions rose 24%.
  • The Memphis Symphony received a $1 million gift for education programs
  • The Minnesota Orchestra received $6 million in special gifts and embarked on a historic tour to Cuba

  • The Nashville Symphony set fundraising and ticket sales records
  • The Omaha Symphony saw record attendance
  • The Oregon Symphony set records for ticket sales and contributions, and its gala raised a record $700,000
  • The Pacific Symphony’s gala raised a record $1.6 million
  • The Richmond Symphony received a $1 million gift for outdoor concerts
  • The Rochester Philharmonic reported a 19% increase in single ticket sales
  • The St. Louis Symphony received a $10 million gift
  • The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra saw its highest attendance in 20 years
In addition, I've previously reported substantive raises given by the Kansas City Symphony on a five-year contract settled a year early!

The Detroit Symphony is revamping its recital hall, thanks to a $3.5 million gift. Detroit? Yes, that Detroit.

"The Cube" Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall
The Dallas Symphony, right next door to striking Fort Worth, has balanced its budget and is reaping a bounty of dollars in both its annual fund and long-term commitments.

Scott knows what he's talking about as he is a longtime resident of the Twin Cities, which went through its own well-publicized nightmare. There, an entrenched Board of Directors, aided and abetted by local media, allowed an inept CEO to hold the organization hostage. That the Minnesota Orchestra has so quickly rebounded, artistically and financially, is a testament to the spirit of its people and especially the vision of Osmo Vanska.

The story sounds all too familiar because that's what's happening in Fort Worth and Pittsburgh. The respective Boards just continue to cancel programs and refuse to negotiate at all. It's all in the "last, best, and final offer" mentality. There are certainly more and better solutions, but all sides have to at least sit and talk. No one really wants the music to stop for, if it's gone long enough, some might forget it was ever there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Can anyone find a flashlight? Or even a ray of sunshine to fall on this strike, now extended into its second week?

Can someone help light the way?
PSO president and CEO Melia Tourangeau hasn't yet found a reasonable solution to this impasse. As in so many contractual disagreements, the sticking point is a financial one. Management's solution? A 15% cut in base pay. Oh, but future years would offer two and three percent givebacks in years two and three of the agreement!

The orchestra is projecting shortfalls of up to $4.5 million in upcoming years. This summons the question: Why the heck did the orchestra undertake a lengthy European tour this past spring? Surely management knew that the financials were dire at that time, but everyone flew off to Europe as if nothing was wrong. Short-sighted? Blind, even?

What this really necessary--especially with regard to cost?
The Post-Gazette reports“Let’s be clear: If they want us to come together and figure this out, they’ve got to come back to the table and work with us on this,” Ms. Tourangeau said of union members. But that isn't going to happen while management remains entrenched. Micah Howard, a bassist who chairs the orchestra committee, said musicians would resume contract discussions if management will reconsider its most recent offer. That plan includes the 15 percent pay cut, among other changes.

But, but, but......

Earned revenue for the fiscal year, posted on the PSO website, showed that ticket sales increased by 4 percent — the first increase in over 10 years. And according to the PSO site, this season’s subscriptions are beating last year’s. The case is the same with regard to fundraising, which was record-breaking, as demonstrated by a 25 percent increase of the PSO’s annual fund (from the Pitt News).

So, the musicians continue to offer free concerts wherever they can, and picket lines continue outside Heinz Hall. Other tenants of the Hall have offered solidarity by refusing to cross the line, but none of that brings either side closer to just sitting down and talking! And the reputation of the PSO, as well as its city, will decline.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


As a conductor and teaching musician in Iowa, I am sure that many readers must wonder exactly why I should even care about labor strife in places like Texas and Pennsylvania. I don't really consider myself a mouthpiece for musicians around the country. Call me an idealist (yes, sometimes I wished that I lived in Europe, where many of the arts are state-subsidized) if you will. In an increasingly contentious world--economically and politically--I refuse to fall into the trap of expediency but will continue to fight what I feel is the good fight for the art that I love and for the people who make it.


At only two days, this was nearly the shortest strike on record. That "honor" probably goes to the Chicago Symphony, which settled a 2015 stalemate in little over 24 hours. One has to wonder whether or not the timing of the strike--immediately preceding the orchestra's gala concert--had an impact on the alacrity of the agreement. Could it be that the audience at that performance--the well-heeled donors to the organization--demanded that the strike is settled quickly and fairly?

