Saturday, September 29, 2012

In the (temporary) agony of defeat . . .

In the (temporary) agony of defeat, Daniel, Christina, and others who courageously led the negotiations, we might draw encouragement from the remarks of Theodore Roosevelt on the contrast between persons of action and their critics:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

"Citizenship in a Republic,"
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

While we're at it, his words on a "square deal" for everyone seem relevant, too:

"Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense."... "We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.""The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us."

New York State Fair, Syracuse, September 7, 1903

I would have apologized for his time-bound, culture-bound, gender-biased language, but he can speak for himself . . .

"Much can be done by law towards putting women on a footing of complete and entire equal rights with man - including the right to vote, the right to hold and use property, and the right to enter any profession she desires on the same terms as the man."..."Women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man it should be paid as highly."

An Autobiography, 1913

Savor that!


MPR Report for NPR - Orchestral CPR Comes Next

You can't say we haven't been in the news lately...

Let's all hope the paradigm hasn't permanently shifted.

The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras: Artistic Triumphs and Economic Challenges

From the Yale Press

"This book analyzes the economic challenges facing symphony orchestras and contrasts the experience of orchestras in the United States (where there is little direct government support) and abroad (where governments typically provide large direct subsidies). Robert J. Flanagan explains the tension between artistic excellence and financial jeopardy that confronts most symphony orchestras. He analyzes three complementary strategies for addressing orchestras’ economic challenges—raising performance revenues, slowing the growth of performance expenses, and increasing nonperformance income—and demonstrates that none of the three strategies alone is likely to provide economic security for orchestras."
Robert J. Flanagan is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of International Labor Economics and Policy Analysis, Emeritus, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He lives in California.

The book is reviewed by Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi on her excellent blog ...

... and by Bruce Ridge on, whose review begins, "No one is going to read this book."

And is available, for a hefty price, at Amazon

I say we buy a copy and pass it around ...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Proud Former Player Speaks

Letter to the AJC from retired ASO musician, Patrick MacFarland.

As a proud former player with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (after 47 years) I must respond to the recent contract. 

This orchestra has been a world class orchestra, having toured Europe to packed houses with wonderful receptions and I am proud to have been part of the successes of Atlanta's fine ensemble.

However, the new contract between the musicians and management will be devastating to the quality of  the group. With such huge wage concessions, reducing the size of the orchestra and the number of weeks of playing, the effect will bring the lowering of the usual high quality of the music that we've come to expect from our fine ensemble.

The heavy handed treatment of the musicians, beginning with the termination of their health insurance and lockout is inexcusable. It is the job of management to create opportunities for financial gain Yet, they have failed to do so and the musicians have to sacrifice, and that they have dearly.   According to the article in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, CEO Stanley Romanstein earns $314,000.00 a year with $291,000.00 for Donald F. Fox, 2nd in charge in management. According to the same article, they have offered to take a 6% pay cut which comes to $18,840.00 for Mr. Romanstein, while the average musician will be losing around $20,000.00, or about 17%. Is this equitable? 

The orchestra will take several years to again become the same proud group that I knew when I played with them. From the world class status to a local group of demoralized musicians is thoroughly devastating to me. This is the death knell of a great orchestra. 

Congratulations to you, Mr. Romanstein, you must be a proud man!

Patrick McFarland
English horn player

Post Apocalyptic Fantasy

I imagine El Presidente waving his arms in front of Mr. Suggs, saying ... "Now repeat after me:   What the musicians are telling you are lies!  All lies!  Thursday was a good day ... 3 percent ... I -- Stanley R. Romenstein -- am the leader of this organization!  I am doing a pretty good job!"

Fact of the Day:  Did you know that there are 15 people in ASO management who make more than the musicians do?  I'm sure these people have devoted all their lives to their craft ...

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Locked Out

There must be a 'Guide to Bad Orchestra Management' being passed around.  The link to the Indianapolis Symphony's website tells an eerily similar tale.  

The following is a letter to the Indianapolis Symphony Musicians Board of Directors ... written by a long-time supporter of the ISO.

United By Music: Concert at Eddie's Attic

Now we're cooking!  You are invited to a special night of music making.  This Sunday, Sept 30, 2012.  Your first occasion to wear 'The Music is Ongoing' T-shirt ... 

United by Music

The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra were locked out of their jobs since August 25 ... denied salary, health benefits for themselves and their families, and their art.

