Chicago starts cancelling into May

Chicago starts cancelling into May


norman lebrecht

April 22, 2019

Just in:

CHICAGO –The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) announces the cancellation of the Symphony Center Presents (SCP) Jazz series concert featuring Chick Corea and Béla Fleck scheduled for Friday, May 3, at 8:00 p.m. This performance at Symphony Center has been canceled due to uncertainty caused by the current strike by musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.



  • anonymous says:

    This is mad: mutual assured destruction.

    Yet the musicians are self inflicting their own pain, engaged in the financial equivalent of a hunger strike.

    Are they being advised by competent legal and financial professionals?

    • Sara E says:

      It’s exciting. Onward and downward in the us empire. Do everything you’re not supposed to do. Grab the popcorn, scuzzy beer and enjoy the show.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      They turned down the one opened minded legal adviser with industry experience who could have resolved this weeks ago because they thought he was too soft.

    • Trevor S. says:

      I think we don’t know much. There is smth bigger than what we read here.

    • Moishezmom says:

      Why are you blaming this on the musicians? You say they “are self inflicting their own pain”. What about the other side, which is stubbornly insisting on being the ones who are doing the inflicting? The musicians do not want to be on strike. The fact that they are refusing to cave, as some of the other striking orchestras have done in the past seven or eight years, is important to the futures of other orchestras here in the US. The CSO Musicians cave and every single management throughout the country will follow the CSOA’s tactics and force their orchestras to their knees. This strike is now more about raising salary and keeping a pension plan.

    • Benny says:

      As a member of the orchestra, and as a long time, part time reader of this blog on this subject and many other subjects, if I were to have accepted the “opinions” of yours and outside observers as having any idea of the situation that they were commenting on was actually going on, I would been a fool.

      So, considered me “fooled” all these months/years in regard to player/management relations to any reliable labour/management disputes.

      Therefore, the chances of me or anyone else understanding this particular work stoppage per this blog is almost zero.

      I have read many accounts of our struggle, none more uninformed than this particular blog.

      Unfortunate, as I have been a well-read member of the Norman Lebrecht series of publications/blogs.

      All of that “information” (actually speculation) has now been called into question now that I am on the inside looking out.

      • anon says:

        Benny, what you get on this site is unvarnished honesty of the public.

        That honesty IS valuable information: it tells you if your strategy is working with the general public, it tells you if you have lost their sympathy.

        1) Be circumspect about your unionized friends and colleagues who are cheering you on from the sidelines and individually contributing small amounts, while not losing their own paycheck. They are betting on our success, in every sense of the word “betting”, but the risk to them is minimum.

        2) Be wary of pieces written by people in the industry who have a dog in the hunt, like your local music critics, whose livelihood and careers depend on good relations with you AND the association, so they’ll settle for triteness, some mealy mouth middle ground.

        Look at the national media: it’s deathly silence.

        3) Forget the “socialist” sites, their agenda is obvious, but more important, they’ll turn on you when you no longer serve their agenda.

        4) Oh, one last thing: Forget Riccardo Muti. Who gave his stamp of approval to hire your current president? What did Muti say back then in endorsing Alexander? “Alexander understands musicians, he will fight for the musicians, because he studied the horn.”

        (But if Muti contributes 1/2 his 2018-2019 season salary to your cause, I’ll eat this post.)

        • NYMike says:

          “Benny, what you get on this site is unvarnished honesty of the public.”

          Uninformed much more than unvarnished.

      • MacroV says:

        You are certainly correct that nobody knows what’s happening inside; those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know. But both the CSOA and the CSO musicians have provided over the course of the strike, which does allow forming of impressions and judgments.

        As a federal employee with a defined-benefit pension, I am certainly not going to fault the CSO players for wanting to maintain theirs. I don’t know what you’re willing to give up to keep that – that’s the minutiae of bargaining to which we are not privy.

        But I hope you’ll all keep in mind that you are not just “labor.” You are stewards of the institution, and it’s in your interest to preserve its image and reputation. The strike threatens to harm both.

      • Concerned says:

        I suppose you now have more time to read and contribute to this blog

    • Russell says:

      If they were being advised by *competent* professionals, they wouldn’t be striking.

  • Kendall says:

    Ugh. The strike continues to generate serious ill will among the public. With so much competition for entertainment dollars, this is suicide.