My own "connection" to this wonderful orchestra goes back to my youth. The "Fabulous Philadelphians" and longtime conductor Eugene Ormandy had one of the most lucrative recording contracts in the business. My collection is still filled with a large number of LPs from their vast library. Philadelphia was the go-to ensemble for just about everything, but my Philly experience goes deeper still.

Ormandy and Cliburn, 1967
The first time I ever heard a Mahler Symphony (no. 1) was, in fact, a live performance given by the Philadelphia Orchestra in May 1976 at the old Auditorium at Michigan State University. Quite frankly, I didn't care what they were going to play. This was the Philadelphia Orchestra(!) and Ormandy was conducting! Now I can remember little of the first half of the show but the second--my initial immersion into the sound world of Gustav Mahler--was a cathartic moment for me. Soon after, I decided--like so many before me--to abandon thoughts of pursuing a law degree and entered music school. It's been a sometimes bumpy ride but here I am.

Old Auditorium, Michigan State University
Yes, the Fabulous Philadelphians played here in 1976.
One more thought about the state of this fine ensemble: it amazes me that, in newsprint and otherwise, a group of orchestras--New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago--are still referred to as the "Big Five." In 2013 Jame Oestreich reported in the New York Times that In fact, the criteria of membership in the Big Five, never firmly established, began with quantities. They included size of budget, number of recordings, amount of touring (especially stops in New York), presence on radio and television, and number of year-round musicians. This old matrix no longer holds true.

Drew McManus in his Adaptistration blog, assembles a wealth of information each year gleaned from the IRS 990 forms. While these are available on-line, it's much easier if someone else does the work. The current "Big Five" (in terms of total expenditures) is now:

1. Los Angeles Philharmonic ($118 M)
2. Boston Symphony ($88.5 M)
3. Chicago Symphony ($80 M)
4. San Francisco Symphony ($74.5 M)
5. New York Philharmonic ($73 M)

Cleveland comes in at #6 ($51M); Philadelphia has "fallen" to #7 ($45 M). Of course, big budgets are not a harbinger of quality. The Minnesota Orchestra, arguably in the "artistic big five", spends less than $25 M. A more telling picture comes out when comparing CEO compensation, but that's for another day.

* * * * * * * * * *

Pittsburgh Symphony management has taken an excessive and possibly unprecedented hard line relative to its current strike. Excerpts from a recent letter from Pittsburgh COO Christian Schörnich to union musicians (dated yesterday, October 4): You must realize that the PSI has an obligation to keep Heinz Hall open and operating to serve our patrons and others as they expect and as may be required. In order to do so, it may require us to hire replacement workers, either on a temporary or permanent basis, as will be determined by the business necessity that we face. (Boldface in the original.)

Yes, the PSI just stated that they intend on hiring scabs to fill the seats of their world-class orchestra. Good luck with that.

The view outside Heinz Hall
In the meantime, the musicians held a previously scheduled free day of music across the city. Read all about it here.

And a final note: Where's Manfred Honeck?

Monday, October 3, 2016


A fairly large audience in 2500-seat Verizon Hall
Only 1000 showed up for the gala...

Just about as quickly as it began, albeit with less drama, the Philadelphia Orchestra strike has ended. Friday, September 30 was a black day throughout Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh hit the pickets in the morning and Philly walked out shortly before the gala concert, a program filled with the well-heeled. In fact, patrons were left sitting in a silent Verizon Hall for nearly 15 minutes after the starting time before CEO Allison Vulgamore came on stage to announce the concert's cancellation. Apparently, talks were still on-going right up to the appointed hour.

A last-minute backstage negotiating session ensued, but failed. The gala concert was scrapped; two other concerts, on Saturday and Sunday, were canceled. (Peter Dobin, arts reporter, Philly.Com) The entire article is found here.