Many of the Musicians of this great Orchestra will be performing in an exciting wide-ranging evening of chamber music at Eddie's Attic in Decatur on Sunday, the 30th of September.  The event will run from 7:00 PM until 10:00 PM

For Directions to Eddie's Attic, 515-B North McDonough St., Decatur, GA 30030, click on this impossibly long link:  

ATL Symphony Musicians Facebook page:

Union Busting 1.01

A carefully-worded press release announcing the ratification of the labor agreement between ASO and the ASOPA.  This will be printed verbatim in papers and newsfeeds everywhere ... but what it doesn't tell you is that ASO Management has not scrupled to use any method in the union-busting repertoire to reduce the orchestra's size and compensation.  If you have been following events here on ASOC Singers and Friends, you have read how ASO Management's and WAC's morality has been vested solely in the aim:  proven by their use of strong-arm tactics (i.e., the lock-out, cutting off salaries and health benefits during the 'negotiation process' in the full knowledge that some members of the orchestra had serious health problems) ... musicians were not allowed to address the board during talks ... musicians were subjected to dozens of humiliating and misleading statements to the media, not to mention misleading statements from the ASO President.  The lack of respect shown to an organization of ASO's stature and reputation was appalling.

I enjoyed the irony inherent in Jim Abrahamson's comment -- "We all want the same thing ...”  however, it's the subhead that best expresses the Board and WAC's moral view:  New Contract to Save $2.4 Million Per Year.

Nicely done, ASO Management.  Let's all go to the Casino Party!



ATLANTA — A two-year labor agreement between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA), the Atlanta Federation of Musicians, Local 148-462, and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra management was announced today. This will allow the Orchestra’s 2012-13 season to open as scheduled on Thursday, October 4, 2012, with Music Director Robert Spano and the renowned violinist Midori.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the musicians covers the period from September 23, 2012, through September 6, 2014, and amounts to $2.4 million in annual contractual savings. Additional savings will come as a result of ASO senior staff compensation —which will be reduced by 6% for the duration of the two-year contract— as well as unfilled staff positions, and savings from foregone wages and benefits from the musicians.

Management must still generate at least an additional $2.5 million in earned and contributed revenues to balance the annual projected budget deficit gap of $5 million. The Orchestra’s accumulated deficit is approaching $20 million — its annual operating budget is $45 million and its annual revenue is approximately $40 million.

Details of the newly-ratified contract include:


o 2012-13 Season (September 23, 2012–September 7, 2013):
 Annual, contractual base salary: $73,876.63
 41 Weeks: $1729.43/week
 9 Weeks: $330/week
o 2013-14 Season (September 8, 2013–September 6, 2014):
 Annual, contractual base salary: $75,936.06
 42 Weeks: $1729.43/week
 10 Weeks: $330/week
 Reduction of 93 full-time musicians to 88 full-time musicians, already achieved through attrition.
 Musician contribution to medical benefits for the first time.
 New provisions allowing each of the 88 full-time musicians a 22% share of any annual surplus
up to $3 million.

Since 2008, the ASO management has suggested that board members contribute more heavily to the Annual Fund and to financially support other efforts and events, which they have done. In that same time frame, ASO staff has endured layoffs, mandatory furloughs, salary freezes, hiring freezes, and increases in contribution to healthcare coverage.

Ticket sales have increased by 113 percent over the last decade and donations have also increased by 112 percent. In addition, the ASO initiated two additional net-positive contributing businesses: In 2004 it purchased SD&A Teleservices, Inc., (formerly MKTG Teleservices, Inc.), the nation’s oldest and largest provider of telemarketing services for cultural and cause-based non-profits; In 2008, it opened Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, giving the Orchestra three performance venues in the metro Atlanta area. Both of these businesses are significant positive contributors to the Orchestra’s bottom line.

“I am extremely pleased to know we have come to a resolution that will allow us to move our Orchestra to firmer financial ground,” said Atlanta Symphony Orchestra President Stanley E. Romanstein, Ph.D.  “Arriving at these contract concessions wasn’t easy, but it demonstrates the great partnership that we’ve always had with our outstanding musicians — we are immensely grateful to them. I would like to especially thank ASOPA President Daniel Laufer for his tireless representation of the Orchestra and his ongoing partnership in this process. I look forward to continuing our tradition of innovation and worldclass music-making that Atlanta has come to love and expect.”

“These are difficult and unfortunate economic realities we face, however, with this new agreement I am confident we can have the strong future we all desire,” said Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Board Chairman Jim Abrahamson. “We all want the same thing: an artistically vibrant and financially stable ASO that serves this community for years to come.”

