An orchestra will start to die tonight

An orchestra will start to die tonight


norman lebrecht

January 14, 2016

A deadline is reached at midnight in the standoff between the musicians and management of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut. If the players refuse to accept further cuts, the orchestra will be shut down.

Hartford is a nice place in a fairly wealthy region. But it seems the locals have lost the will to sustain a concert life.

hartford symphony
pictured: music director Carolyn Kuan

The players, who are employed on a per-session basis, have issued this statement:

The musicians of the HSO are salaried professionals. We are here to work. We have offered to forgo wage increases in order to keep the product competitive. We have done our part. It’s now time for management to stop misrepresenting a situation that it has created.

It is management’s job to manage, not dismantle, our organization. It is management’s job to promote and sell its product, which is live orchestral music performed by the musicians of the HSO. Cutting the product is not an option. In order to fulfill its mission, the HSO needs to grow its product. Creating a scarcity not only diminishes the product itself, but deprives the community of that which it values. An orchestra must work together on a regular basis to achieve and maintain the level of excellence that the public expects and deserves.

Here is the HSO’s stated mission:
“We believe passionately in the performance of live symphonic music and its value in the community. To that end, the mission of the HSO is to perform live orchestral music of the highest quality forever expanding audiences, and to increase through its educational programs the understanding and enjoyment of that music by residents in Connecticut.”

Clearly the HSO has forgotten this mission. Look at its unprecedented pullback of performances and educational programs. Last year saw the cancellation of both a chamber orchestra series and the well established Jazz and Strings series. More importantly, the HSO’s in-school educational programming has diminished to the point of near nonexistence. Core musicians once went into the schools over 25 times per year. This season, under the new HSO management, most of the musicians have yet to perform in a single school. These programs are a key component of the HSO’s stated mission. They are also key to justifying its status as a not for profit entity.


  • Alvaro says:

    “Creating a scarcity”(these people dont even know hot to use the term, its “creating scarcity”)….”product”…..”output” what is this? A ranch?

    If the community were “deprived of that which it values” then the community would overwhelmingly support the organization, fill the concerts to the max, buy subscriptions, and donate their discretionary income to the organization. Under that scenario, the current situation does not exist.

    Here’s another scenario: a bunch of people were told all their lives that music is the most important thing in the world, that a city needs an orchestra at ANY cost, and that people should be force fed beethoven if not they are not “cultured”. Seems to me that under that scenario, people will simply care less and not attend the concerts nor give money, the finances of the organization will start to suffer, like always the “poor innocent musicians” will blame management, and in order to survive there will need to be overhead costs across the board, which the musicians will refuse and enter a lockdown.

    Sound familiar?

    Breaking news: your community doesnt really care. If they did – none of this would happen.

    • David Gargaro says:

      This orchestra’s demise has nothing to do with the community in which it serves and both the audience attendance and retention numbers are well above average for those of a regional level orchestra.

      The issues are with the management; finances and power have been sorely misaligned and it is a complete disgrace that things have come to this.

    • Milka says:

      Spot on ! It is mostly pecker matching -your scenario is correct .The comments from
      Canada concerning hospitals and dying are self serving baloney and have nothing to
      do with Hartford and the support of an orchestra . If a community decides for itself that a
      symphony orchestra is a necessity to their survival and happiness then one can bet there
      will be a symphony orchestra but if the majority is uninterested and a minuscule minority
      wants to indulge in cultural pecker matching then let them pay for their pleasure , if they
      can’t , then they must not expect others to pay for their amusements by way of taxes
      asLind would do.The general public owes musicians nothing. That the so called “classical” musician is going the way of shoemakers is a given , unlike shoemakers
      some musicians feel the general public owes them a living ..times show otherwise.If the
      Hartford symphony cannot survive by their own patrons largesse then they should be gone .

    • Anon says:

      An orchestra is about to fold and you are nitpicking about “creating a scarcity” and “creating scarcity”? Well done, chap! For your information, an orchestra’s product offering is its concert programs, and management has severely cut back its core product offering.

    • William Safford says:

      Here is another way to look at it.

      Did the musicians do any less of a job of performing than they should have? Did they play worse? Were they truant? No.

      OTOH, did the management do any less of a job than it should have?