  • Jasper says:

    The repercussions from this strike will be long lasting. Higher ticket prices, more empty seats, fewer donors, and a generalized “pox on both their houses” attitude. The biggest losers will be the CSO musicians.


  • Barry Guerrero says:

    They know what they’re doing. If the musicians truly couldn’t afford it, they would settle. They get paid plenty.

  • fflambeau says:

    Both sides need to be taken to the woodshed.

    My opinion is that this strike is the death toll for the CSO. It will not effectively exist after the strike because neither side intends to give in. Finito!

    Other groups will have to pick up the slack, which is considerable.

  • sam says:

    The Pittsburgh Symphony went on strike for 48 days in 2016. They lost their defined benefit pension anyway.

    What is different with the Chicago Symphony is the mounting bad will and animosity from the public created by their picket line which is killing off much of the classical music and jazz offerings of the city.

    If the CSO musicians think they are so great, they should stop begging, form their own orchestra, charge the public what they are worth, and compete against the recitalists they are locking out.

    Let the open market judge their talents.

    • Chris Ponto says:

      What you are suggesting, which is spot-on, is not customary in the US. I’m not sure it’s permissible under our non-profit incorporation laws.

      We have an antiquated system by which non-profits are required to have completely independent “oversight” and management through a Board. I have always maintained that if arts organizations are not raising enough money for their benefits, particularly their complicated overtime and unsustainable pension calculations, they should be free to be “self-governing” and simply do so themselves. Isn’t that the way self-governing orchestras work in Europe? That way, the wholly bogus adversarial pitting of players against the volunteer board who serves them would be removed.

      From the rhetoric deployed in these strikes, one might infer that the Board is declaring huge dividends for itself and somehow profiteering from the labor of the players. I struggle to see the relevance of using that playbook, indicating that it’s The Workers against the allegations of “greedy” corporate monsters. It may work in the private sector but this is a non-profit organization we’re talking about–one that the community of Chicago, generationally, may come to realize is also non-essential when there are so many other urban challenges with which it is faced. I wouldn’t look to government entities at any level supporting the CSO by funding its activities much further.

      I am also dismayed by the aspersions cast on individual Board members, as if their expulsion would make pensions more affordable and appropriate (when the rest of the country has moved over to self-funded retirement plans–something that’s completely anathema to employees with negotiated contracts). Much is made of certain Board members who are accused of simply playing at some sort of half-hearted commitment in order to get publicity and a tax write-off. I suggest that the same publicity and tax write-off is available by affiliating one’s non-profit commitments–however earnest and sincere they may or may not be–to pediatric AIDS, cancer research, or higher-education scholarships for underprivileged, talented teens. That puts the CSO’s pension intransigence in somewhat different light.

      I am not optimistic about the players’ demands for the continuation of an unsustainable pension system. I wish them well but caution that it is, ultimately, their own effort, relevance and success that will fill the coffers, somehow, to fund everything they demand. There is a lot of competition out there for non-profit contributors.

      • NYMike says:

        “Isn’t that the way self-governing orchestras work in Europe?”

        In Europe, orchestra musicians don’t have to worry about niggling little issues such as pension and health. Further, their budgets are largely government-funded. You’re comparing apples to refrigerators.

      • Anonanon says:

        Bingo. I sympathize with trying to hold onto the pension. I also sympathize with the pressures that are making keeping an orchestra budget whole harder today than a decade ago.

        But regardless of who you sympathize with more, the health of the organization is built upon the public image and brand of both labor and management. It’s up for debate how much damage will be done by the end of this, and how many donors might give less or not give at all because they believe that the musicians are unreasonable or that management is incompetent slave drivers who will mismanage your gift. But it’s hard to imagine that there will be no damage to the 60-70% of the budget that comes from donors that will either fund a defined or undefined benefit plan when this all shakes out.

  • anon says:

    I have a question for the CSO musicians:

    Once you kill off the golden goose, then what?

    Do you think the remaining 6 major orchestras — NY, LA, SF, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia (should you deign to join these inferior orchestras of course) — are going to collective create positions (extra concertmaster, principal clarinet, timpani, etc) to accommodate all 100+ of you?

    And do you think they all have a defined benefit plan?