Discussions and preparation for the contract renewal process started in fall 2011. Subsequently, two task forces with Orchestra, board, staff, and union representation began meeting to lay the groundwork for negotiations. As a result of this work, formal talks —which began in March 2012— were concluded by September 24, 2012.

During the negotiations, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was represented by ASO President & CEO Stanley E. Romanstein, Ph.D., Executive Vice President for Business Operations and Chief Financial Officer Donald F. Fox, Vice President for Orchestra Initiatives and General Manager John Sparrow, Orchestra Personnel Manager Russell Williamson, Vice President for Finance Susan Ambo, and Legal Counsel J. Thomas Kilpatrick of Alston+Bird. 

Representing the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association were Associate Principal Cello Daniel Laufer, cellist Joel Dallow, fourth horn Bruce Kenney, Principal Tuba Michael Moore, Principal Flute Christina Smith, Principal Trombone Colin Williams, violist Lachlan McBane, violinist Sandy Salzinger, and Legal Counsel Liza Hirsch Medina.

Sherman's Second Coming

Dry your eyes and harden your hearts. My take on this is that the battle may be lost, but the war has not yet begun.

The post-game analysis: the musicians sat down at a table where the deck was stacked. A coalition was established against them - it doesn't matter exactly who took part or when it came together. I'm guessing that it worked similarly to any of the large, boring meetings you attend at work - a few people dominate the discussion and everyone else just goes for the donuts and coffee. People who may have differing views cede to the alphas to keep peace, preserve position, or because they are not secure enough in their views to avoid being swayed.

Once the ranks were joined, all the coalition had to do was make their demand and refuse to negotiate. They knew they held all the cards. They sized up the situation and knew they could count on several immutable facts:

- the musicians aren't the ones with the money here. They make a solid, middle-class living, and they need their paychecks and insurance. Management knew they could wait them out.

- the majority of the musicians have established lives and families in ATL. Like a lot of us, to relocate would be a big deal and financial hardship (trying to sell homes, etc.). A principal player who is mobile could probably do it without too much difficulty, but it appears management was willing to let whoever could go, leave, regardless of the artistic impact. They knew that the rest of the people had to take whatever deal was offered, at least as a short-term solution.

- the coalition knew there was no vocal constituency that had any real influence. Let's face it - where were the voices of the thousands of people who annually attend ASO programs? Where was the media? Where were the "arts leaders" in the community? Nobody piped up - not until this blog. And we are a paper tiger to them.

- lastly, and most critically for the future of this institution, the allied management and board personnel were willing to sacrifice the organization, to break it, rather than back down. The breaking would have happened either by creating fissures within ASOPA as the lockout wore on, by bringing in replacements, or by just letting the band fold. It's textbook stuff.

Many business people would find what went on here entirely acceptable and even praiseworthy - the allies played hardball and won. And it's all about winning, and not at all about strengthening the organization, let alone preserving it's aesthetic values.

But the orchestra didn't break. They did the only right thing they could do in this situation. By agreeing to this travesty of a contract, Sherman didn't burn Atlanta to the ground a second time. For that, we must be truly thankful. But the core organizational leadership values of trust, honor, and integrity are broken, and the team that broke it is not the team to fix it. That's the next fight.

Dr. Romanstein and the respective boards need to be held accountable for the "gains" they claim they will make through this contract, and for how their "strategy" plays out over the next couple years. In the meantime, please support the musicians of the ASO. What they did saved us as well. Our preparation and performing are the best ways to thank them, but also - go to the concerts, everywhere they play, not just Symphony Hall. They have to know not only that their talents are appreciated, but that there is a future for classical music and the fine arts in Atlanta. Not a future of repetitive contraction until there's nothing left, but one of expansion, coalition-building in the positive sense, and greater financial rewards for arts professionals who choose to make Atlanta their home. That's part of the fight as well.

I'll see you in Rehearsal Hall so we can continue preparing for some kick-ass performances here and in NYC - unless I get fired before then.

#363 - Alto I

"Volunteers Ready to Party" ...?

Let's just pretend the whole thing never happened.

Yes. We are about the music.

Yes, Stephen, "We are about the music."

It's been a painful, difficult day and we have a long slog ahead of us, but not without beauty and music together.

I would like to share a relevant snippet from an interview of John O'Donohue by Krista Tippett of "On Being."  O'Donohue was something of a poet, mystic, philosopher who passed away not too long ago at the age of 52. Give yourself a minute to contemplate. You will recognize among us in these days the people he is describing . . . .

