US orchestra faces 40 percent wage cuts

US orchestra faces 40 percent wage cuts


norman lebrecht

June 19, 2015

This is not one of the majors, but it’s a 70-year old orchestra in a civilised part of the US, not far from Yale with its zillion dollar endowments. It should not have to reduce musicians to the breadline. Here’s what’s up, from the musicians’ side (h/t Joe Goetz).


(HARTFORD, Conn. – June 18, 2015) – In a meeting of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra Board on Wednesday, musician board representatives voted unanimously against the proposed budget and strategic plan for the coming season.

The Hartford Symphony Board includes ten musician board representatives out of nearly 50 board members. The musicians’ contract is currently under negotiation, and their concerns stem from a budget that reflects little consideration for their wages and working conditions. In 2014-15, Core musicians earned a little over $23,000. In 2015-16, these musicians are being asked to accept under $15,000 a year, a figure that represents a 40% reduction in wages.

According to federal poverty guidelines, a family of four needs to earn at least $24,250 to stay out of poverty. And a recent U.S. Department of Labor report found the average wage in Hartford County to be $64,792, more than four times what is being offered to the musicians.

“One does not grow the Hartford Symphony by cutting the Hartford Symphony,” said violinist and board member Michael Pollard. “At the same time that musicians’ wages are being cut, wages and expenditures for management and conductors have increased dramatically.”

“Spending commitments are being made,” continued Pollard. “The Music Director has been signed to a 6 year contract and hiring of an Assistant Conductor is underway. Salaries and benefits for administrative staff have increased. On the other hand, pay for musicians has been frozen for 3 years. And now we are asked to accept changes in work rules that will prevent us from combining HSO employment with the other jobs we must pursue in order to supplement our poverty-level wages.”

The musicians were outvoted in the meeting, and both the budget and the strategic plan were approved.

# # #

The Connecticut Valley Federation of Musicians, Local 400 of the American Federation of Musicians, represents approximately 600 professional musicians in central Connecticut

carolyn kuan1

pictured: music director Carolyn Kuan



  • harold braun says:

    In the 50s and 60s the Orchestra was lead by Fritz Mahler,whose father was a cousin to the great Gustav.They made some fine recordings.

  • Robert Roy says:

    Sounds like the board really know how to inspire and motivate their musicians…!

  • Herasmus Bedragon says:

    Simply sad. This is the “new model” that the LAO is endorsing. Connecticut is a very wealthy state, that has easy access to the New York and Boston music scene with its tier 1 orchestras.
    There was never a movement to create a tier 1 orchestra in Connecticut.

    Although Yale is close by, if they were to support any orchestra, it would be their local New Haven Symphony Orchestra – much older than Hartford and just as good (although a smaller season).

    Hartford is a wealthy city and the world headquarters for major insurers. The fact is that with the ongoing US national assault on the arts and education, demand and appreciation diminishes support interest for smaller scale local orchestras.

    I’m amazed that the board is 50 strong, but decisions such as raising MD’s salary, Assistant search and administration increases, only drains funds to whom really makes the music – it’s valuable loyal musicians!

    An orchestra is not a for profit business, it’s a living museum!

  • Sanda Schuldmann says:

    Good for you Michael Pollard! I used to live in Hartford, and my husband was principal cellist under Winograd. Musicians in the Hartford Symphony NEVER made a decent living, that is why many had day jobs. It is a pathetic situation. CT would be better served to create the CT Symphony, do away with all the little orchestras in all of the little town, gat good musicians who actually can be paid a decent wage. Being so close to NY and Boston, there should be no problem attracting great players. 15K a year isa slap in the face. Better fold and start over!
    The problem is that many of the big donors have died or moved elsewhere, and the “new” deep pockets can easily live without music in their lives, or they will go to BSO or the NY Phil! How very sad for Hartford.

  • MacroV says:

    I would agree that this is an unfortunate development; how can they expect musicians to survive on $23,000/year, much less $15,000? No doubt in many places some work-rule revisions are in order, but when you’re paying that little, you have to give people more flexibility.

    That said, Hartford is, sadly, a dying town, or as in many places in America, the city is dying, but the surrounding area is quite nice. (East Hartford, Trumbull). But Yale and its riches are irrelevant; it’s in New Haven, 65 km away, and New Haven has its own orchestra.

  • Darrin C. Milling says:

    time for a new executive director and board president because no self-respecting board would come up with such a short-sighted and vindictive plan on its own….’increase for administrative salaries, new assistant post for conductor, less pay for musicians who earned stagnant wage for three years’?! Sounds like the institution is led by a former frustrated musician trying to wreak havoc as an administrator against his former colleagues….ooppss… 😉

  • David Gooding says:

    “The Hartford Symphony Orchestra is Connecticut’s premier musical organization.”, or so says its website where it invites the public to “meet the musicians who make it all possible.”

    The HSO (in 2014) entered into a management services alliance with The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. Under the agreement, the HSO and The Bushnell remain independent, 501(c) (3) non-profit organizations while The Bushnell provides executive and administrative support to the HSO.

    The latest form 990 information available shows that donations, receipts for services and income from investments for the HSO grew from 2008 through 2012.

    The question is to what extent the alliance with The Bushnell is driving this initiative to cut the musicians’ compensation? In the absence of a downward spiral of income and community support, questions need to be asked of the reasoning behind the Board’s decision.

  • Incredulous says:

    How can the orchestra place restrictions and stipulations on what their players can and can’t do outside of their employment at the Hartford Symphony? That smacks of the worst form of authoritarianism. These are just part-time positions, after all.

  • Boycotting says:

    I’m boycotting HSO and Bushnell events until the musicians are paid fairly. I hope the administration learns that their bad decisions will not be rewarded and will not have continued audience support under these conditions.

  • durn0 says:

    I’m not saying it’s good that the orchestra wants to reduce wages like this. But presumably these players are not relying on the Hartford Symphony for 100% of their wages if those wages average $23K. These are freelancers who work up and down the route from Boston to NYC. I knew a musician who played in the Hartford Symphony, Providence Symphony, and often subbed for NYC Ballet. She lived in Connecticut and was affiliated with some college. This, sadly, is the career most musicians face, and it’s only getting harder.

  • Joseph Kalisman says:

    People don’t pay money to watch administrators sitting at their desks shuffling papers–they are payi
    ng to hear music !

  • Richard Hendrix says:

    20 years ago in Sacramento, we were asked to take a pay cut from $15,000 a year to $10,000 in three years time. The musicians decided to strike, which was a major mistake. A strike wasn’t possible because we were already in our 3rd year of bankruptcy reorganizing. The management closed down the orchestra the very next day, filing final bankruptcy.

  • Robert J. Hicks says:

    Thanks for the share issue