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Detroit Symphony Musicians Targeted for Deep Slashes; Will Other Symphony Orchestra Musicians Also Be Under Gun?

DETROIT, July 29, 2010 — Salary cuts upwards of 28 percent, drastic cuts in their health insurance, elimination of contributions to their retirement benefits, and a sharp reduction in the size of the orchestra – those are key provisions of management's demands from the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as contract negotiations continue.

The musicians believe that this may be the beginning of a trend that will see managers of other symphony orchestras make similar demands from their musicians.

According to DSO cellist Haden McKay, one of the musicians' negotiators, the demands by management, in addition to imposing drastic cuts in salary and benefits, would drop the DSO out of the top ten, the majors, in the ranking of American symphony orchestras, with no opportunity to reclaim its position.

"The fall from the top ten would make it that much more difficult to attract internationally famous guest conductors and artists, as well as the best musicians," he said. "This orchestra has been a source of pride to us and to music lovers throughout Michigan. To many in our audiences, it has been an introduction to great symphonic music.

"Over the past 100 years, through the broadcasts of our concerts, through our recordings, through our tours, we've been Detroit's most successful ambassadors across America and the world. The people of Detroit, their children, their children's children deserve the opportunity to continue to hear great music performed at the highest level."

Unfortunately, he said, many of the DSO's best musicians will undoubtedly audition for and win positions in other major orchestras, and younger musicians seeking a career in a great orchestra will probably look elsewhere.

"In fact, a number of DSO musicians have already started to audition for open positions in other major orchestras.  We've lost six musicians in the past two years alone."

"What is sad," McKay said, "is that this acclaimed orchestra has been reduced from 95 onstage musicians in 2001 to 84 currently, with further reductions called for by management. The continued use of substitutes places at risk the sense of ensemble and the tradition of sound and style that distinguish premier orchestras. However, management appears to believe that audiences won't perceive the difference.

"To quote Bruce Ridge, chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, 'No business ever solved a financial problem by offering an inferior product to the public.'

"What is also sad is that after our making $3.4 million in concessions to 'save' the orchestra the past two contracts, once again, the musicians of the DSO are being asked to swallow still more severe cuts in salary and benefits to, once more, 'save' the orchestra.

"At least, past contracts contained a final-year opportunity to regain some of our salary cuts. However, management's current proposal eliminates that opportunity and makes the cuts permanent, crossing off any possibility of the orchestra regaining its position among the top ten American symphony orchestras."

Said McKay: "As a former executive director of the Chicago Symphony, Henry Fogel, wrote, '… it is indefensible to expect the musicians to 'fund,' through lower wages, ineptitude or lack of initiative on the part of management …'"

Nevertheless, the musicians placed on the table a proposal agreeing to more than $9 million in cuts in salary and benefits, including cuts of 22 percent in next year's annual scale, 14 percent in 2012, and eight percent in 2013.

"The musicians' proposal was rejected and management flatly refuses to negotiate when we meet," McKay said.

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