Q: When you think of the word beauty, what pictures come into your mind?

John O’Donohue: When I think of the word beauty, some of the faces of those I love come into mind. When I think of beauty, I also think of beautiful landscapes that I know. Then I think of acts of such lovely kindness that have been done to me by people who cared in bleak or shattered times, or when I needed to be loved and minded.

When I think of beauty I think of the unknown people, who are the real heroes, you never hear of them. They hold out on lines, on frontiers of awful want, awful situations, and manage to somehow go beyond the given impoverishment and offer gifts of possibility, imagination, and seeing.

I also think of music. I love music. I think that it is just “it.” I think music is what language would be if it could — you know?


From the Heart ...

Mr. Shaw charged us in our Atlanta Symphony Chorus warm-up more than once to remember that someone in our audience was hearing the music we were about to do for the first time, and someone was hearing it for the last time. Implied was our responsibility to perform in such a way that we could encourage someone to become a life-long music lover. And also to send someone to their reward with a pure experience of the Divine. It is a high calling we accept each time we enter the rehearsal hall or walk on the stage of Symphony Hall. It doesn't come from management offices and boards rooms. It comes from the hearts of performers. You can build a life on it. Remember as we move into this season that music is a life and death matter.  I'm hurt, but the music is what I need to heal.  In all this business remember that we are about the music.  

Stephen Reed

T-1, #259

Slouching Toward September

The August 15 letter from the ASOPA Committee to the ASO Board.  John Ruff reminds us that the current contract contains 130% of the cuts proposed then.

August 15, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,

We hope your summer is going well. We wish this letter were simply a greeting to look forward to great music-making in a new Atlanta Symphony season. Unfortunately, we write instead with an urgent plea for your intervention to avert a catastrophe that threatens to derail the upcoming season and cause permanent damage to the ASO as a whole.

On May 15, ASO management announced a new business model to “ensure the continuation of great musical experiences [and]…find new ways to deliver our art for the 21st century….a template for the future that other orchestras could emulate.” Yet in contract negotiations, the ASO management is insisting on terms that will hurl us backwards rather than propel us forward, gut the heart of the Orchestra, render untenable the work lives of the very musicians who create these great musical experiences, and make it difficult if not impossible to retain them or attract new talent.

Last winter, several of you astutely questioned ASO executives’ erroneous claim that they were prevented by law from discussing contract negotiations with the board. ASO executives reassured you at a subsequent meeting on March 12 that the Draconian terms they had presented were “just the first  proposal.” Five months later, they have not retreated from extreme measures that would strip the orchestra of its artistic integrity. They propose to reduce the total musicians’ expenses by 26%, slashing each musician’s compensation permanently by over $20,000, reduce the number of musicians  from 95 to 89, and reserve the right to impose further reductions at their will.

The WAC board and ASO executives have announced that if we do not agree to their demands before August 25, they will lock out the Orchestra and cancel our health and dental insurance.  While ostensibly bargaining in good faith, they clearly planned for this confrontation by scheduling the start of the 2012-13 season weeks after our contract expires, later than any season has ever begun before.  management apparently believes this will intimidate musicians yet pass unnoticed by the public and other interested parties, such as yourself.

Within the music world, the turmoil has already attracted plenty of attention. The troubling state of affairs has hurt the orchestra’s reputation and threatens to inflict long-term damage. At a recent ASO audition, only one-third of the usual number of candidates appeared, none of whom was qualified for even a temporary position. Numerous orchestra members are preparing for auditions elsewhere. Three have been invited to play with the New York Philharmonic this coming season, and may not return.  Even without further reductions, the ASO ranks 14th in salary out of the top 18 full-time American orchestras. We must take steps to stanch this talent drain, and resolve conflicts that will otherwise hasten the demise of a great orchestra.  Is this the “template for the future” that the ASO management claims to aspire to achieve as a model for others to emulate? Certainly it does not live up to the WAC’s commitment to “never sacrifice the quality of the art.’’ Nor could the ASO expect to add to the 27 Grammy Awards it has brought back to Atlanta. Rather, it would cause irreparable harm to the orchestra and generate years of ill will.

We musicians are fiscal conservatives ourselves – we have to be in a profession in which our incomes do not rise significantly over the course of our careers even in the best of times as most professionals’ do. We do understand that changes are required, and are willing to help the ASO achieve a stronger financial position. The boards and management of the WAC and the ASO, as well as the musicians, must all play a fair part in achieving that financial stability. At the same time, we know that the financial problems of the ASO are not that the musicians are “just too expensive;” after all, the costs of employing 95 musicians comprise a mere 28% of the total ASO budget. The sacrifices must be shared.  Management has claimed they have made cuts in staff compensation comparable to those they are demanding of us. We have yet to see any proof of this statement.

