Exclusive: How deep is Atlanta’s black hole?

Exclusive: How deep is Atlanta’s black hole?


norman lebrecht

September 04, 2014

Two years ago, musicians in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra took a $14,000 pay cut to help cover a projected deficit of $1.5 million.

The musicians were assured this was a one-off sacrifice in extraordinary circumstances. Now they are being asked for further pay and job cuts. Their contract expires Saturday night. The management, led by Stanley Romanstein, is threatening a lockout.


However, it has now emerged in the negotiating room that Stanley Romanstein posted a deficit of $2,786,000 in financial year 2013, almost twice as much as the $1.5 million he’d predicted. The loss was caused by Romanstein’s failure to manage the budget and raise donations.

Romanstein, a stranger to humility, is demanding that musicians give up their jobs and part of their health care to pay for his shortcomings. He has rejected an appeal by the orchestra’s music director and principal guest conductor to avert an ‘unhealthy’ situation.

That’s what the Atlanta dispute is really about. It’s quite black and white.



(picture from the 2012 dispute)


UPDATE: Statement tonight by the musicians:

Atlanta, GA September 4, 2014

The current contract of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians expires at midnight on Saturday September 6, 2014. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association has been engaged in negotiations with ASO management for the last eight months.

Two years ago, the ASO musicians took a $14,000 annual pay cut. The musicians agreed to this because the ASO and Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) management stated that they needed this concession in order to balance the budget, and to create a new business model for the ASO.

The musicians were assured that this cut was a one-time only concession that would be met in equal measure by additional fundraising. CEO Stanley Romanstein has failed to raise the funding necessary to balance the budget. Meanwhile, the WAC rewarded him with a new three-year contract, despite a catastrophic failure to reach budgeted goals during FY13.

It is important to remember this: The ASO musicians account for only a quarter of the ASO’s budget, and once again, the management of the ASO and the WAC are demanding that every single musician shoulders thousands of dollars in additional concessions.


  • hvs says:

    The ASO’s Mgr is obviously trying to reclaim the title of “World’s Worst Arts Manager” from the Minnesota Orchestra CEO.

    • Amy says:

      That should be FORMER Minnesota Orchestra CEO, Michael Henson. Kevin Smith is acting in a temporary capacity until a permanent replacement is found.
      And by all accounts….he’s doing everything right.

  • william osborne says:

    If musician’s salaries account for only 25% of the budget, where is the other 75% going?

  • Joan Devoe says:

    And that, William Osborne, is Mr. Romanstein’s failure that must be accounted for.

  • harold braun says:

    Mr.Romanstein challenges Michael Henson for the title of worst orchestra manager and biggest fraud in this business ever!

  • william osborne says:

    American orchestras and opera companies are not facing a financial crisis so much as a crisis in poor management that is spread throughout the industry. Classical music arts administration in the USA needs to fundamentally rethink itself.

    • Marshall says:

      American orchestras, opera companies, the arts in general, are facing a crisis of relevancy in American society. To believe that in every case it’s a question of bad management, or mismanagement is missing the point. (related to this is one of the criticisms of Romanstein is that he failed to raise donations. It is deadly to spend your life as an arts administrator licking the asses of the rich, but beyond that, the well is dry-they are not putting their money in performing arts-get it already)

      What I hear on this blog over and over sounds like arranging chairs on the Titanic-this is a crisis of values, the very relevancy of art in the electronic, consumer world. How is that to be addressed is the real challenge. It will take more than some lip service about education, and outreach. Why music programs and education have almost vanished from American schools, is not the cause, it is the result.

      I don’t have the answer; there may not be one.

      • william osborne says:

        Don’t worry, Third World countries like Venezuela will keep classical music alive. Istanbul, Turkey is so behind the times that it has more opera performances per year than Seattle (about 44 vs. 54 if I remember right.) These countries are so backward that they haven’t heard that classical music is irrelevant and antiquated. Venezuela’s wide-spread and highly effective music education programs are especially ridiculous. Another sign of their primitiveness is that arts administrators there don’t “lick ass” as you put it. In an act of abysmal stupidity, they have wide-ranging public funding systems…

        • Marshall says:

          You’re putting me on? The fate of classical music and Western art is in the hands of Venezuela and Turkey? It’s come to that. One is dysfunctional, just over the reign of one maniac, and Turkey is hanging in the balance-until the generals step in.

