You have to wonder. We have a deep pool of highly talented and skilled players. We “punch above our weight” as our outgoing President, Elaine Calder, likes to say. We’re paid about 50% less than we should be. Our player complement is 15% down from the CBA mandatory minimums (amended by side letter). Our season lasts 38 weeks out of the year.
Now, look at some of the opening proposals that managements of some 52 week orchestras have made in the past few months and weeks:
- Indianapolis Symphony – reduce season from 52 to 36 weeks; reduce player complement from 87 to 63; cut salaries by 45%.
- Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra – cut salaries by 57-67%; cut season from 37 to 35 weeks, some players down to 20 or 15 weeks; cut salaries by 15%.
- Atlanta Symphony – 12 weeks of player furloughs (cutting season from 52 to 40 weeks); cut salaries by $20,000.
The Oregon Symphony’s solution to its budgetary woes in the face of an unprecedented downturn in the local and national economy was reached over a period of several contract negotiations, and with the pain equally shared by both the management and musicians. To our credit, the musicians of the Oregon Symphony have been remarkably pragmatic about what is/was possible in our particular corner of the world – and to a large extent, so has our board and management. The musicians would love to be playing year round and making a commensurate salary, I’m sure. Management would love to have a $100 million endowment fund and guaranteed long-term stability. But together, we figured out what was possible and sustainable, and though it involved pain on both ‘sides’, we made those changes and have put ourselves in a place where stability is no longer a pipe dream, and growth is no longer inconceivable.
But as Elaine Calder would say, we’re in Portland – not somewhere else. What works here may not be applicable to another region. So, to look to the Oregon Symphony and see a new model for the symphony orchestra is a tempting, but ill-advised decision to make. It’s easy to slash and burn. It’s very difficult to build. I look at Indianapolis with their $100 million dollar endowment. How much of that is unrestricted? Calder took the bold step of raiding our unrestricted endowment funds to eliminate the deficit that threatened to send the OSO into bankruptcy – and at that point our endowment was scarcely $30 million at most. The board and management could have asked for that $6-8 million to come entirely out of the musicians’ pockets, both in terms of salary and weeks worked, but they did not. Perhaps some of our brother and sister organizations should look at that part of the Oregon Symphony equation.