As many of you are aware, Orchestra musicians already made difficult concessions in 2009. We made others earlier to create the complement we have, steps we took — together with the Music Director — because both sides understood how important it was for artistic excellence. Those agreements, negotiated in good faith, helped propel the Atlanta Symphony to its place as one of the nation’s preeminent symphony orchestras, which in turn burnished Atlanta’s image as great city.

Today, the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) board of directors proposes to undo that compact, taking away those benefits without any recompense.

The WAC board does not seem to understand or value what it takes to make a great symphony orchestra. Each member of the Orchestra devoted years to practice and individual study with eminent teachers before qualifying even to participate in the grueling audition process one must pass to play in the Orchestra, and each of us must continue to practice for many hours every week (whether being paid for our work or not) throughout our professional careers. Our instruments put many of us into debt that dwarfs student loans, auto loans, and even mortgages.  ASO musicians’ level of expertise is comparable to that of major-league athletes, surgeons, lawyers or top engineers: it takes virtuoso musicians and years of working together to develop the cohesive, subtle, powerful sound that the ASO  capably produces week after week. If it was easy to plug musicians into a group and sound fabulous, very city would have an internationally recognized orchestra!

It is glaringly apparent our institution must evolve in order to thrive in the 21st century. Other orchestras — Los Angeles, Boston, St. Louis, Houston, Nashville, National, San Francisco, and the New York Philharmonic, to name a few — have made exciting innovations in what they offer patrons and the larger communities they serve and in how they fundraise. The Dallas Symphony just announced a balanced budget after expecting a shortfall of $6.5 million. They expanded their donor base, added significant corporate and foundation support, and generated positive responses to new marketing and audience development initiatives – all areas where the ASO falls short. Atlanta has just as many Fortune 500 headquarters as Dallas. Yet the many creative ideas we offer for programming to reach untapped and underserved audiences meet with silence and inaction.

The WAC model for supporting and evaluating the ASO must be reevaluated. The WAC board historically judges and punishes the Orchestra failing to produce a profit in each of its venues and activities – an entirely unrealistic goal. At the same time, the board impedes you, our ASO leaders, from forging relationships with corporations, foundations, and others that would enable us to raise additional funding, and redirects funds that could help us to other uses. One need only compare the WAC’s corporate donors to the ASO’s to see how few corporate contributions reach the Orchestra.

We are eager to realize the potential that exists, and we imagine you are, too. We hear only about what the ASO can’t do – they can’t find sponsors, corporate or individual donors, or government support.  they can’t sustain future summer concerts. (Yet watch Stanley Romanstein speaking just last summer about our summer home.)  And while management touts education and community engagement, they actually propose to cut community outreach by ASO musicians instead.

We need to bring to your attention one more related issue, that of the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater at Encore Park, which we believe merits close analysis. The amphitheater was touted as the Orchestra’s new summer home and a revenue center that would fund the Symphony and support our work there and elsewhere. We all sacrificed for this initiative, agreeing to lean contracts, concessions, and reallocations of funding in the expectation of added revenue in the future and a superior summer home where we could build new audiences. But after millions of dollars invested to build and run VWA, the income has fallen dramatically short of promises and projections. Unlike the Orchestra, VWA was designed for the purpose of generating revenue to support various functions of the ASO. Perhaps fiscal conservatism and the level of due diligence we exercise in our audition procedures should have been –  and now must – be applied to VWA.

We need for the ASO to exercise strong and visionary leadership and for the WAC to fulfill its role as the supportive parent organization of a renowned symphony orchestra. We believe new WAC CEO Virginia Hepner when she says she cares “all about artistic excellence…having more arts and culture…and world-class art and education,” values we share with you as well.

The WAC and ASO boards need to get to the bottom of the current precarious fiscal condition and right the ship – without throwing the Orchestra, its most precious cargo, overboard.  Musicians are willing to play a part in cutting costs. On August 2, we submitted our second proposal, which includes deep concessions. We proposed not only cuts in compensation, but also a permanent reduction in the size of the orchestra (with additional unfilled positions), two weeks of furloughs, and contributions to our health care premiums. These add up to a contribution of more than $2 million over two years. We are still waiting to see that sacrifice is shared and felt equally across the entire ASO organization.

