Union steps in over Chicago’s unpaid Beethoven Festmain
George LePauw, the festival’s director, has received a stiff letter from the Chicago Federation of Musicians. He is threatened with a musicians boycott unless he pays up.
George Lepauw, President and Artistic Director
International Beethoven Project
P.O. Box 14149
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Dear Mr. Lepauw,
On behalf of the Chicago Federation of Musicians (“CFM”), I am writing regarding the
failure of the International Beethoven Festival (the “Festival”) to pay the wages it owes
to the musicians who participated in last year’s orchestral performances.
Because the Festival did not file a musical services contract with the CFM, the CFM is
unable to take any action on behalf of the affected musicians. I have, however, followed
this story with great concern; and given your recent announcement that you are
proceeding with a 2014 Festival despite failing to honor your commitments to the
musicians who performed in 2013, I am compelled to go on the record and state, in no
uncertain terms, the CFM’s opposition to the Festival’s actions.
The Festival’s treatment of its musicians has been atrocious. You engaged some of the
best musicians from Chicago and beyond; you promised to pay them; they performed,
by all accounts admirably; and then you failed to pay them. Citing financial difficulties,
you promised at various points over the past ten months that payment would be
forthcoming. According to what you said in the Chicago Reader, only “a quarter” of the
sixty-plus musicians in last year’s orchestra have been paid in full. The other three
quarters have received only partial payment and, ten months after the performances,
are still waiting for the rest. It is unclear why certain favored musicians received
payment before others.
In an email just a few months ago, you assured the musicians that you would “not
proceed” with a 2014 Festival “unless finances allow and our debt to you is paid.” But
you have now announced plans to present the Festival in August 2014, and engaged a
new roster of musicians – many of whom are not the same musicians who played in
2013, and to whom you still owe wages. Your assurance of payment has proven false;
and now it appears that you intend to exploit another group of musicians with the 2014
Recently, in comments on the blog Slipped Disc, you vigorously defended your decision
to proceed with a 2014 Festival without paying last year’s musicians. Worse, you tried
to paint yourself as the victim of musicians who “complained on social media.” In an
email to the unpaid musicians last November, you complained that you “had to give up
on gigs in order to” deal with this issue.
Mr. Lepauw, you are not the victim here. Given your background, you should know
through personal experience the struggles that free-lance musicians face when trying to
earn a living, and how each and every gig counts when bills come due each month.
You should also be keenly aware of the harm that results when employers say “if you
want to get paid, keep your mouth shut and don’t complain” or “you should do this for
the love of the music.” Yet that is precisely the tactic you have chosen. Your words
claim you are a “musician’s advocate,” yet your actions make public an alarming lack of
regard and respect for your musician colleagues.
Be advised that the CFM will be urging all musicians to decline employment with the
2014 Festival, or, if they have already accepted employment, to withdraw. The CFM will
also be calling for the public to boycott the Festival until last year’s musicians are paid.
Gary Matts, President
Chicago Federation of Musicians