Sunday, January 6, 2013

An ASO Musician Speaks ... The ASO Board (Hopefully) Listens

The following address was delivered by incoming ASOPA President Paul Murphy to the ASO Board on December 10, 2012.  

"Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.  It is not taken for granted nor lightly by me or by my predecessor, Danny Laufer.  I have been a member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for about half of my life.  During my time there have been 3 Music Directors, 3 President/Executive Directors, countless board chairs, but ... I've had only one stand partner.  Musicians are by nature inextricably wedded to our art; the instruments we play and the music we perform define who we are.  Our "jobs" similarly are more than hours clocked for a paycheck ... though we clock at least double the hours we spend onstage in rehearsals and performances.  As Robert Shaw so eloquently expressed, the ideals of music as the "persistent focus of our intelligence, aspiration, and goodwill" are the reason we do what we do.  

We welcome your efforts to repair the bridges, so carefully built over the last 16 years, that were so quickly and severely damaged this year. There is much to be done both within the ASO and the broader Woodruff Arts Center organization.  The Atlanta symphony Orchestra is this institution’s greatest asset and not the great liability we have been portrayed to be.  We all must be diligent and demand accountability from every area of those entrusted to keep our Symphony fiscally healthy.  The startling revelation of the embezzlement of nearly $1.5 million from the WAC pains and angers us all – but especially the musicians, only weeks after making enormous and unprecedented concessions in negotiations.  Exacerbating the situation, the WAC brushed off that figure as a minimal fraction, though so much less than that – trumpeted as insuperably huge by the same WAC – would have made a decent and humane musicians’ settlement possible.  

The musicians were told at the bargaining table as well as privately by Stanley and other senior management that large donations would be forthcoming as long as the musicians accepted the tremendous concessions demanded of us.  Millions of dollars were waiting in the wings but the musicians had to go first.  These promises worked in part to induce us to agree to a plainly unacceptable contract.  We are now almost in the middle of December and have heard no news until this meeting today about any major gift of any kind.  The hope is that what we were told were not just empty promises but words backed up with concrete fact.  We are deeply troubled by the lack of development in this critical area of the ASO.  It is heartening to hear of new monies coming in thanks to the Delta Initiative.  I assure you the musicians will be the loudest to applaud any and all successes in this area. 

During the previous decade we were also induced to make freezes and smaller increases along with concessions that would give us a permanent summer home. A large and positive revenue stream from Verizon Amphitheater would help the ASO to stabilize the annual budget. Neither has come to pass, nor the answer to the persistent question, why does Verizon Amphitheater so chronically underperform?  Recently we were told that it missed its budgeted projection by $900,000, and among other things that it costs too much even to turn on the lights, so we cannot perform there. We can see how little oversight Verizon has had, and wonder what will be found when it is carefully examined and audited, as it needs to be, from inception to present.  How did this happen?

We know it is your passion and generosity that makes this great Orchestra possible, and the dedication and artistry of my colleagues that brings it to lifeTogether we are stronger than anything that is broken within us. But we must expect and demand great performances from all the areas of the organization. We must adapt where needed. But we must all be wary of the diluting or hijacking of our core mission -- a great symphony orchestra providing the highest levels of artistic accomplishment through our performances of great classical music.

I realized during our current “Christmas with the ASO” concerts that I have performed that show well over 100 times since joining this magnificent Orchestra. It’s during this time of year that many of us miss Robert Shaw most keenly. I can’t play the pieces we did this weekend without seeing his blue eyes blazing and feeling the unifying spirit he pulled from each one of us. His words never rang truer... In Atlanta, the arts have a chance to become what the history of man has shown that they should be - the guide and impetus to human understanding, individual integrity and the common good. They are not an opiate, an avoidance, or a barrier but a unifying spirit and labor.”

In that spirit we thank you for your commitment, and your support as the ASO repairs and rebuilds for a better future."

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