The future of the ASO hangs in the balance. Your actions will determine whether the ASO remains the prize-winning orchestra in which so many people have lovingly invested for many decades.

We thank you, as always, for your generous gifts of time, support, and leadership, as well as for your generous gifts of time, support, and leadership, as well as for your friendship. We are equally grateful that you appreciate and understand the value — and the need — of together finding an economically viable solution that does not compromise the excellence the ASO has painstakingly built over generations. Please take action to avert the disaster we all face without your help, and work with us so hat the ASO as a unified organization can ensure its future.


The ASOPA Committee on behalf of all ASO musicians

ASOPA Committee: Daniel Laufer, President / Joel Dallow, Vice President Bruce Kenney,
Secretary / Michael Moore, Treasurer 
At Large Members: Lachlan McBane, Sandy Salzinger,
Christina Smith, Colin Williams 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: The Battle is Won, but the War is Lost

Atlanta, GA, September 26, 2012:

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA) announced that the musicians voted to accept a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the term of September 23, 2012 –  September 6, 2014.

In an unprecedented and extremely painful move designed to keep the music going, ASOPA agreed to every dollar in concessions that the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) and ASO management have demanded since the lockout began on August 25.  In the interest of continuing to bring music to the community and opening the season on time, ASOPA has accepted $5.2 million in concessions over a brief two-year agreement.

The concessions were made against the backdrop of ASO board chair Jim Abrahamson’s claim that the ASO is “on the brink of extinction.”  Despite its executives’ dire assessment, the only ASO gesture toward sharing the financial pain is an agreement that CEO Stanley Romanstein, his second in command Donald F. Fox (whose salaries alone were $314,000 and $291,000, respectively, according to the most recent IRS documents filed by the ASO) and three other ASO  managers  will merely have their aggregate pay cut by 6%.  No staff running ASO subsidiaries, including Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, will be affected.  The musicians had proposed that all staff earning the equivalent of their base salary and above share equally in the musicians’ sacrifices, which would have yielded exponentially greater savings.

Those charged with overseeing the ASO have done historic damage to the future of the Orchestra by insisting on an arbitrary “musicians’ share” of $5.2 million. They have set the ASO back over 31 years in work weeks for the musicians and over 10 years in musicians’ compensation, not even taking inflation into account. This will make it all the more challenging to retain and continue to attract the talent that has brought international acclaim and national prominence to Atlanta’s Grammy award-winning ensemble.

The musicians’ costs were a mere 28% of the total ASO budget in recent years, a figure which will now drop to 24%. Yet the musicians will now produce the vast majority of the savings demanded by the ASO and the WAC, absorbing 17% and 14% individual pay cuts in the two years of the agreement. The number of musicians will drop from 95 to 88, a figure that is almost eclipsed by the current ASO administrative staff of 74. The season will be reduced from 52  to 41 weeks in 2012-13 and 42 weeks in 2013-14. The musicians also agreed to shoulder part of their health insurance premiums, and to increased flexibility in working conditions, allowing ASO management to utilize the orchestra in smaller ensembles simultaneously.

When the ASO was last the size and season length it is being reduced to now, the administrative staff was smaller than 15.  The musicians are not, and have never been, the cause of financial problems at the ASO, and in light of these agonizing cuts cannot be cited as such in the future. Their world-class performance is in stark contrast to that of the ASO’s leadership, both current and past. Management must be held accountable for under-performance at nearly every level for the past decade. For example, the operations of the ASO’s expensive summer venues, Chastain Park and Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (where the musicians will hardly play in the future) have repeatedly failed to meet revenue projections. These failures account for a huge proportion of the ASO’s recent deficits.  The ASO and WAC boards and the public must demand serious results from management -- results that will begin rebuilding the ASO to major-league status.

The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have agreed to these deep concessions for one reason alone, and that is to do what they do best: continue to play great music for their public at an extraordinarily high level.  They hope you will join them in support and recognition of this sacrifice by attending upcoming concerts, donating generously, and recognizing that the people on stage are the assets that must be preserved.

What Board Members Didn't Hear

Danny Laufer had planned to address the ASO Board of Directors with the following prepared speech.  Stanley Romenstein did not allow him to speak.  Here is the text of his letter, followed by a short note he sent to Board members.  

Ladies and Gentlemen of the ASO Board of Directors,

I would like to briefly speak to you foremost as a member of the ASO for 21 years. After all the years I and my colleagues have invested on stage and after all the years you all have invested in the ASO -- it pains me greatly to see the damage that has been done to the future of the orchestra during these eight months.

