Tough talk: Confrontation looms in Chicago

Tough talk: Confrontation looms in Chicago


norman lebrecht

February 14, 2019

Message from the Chicago Confederation of Musicians:

WHAT: After 11 months of bargaining for a new labor agreement, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will announce the results of its vote taken last night and the action it will take to protect the health of the individual musicians and the orchestra at a press conference on Thursday, 12:45 pm at Orchestra Hall, Lobby, 220 South Michigan Avenue.

WHY: Though recognized as the nation’s leading symphony orchestra and one of Chicago’s cultural crown jewels, CSO musicians have seen their compensation and benefits stagnate while competing orchestral
associations have increased their musicians’ wages and benefits.

WHO: The musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, members of the Chicago Federation of Musicians.



  • V.Lind says:

    The nation’s leading symphony orchestra? As in, take that, the rest of the top 5?

    • anon says:

      It’s the press release of the CHICAGO Confederation of Musicians.

      What do you want them to say?

      “Chicago, also known as the Second City, is second to many other major American cities, including New York and Los Angeles, therefore, we will be fighting hard to ensure that our musicians are the second or third highest paid musicians, and we’ll even settle for fourth, after San Francisco, because we all know the the Bay Area is beautiful and the cost of living is high, while Chicago is frigid, so we’re only really competing with other polar-express cities, like St. Paul, Minnesota, or Ann Arbor, Michican, so we will fight hard to make sure our musicians are not paid one penny less than the musicians of the University of Michigan Orchestra.”

      • IntBaritone says:

        Wow, the depth of this moronic comment is not to be underestimated.

      • Max Grimm says:

        Instead of that lengthy nonsense, how about a simple and quick fix (in bold)…

        WHY: Though recognized as one of the nation’s leading symphony orchestras and one of Chicago’s cultural crown jewels, CSO musicians have seen their compensation and benefits stagnate while competing orchestral
        associations have increased their musicians’ wages and benefits.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Back in the old days, Chicago and New York would negotiate and pretty much match each other and all the other US orchestras would then fall in line using those two settlements as the golden standard.

    Now, with the shift of economic power to the West Coast, San Francisco and LA seem to have the money to pay their musicians more with both the tech and entertainment money paying the bills.

    Perhaps there is a new world order in US Orchestras.

    • anon says:

      At some point, an orchestra risks pricing out its own audience.

      Cleveland is indisputably a great orchestra, but there is an upper limit that the good citizens of Cleveland, Ohio can pay for tickets, and thus, the salary of the musicians of that orchestra, however great it is.

      I think absent some generous benefactor, Chicago is pushing up against that upper limit.

      I don’t buy the “competition” argument, if that were true, Cleveland should not be a top ranked orchestra at all, all of them in theory would have left for LA, SF…

      • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

        Cleveland has had issues with mustering support within its traditional boundariesand that is why they ventured down to Florida and have been spending weeks in Salzburg as well. The Florida gold mine evaporated when the board member that was sponsoring that venture left the CO board.

        Chicago has the Zell family supporting Muti but not sure how much of those funds are trickling down to the orchestra. I think most goes to Muti’s 10 week a year residency (which seems to be considered full time by most boards).

        The CSO is well paid for the cost of living in the Midwest and enjoys plenty of other amenities that go along with the weekly salary (such as paid time off, health benefits, chamber music opportunities).

        Ticket prices remain high for the most part but that is not what pays the bills. You need one or two heavy donors that decide to carry the burden.

        Without those, then the orchestra (with it’s fixed labor costs) have to decide what their true market value is.

  • barry guerrero says:

    You know; tough town, tough talk. They have to keep up that image.

  • Robin says:

    Well, since Chicago has kept a number of its positions vacant, I.E. it’s Principal Harp and Keybaord chairs, I’m sure they can find the money!