Allison Vulgamore: Who, me?
The whole contract "negotiation" was merely an extension of the highly-charged and contentious Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings of 2011, only two years following Vulgamore's arrival in Philly. It's apparent that the whole mess was intended to eliminate the orchestra's obligation to its heavily underfunded pension. Meanwhile, Vulgamore herself was somehow able to negotiate a substantial contract extension, with benefits almost unheard of in the non-profit business sector. Mr. Dobrin reported on that development in March 2012:

The pact is similar to the one that is expiring. Vulgamore will be paid an annual base salary of $450,000 - but with a list of extras that sweeten the deal considerably:

A "performance-based compensation" cash bonus of between $50,000 and $150,000 per year, though the chair of the orchestra board has the discretion to increase the maximum bonus to $175,000 if warranted by Vulgamore's performance and a "significant" improvement in the orchestra's financial condition.
(One has to wonder if she had to give this back.)

A retirement contribution of $125,000 per year, less applicable withholdings.

Up to $15,000 per year for supplemental disability insurance.

"Executive health benefits" of up to $10,000 per year for costs not covered under the group plan.

A car allowance of $5,000, free parking at the Kimmel Center, four weeks' vacation, and $2,000 a year to pay a financial planner.

In addition to compensation under the new contract, she will receive $50,000 by June 2012 as part of an earlier bonus program for which she had not yet received payment.

Vulgamore's next contract upped her ante to $733,242, significantly more than the music director (!) and near the upper end of orchestra CEOs, many of whom also manage the facilities in which their ensembles perform. The Philadelphia Orchestra doesn't even manage a facility it does own! (the Academy of Music)

And although the strike was a scant 48-hours, musicians are still feeling the pain of slashed salaries and benefits from the past. Two percent annual raises don't go far (especially when compared to the CEO).

"It's been a very emotional couple of days, but we're relieved that we're going to move forward and play our instruments again," principal harpist Elizabeth Hainen said.

Simon Rattle arrives this week to lead the orchestra in Mahler's Sixth Symphony.

Friday, September 30, 2016


Philadelphia Orchestra on strike; gala concert canceled

Read about it here. It's long past time to weep...

On a personal note, the first time I ever heard a Mahler Symphony (it was number 1) was live and performed by this magnificent orchestra.


....Orchestras continue to fall. This story from Pittsburgh:

Pittsburgh Symphony musicians go on strike, concerts canceled

Management of the venerable orchestra predicts that the combined deficit of the organization will reach $20 million (it currently sits at $11 million). The tried and true solution? Balance the books on the backs of the people making the music (aren't they the people that audiences come to hear?), to the tune (pun intended) of a 15% salary decrease. The ham-handed proposal also includes a "hard freeze" of the pension plan (replaced by a 401k for those with less than 30 years of service) and a reduction in the size of the ensemble. This sounds all too familiar.

Negotiations began in February and got nowhere, ending in the work stoppage. Ten days of effort by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (which succeeded in the Metropolitan Opera near-fiasco a year ago) failed to produce an agreement between the parties.

A story reported by Mark Kanny of Tri Total Media stated, “When new management stepped in at the Pittsburgh Symphony, we undertook a diagnostic situation assessment that caused us to realize that we are facing an imminent financial crisis. That assessment showed that, due to a combination of forces, we would run out of cash and have to close the doors in May/June 2017,” said board chairman Devin McGranahan in a prepared statement. McGranahan and president Melia Tourangeau took office in 2015. 

What combination of forces?

Despite a history dating back to 1898 (except for a 16-year lapse) and world-class conductors such as Fritz Reiner, William Steinberg, Lorin Maazel, and Mariss Jansons, the management is just now figuring out that there may be a financial problem?

Interestingly enough, in one of her first interviews after arriving in Pittsburgh, Tourangeau said, “the priority is to get to a balanced budget. I feel there has been a tremendous amount of cost-cutting that has taken place. In my opinion, we have a revenue problem, not an expense problem.”
Norman Lebrecht, with whom I sometimes agree, offers this assessment, Management’s refusal to compromise clearly is ideological. New PSI Management has decided, against all evidence, that Pittsburgh somehow cannot support a world-class orchestra, and that a “new business model” is needed. This makes no sense. In 2016, the PSO’s Annual Fund hit a record; ticket sales are up; the Pittsburgh economy is dynamic; the Cultural District is thriving. This is no time for the PSI to abandon the idea that Pittsburgh deserves a world-class orchestra.

If ticket revenue is up and the Annual Fund is at record levels, show me the money.

