Boston sends $15k to Chicago strikers

Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra have sent a check to their striking colleagues and this message to the CSOA Board:

The musicians of the Boston Symphony wish to express our unwavering support for our colleagues and fellow musicians of the Chicago Symphony, and urge you to end this strike immediately by withdrawing your demand to discontinue the musicians’ defined benefit pension plan. World-class institutions like the CSO are built and earn their reputations over years, decades, and centuries. But as we have seen countless times, irreparable damage can be done in a matter of days and weeks.

In addition to the vast superiority of defined benefit plans in economic efficiency and cost over the long term, the musicians of the BSO know very well how crucial they are in upholding the artistic quality of ensembles such as ours. Defined benefit plans allow a natural attrition and turn-over of players who are not forced to work past the point where they can contribute fully at the incredibly high level they are expected to perform. By attempting to withdraw this plan, you are threatening the artistic standard and the very heart of your organization.

We respectfully ask that you reconsider your position and offer the musicians of the CSO a contract that will allow them to remain one of the world’s great orchestras. The city of Chicago deserves no less.

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  • I hope this situation is resolved satisfactorily soon. How things operate in the USA is a total mystery to me, so is the fact that their orchestras are so superlative ( along with some of their universities and other elite institutions). A country that I otherwise would associate with all pervasive popular culture ( the UK is not much better in this), third world inequality, guns, widespread credulity also possesses such elite institutions. What a strange country.

    • Born and bred in the US and now reside in Europe….you nailed the US correctly. Somehow, the US survives in spite of itself. It’s citizens less so.

      • The us empire was simply: hustlers, war mongoring imperialists, and hucksters; the populace all tryin’ to get rich. Think Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman). All in citizen-based double taxation and FATCA, the us empire was a global laughing stock.

    • Simple. The divide between rich and poor is getting greater. The poor are fed “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”, while the wealthy go to elite institutions and hold season tickets. Many are happy with this arrangement, while a few others figure out that something’s wrong with this picture.

        • I understand your point, but the reference was being made to season-ticket holders. They do tend to be the well-heeled, comparatively speaking.

          • Two variables that are likely not even causal. Can you show me any survey, anywhere that shows people do not attend symphony concerts because they just can’t afford it? I ask because the 3 of us often hear a major symphony for less than $100 (total).

      • I guess “the poor” are buying tickets to all of the rap and pop $%^t that is the 99% of culture out there that the 1% (classical music fans) are bombarded by.

      • Nah…some of us have decided to go a few miles north of Symphony Center to Wrigley field and watch the beloved Cubs lose. Now that the CSO is out, there’s nothing better to do. It’s not a rich vs. poor thing. It’s about a fossilized institution that continues to repeat a small repertoire and try to live on its admittedly great legacy. But times have changed, the CSO has failed to attract new, young audiences and their money. The programming is becoming irrelevant. For many (most?) people, the Grant Park orchestra, the Civic Orchestra and other local groups are just fine – good enough is ok. I know that even the best CSO players make only a small fraction of what a lousy Cubs player makes, and that even Muti’s exhorbitant salary is low by MLB standards, but then the CSO doesn’t pack in 40,000 for each performance.

        • And who can the fun (fund) raisers at 2500$ a plate supper. Must be us empire “exceptionalism.” The average person certainly cannot afford that with massive bills, taxes, fees, and student loan debts. The CSO failed to keep up with the times and cater to the 1%. Perhaps, instead of the $800,000,000,000 per year us empire military budget, they could actually support the arts. ? Naaah, more us war mongering, false flags, and military boo yahs. 1000+ overseas military bases and yet the arts?! Crickets.

    • The reality is: most USians do not have any pension. And the CSO pensions like govt do nothing bureaucrats are elitist.

      What they can have is an employee savings program (i.e., 401k, 403b) which the employee puts their own money in and maybe perhaps might the employer may put in 1-10% supplemented with a tiny social “security” payment (they own money dolled out to them ~62-67 yo and onward). That’s it. that was the us empire’s “retirement” program. And then it’s up the us stock market to ‘perform’ (and we all know how honest/ethical/integrity -based the us markets are cue hysterical laughter). Perhaps, the CSO can forgo their pension like most of the us, and get social security and a 403b ?

  • The symbolic gestures by SF and Boston obviously indicate a greater cause is at stake for the Big 7 orchestras, but what is the most effective way to advance this cause?

    1) The collective $30K is unprecedented and eye opening, frankly, yet still largely symbolic against the hemorrhaging of hundreds of thousands every month by the 100+ musicians of the CSO.

    2) What would not be purely symbolic would be if Muti contributed his $2 million annual salary (or at least 1/2 of it) to the musicians if the strike ended the season.

    Afterall, Maestro, you would not have worked for 1/2 the season.