The musicians were made fully aware that our August 25th proposal -- containing the annual and deep concessions of $2 million that Stanley had asked us to agree to, met with the ready approval of this board, only to be shot down by the WAC as insufficient – as not taking enough away from the musicians. Yet in the hope of preserving the ASO, we put aside our anger and, after an incredibly painful process, the ASOPA Committee on September 19 made the proposal that met the WAC’s and your demand for $2.58 million in cuts.  You must understand the depth of this proposal because it sets the ASO back 31 years in the number of weeks of work per year (to when our management staff consisted of around fifteen people).  It pushes our pay backwards and downwards ten years, not even taking inflation into account.

My orchestra has sacrificed way too much already to call itself even the ASO we remember as the winter season ended last June. We have been bullied into just about every concession on the monetary side, and yet today still continue to face further demands when a deal should have been struck weeks ago with our still huge but more reasonable $2 million offer. The several remaining issues that we have articulated to your lawyer -- after getting rid of every one we possibly could -- can be resolved – tonight -- and we hope this happens.

I am here to state to you as our board that these negotiations need to be completed on terms which the musicians can also agree on -- if there is to be any possibility of a future for this once great institution.  We have members having to accept work in other orchestras as the days and weeks pass, an exodus that will only grow as a natural consequence of having no pay and no health care. You have the ability to bring these negotiations to a conclusion, and I ask you to make your voices heard to the leadership team of the ASO. I will leave you shortly so you are able to speak in private.

Finally, a very few of you have greatly misjudged the character of my colleagues and myself. In one case, you have not even met me or my colleagues once.  This is unfortunate, divisive, and deeply disappointing to me personally.  Being aware of the invitation sent to all of you to meet with us on September 16th and of the e-mail quickly following that requested that you not attend, we were shocked at the entirely inaccurate and flawed prediction made about what we would be doing, saying, or having you do there.  We just wanted to have a relaxed conversation with you where you could ask us also anything you want. The “empty room” as referred to in the e-mail you received did not send to our orchestra the message you were hoping for.

Today we are – by necessity, not by choice -- fighting to preserve the ASO as an institution, and as an orchestra – a singular body, not a hastily assembled group of individual musicians. Tomorrow, with this Board’s good choices exercised today – we really should – and can -- be making music and supporting a future for the ASO.

Please help the ASO cross the finish line in these negotiations in order that we can try to let the healing and rebuilding begin.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you directly. We have known many of you for many years and do appreciate your support through these trying times even if it has been in private conversations to this date.

Dear ASO Board members,

It was very disappointing to have seen that when I asked this afternoon to speak for a few minutes to all of you, Jim Abrahamson turned to Stanley who shook his head no. Since I was silenced, I thought I would share with you what I had prepared to say to all of you.

I did want to agree with Stanley that the deficit needs to be balanced but how that is accomplished can be done in many ways. I hope most of you will understand that in my body, working together is called compromising. I am quite disillusioned at this point what our leadership has in mind besides being in the black.

With much regret not being able to speak to you as if I am a danger of some kind, I hope you take this at face value for what this letter is regardless if you receive a follow up letter from Jim Abrahamson and / or Stanley Romanstein.

With appreciation to you.
Danny Laufer

A Plea from an Insider

This was given to me through a trusted intermediary ... it's from an employee who prefers not to be identified, for reasons which are self-explanatory.  I feel like I have just received a reason to back to the front lines.

Please, please do not let any of this deter anyone from patronizing the Woodruff Arts Center. A boycott will only hurt lower level employees like myself.

While my upper management has essentially forbidden any of us from discussing this with, well, anyone, I am here to say that most WAC employees side with the musicians and labor. The ASO is the only division that has the luxury of a union. The rest of us wish we did. In fact, we were subjected to an all WAC meeting in which we were commanded to chant, now all together, “Negotiations are ongoing” over and over. I am shocked at how hamfisted our management has handled this situation. And trust me, the issues with ASO are not the only labor vs. MGMT issues at hand.

Woodruff Arts Center has become a bloated beast that is no longer serving its umbrella services. And make no mistake, WAC’s only reason for existence is to serve the ASO, the High Museum of Art, and the Alliance Theatre.

But once again, I implore readers, do not boycott the WAC. Many other people, from box office workers to theatrical technicians need your support. We don’t have a union to represent us. We have been forbidden from having a union. We tried it once. Everyone who supported it got fired.