* * * * * * * * * *

No one is budging in Fort Worth, where the orchestra has been on strike through most of September. The Star-Telegram published an incendiary editorial on September 12 and there has been no reporting of the rebuttal by the musicians (summarized here):

We (the FWSO musicians) just ask you to consider the following as you decide for yourself about fiscal responsibility. Is the FWSO Management being fiscally responsible when they:
  • Fall short on raising enough money to pay the musicians?
  • Use a contingency fund every year to cover operating costs?
  • Ignore professional advice to expand the fundraising department?
  • Have a new Vice-President of Development every year?
  • Don’t have a Strategic Plan past the year 2017?
It is obvious that CEO Amy Adkins is out of her element. Development is the most important issue facing the orchestra. The fact that Development V-Ps last an average of one year says something about management at the top.

Little has been said of Board Chair Mercedes Bass, who also serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee of the Carnegie Hall Corporation as well as Managing Director of the Board of Trustees and Executive Board of the Metropolitan Opera (to which she donated $25 million in 2006. And there's more, including a role with the Aspen Music School (member of the Advisory Board), the Aspen Institute (trustee), and Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee and a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Academy in Rome. After divorcing state department official Francis L. Kellogg in 1988 and marrying Texas billionaire Sid Bass, that marriage ended in 2011, but the settlement left her well off.

Her Fort Worth home
(She also has residences in Colorado and New York City)
The Fort Worth concert hall her in-laws built

She could solve the orchestra's finances with a check out of her pin money account, without cutting into more high-profile gifts to a Lincoln Center opera company.

* * * * * * * * * *


Calling management's latest offer "regressive", musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra are none too happy either. Once part of the venerable "Big Five" of American ensembles (according to budget size), Philly now sits at number 8, and musician salaries continue to fall further behind their colleagues in cities like Boston. 

The contract has already expired and something (or someone) has to move. CEO Allison Vulgamore's track record is not strong (note her previous "service" in Atlanta). The 2011 bankruptcy still looms large, especially for an organization that maintained a $140 million endowment, owned (and still owns) the Academy of Music, and had no debts! Huh?

The Philadelphia Academy of Music (1857)
And nothing wrong with the acoustics

The musicians note in their September newsletter:

Although the filing in April 2011 was opposed by the musicians, the public was told that it was a necessary step and that when the Orchestra emerged from bankruptcy, things would be much better.

When the court approved the bankruptcy, the Association made wholesale changes to our pension plan. The Plan was frozen and its administration was transferred to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, a U. S. government entity. Some musicians may receive lower pensions than they would have earned under the frozen Plan. The retirement benefits which were substituted for the Plan do not guarantee the benefit level specified in the Plan. In addition, the orchestra musicians, who had voluntarily taken a wage freeze the year before, and who had donated a significant amount of money to the Association, saw their salaries reduced by more than 14 percent. The size of the orchestra was also reduced, from 106 full-time positions to 95.

The Association, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Peter Dobrin, spent “almost $10 million in professional fees and expenses” on the bankruptcy, and paid settlements of $1.75 million to the American Federation of Musicians Pension Plan, and $1.25 million to the Philly Pops in the process.

More than five years later, Musicians hoped that the Association would view the bankruptcy as a temporary means to regroup and ultimately restore the kind of budget that is necessary to fund a major symphony orchestra, rather than as a way to downgrade the musicians' contract permanently. More than five years later, we are still waiting.

* * * * * * * * * *

Contract talks at the Pacific Symphony (budget $20 million) have halted. Musicians’ Bargaining Committee Chairperson Adam Neeley states, “The Pacific Symphony is the only professional orchestra in the United States with any significant annual budget that does not provide a weekly wage or annual guarantee of wages to its musicians.” Neeley states further, “Musicians have no predictability of their income from week to week, month to month or year to year.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Who is next?

