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.