      Well, here’s one example: management paid for services, but didn’t use them!!!

      Another example: management did not follow the recommendations of the study it hired several years ago to fix the existing problems.

      Another example: as management wanted to cut wages, it also wanted to limit the musicians’ ability to obtain additional work. After all, the Hartford SO didn’t offer a full-time living wage even before the proposed cuts.

      There is more.

      If management chooses to shut down the orchestra, it is cutting its proverbial nose off to spite its own face.

  • Jon H says:

    The “common core standards” adopted by State Board of Education was one of the reasons the orchestra’s school presence was diminished.
    Connecticut also didn’t have income taxes until recently, and the addition of an income tax caused senior members of businesses to relocate – which didn’t help the orchestra’s donor pool.
    The state could really do a better job of encouraging its cultural assets as well.

    • V.Lind says:

      God, Americans and taxes — the top rate in Connecticut is less than people pay on low incomes in most of the civilised world. Why the hell can’t Americans get behind the normal civic notion of using taxation to support the common weal? Instead, wealthy Americans pick their projects and, worthy as those may be, there is usually self-interest — as well as a healthy tax abatement — to their choice. So the rich get to die in fancy hospitals while the poor can’t get through the door in an emergency without cash in pocket.

      Hope they enjoy the Miami Symphony.

  • Bill Gross says:

    Management gets the Unions it deserves.

  • Amy Adams says:

    An interesting question I haven’t seen addressed in the Hartford coverage: what happens to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s endowment fund, if the HSO is shut down?
    Does it get absorbed by the Bushnell Center?

    And the merger that occurred a few years ago between the HSO and the Bushnell Center (David Fay is the salaried CEO of both organizations, incidentally): did this save the orchestra money, as promised? Or did it wind up hastening their demise?

  • Lisa Bressler says:

    What David Garfaro said is true. Besides that is the pure evil of unadulterated Union busting the Bushnell/HSO management is wreaking upon the musicians.

  • Anon says:

    It would be interesting to know what role the music director could play in helping this orchestra to survive. Is this someone who is actively involved with the board and in the community? Or is this a typical conductor who has too many other commitments out of town and won’t be effected if this orchestra ceases to exist? Is this something a search committee considers when selecting a music director? Trying not to make any accusations here, but just wondering out loud … a discussion about the role of the music director in such situations would be appreciated.

    • Ross says:

      The Music Director is not a member of the orchestra. He/she is not a member of the union. They are employed by the board. Normally, they make themselves scarce and silent when things are strained between board/labor.

      As for community participation, that depends on the individual.
      Some are very active and visible. Others do the minimum.

  • William Safford says:

    “Carolyn Kuan of Hartford Symphony Orchestra Breaks Silence, Vows ‘Commensurate’ Pay Cut”

    • V.Lind says:

      We have not seen management or administrative staff take commensurate pay cuts to share the burden and sacrifice in many of the recent orchestra disputes.

      We’ve all read about the economics of orchestras and it does appear that the “business model” cannot apply. The ridiculous thing is that it should have to. By Milka’s contempt, above, it is clear that he represents the conservative strain of American “thought” that the market rules everything. If he only realised how recent a development this was, even in his benighted country, which has been headed in that direction since the first pilgrim landed. Americans have not, as a nation, been very supportive of tax-supported art, which has led to the most appalling ignorance of anything where clear profit cannot be seen. In Oscar’s memorable construction, they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

      • Mlka says:

        Lind comes across as delusional, Bach , Handel , Mozart , Beethoven ,Chopin and on and on were paid whatever the market price would bear …they all sold their services to the highest bidder in one fashion or another whether the prince , the count , the king , the
        general public, it was the market place .Rossini did not depend on public taxes, he hustled
        from city to city new or rehashed work making a buck.Berlioz another always on the
        road and happy as hell if he found an orchestra that was good enough to perform his
        work it was all the public or patrons “the market “.There is no contempt of the Hartford
        group it is just an observation . Why should people pay taxes for an others amusements?
        If Hartford had enough people that believed this high art deserved support I bet they would
        be there,but alas it is not the case, the last two sentences are pure BS writ large

  • William Safford says:

    “Hartford Symphony submits final offer to musicians”