    • NYMike says:

      Since all US orchestra committees share knowledge of each others’ contract agreements, your 2nd query is laughable. Regarding your 1st – most of the orchestras you cite are doing their best to accommodate CSO musicians with subbing, as has been done when other orchestras either struck or were locked out.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    PATCO 1981

    Fire and rehire

  • The View from America says:

    Reading the comments on this blog post (now up to 119 responses) is instructive:

    Many of the comments come from CSO audience members and donors. While opinions vary, it’s pretty clear that the CSO musicians have ended up on the losing end of the argument. It’s time for a major course correction.

  • Peter DG says:

    The fight here has little to do with the musicians. It’s a struggle between orchestra associations, the CSO taking the lead this time, and the socialist agenda of the union movement. Makes you think of Venezuela which had the best symphony orchestra in South America at one time.

    Orchestra associations need to put an end to defined benefit plans which have been made impractical by federal regulations. The union needs to maintain those plans because that is the only hand they have to play. If they lose they will begin to be rejected by musicians. Without that hand the American Federation of Musicians will really not have anything to offer its membership.

    It would be interesting to hear the CSO musicians’ point of view. It’s hard to believe they think the union direction is justified. In practice, not theory, a defined benefit plan is far superior to the present arrangement. Especially if you factor in the “sweeteners” the CSOA has added. With the DB plan you’re growth prospects are severely limited, and the pay out is limited by the survival of CSOA. With a DC plan growth over time can be the market growth. You own and control the funds. Yes there is some risk if your investments are too risky, but the growth potential is huge. And it’s your choice.

    • NYMike says:

      The CSO, NY Phil, SF & Boston’s defined benefit pensions have nothing to do with the AFM – they are these orchestras’ own in-house plans. It’s the intent of the musicians themselves to maintain and increase the value of these DB plans – a promise made by management when the musicians first entered these orchestras. The AFM is not involved in the negotiation of local contracts – the local involved stands by while the orchestra committee with its legal advisor does the bargaining.

      As usual, there’s a lot of misinformation bandied about on this blog.

      • Not Dr Who says:

        This NYMike posts a lot of pro union commentary on this site. Anyone know what his affiliation is?

        • Kelly says:

          What difference does it make what his affiliation is? His opinion is as valid as anyone’s (and more informed than most). It’s refreshing to hear someone on SD speak to the fact the musicians are STILL entitled to a voice in their workplace

      • Peter DG says:

        The orchestra members don’t manage the plan – the orchestral associations do. The CSO musicians’ letter on their website is addressed from CFM (Chicago Federation of Musicians), i.e. the union not the musicians. The letter they post at the top of their website, form Gordon talks about his union advocacy. But the musicians don’t want the AFM pension plan which apparently is insolvent. Look at the CFM website – it’s just a CSO musicians promotion site. So don’t tell me “the local involved stands by” not involved. This is all about the union.

    • MacroV says:

      What federal regulation has made defined-benefit pensions impractical? The only thing that has changed is that employers have for some time been changing from defined-benefit (where employers carry the risk) to defined-contribution (where employees carry it). It may be true that one could do better under a defined-contribution plan (depending on the size of the contribution, anyway), and a new member looking forward to a 40-year career might well come ahead if he/she invests aggressively. But the CSO, as a fairly substantial institution, should have access to investment managers to protect against their risk that the players generally won’t have. Isn’t there anyone from Ken Griffin’s hedge fund on the CSO board?

      • Bill says:

        My understanding is that as a result of a large number of pension failures, and coupled with the lower interest rates, regulations now require that more conservative estimates of rate of return are used, and that the sponsoring entity has to put more money into the pension fund. In other words: it is now more expensive to promise to pay $x per year than it once was. Offering 401k or 403b funds (defined contribution, not benefit) is cheap and predictable — if interest rates change or government policy changes, you aren’t suddenly forced to pump torrents of cash into everyone’s account. It isn’t free to operate the DC retirement infrastructure, of course, but you don’t have a magic crystal ball that will tell you what the contract 10 years down the road is going to offer (remember, giving the orchestra a raise of $10,000 means that you need to invest enough additional money for the pension fund to be able to keep throwing off that sort of cash, and the money needs time to work). If you are just matching part of the players’ contributions, that’s just a percentage of what you paid them that year, and you know what it costs you during contract negotiations.

        Which do you think is easier: planning your investments for retirement when you plan up front how much money you’ll need, and when, or just winging it and hoping that you don’t take up any really expensive hobbies, or suffer a serious mishap?

    • Ccm says:

      Sorry, Peter. You diluted your whole argument with one misplaced word. I think you meant to say “the defined contribution plan is far superior”.