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Riccardo Muti, Music Director of the Chicago Symphony, has never been afraid to speak his mind, even if the result could be disastrous. Norman Lebrecht (he of often vitriolic opinions) wrote of Muti's departure from La Scala in 2005:

He declared that he could no longer make music in “the atmosphere created by the insinuations, the insults, and the incomprehension.” But, said Lebrecht, He did not for one moment intend to resign. This was just a common or Covent Garden maestro huff of the kind that Muti threw last autumn when the Royal Opera House tinkered with La Scala's sets for Forza del Destino and Muti refused to conduct (ROH chief Antonio Pappano stepped in). No-one was astonished. The opera world has got used to Muti's limited vocabulary, an emotive lexicon lacking in compromise. There is only one way to work with Muti: his way.

He appears to have mellowed with age, but unabashedly says what he feels. John von Rhein reports in the Chicago Tribune: 

   Riccardo Muti is fond of quoting the early Christian theologian and philosopher St. Augustine's famous dictum about music and musicians, "Cantare amantis est" ("Singing belongs to the one who loves"). The Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director interprets the quotation more broadly: Making music belongs to the one who loves.
   That much could be said to typify the Italian conductor's career and would appear to have taken on even greater personal significance during his Indian-summer tenure in Chicago.

Speaking of the CSO's financial situation (and possibly reflecting on the increasing deficits throughout many of the nation's cultural institutions):

"You cannot maintain a great orchestra at this level if the refrain is constantly 'we have to cut this and cut that,' " he said in an interview in Chicago. (The CSO Association reported a $1.3 million operating deficit for fiscal 2015, its fifth such deficit in a row.) "In the end, that becomes demoralizing to the musicians. I am not telling everyone to just open their wallets — we must be realistic. But I would like to see everyone in the institution support this great orchestra with the same fire the musicians bring to their performances on their best nights."

The CSO may be even better than when Muti assumed the podium in 2010, a move that was unconvincing to me. Since then, the city (and the world) has revelled in the orchestra's resurgence.

The conductor said one of his top priorities this season will be to sit down with key CSO Association board members to find solutions to problems that, if left unsolved, could, in his view, undermine the institutional foundation in the years ahead. "I want to hear their opinions and share my ideas, as a musician of the world," Muti said. "Together, I hope we can do better to bring this orchestra to a position of wider appreciation for everything we do to bring bellezza (beauty) and culture to this city and the world."

In January, Muti returns to Milan for concerts with the CSO. Everything comes full circle.

Teatro Alla Scala, Milan

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Since 2007, I have been the extremely proud Music Director of the Quad City Wind Ensemble, an outstanding group of professional musicians, educators, and others for whom musical performance is a valued avocation. Members also include attorneys, business executives, and retirees. During the past four years, in particular, the quality of the ensemble has grown and the size of our audience has more than doubled.

The ensemble won the American Prize for Outstanding Performance in 2012, its conductor the award as Outstanding Wind Conductor in 2015. In 2014, the QCWE appeared in concert at the prestigious Iowa Bandmasters Association Conference. One audience member responded, "I've never before liked a Karl King march until today."

Here is our concert season (all concerts take place at Allaert Auditorium in the Galvin Fine Arts Center on the campus of St. Ambrose University).

October 23, 3:00 PM: Sweet Sixteen

We presented our first concert of "anniversaries" in 2013 and this year's program is a continuation of that idea. We celebrate the birth and passing of composers as well as those pieces having their own "birthdays" during 2016

Clifton Williams: Caccia and Chorale (1976) This piece (the composer's last) proves that Clifton Williams at the age of 53 was hitting his stride and remains (to me) his most profound work.

Vittorio Giannini (1903 - 1966): Symphony No. 3, his only work for the wind band. Great stuff. Not performed enough in the contemporary band world where there is too much focus on the new, instead of the tried and true. We'll try to rectify that.
Julius Fucik (1872 - 1916): Gigantic March. Many call Fucik the "Czech Sousa". I might have to argue that it's the other way around, given the fact that Gigantic is his opus 311! You know Fucik, in the rambunctious version of his Entry of the Gladiators (stolen by the circus). 

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983): Pampeana No. 3
II. Impetuosamente. Celebrating the Argentine great in this, the centennial of his birth, a wild depiction of dancing "competitions" among the gauchos of the plains.

John Philip Sousa: Willow Blossoms (1916) A much different kind of Sousa, bucolic in nature.

Vincent Persichetti: Turn Not Thy Face, Chorale Prelude (1966) Commissioned by the Frank Battisti and the great Ithaca (NY) High School Band, this work was composed in memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

John Barnes Chance: Variations on a Korean Folk Song (1966) Standard repertoire and deservedly so. Chance wrote so few works but all are classics.

