BSO, musicians reach 5-year pact 'Concessionary' deal is struck 10 1/2 months after contract ended

August 04, 1996|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians agreed yesterday to a five-year contract that will result in pay cuts for the players beginning with the start of the fall season.

The settlement, called the "most concessionary contract ever" by the chairman of the players' committee, brings to a close a 10 1/2 -month period -- among the longest for a major American orchestra -- in which the musicians performed without a labor agreement.

"It is a long-term contract which involves very substantial wage sacrifices from the orchestra, more than we would have wanted to have asked from the musicians, but necessary to stabilize the orchestra," said BSO Executive Director John Gidwitz.

"It is not the contract that any of us would have preferred to have, but it is the one we needed."

Under terms of the contract, base salaries for the musicians will not increase above the current level until fall 1998.

The orchestra, which this year had a budget of $17.65 million, has struggled to lower a cumulative annual deficit that is projected to climb to $2.5 million by the end of this month. The budget next season, the BSO's 81st, is estimated at $18.44 million, Gidwitz said.

The contract, ratified yesterday by members of American Federation of Musicians Local 40-543 between a morning rehearsal and an evening concert, includes:

A freeze of the base weekly salary at $1,100 for the last weeks of the 1995-1996 season.

A reduction of that base weekly salary to $1,085 in the 1996-1997 season, which begins next month.

A return to the weekly salary of $1,100 in the 1997-1998 season.

A raise to $1,150 in the 1998-1999 season.

Gradual increases in 1999-2000, with salaries reaching $1,250 at the end of the contract.

The contract also provides for an allowance of $3,420 per musician to be used for benefits or compensation that will take effect in 2000. Improvements in working conditions for musicians while on tour are included.

Though several orchestra members declined to comment, one remarked, on condition of anonymity, that morale may suffer.

However, a few voiced a sentiment similar to that of principal oboist Joseph Turner, chairman of the players' committee, who said: "We are professional musicians. This is what we do. Regardless of how we feel about the contract, we are going to play the best we can because that is what we do. That is who we are."

Negotiating beyond a contract deadline is nothing new for the symphony. In 1992, the last time a contract was negotiated, talks continued for more than a month beyond the deadline, and a new one was drawn up without interrupting the symphony's schedule. That agreement, also called concessionary by both sides, included pay cuts and fewer health benefits for the players.

The concessions granted by the musicians yesterday are part of a larger effort to stabilize the orchestra's finances, Gidwitz said.

In the past year, the BSO administration has taken other steps to lower costs and increase revenue, including:

Hiring Pinchas Zukerman and Marvin Hamlisch as music directors of the Summer Music-Fest and Super-Pops series, respectively, to increase ticket sales.

Shrinking the BSO staff by seven positions, including three in senior management.

A wage freeze, including one unpaid week, for all nonmusician staff, and pay cuts in the coming season for senior management.

In addition, the BSO is preparing for a capital fund-raising drive, but no date has been set for its announcement, Gidwitz said.

Reaching an agreement was crucial to the orchestra. In 1987, BSO musicians went on strike for six months -- among the longest by a major American orchestra. Afterward, morale suffered, fund-raising slumped and the symphony postponed a European tour.

Similarly, a strike now could have slowed momentum gained during the symphony's critically acclaimed 1994 tour of Asia -- and could have added to the orchestra's annual deficit. It also could have jeopardized plans for the orchestra's next international tour, tentatively set for fall 1997.

"We'll make music and make the best music we know how," said violist Noah Chaves, a member of the negotiating committee. "We hope the management can do its job and play its part in raising enough money to keep the orchestra -- or to bring it back -- to the level where it belongs."

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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