Just in: Muti backs musicians in Chicago dispute

In a breach with traditions of maestro neutrality in US wage disputes, Riccardo Muti tonight came out firmly on the side of his musicians.

In letter delivered to Board of Trustees Chair Helen Zell and CSO President Jeff Alexander, Muti said:
“As Music Director and a musician of this orchestra, I am with the Musicians. I understand their needs and how they should be treated, and the fact that they are among the best musicians in the world a crisis would damage the image of the institution. The Musicians themselves, the public and the entire musical world would be surprised to see the Orchestra in trouble.

‘I hope before my return in a few days, everything will be settled, giving the Musicians the recognition they deserve. I hope that the Board [of Trustees] will remember that theirs is not a job but a mission, and that tranquility and serenity will be given for the Artists to do their work.”

UPDATE: CSOA President Jeff Alexander responded:

‘We hold the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the highest regard and are working closely with their union representatives to come to an agreement on a new contract.  While their current contract is among the best in the country, we have offered improvements in salary and working conditions and look forward to finalizing the details with the union as soon as possible.’


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  • Muti has always had lofty ideas about music’s place in the world.

    Unfortunately for him, not everyone has the luxury of setting aside other, real-world factors when they make decisions.

    • Good for Muti! I can think of nothing that has brought more to my life than music. It is far too easy to value things over experience and these days all things are very temporary, a poor investment for a poor person.

  • Perhaps you will read this. Please check your contact and about pages many of us have left comments about missing features such as a functioning RSS feed and email subscriptions.

    It’s a shame that these are missing. Their inclusion would increase your readership.

  • Every American symphony orchestra, along with Metropolitan Opera, seems to be caught up in some form of crises due to underlying financial problems. The problem is outside of central Europe, world’s greatest ensembles are all in the USA , while the audiences there are ever shrinking. The cost of maintaining these elite ensembles in a society overwhelmingly dominated by popular culture is quite a challenge. It will be a tragedy if the world looses these ensembles in their current form.

          • Interesting. So, which orchestras in “Eastern Europe, Russia, and more” are greater ensembles than the top dozen US orchestras?

          • To clarify my question, I will list a dozen US orchestras that are among the world’s greatest ensembles. Since on any given weekend, any one could claim the top spot, they are listed alphabetically.
            Boston Symphony
            Chicago Symphony
            Cleveland Orchestra
            Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra
            Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
            Minnesota Orchestra
            New York Philharmonic
            Philadelphia Orchestra
            Pittsburgh Symphony
            San Francisco Symphony
            St. Louis Symphony
            Included above could be any of the following:
            Baltimore Symphony
            Dallas Symphony Orchestra
            Houston Symphony
            National Symphony Orchestra
            Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
            Seattle Symphony

          • In terms in overall breadth of repertoire and versatility, I would agree. European orchestras excel in certain niche reps (Czech Philharmonic, VPO, BPO, Dresden Staatskapelle, Leningrad Phil) but for overall excellence throughout the symphonic literature, the best Americans can’t be beat. Obviously, much depends on the conductor but I’d rather hear the Boston Symphony play, say, Sibelius than almost any European ensemble.

      • “[O]utside of central Europe, world’s greatest ensembles are all in the USA…” I would argue with the “central” part (what about London?), but Mr. Kandan has a point. He may not necessarily be 100% indisputably correct, but it’s worth considering.

        When people talk about the “world’s greatest orchestras,” what orchestras are the usual suspects? I’m not referring to great-but-underappreciated orchestras like La Scala. I’m talking about the ones with reputations.

        Berlin, Vienna, Concertgebouw: for sure. Dresden, Leipzig, Munich: maybe, depending on taste (and maybe repertoire). London? I would say yes; but we’re getting close to the category of “highly respected” which is not the same.

        And then Chicago, Cleveland, and the Metropolitan Opera. Other contenders are usually LA, San Francisco, and… well, nobody really says that about the New York Philharmonic any more, do they; or Boston (unless you’re from Boston).

        And then… where are the others that are usually mentioned in that group? Russia? Again, some great orchestras, but nothing in Moscow or St. Petersburg is ever on that “world’s greatest” list.

        Asia? Japan has some terrific orchestras, but at least in our western-centric point of view, none of them come up on our radar. South America? Australia? Africa? Not even Canada (sorry, Montreal).

        So yes. Pretty much Europe and the US.

        • Japan has some terrific orchestras, but at least in our western-centric point of view, none of them come up on our radar.
          At least you admit having a western-centric viewpoint. That’s a start. I’d just call it American exceptionalism.

  • 1. Muti would not have spoken out publicly if he had not known the state of negotiations privately. The letter sounds brave, like he’s going out on a limb, but he’s just positioning himself ahead of what the parties anticipate anyway.

    2. This was never about economic equity, but keeping up with the Joneses, or in this case, with LA, SF and NY. It’s no different than if Muti said, I consider myself the best conductor in America, there is no way I am getting less pay then MTT, so I want a raise.

    • That’s how CSOA President Jeff Alexander should negotiate his contract next time: I think of myself as the best orchestra president in America, I want the same pay as Deborah Borda.

      Equal Pay for Equal Work!

      • Haha, that’s not a bad idea!

        As Reggie Jackson (I think) said during one of his notoriously contentious contract negotiations with the NY Yankees: “All I’m asking for is what I want.” 😀

    • This is not about “keeping up with the Joneses” – only LA and SF pay higher. It’s about mgt’s attempt to end their defined benefit pension plan. So many posters here with so few facts.

  • I have a question: did the Musicians actually get to view the current financials of the organization? That is: exactly the same materials provided to the members of the board by the administration? I sincerely hope so. Throwing the latest Form 990 at them is, to say the least, disrespectful.

    Bravo Maestro Muti for speaking loudly and clearly!!

    It would also help if all board members not only have deep pockets, but, far more importantly, are open to being educated and have more than basic knowledge about music. Sometimes I think nothing has changed much: musicians are paid to provide the entertainment for which people have paid and which they feel entitled to eb performed (see Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos).

    I once attended a performance of Britten’s “Peter Grimes” at San Francisco Symphony Hall, and witnessed a board member asking the General manager during the first intermission: “What’s this Peter Grimes guy all about?”

    Oh well…

  • Explain to me how people should demand *more* money when their products are consumed less and less? This isn’t really how business works.

  • “In a breach with traditions of maestro neutrality in US wage disputes…”
    Is that a thing? I never heard of it before. Stokowski, for one,always supported his musicians for better pay and conditions.

  • Muti at La Scala in the late 1980’s supported his foreign musicians by giving them all tenure at a time when every other Italian orchestra was threatening the jobs of their foreign musicians (who had been there for years but in the pre-EEC laws of Italy at the time could not be given tenure).

    • And then: last week Alsop publicly reminded a concert audience that the Baltimore Symphony is the only “full-time, 52 week a year” orchestra with a woman music director. To cheers from that audience.

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