September 22, 2014
From the singers of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus (ASOC):
An open letter to the management of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Woodruff Arts Center:
We, the members of the ASOC, declare our unwavering support for and solidarity with the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in their effort to continue to provide our city with nationally and internationally recognized first-class performances of the orchestral and choral repertoire.
We are a group of volunteers, and so are not subjects of the recent contract negotiations directly. However, we believe that we know this orchestra as well as anyone, since we have stood behind them for the last 44 years since Robert Shaw established us, and we stand behind them today. It pains us to see what they are experiencing, not only because of the harm to them as individuals, but also because of what we see as the long-lasting harm that can come to our making extraordinary music together.
The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra can no longer perform as a result of a lockout imposed upon them by the ASO management. This lockout occurred despite the diligent efforts of the musicians to meet face-to-face with management in an attempt to avoid shutting down the ASO season.
Management believes it holds all the cards. During the last negotiations in 2012, the ASO musicians agreed to salary cuts of 14 percent, largely due to a reduction in the ASO schedule from 52 weeks to 42 weeks. As a result, some of the ASOʼs top musicians have left for other orchestras. They did not want to leave Atlanta and a symphony orchestra widely acknowledged to be one of the countryʼs best. They had no choice, as recent negotiations have made clear.
There has been a remarkable lack of good faith in these negotiations. ASO President and CEO Stanley Romanstein, who makes $360,000 annually plus bonuses, refused all requests to meet with the musicians during the final hours before the 2012-2014 collective bargaining agreement expired, forcing them to submit their proposals via email, despite the fact that they had offered to continue working under the previous agreement while negotiations continued.
The Woodruff Arts Center and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra management appear to believe that downsizing and reducing the quality of the orchestra will somehow reduce a deficit that has actually dropped substantially over the last two years, largely due to concessions the musicians have made. The proposed four-year contract would offer the musicians no raise in the first year and minor raises in subsequent years, all of which would be more than offset by increases in the amounts they would have to pay for health care. In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, management has demanded that the size of the full-time complement of the orchestra be left undetermined in the contract, a condition that is completely unacceptable to any self-respecting orchestra. Management has also demanded that they have a final say in the selection of orchestra personnel, an artistic decision that has always been and should always remain solely the province of the Music Director.
The proposed agreement is so egregious that internationally acclaimed Music Director Robert Spano and Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles have taken the unprecedented step of weighing in to ask the board and management “to acknowledge the sacrifice the musicians have already made, and to examine other ways and areas to establish sustainability.” Spanoʼs commitment to the ASO is such that he has donated a substantial amount of his salary to the Symphony and personally has helped fund an appearance at Carnegie Hall last spring that management would not finance.
We are members of the unpaid ASO Chorus, an award-winning group of dedicated singers who donate our time, talents, and energy to ensure that the players of the ASO have a choral organization worthy of their high standards. We have a long shared history with the ASO and we stand solidly behind these professionals in their efforts to ensure that the ASO remains one of the countryʼs most respected musical organizations. Atlanta should be proud of these dedicated men and women. They have given up enough. It is time for the ASO management and the City of Atlanta to reward them, not just for the sacrifices they have made over the last two years but for the amazing professionals they have been and continue to be. The loss of the ASO for even a few months is something no city that claims to be an international destination should countenance.
Signed by 154 Members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus
(Ranging in Years of Service in the ASOC from 5 Charter Members (1970) to 13 New Members)