December 11, 3:00 PM: Our Annual Holiday Concert
   Including many holiday treats, including a return of Minor Alterations!

February 26, 2017, 3:00 PM: South of the Border

Jose Moncayo/Osmon: Huapango

H. Owen Reed: La Fiesta Mexicana
   The composer's magnum opus was the result of his Guggenheim Fellowship-sponsored visit to Mexico during the late 1940s. While there, he heard Mexican music from the many different cultures that make up the country’s heritage, including Aztec, Roman Catholic, and mariachi music. He used these various ideas, often quoting them nearly verbatim, and stitched them together with elements of his own contemporary style in La Fiesta Mexicana‘s three movements.

Julie Giroux: Carnaval! 

Marcha Defensa Nacional Mexicana

Victoriano Valencia (Colombia): Fandanguillo 

Arturo Marquez/Nickel: Danzon No. 2

Saturday, May 13, 7:30 PM: Heroic Measures: A program focusing on those who, in the face of danger, combat adversity through impressive feats of ingenuity, bravery or strength, often sacrificing personal concerns for some greater good. Arthur Ashe once said, "True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost."

William Walton/Noble: Spitfire Prelude and Fugue
   A musical chronicle of those brave young men who fought in the skies over Britain, saving their homeland from the onslaught of Nazi Germany. From the music for the 1942 film, The First of the Few.

Mark Camphouse: A Movement for Rosa
   In an act of civil disobedience, Rosa Parks demonstrated true heroism and started a movement that would change the landscape of America.

Richard Wagner/Whear: “Siegfried’s Funeral Music,” from Götterdämmerung

Miklos Rozsa/Hawkins: “Parade of the Charioteers,” from Ben-Hur

Eric Ewazen: A Hymn for the Lost and the Living
   A professor of composition at the Julliard School, Ewazen was several miles from the carnage of September 11. This hymn, more an elegy, offers homage to many who lost their lives (including first responders) as well as those families left behind.

Student soloist (TBA)

Stephen Melillo: David 
   David has many layers of meaning. True for all of the "storm" works, these layers have been extended to include the use of many new and fresh colors. David is a dramatic work, calling for a boy-soprano or soprano-actress who can depict David, the boy before battle!

Friday, September 16, 2016


Four years ago, the Indianapolis Symphony was embroiled in a bitter contract dispute. It ended in a lock-out.

What a difference a few years makes: the orchestra just announced a new three-year agreement (14 months early) that includes a 9.3% raise. While this is great news, players will be shouldered with additional costs of healthcare insurance. Still....

As reported in the Indianapolis Star:

“The Board of Directors is delighted that an agreement was reached 14 months in advance of the current contract expiration,” said Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Board Chair Vince Caponi in a press release.

“After recent concessionary contracts, we are encouraged that the Orchestra is moving in a positive direction. We thank the ISO’s management and board for their efforts in obtaining an early agreement, and we look forward to a bright future for the ISO,” said Brian Smith, chair of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Committee.

After the bitter 2012 contract battle that led to a month-long lockout for musicians, ISO cites a string of successes, including three straight years of budget surpluses and major growth in ticket sales and fundraising.

Fort Worth needs to discover Indy's secret.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

One person making a difference

In comparing the contractual problems of the Ft. Worth Symphony and those past in Atlanta and Minneapolis (the Minnesota Orchestra), there are striking similarities: entrenched management and board-controlled media come to mind. Of course, both Atlanta and Minnesota ended in ugly and extended lockouts. However, in both cases there was a major difference.

Donald Runnicles and Robert Spano
(photo Jeff Roffman)
In Atlanta, Music Director Robert Spano AND Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles both spoke out on the side of the players. Their joint letter to the ASO management said, in part, “We ask the board and management to acknowledge the sacrifice the musicians have already made, and to examine other ways and areas to establish sustainability.” Spano went one step further in an interview with the Washington Post, "This is not a normal labor dispute. “This is a question of whether Atlanta wishes to preserve its legacy of having a great orchestra or having a minor league orchestra. It’s not a question of payroll or health care or anything else. It’s a question of: Will Atlanta remain an important, major league orchestra?"

