Pittsburgh Symphony: Why we won’t yield to the musicians

The organisation has just published a hardline, lengthy statement in response to the musicians’ strike.

It boils down to this:

In order to chart the course for a fiscally stable Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, management has asked that musicians absorb a 15 percent salary concession, and that they agree to transition the current defined benefit plan fully (the plan is already partially closed to new participants) to move to a defined contribution plan with an eight percent contribution for all musicians.  Management has also asked to freeze three open positions in the orchestra for the term of this contract….

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians are exceptional artists, and deserve every dollar and every benefit we can afford to offer,” said (President/CEO) Melia Tourangeau (pictured). “At the same time, at this moment in the Pittsburgh Symphony’s history, we absolutely must dedicate ourselves to a course correction to ensure long-term sustainability for the orchestra.  We are deeply committed to an orchestra that will continue its leadership role in the industry, in the Pittsburgh community, and around the world.


Full statement here.


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  • I am writing as a Pittsburgh long time resident and nobody is thinking “…the PSO on strike…” The news concerning this labor conflict have not transcended outside the walls of Heinz Hall.

    Nothing on the local news either printed, digital, radial or TV…nothing!!! If it were not for this blog, I who is about 7 minutes from Heinz Hall would not even know that the PSO and Heinz Hall are there.

    If one is looking for a conspiracy here is one!!!

    The Blue Hair Ladies of the Board must be happy – they have managed to silence public opinion. DISGUSTING !!!

    • I was indeed looking forward to this concert. Yes musicians have a right to strike but as professional i would have thought they could continue working while negotiating . If this was final offer from the management so be it . They have benefits I can only wish I had and tickets are far from cheap. I guess i will listen to my stereo and forget the live performance. I talk my family in going and paid the price for the tickets and I now have this kick in the chops! Oh well I guess I put my money in the wrong place Should I cancel the rest of season? I just might

    • What did they do ? they are certainly trying to salvage a symphony but the economics are the killing the business. If they are wrong so be it but mindless statements need to be curbed

    • Which raises the question – Does the community support the orchestra? Considering that the orchestra has cut back Saturday evening performances, which to me is prime time, so that Heinz Hall can book the pop acts that bring in needed money, the answer may be “no.” That’s a shame, since it is a very fine orchestra with a rich history.

      I went up to PIttsburgh to catch Hoeneck conduct Bruckner’s Ninth, and Helene Grimaud play the Schumann (she called in sick days before). Lots of empty seats – and it was Saturday night. Wonderful Bruckner, btw.

  • I read nothing about the salary cuts management will take….. I always ask myself- do these people love music and their orchestra (the managment)? It’s seems the sole reason for their job should be to be committed to the orchestra Instead, they run the organization like a board game-trying to be the “winner”. Cut your salaries first and then look at who you are asking to live on less. Musicians of the highest caliber. Go work for a place that wants the bottom line to be the absolute most important thing, and keep your hands off of the arts.

    • (from other thread)

      Why don’t they cut overhead in the administration? Examples:

      — eliminate 20% of admin positions
      — cap salaries at $160,000
      — cut all salaries above $100,000 by 20%
      — cut salaries above $80,000 by 10%
      — end unfunded education programs
      — focus fundraising on donors of $200+
      — simplify catering
      — cancel touring, broadcasting, CDs
      — stop paid advertising of single concerts
      — source soloists without big agents
      — drop programs needing multiple soloists
      — slash admin travel

  • I must hope that, sooner or later, it will sink in that orchestra administrators are simply business people, usually with MBAs and no great interest in music and even less knowledge of it. Everything today is corporatized, and one myth is that the MBA or similar qualification bestows a set of transferable skills, applicable in any context. This is why we see people leave a post as, say, CEO of an auto corporation and straight into another as head of the national mail service, a major rail system, a university….And why also so often this happens even though the individual was fired from the previous post (usually with a few million smackers as a TTFN present) for driving it close to bankruptcy. I might mention just one rather stunning example of how their minds work: The solution resolved upon by the executives of a British charity that provided sheltered communities for the disabled, chiefly people with mental impairment, was to close the communities. Well, yes, that would certainly solve the problem. And similarly, the solution of such as the grinning Ms Tourangeau to an orchestra’s fiscal problems is to decimate the orchestra — God knows, this is not the first time we’ve seen this happen. I’m just surprised such as she (for some reason, the appropriate pronoun, just as ‘young’ is often an apposite adjective) have never thought of outsourcing the orchestra in question to Mexico or Indonesia.