    In other words, among musicians, only conductors and soloists have leverage.

    If all the major conductors in the world (including those at the Big 7, who are frequent guest conductors at Chicago, like MTT, Salonen, and van Zweden) signed a letter telling the CSOA to resolve the matter or they’d never conduct the CSO again or lead any orchestra visiting Chicago…

    Ditto for the top soloists of the world…

    Alas, that would depend on whether conductors and soloists actually agree with the musicians of the Big 7. Or if they agreed with the cause enough to stake their own careers on it.

    • Perhaps, Mr. Volpe, Director, at the BSO, who’s salary per 990 finder, 990 tax forms is ~ 800,000$ per year, car, residence, etc…can give 1/2 his salary and benies to the CSO?

    • The $30,000 contributed by the musicians from SF and Boston is hardly unprecedented or eye-opening. Whenever there is a prolonged work stoppage among the 50 largest US orchestras, ICSOM ( sends out a “Call to Action” to its member orchestra musicians. This request was made just over a week ago. Member orchestra musicians respond by making donations to the striking or locked out musicians. In fact, well over $100,000 has already been pledged to striking CSO musicians. In addition to SF and Boston, symphonies including the NYPO, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Utah, Fort Worth, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago Lyric Opera and both the Opera and Ballet Orchestras of SF have already responded. In the coming days many more will respond, including Cleveland, I expect. (See the next comment down.) The solidarity among American symphonic musicians is very strong. We recognize that what happens to one orchestra’s contract will have an influence on all orchestras’ contracts. This is especially true when an industry leader’s contract, like Chicago’s, is under threat. That is why US orchestras are among the best and best paid in the world.

  • The orchestra I’d be most interested to hear from is Cleveland, whose silence thus far speaks volume.

    The Cleveland was actually called America’s best orchestra in 2018 by the New York Times, contrary to Chicago’s self-proclaimed title.

    Both are in the midwest, both travel to Vienna and Florida to play, both have music directors with deep Vienna roots.

    Yet Cleveland is paid considerably less than Chicago, LA, SF, NY, Boston…

    Do the musicians of Cleveland think that the musicians of Chicago are being shafted or spoiled?

    If Cleveland sends $15K from their paltry salary to Chicago, now that would be revelatory.

  • I understand perfectly that the musicians want to keep their benefits; everybody does, regardless of how much they’re already making. But the notion that the CSO won’t be able to draw top talent because of competition from other orchestras – due to pay and benefit differences – strikes me as ludicrous. Top talent coming out of conservatories would be happy to land a decent paying job in ANY major or second tier orchestra. If the CSO is truly having troubles landing and/or keeping top tier talent, that may say more about their audition processes and various HR related issues (such as intimidating section leaders, etc.). Proof? . . . listen to how good St. Louis, Atlanta, Dallas, Milwaukee, Detroit (yes, Detroit), Kansas City, Utah, Seattle, etc., can and do sound.

    • Well Barry, Dallas is larger in population than Chicago, which is now America’s 4th largest city after NYC, LA, and Dallas. Atlanta is also a very big city and has been growing much faster than Chicago. Seattle is a very rich and fast growing city. I suspect part of the reason for this strike not being settled is that Chicago is slipping…and fast.

      Boston has tapped into the newer economy much better than Chicago and it has 2 of the world’s top universities: Harvard and MIT. Interestingly too, the San Fran Bay Area has lots of money and 2 universities better than anything in Chicago: Stanford and Berkeley.

      I see this as a city perhaps slipping (and I see that in NYC too.) In that sense, the symphony is just a reflection of larger factors in the economy and society. What is somewhat surprising is that the CSO still remains so good. That is not true of the NY Phil which has fallen below Boston and also LA, and soon San Francisco.

      • Not so, fflambeau. The 4th largest US city is Houston. Dallas is 9th. Even Dallas/Ft. Worth is smaller than Houston. Atlanta will have to grow a lot since Chicago is more than 5 times bigger. Cleveland barely makes the top 50 yet supports one of the best orchestras in the world.

        • I stand corrected on Houston/Dallas. The Cleveland Orchestra USED to be great (long ago) but is no longer. Ditto for the New York Phil. LA, S.F., and Seattle are all much better and that shows the shift of demographics (and money).

          • Wrong again, fflambeau. The Cleveland Orchestra was and still is a great orchestra. Ditto for NY Phil. And Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, and the Met Orchestra. You really need to get out more.

      • Addressed to fflambeau:

        The University of Chicago is consistently ranked among the top-tier academic institutions in the US. I believe that more Noble Prize winners trace their lineage to Chicago than to any other American college or university.

        Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) is another fine university, particularly as regards its music program.


      • Interesting comment. But how then does one explain the consistent quality of the Cleveland Orchestra over many, many decades and Szell’s devotion to them even to include the time that the river that runs through the city caught fire?After all, Cleveland has a much smaller economy and population than the cities that you mention. I think that the answer lies in the fact that the whole region of northern Ohio regards and supports the orchestra as much as they do the Cleveland Indians baseball team. Both symbolize regional pride and draw support from a then expanded population base.

      • Boston Pops plays hokey arrangements of pop stars/teenie bipper bopper musak. However, it works for the stoic overly-academic cerebral Boston crowd. They draw crows. Yet the July 4 Pops goes the 4th is gonzo no more TV air play b/c the populace in the usa doesn’t care abt arts; they care abt screen starring and smiling vacantly.

    • Agreed. I like to add the orchestra in Louisville, Kentucky, which has the distinction of performing lots of American and other contemporary composers long before any of the so called Big Five, or Seven (such assignations are irrelevant nowadays, and therefore obsolete). Louisville boasts a most creative Music Director, too.

  • Hard to know whether its the “greed” of the Administration or if its the simple fact that the pay scale of the “top orchestras” have grown to unsustainable levels that parallel with the rising levels of wealth inequality in the US.

  • “Defined benefit plans allow a natural attrition and turn-over of players who are not forced to work past the point where they can contribute fully at the incredibly high level they are expected to perform.”

    This is so disingenuous, it makes me sick. If this is true, then why do sub-par players in the CSO continue to fill its roster? Have you heard Richard Graef (flute)? Michael Henoch (oboe)? Members of the horn section? Etc, etc, etc. This is not a subjective matter. These are players whose lack of the music basic things (intonation, blend, pitch accuracy) is often beyond egregious, and anyone with ears will come to the same objective assessment. As a concert goer, I have felt ripped off by having to listen to some of these people on stage after having paid a high ticket price.

    • Please pardon my error in the sentence “These are players whose lack of the music basic things…”
      I meant to write “These are players whose lack of basic music skills.”

    • Your complaint centers on the lack of principal chair replacements in the wind sections of the players you’ve named. If not there already, a new principal oboe will play next season.

      • No. I go to concerts at the CSO all the time. Principals and Assistant Principals split duties either week-to-week or even piece-to-piece in the same concert. These players play regularly even with a principal in the section, and we are unfortunate enough to hear them. The CSO already has permanent principals in the entire woodwind section.

  • It is unacceptable that one venue, Symphony Center, controls practically all (or among the most important) of the classical music / jazz / pop offerings for Chicago, and when the CSO goes on strike, it all gets shut down.

    What is the strategy of the CSO musicians, to deprive Chicago of other music offerings, to deprive other musicians of their gigs?

    If it is to inflict maximum financial pain on the Association, well, it’s cutting off its nose to spite its face. The less money the Association gets, the less money it’ll have to finance pension plans and salary increases.

    If it is to deprive the public of music to draw attention to the strike, well, it’s just alienating the public and driving them away to other entertainment in the city.

    The CSO is no charity case. The CSO is a monopoly and behaves like one. But it is waking up to an indifferent city, to its own irrelevance. It’s only financial support comes from outside the city, from their own. The longer the strike goes on, the more the Chicago public will be turned away forever.

    And all the musicians in the Boston Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony will not be enough to fill the empty seats of Symphony Center.

  • What makes me so angry is that second rate movie stars, pop singers and sports stars earn huge money which sets them up for life while musicians, with years of study behind (and often in front) of them are having to put out the begging bowl.

    Whom do you rate; Nicole Kidman or the CSO? One an over-rated, formulaic actress and the other cultural icons – infinitely more intelligent anyway. Why is one vastly better paid than the other?

    • You are seeing the market speaking. Nicole Kidman and other movie stars generate revenues for film producers that sustain their salaries. Once ticket sales from an actor’s films drop, so will their screen time and salaries. There is simply higher demand for popular culture than art music.

      • Spot on Mr. Paul D. Massive salaries for film starts and athletes is a reflection of a society’ values. In that regard, the US is not different from any of the other western decadent societies.

    • USians are free to spend their $ how they want. They voted with their $. It’s hollywood propaganda movies and screen starring. Classical music is not a us empire priority. Hustling, huckstering, and war mongering imperialism is. Reality. Read Morris Berman

  • Here’s a cold shower for the CSO players who feel they deserve way more entitlement than the norm, simply because they feel they are the utmost culture treasure for humanity:

    99% of the classical music die-hards are living their life just as fine when they only attend your orchestra concert once, or twice, a year, may be, at most.

    You need us way more than we need you. I am sure most of you will go into deep depression if the hall is mostly empty, regardless of your pay and benefit. You need us way way way more than money!

    Nuff said.

  • In naming other great American orchestras, no one has mentioned (so far) the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, surely one of the great orchestras in the country, under Honeck.

    Richard Bloesch

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