Osmo Vanska
Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska, Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra, went one step further: he resigned after that orchestra's lockout had lasted a year (it would eventually eat up 16 months). During that time, he came back to lead "The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra" in three sold-out concerts (only two were originally scheduled). When the dust had finally settled, the New York Times reported:

He (Vanska) served an ultimatum, threatening that if the lockout were not lifted in time for the current season, he would resign; as good as his word, he did. He conducted the locked-out players in concerts that they themselves organized. And he engaged in what some have called slash-and-burn tactics, dropping little verbal bombshells aimed especially at the president, Mr. Henson, essentially demanding his resignation.

Even now, he says that he and Mr. Henson “are not going to work together” in the four months that remain of Mr. Henson’s tenure. Mr. Henson said, “I will continue to collaborate with colleagues in whatever way best serves the organization in the months ahead.”

Does Mr. Vanska regret any of those tactics?

“I felt then, and the feeling is still strong,” he said, “that the orchestra needed me and I needed the orchestra.”

He finds positive aspects in the current situation: “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” More people know about the orchestra than ever did before, he said, and the players have learned some of what they can accomplish through their own resources.

“It will take time to rebuild,” Mr. Vanska said, “but it might be a surprisingly short time.”

“Maybe this had to happen to give us the idea that we must find something,” he added, “some way to work together.”

Note: Vanska returned to the helm and recently led the orchestra in a highly-touted European tour.

This is leadership, in both cases from the public face of the organization. Stakeholders outside the organization care little about Boards and budgets; they care about the music and the people making it.

As for Fort Worth Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya? Silence...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


This city ought to be able to afford its orchestra
The contract turmoil surrounding the Fort Worth Symphony has reached a new low. As previously reported here, news stories from the Star-Telegram have been slanted toward management. Now, a highly provocative editorial has appeared on those same pages:

Several very smart and dedicated people have worked for more than a year on a new labor agreement between the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association and its musicians, aiming to continue world-class symphonic music performances begun more than a century ago.

It hasn’t worked. The musicians have gone on strike, and the orchestra’s season-opening performances last weekend were canceled....

The musicians, represented by Local 72-147 of the American Federation of Musicians, are still smarting from a 13.5 percent pay cut they accepted in 2010 to help the FWSO weather the effects of the Great Recession. (Wasn't the nation in the midst of an economic comeback by 2010?)

While frequent references to that cut might help gain public sympathy, that money is gone and won’t come back.

The union negotiating committee worked with association managers and a federal negotiator to develop a new contract offer. Although the committee recommended approval, the musicians rejected it “overwhelmingly,” union representatives said.

The two sides portray the numbers differently, but the rejected four-year contract contained pay cuts in the first year followed by slight increases in later years, putting the musicians a little above their current salaries — which average $62,000 plus health benefits — by the fourth year.

It’s hard to imagine that such an offer, or something very much like it, isn’t the best the musicians can get. Still, they’ve made their position clear.

These smart and dedicated people could be talking about the end of the FWSO.

Is the editorial implying that the musicians are the "smart and dedicated people"? Management all to easily forgets that stakeholders (i.e. the butts in the seats) come to concerts to hear the music. Give them a quality product and they'll be there. Expand outreach beyond the "usual suspects" in the donor pool, and the funds will be forthcoming.

Gary Wortel

Something that is missing in this one-sided media war (circus?) is an important fact: Star-Telegram Publisher Gary Wortel is a member of the FWSO Board of Directors. So, just like we saw in Minnesota so few short years ago, the Board controls the local media......but not all of it.

The Dallas Morning News has offered a much more comprehensive look at the situation. While reiterating the company line, it has offered a different perspective from the side of the musicians themselves:

After years of cuts and irresponsibly refusing to bargain further, the future of the FWSO is now at stake. The musicians continue to call on management to return to the bargaining table in the interest of coming to an agreement and ensuring the orchestra's very existence.

We want our audiences and the citizens of Fort Worth to know how much we regret that we are forced to take this extreme step," said Julie Vinsant, a bassist and member of the musicians' negotiating committee. "We call on our management to come back to the table so that we can continue providing great music for our great city. We are very thankful for your continuing steadfast support....

Read the entire article for the whole story.

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