    • please share with us more your wisdom. you make it sound like the staff at top orchestras are just wannabe hacks that “couldn’t pass the audition.” do you have any idea how competitive the auditions are for these orchestras? I work for a tier 1 orchestra and we just held auditions for a wind position. candidates from around the world, some holding the most prestigious positions already didn’t even advance one round.

      get off your high horse. you sound like you couldn’t advance in an audition or even acquire a position backstage. dolt.

    • Thank you for asking, but rest assured I am entirely compos mentis. I’m sure you are as well, but you’re comment is loopy. I suspect there is in it a sub-text, some personal umbrage that leads you astray, but it is not really worth the time to speculate on what it may be.

  • I am sorry, but many in music management have advanced degrees, Stanford, Columbia, Harvard etc] and have a deep commitment to classical music and it’s perpetuation. They are professional and even more importantly have real empathy for the musicians.Furthermore the boards do an extraordinary job in raising the money to keep the orchestras alive . Business and governments across the country have asked for participation in health care schemes etc, it is simply a sign of the times.
    It is easy to criticise and label board members blue haired ladies but what have any of the contributors to this blog done to raise the kind of money to keep these orchestras in business.
    Please stop the cheep shots at management when there is not one person in management that does not work for the survival of the institutions they are supporting.

    Furthermore the picture of Melia is totally out of context, it was not part off the press release and a very unfair bit of pictorial editorialising.

  • Some orchestras manage themselves (ie the board is made up wholly of active musicians)… It works quite well.

  • Melia have always considered Alison of Philadelphia her mentor and confidant
    It is never good to hired someone who had to hide in Burger King to conduct a secret interview with Utah symphony as president of the major orchestra

  • I find it interesting that, in one of her first interviews (August 2015), Ms. Tourangeau stated, “the priority is to get to a balanced budget. I feel there has been a tremendous amount of cost-cutting that has taken place. In my opinion, we have a revenue problem, not an expense problem.”

    What a difference a year makes.

  • Orchestral musicians, since… Lully…forever, have depended on the generosity of kings, courts, princes, in other words, the wealthy. Today, it’s the billionaire class in the US (in Europe, it’s the state). There is no way straight revenues from audiences will cover the costs of an orchestra. One needs generous board members.

    But today’s dot com billionaires and hedge fund managers are far removed from the high European cultural aspirations of the Carnegies.

    Paradoxically, it’s in cities like LA or Dallas where to be identified with Old Europe still has some cache, that donors there are willing to open up their wallets. So in places like the Silicon Valley, bathing in money, there is no good orchestra, when they could afford 3 world-class ones.

    What’s left for not so wealthy cities like Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia? The future looks bleak.

    • What are you talking about?
      The Bay Area has an elite Symphony in excellent financial health, an excellent opera, a fantastic ballet, a very respected conservatory, and countless outstanding smaller ensembles. All of which receive generous local support and are thriving! Thanks, in no small part to dot com billionaires.

      • My guess is SF has a huge appreciative audience base. People out there are “artsy”–and well to do and they care.

  • We have driven twice from DC in recent years to hear this magnificent orchestra perform in one of the best halls in America The most recent concert was the last concert of the year and the program includes Bronfman playing Liszt and Mahler 1. Hall was less than 50 percent full. Appalling It appears that this city is not capable of supporting a greT orchestra

  • Forbes Magazine lists 10 billionaires in the Philadelphia area. There have to be countless millionaires as well. In all that sea of wealth the business managers can’t come up with some money? Someone needs to be fired.

      • Entitlement to other people’s money? Not necessarily. I read it as a feeling that there is plenty of other people’s money nearby, and with the right efforts, said other people can be persuaded that they want to spend some of it supporting the Philadelphia Orchestra to a greater extent than they do now.

        That said, I think some of the comparison of salaries between markets with substantially different costs of living makes the musicians in lower-cost markets demanding to be paid just as much as their peers elsewhere look a bit greedy. If the grass really looks greener on the other side of the fence, take an audition there…just be careful that a job switch in the interests of making more money actually nets you more when all is said and done!

      • You seem to be a little dense Andy. Without the rich supporting the arts, you wouldn’t have Beethoven, Haydn and countless other composers.

        • How rude and insulting of you, Dave. You seem like a member of the American Federation of Musicians.

