Grim lockdown as Atlanta nears result

Grim lockdown as Atlanta nears result


norman lebrecht

October 29, 2014

The two sides have resumed talks. Neither is saying much, but agreement should be close now that the musicians have caved in on minimum numbers. What’s lacking is any sign of mutual understanding.

The musicians have been decimated twice in as many years. It will take a manager of genius to restore their confidence in Atlanta.



  • ML says:

    Only when the musicians are widely employed (permanently or as substitutes) elsewhere (for instance, their principal flute for the CSO on tour) will the management realize what a gem they have lost. Other orchestras probably should seriously consider poach the Atlanta SO musicians. Sorry for my unkind remark, but does the management really care?

    • DJaeger says:

      No, management has made it crystal clear that they don’t care. Virginia, Dougie, et al, are fools and have no clue what they are destroying.

  • Marcus Overton says:

    And, unfortunately, ,there are no longer such managers to be found in the United States, and precious few elsewhere.

    The corporate approach to orchestra management has now completely permeated arts administration in the U.S. The days of John Edwards, Amayas Ames, Edward Gordon and Ernest Fleischmann are now not even memories for a younger generation that has been taught that arts management is framed exclusively around finances and fund-raising. As a result, the artistic life of the orchestra (or dance company, or theatre company – although to a lesser degree in theatre) or presenting organization suffers from what might be called an ongoing, permanent (“structural” in the current lingo) deficit.

    A current case in point is the early stage of design and building of a large arts center in a major – and very affluent – Southern California community, where the size and location of the “Donors Room” has so dominated early planning that everything else has been subordinate to it – including the facilities for the artists and the staff, and including such things as the number and location of elevators in ways, where one would think that common sense and practicability would determine choices, not who gives how much.

    The sad fact of the matter is that the situation in Atlanta (I am a Georgia native, lived and worked there in the mid-60s, when the Orchestra had not yet begun its great period) long since passed a point of no return. Not only has the orchestra’s confidence in the support of its community been diluted beyond restoration; the community’s belief in the importance and relevance of the ASO has been irreparably damaged. Those who have been responsible for this tragedy will, one hopes, someday be called to account for their bad stewardship. In the meantime, look for similar situations elsewhere in the U.S. until this spreading artistic deficit is addressed.

  • Laurie Cronin, ATL says:

    I certainly wouldn’t describe the ASO musicians’ current position as in any way “caving in” on the question of complement. A floor is established with a plan to increase numbers, and discrete levels tied to each year of the contract. It is not a perfect plan, but without it, we here in Atlanta are looking at “minimum numbers” in the single digits, namely “0”.

    A lot needs to happen here to rebuild and, dare I say, advance the level of the ASO beyond where we have ever been, but it can’t start without a professional orchestra in place. The proposal on the table helps guarantee that.

    • A. Jones says:

      I agree with Ms. Cronin. I don’t really see that the musicians have “caved”, when they have offered a way to accomodate mamagement’s request for flexibility.

  • J. Mann says:

    I agree with you to a large extent, Mr. Overton, that the standing of the ASO has declined in this community over the years and has been greatly tarnished by the current lockout– and this is no fault of the musicians. But I’m not so sure that we have passed a point of no return. I hold out hope for the millennial generation; although they are arguably more distant from classical music than their predecessors, they also value authenticity and craftsmanship and seem more inclined– at least the educated ones– to spend money on experiences and not just consumable goods. I think with the right marketing approach there is tremendous potential to reinvent the ASO as a dynamic and essential cultural resource for a new generation in Atlanta, and this doesn’t have to mean playing hip-hop and video game soundtracks instead of Mahler and Debussy.

    What is shameful here is that no one seems to have tried to mine this potential. The lingerie catalog aesthetic of the recent marketing materials, the sloppy program production, and the overall Sex in the City focus that the ASO has introduced all appear painfully misguided, trying to force a venerable institution to compete on an entirely different playing field. We have a real treasure here and it should be honored for exactly what it is.

    I am hopeful that the slow boil beginning with regard to exposure of the WAC’s corruption leads to a massive house-cleaning and a focus on what the WAC needs to be providing to stay relevant and successful– perhaps Michael Shapiro will leave a few words of wisdom that will be heeded. Of course I also hope that Atlanta’s philanthropic community acts to stop the madness and that the ASO can get the hell out of the WAC’s plantation-mentality control, and ideally with at least few musicians on its newly-minted board of directors.

    • Marshall Peterson says:

      I agree wholeheartedly. The market of the ASO by the WAC has been shameful for years, and has only deteriorated since the WAC Governing Board took over in 2011.

      This issue must be addressed.

      I also concur that thhe road to recovery for the ASO demands a strong voice, even a majority voice, on a real board* by the orchestra’s players.

      How to get to that place is the real issue that will determine the long-term survival of a great orchestra in Atlanta.


      *one not controlled by layers of higher “authority”

  • Rena F. says:

    “Caved” is the wrong word to use here. The musicians have been willing to negotiate from the start, and management had the gall to shut down negotiations and lock them out. It is completely clear that the musicians have been, and continue to be, reasonable in looking for a solution, and for ‘common ground,’ despite the fact that the management has taken such a hard line that the ASO musicians have been forced to accept work in many other orchestras around the country simply to put food on the table.
    The WAC management needs to be disbanded. They are taking one of this country’s treasures and doing their best to destroy it.
    “Caved,” wrong term; “incompetent management,” right term.

  • Will Drach says:

    Ten years ago the boom was all accelerando: Atlantans had just contributed $43 million for the ASO endowment. Over $100 million had been raised or pledged for a new symphony center, 3+ acres of prime site property bought a block away from the existing WAC campus. Spano & Runnicles & ASO won Grammys. ASO musicians accorded flush contracts with little to no debate. Since then the endowment principal and income have plunged, the posh symphony center plans dumped after tens of millions in design cost, the site up-for-sale or sold, Spano & Runnicles man the musicians’ barricades and the ASO musicians contracts retrenched twice. Who managed the ASO with such “success”? Allison Vulgarmore and her senior management team and an Atlanta Symphony board complacent in every way. Over spending, huge $2 million to $5 million deficits year-after-year, expanding staff, big management bonuses. Some forensic accounting research needs to be done and blame placed where it really belongs. Incompetent management? Malfeasance? Fraud? Better late than never that the Woodruff Arts Center management and board intervened. Seems to us that triage for the wounded ASO is better than death.

    • Paul Pellay says:

      Triage?! Slow murder by starvation more like!!

    • Marshall Peterson says:

      The suggestion that the current management of the ASO and WAC are somehow an improvement is patently absurd. Were there problems with the previous administration? No doubt. Is the current approach to solving them any better? No way.