          I know this blog is based in Britain, and I get the sense that many of the people who contribute to it are British or European, In any case my impression is that there is a limited understanding of the real America. It seems like it is seen through the lens of art and culture-as if the US is NYC or Boston. Not only is there no chance that the public coffers will support art to any large degree-and what support there is, is always under attack-but, as I said, the status, and even the sense of responsibility, that the moneyed classes used to have for high arts, has nearly vanished.

          • William Safford says:

            Don’t forget China.

          • Marshall says:

            Meaning? A country run by principles that are in direct contradiction to the spirit and meaning of great music and art. A government that functions the way a mafia syndicate does, that tolerates art as long as it stays in a safe, unthreatening corner. A system that needs to heavily censor the Internet. Is sliiped disc and free discussion even permitted? A place Beethoven would have found unbearable.

            But maybe music is only about technical facility-and has no other deeper meaning.

          • william osborne says:

            Like censoring “Klinghofer” at the Met?

          • Marshall says:

            Let’s strive for accuracy here-Klinghoffer is not being “censored” or altered. It will be publicly performed- performed a number of times. As you probably know, it won’t be an HD broadcast.

            So we are comparing that to: China-Tianamen Square, etc.

            Venezuela–Hugo Chavez, no toilet paper and 62% inflation

            Turkey-European Court of Human Rights issued 1600 judgements, and rising Islamic fundamentalism

          • william osborne says:

            Yeah, yeah, yeah. Taking “Klinghofer” out of 2000 cinemas where it was to be broadcast isn’t censorship. Now tell me about those smoking gun mushroom clouds in Iraq…

          • Marshall says:

            What disturbs me is your need to conflate issues, and your lack of precision-but after all, anything for a blog dispute. (yes,sure, I favored the Iraq war because…..why bother?) Maybe you genuinely don’t grasp the distinctions between state policy and what the Met, as a private company has done.

            The state is not censoring anything-your ‘re free to perform the opera as the Met is, and free to write and publish anything you want about it.

            Now a discussion of the Met’s confusing and less than believable reasoning for canceling a previously scheduled HD broadcast is another matter. Certainly more fuel to the fire concerning Gelb’s fumbling management in areas other than fiscal ones.

            My own view is that it should never have been scheduled as an HD broadcast in the first place-should be performed, and a radio broadcast would have been a good idea. Who would have gone to it? If the US HD audience is 75%, over 65 (and what is the real breakdown of that? and what high percentage Jewish-which cannot be asked) it surely would have been the lowest attended HD ever offered. The same, I’m sure, would have happened with, let’s say, a Glass opera. So the subject matter itself, before this controversy about this opera, would not have been a big factor in the lack of interest. (yes, yes, I realize in sophisticated and enlightened Europe it would have been a sell out-but half of the theaters are in the US)

            So again this raises more questions about Gelb.

          • Amy says:

            Is there a chance you guys could go bait each other somewhere else?

          • Marshall says:

            “Is there a chance you guys could go bait each other somewhere else? ”

            You know-you always have the marvelous freedom of just ignoring it..you could try that-or actually contributing something

            Who is doing the baiting is a matter of opinion

            Why the Met scheduled it as an HD even before the controversy is a point that I’ve not heard discussed

  • C. D. Hitchcock says:

    While management mismanaged funds, Atlanta suffers!

  • Max Raimi says:

    Of course, it’s the South, so management can claim the high ground simply by yelling “UNION UNION UNION!” at top volume.

  • Mark Francis says:

    Though I only run a small orchestra I can tell you there are many expenses that go into putting on a concert and a season. In an orchestra like the ASO, the conductors are no small expense (together, probably around a million or so). There’s a lot behind the scenes that go into make any concert. People do have to be paid. When I lived in ATL I ushers for the ASO. I’m not sure what problems they are having. Attendance didn’t seem that far off. There may be structural problems financial with which that have not come to grips.