          And are you truly equating the royal patronage of colossal musical geniuses who composed masterpieces more than two centuries ago across the ocean to this situation? I’m enthralled by the lack of density, nay, the gossamer lightness of your intellect.

          • You may think you have a golden tongue Andy, but you still are wrong. You might also get a little backbone. Patronage keeps classical musicians in jobs these days. Pure and simple. And really, the ‘gossamer lightness?’ Is that the pseudo intellectual crap you try and fool people with? Shame on you!

          • The problem is, light-headed Dave, that until now, you never wrote that I was wrong. Dense, yes, but not wrong. So you can’t now tell me I’m still wrong. Understand?

            I realize how frustrating it must be for someone like you, tethered so tightly to ignorance, reading words and concepts that float so far overhead, not consistent with the simple, bottom-feeding AFM mantra that so dimly brightens your days.

            So I’ll try to tame the wild horsepower of my intellect so that you and the union brethren might understand. The musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra aren’t entitled to the gift of other people’s money, regardless of oddly non-sequitur notions like how Beethoven and Haydn may have benefitted from royal and religious patronage more than 200 years ago. They don’t get to cut to the front of line line that includes hospitals, colleges and universities, art galleries, libraries, theatre and dance companies, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, organized religions, the ASPCA, and countless thousands of smaller institutions that rely on the generosity of philanthropists, donors and patrons who choose to provide benefit to the lives and conditions of others simply because they chose to become unionized professional classical musicians and declare themselves on strike against the community they were created to serve. The billionaires, millionaires, and the other 99%, including paupers and pensioners, do not owe the musicians of the PSO anything, least of all a living.

            You’re way out of your league, Dave, and your rude and insulting words and pointless notions are entirely worthy of your union, which happily allows weaklings to flourish. Buck up, though. A long, good fight faces you and the AFM in Pittsburgh through the fall and winter, and smart guys like you have a part to play, even if it’s only to make everyone involved feel better about themselves by comparison.

            I accept your shaming, with bemused humility, appropriate realization of my superiority, and all due disrespect. So back to the picket line sport.

          • First thing Andy, you are dense beyond belief! Nowhere did I state that I belong to a musician’s union. An incorrect assumption on your part. You gave your opinion, wrong as it was. You do know what they say about opinions and assholes such as yourself? Kindly keep your ignorant thoughts to yourself.

          • Sorry! My mistake. Are you then perhaps a trucker? Do you live in a trailer park? Voting for Trump next month? It’s hard not to speculate. And it sure is easy (and fun) pushing your buttons.

          • Sorry Andy, none of the above. I probably have more money stashed away than you can ever dream of. Here is some speculation. I’m willing to believe you got the crap beat out of you on a regular basis when you were growing up. Now you try to show off some unfound superiority by posting here. It doesn’t work unfortunately. Put away your dictionary and listen to people more educated than you.

          • By the way Andy, driving a truck is an honorable position. If not for those folks you wouldn’t be eating every day to support your fat ass.

          • Quite right. Let’s get back to brass tacks, namely, the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Does going on strike increase the donations to which they believe (or rather their supporters) believe they are entitled? Does going on strike inspire confidence among the dozen local billionaires referenced? Do they realize the folly of the predicament in which they’ve placed themselves?

            Dave, bus driver? Construction worker? The musicians of the PSO sure are a lucky bunch to have your distinguished advocacy.

  • America is dumbing down.
    The assault on working people, their unions and compensation goes on.
    Few really care about something as elite as live classical music played by a symphony orchestra, no matter how good the music or the orchestra are.
    Entertainment options for audiences continues to increase.
    The glint is wearing off orchestras as a city status symbol.
    Boards would far rather raise 25-33% less money. Makes their job a lot easier.
    There’s a glut of superb orchestra musicians who don’t have jobs.
    As my Republican friends like to say, “It’s all market.”

  • The New Business Model for all American employers to their workers now is TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT.

    People are working longer and harder to qualify themselves for highly skilled jobs only to endure an unending assault on their compensation and on their unions, even having their jobs outsourced to cheaper labor.

    If we think it’s any different for an elite America Symphony orchestra, we’re absolutely wrong. At least, PSO management doesn’t have the ability to outsource their labor or I’m sure they’d do it. Back in 1980, Ronald Reagan showed he could, with impunity, fire union workers and it hasn’t been the same for workers and their unions since.

  • If you are going to strike these days, you better make sure some scab replacement won’t come around and take your job permanently.

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