Support the arts, crucify the poseurs who take advantage of the artists, artisans and craftsmen.

Prospect of ASO Losing Its Premier Standing

A letter from John Ruff (#101) in response to the ASO Board's patron tour solicitation (below)

Dear Ms. Hardegree –

As a member of the ASO Chorus for 20 years, and patron and subscriber since 1979 (my mother goes back to 1947), I am somewhat baffled you are soliciting this patron tour without so much as a whisper about the ASO lockout and prospects for timely resolution. Surely you do not expect significant positive response in this form.

I understand the financial pressures on the southern art treasure which is the ASO. Unlike many of my ASOC colleagues, I was not offended by Mr. Romanstein’s prescription to us for response to questions on the subject for the simple reason all sides agreed to a media blackout. However, you must know that the appearance by him of a somewhat cavalier attitude and growing ASO bitterness about his perceived solidarity with the WAC Board in opposition to the institution he administers is a real problem.

I do not know the details of the negotiations. We are aware the ASOPA has made a substantial offer in good faith which was met initially with zero flexibility. The WAC Board has a choice: Either A) it can show essential flexibility in the form of modest administrative cuts, perhaps limited to the upper echelon in pay/benefit scale, and emerge not unlike the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (which of course is on much better financial footing but nevertheless limited future pay and health benefits in an instructive recent exercise of give and take); or B) it can bury its ostrich head with one of three likely outcomes: 1) the ASOPA mimics the Detroit Symphony and loses its premier standing, 2) the ASO ceases to exist in any form recognizable to the benefit of all the people of Atlanta and the world, or 3) the ASO and WAC part ways. Option A seems to be the only sensible method of extraction for both sides. How I long for the force that was Robert Shaw.

I have just learned the ASO has caved under option B(1). I hope I am wrong about the probable result. The only impediment now is administrative flexibility.

I realize you are likely “only the messenger” and have copied others with this short plea for the cultural health of the Southeast.

John T. Ruff
Bass 101

Text of email sent to Patrons 9/25/12

Following last season’s tremendous success, the Alliance Theatre and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra are finalizing details for our second Patron Tour to New York City this upcoming October 25-27, 2012.  This year’s trip celebrates both the Orchestra’s performance at Carnegie Hall and Alliance Theatre’s National Playwriting Competition. 

Our Patron Tour is a unique collaboration between the Alliance Theatre and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and will include exclusive opportunities, incredible speakers and, of course, first class art.  Patrons will enjoy a behind-the-scenes play reading, a performance of Bring It On: The Musical on Broadway, fine dining, as well as the performance by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and a post-concert reception at the renowned Carnegie Hall.

The enclosed flyer outlines our itinerary.  Whether you choose to join us for the full experience or only selected portions, we hope you will take advantage of this special arts offering.  Again this year our tour is priced at $1,250 which includes a $150 patron tour donation. For more information or to reserve your space, please contact Zachary Brown, Director of Volunteer Services and Special Events at (404) 733-4864 or Group rate information for lodging at New York City’s Roosevelt Hotel is available upon request. We encourage you to sign up soon as we are already booked at 65% capacity.

As nationally prominent organizations in our respective disciplines, we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take those most near and dear to our hearts with us on the road as we celebrate our accomplishments together.  We look forward to seeing you in New York!

Susan V. Booth
Stanley Romenstein

Announcement from The President

Of course he's extremely pleased.  He's 'That Guy' ... the one who brought down and gutted a world-class orchestra in just a month.    

September 26, 2012

Dear Friends,

I am extremely pleased to share that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has reached an agreement with our musicians on a union contract for the next two years. The new agreement covers the period from September 23, 2012, through September 6, 2014, and amounts to $2.4 million in annual savings through contract concessions in each year of the contract. Our new contract positions the Orchestra for a fiscally sound future, which will allow us to continue our tradition of innovation and world-class music-making. A copy of our news release, which includes details for the terms of the contract, is here.

This new agreement is an important step in addressing the Orchestra's nearly $20 million accumulated deficit. This contract, together with other initiatives, will allow us to close our annual $5 million budget shortfall, leading to a financially stable future.

As we've worked over the last six months toward this contract, it was clear that, despite our differences, we all envisioned the same thing: a thriving music community that would flourish for decades to come. I am deeply grateful to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association and the musicians for their commitment, passion, and ongoing partnership.

Let the music begin!


Stanley E. Romanstein

Stanley E. Romanstein, Ph.D.
President & CEO
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra