Chicago cancels the rest of April

From the CSOA:

CHICAGO –The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) announces that CSOA-
presented concerts scheduled to take place from Wednesday, April 24, to Tuesday, April 30, are canceled due to the current strike by musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

CSOA-presented concerts to be canceled include:
Civic Chamber Music concert at People’s Music School on Wednesday, April 24, at 5:00 p.m.

CSO subscription concerts on Thursday, April 25, at 8:00 p.m., Friday, April 26, at 8:00 p.m. and
Saturday, April 27, at 8:00 p.m. The program, which was to have been led by guest conductor
Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, included Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Elgar’s Cello Concerto featuring
Gautier Capuçon as soloist.

Symphony Center Presents Piano concert on Sunday, April 28, at 3:00 p.m. featuring Simon
Trpčeski. The program included works by Chopin, Grieg, Prokofiev and Mussorgsky.

The Civic Orchestra of Chicago concert on Tuesday, April 30, at 8:00 p.m. led by guest
conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider. The program was to include selections from Prokofiev’s
Romeo and Juliet and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

All associated pre-concert special events through Tuesday, April 30, are also canceled.


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  • Given these latest cancellations, the strike’s duration will have reached nearly two (2) months. It is hard to imagine how this impasse will end.


    • Oh, it will end eventually, probably with an agreement that both parties could’ve worked out long before a strike. But at this point, one suspects the rest of the season is in jeopardy.

  • The tragic fate of Notre Dame Cathedral perhaps should tell the orchestra and the orchestra society something: nothing lasts forever. ND might be back but it will be different. A prolonged strike could mean the end of the CSO as we know it too.

    The first thing that will go is the audience: there are other opportunities out there, with many fine symphony orchestras (think Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Madison etc.) nearby. A new group may even emerge in Chicago, or other local forces will absorb the slack. But once you lose your audience, they will not come back. Maestro Muti is very old and doesn’t have much time left either. And record companies can be fickle too. Plus, there are new kinds of music out there and new ways of accessing music of all kinds. My advice: make and take a fair compromise or it could all be gone.

    • No need to go to Milwaukee or Indianapolis… the Grant Park Symphony is just about to start their fantastic (and free) summer concerts, the Chicago Sinfionetta is quickly becoming a competitor in the Chicago space (they have an active and vibrant young adult board that does a lot of community engagement), the Chicago Philharmonic is doing some great work with the Joffrey Ballet, and the Lyric Orchestra has never sounded better. Combine that with all of the touring groups coming in to the Harris theater and it makes for a great summer/fall season in Chicago.

    • Myeh, a little early to be predicting the demise of the CSO. Think how long the Minnesota Orchestra lockout lasted – and they came back better than ever. BUT you are right about the many other terrific ensembles in the region.

      Record companies…..naw, they’re outta the picture. The recordings the CSO has made in the last 12 years have all been on their own label.

    • Sorry dude but I didn’t even know Indianna had a Symphony. No offense. Chicagoans have the Harris Theatre and other venues. There’s ballet, the opera, the theatre and local performances all the time at The Art Institute with players from the CSO. The music schools have orchestras that are impeccable. No one is going to drive to hear Wisconsin. Chicagoans will wait and then go back. Muti needs to go anyway, he’s too old in his ways. I’d like to know where the revenue is from the record company. They should quit.All they need is a tunecore account.

  • Sounds like it’s time to cancel the rest of the season and start working on salvaging the CSO. Or maybe not. With all the flash mobs in the loop, going to Orchestra Hall may be too much risk taking. Time to move out?

  • This prolonged situation is harmful for the reputation of this orchestra. I hope this trend of financial crises & industrial disputes in American orchestras do not reach my own favourite ensembles in Cleveland and Boston.

  • I really disagree with things like the Civic Orchestra being cancelled. The strike is against CSO management, and I guess against Orchestra Hall since the CSO owns it. I understand not crossing picket lines, but the Civic Orchestra is an educational operation, and is not any kind of a scab performer. They could be big people and tell the Civic folks to go ahead and play.

    • The reason could be that the Civic offers a viable option to the CSO.

      The students play at a very high level (similar to New World) and their concerts are free.

      If patrons start attending the Civic concerts and the offerings of other professional groups (as contributor Jeremy has mentioned above), it will be the beginning of the end. Keeping Civic dark is a good thing for both sides (mgmt and musicians) but painful for the students who need the experience.

      I have to agree with the comment above that many of the audience members are now apt to leave and not come back especially with CSO ticket prices being so expensive.

      • Plus, the Civic Orchestra members are probably not yet members of the union, so technically have no issues with “crossing a picket line.” But the conductor is a member (presumably) and would.

      • Also, Symphony Center is one of the most uncomfortable theaters to sit in for someone over 6′ tall. The worst is CIBC (where Hamilton is right now) and Roosevelt Auditorium is a close 3rd. I have passed on CSO concerts simply because, knowing how long the piece is, I know it won’t be a physically comfortable experience no matter where I’m sitting.

  • What a shame. Next on the chopping block will be Itzhak Perlman/Evgeny Kissin + Muti concerts. I’d imagine the season will be cancelled at that point. Really appalling, neither side looks good here.

  • 1) Whatever victory the musicians hope to gain from the strike will be pyrrhic:

    – It will be decades before they recoup their losses in salary and health insurance premiums they have to pay during the strike.

    Then what?

    – The defined contribution plan is like the living dead, it will rise again, and again, and again in every contract renewal.

    The musicians will strike, again, and again, and again?

    Striking is henceforth an untenable negotiating strategy.

    2) Can’t they see, classical music is not the main business of the Zells. The Zells are not losing money (or sleep) on this. This is a side hobby for Madame, a philanthropic brandisher for the Zell name.

    3) Remember how you courted and got Maestro Muti after 5 years of no music director, and won him over when the NY Phil failed to do so?

    You’ve got to do the same thing with the wealthiest of patrons of Chicago and beyond, identify them, woo them, get them to contribute, get them on the Board.

    4) Forget about appealing to the public. The public isn’t there. The public has no money, no leverage on the Board.

    It has always been the age old personal relationship between classical musicians and their patrons, their benefactors

    5) Musical talent alone is not enough.

    Mozart died a pauper at 35.

    Unless you’re doing this for the glory of posterity, look on the bright side, you are already financially better off than 99% of all classical musicians in the history of classical music.

    Move on, fight a fight worth winning (wooing the Pritzkers), and benefit that way.

    • 6) By continuing to maintain the picket line, you are intentionally harming other musicians, like your sister Civic Orchestra.

      Your tenure system grants you life time job security.
      Civic orchestra musicians don’t have that.

      You say you are the best,
      – but your tenure system kills off the competition by not allowing others to audition for your positions.

      – and I’ve been to your free chamber concerts. You are not nearly as good as you say you are.

      So, given the anti-competitive advantage you already hold, give your brethrens a fighting chance in this tough, tough business and at least allow them to cross your picket line.

      • “You are not nearly as good as you say you are.”

        That’s the stubborn fact of the day … and a reality check for CSO musicians. But are they too smug to see it?

        • Freelance musicians don’t have pensions and it’s not a big deal so I don’t see why they don’t take it at this point. It’s probably the old guard.

      • “I’ve been to your free chamber concerts. You are not nearly as good as you say you are.”

        Unfortunately I have to second this. Many of the performers at the chamber concerts seem to be giving about 40 percent effort…

        • Why would you expect a great orchestral musician to be a great chamber musician? And vice-versa. They are two different skills, and require different types of playing.

          • I wouldn’t, necessarily, although I would expect them to be aware of their own ability, and take gigs that are a good match. However, to be a great orchestral musician, you are going to need to develop at least decent skills as a chamber musician, even if you might not bring the same depth of experience in the chamber music repertoire as someone who is part of a full-time chamber group.

    • “– The defined contribution plan is like the living dead, it will rise again, and again, and again in every contract renewal. ”

      It’s a defined BENEFIT plan. There’s a vast difference. Do some research.

      • The proposed defined contribution plan is like the living dead, it will rise again, and again, and again in every contract renewal until the board gets its way and eliminates the defined benefit plan.

        Understand now?

    • I don’t know why this is being downvoted, it’s merely a suggestion, and a great one at that.

    • I don’t understand why people downvote comments that recommend going to Milwaukee to hear great music while the CSO is out of commission. What is going on? This is strange

  • It is simply ridiculous that the strike is also affecting the lives of the young musicians in the Civic Orchestra. Many of them have no other reason to be in Chicago other than their participation in Civic, and are absolutely at loose ends at this point. What a waste. And it will be interesting to see how this affects the attitude toward unions and collective bargaining that they take into their future careers with other orchestras.

  • If this strike is like nearly all the other orchestra strikes, they’ll gain their audience back. The question is, is this one truly different? And even when they do get back to work, they still have a hall which is ‘damaged goods’, acoustically speaking, and a conductor who is both aging and not terribly adventurous in terms of repertoire.

  • Striking musicians: who will win this battle (no one)

    The Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike is now in its sixth week with no apparent end in sight. The underlying problems that led to the strike did not begin with the negotiations for this contract. In fact, the problem was identified by economists William Baumol and William Bowen in their 1966 article entitled “Anatomy of the Income Gap,” which appeared in Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma. As explained by Baumol and Bowen, nonprofit performing arts organizations, no matter how successful artistically, typically suffer from an inevitable “cost disease” of growing financial pressures and an ever-widening gap between income and expenses. The problem of spiraling expenses is persistent in the arts industry because performing arts organizations do not benefit from the productivity gains realized in other sectors of society. A live performance of a 45-minute Schubert quartet will take the same three man-hours to produce as it did a century ago, and always will. In the mid-twentieth century, classical music performance revenues averaged 60 percent of performance expenses. This percentage has precipitously declined over the decades, and now ticket sales revenues typically account for only 25-40 percent of expenses, at best. And few in the industry believe that this income gap can be substantially reduced through increasing ticket prices, which are already as high as the market will bear in most organizations.
    It is largely because of the cost disease that performing arts organizations have needed to shift part of the financial burden back to their performers and managers. It is also why the recent wave of demands by musicians’ labor unions has put many symphony orchestras at risk. Interestingly, since the late 1980s, the wages of symphony musicians have increased more rapidly than the wages of most other workers. These pay increases were not strongly correlated with the financial performance of orchestras; rather, musicians’ wages were strongly correlated with private donations to orchestras. Said Robert Flanagan in his book “The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras,” (Yale University press, 2012) “The large number of orchestra bankruptcies over the past 20 years demonstrates that a wage policy that ignores measures of an organization’s economic strength will have serious consequences for both musicians and music lovers.
    It is no secret that even the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been running deficits in some recent years. It is no secret that audiences are aging and not being replaced in equal numbers by younger generations. It is no surprise that many music lovers have turned to cheaper and more convenient methods for enjoying music, even if it is not comparable to the live experience.
    The CSO musicians are only the most recent of many orchestras who stop playing until their demands are met. I understand that each aspect of the musicians’ pension plan is of utmost importance to them and to musicians at other orchestras who are lending their support, hoping they will gain if the CSO wins their battle.
    But the handwriting is on the wall. Maybe the musicians will win this battle. But we will all lose this war. The longer we wait to become more fiscally responsible, the sooner we are likely to lose our beloved orchestras all together. The League of American Orchestras has been focusing on the severity of this problem for decades. Not only is it nothing new, but it keeps worsening.
    The discussion should not be about whether the fine musicians who have devoted their lives to their music are worthy of a better deal. The great musicians I know who do not have a full-time contract but must get performance engagements for every time they playing, hoping they can cobble together enough earnings to survive, also are worthy of a better deal.
    But those of us who love live classical music need to support the long term view, which means supporting belt-tightening and sustainability, so that the music can play on.

    • The Baumol Cost Syndrome has been around for decades (as you have noted). It has largely been ignored by musicians and until the recent decade, ignored by board members as well.

      It’s just been in the recent past that orchestras like Philadelphia and Minnesota have succumbed to the issue when board members said “enough”.

      I agree that in the days when Solti was appointed (early 70s) the board may have wanted the best orchestra that money could buy. But this meant that Big Money for a member of the CSO was making enough to live in a decent part of Chicago (not necessarily the suburbs) and raise a family whose kids attended public schools. Without working a side hustle during the summer.

      This is no longer the case. CSO members have second homes, send their kids to private schools, and take elaborate vacations to exotic places during their 12 weeks off a year.

      Is it any wonder that the model cannot be sustained when they ask for salaries that put them in the 1% while holding picket signs that imply they are “Union Strong” and part of the working class?

      In the old days, one board member like Louis Sudler with the desire could eliminate the annual deficit over a round of golf with the general manager. That no longer works. There does not seem to be the desire on the part of the board to do that and no individual has stepped up to do so.

      Blaming Helen Zell is a cop out. She, along with her husband, have given millions to the orchestra in the recent past and even if she has the ability to give more, has chosen not too.

      It’s time that reality set in before matters get to the point where real long term damage to the organization as a whole occurs and donors and audience members both decide to look at other options that abound in a city like Chicago.

      • Lets blame Henry Fogel. He’s the one responsible for giving us “Symphony Center” and creating all of this massive debt in the first place!

        • What was the alternative to Symphony Center?

          The orchestra needed a new hall or a rework of Orchestra Hall.

          Either way, there would have been debt on the balance sheet.

          Again, blaming Henry is a cop out and not fair.

          Also, it was a decision that was supported by the board. A GM cannot do anything without board approval.

  • Opera companies and symphony orchestras know that the pool of extremely wealthy donors is shrinking and the few that remain are becoming annoyed that they are constantly being asked to fill in the shortfall from what is collected by subscriptions. The CSO musicians better wake up and smell the roses and accept a 401k plan. If the CSO “folds”, there is no guaranty the members will even get their pension money. Think it won’t happen? Tell that to the manufacturing plants that have “stiffed” the union members.

  • Two things that have long stood out to me about the CSO:

    1) The CSO players have long been a pretty hard-nosed bunch, including willing to strike even in the face of high-profile gigs, recordings, top conductors, etc.. They’ll play like gods but then hit the picket line without batting an eye. Play hard, strike hard.

    2) The CSO has long been a great orchestra, but when they hired Solti 50 years ago, the Board seemed to adopt ambitions not only to be great – which they long had been – but to be KNOWN to be great. An attitude that Chicago had to have/be the best. And I assume that part of that was they would spend what they needed in order to have/keep the best players, conductors, and do the most ambitious programming. So having the highest-paid players may well have been a point of pride not just for the musicians but for the Board.

    It doesn’t seem as though #1 has changed, but perhaps #2 has.

  • The real culprit here is the musician’s union. It is a closed shop, only union members can work for the CSO. The union pension plan, which is also a defined benefit plan, is insolvent, and it is the same union officials encouraging the musicians to strike. The musicians are just too self important to realize that they are already overpaid. I support the CSO management.’s position. The musicians are being greedy…

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