Anthea Kreston: Inside the Chicago strike

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra returns tonight after seven weeks on strike. Our diarist, Chicago to her socks, has been trying to find out what went right, and wrong.

Here’s Anthea’s report:

What function does an orchestra serve in the community? As a Chicagoan, born and bred, I have been following with particular interest the recent events of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. An orchestra, be it in a small, rural town, or bustling metropolis, is an indicator of the health of that community. Not just the musical health, but the entire ecosystem from commerce to education – it is one of the keystone species of its home town.

‘A keystone species is an organism which has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment relative to its abundance,’ according to Wikipedia. Think the wolf at Yellowstone, the sea otters of the kelp forests. Although these species are not necessarily the strongest in the ecosystem. The keystone in an arch isn’t the strongest stone – it is strategic, and without it the structure collapses. All other parts of the community are directly and permanently affected. The members of an orchestra are the professors in the region’s universities – they teach privately, sit on competition juries and serve as soloists for the farm-team orchestras. Their spouses and families play roles in the community – teaching at the public schools, playing in lesser orchestras or chamber groups, or simply by being megaphones for the orchestra (often the families live in the suburbs, further spreading the influences). Their kids go to Eastman to study music, becoming performers and teachers themselves. Local businesses are affected – from the service industry to tourism. The pay scale represents the size and importance of the city – just like in sports. The biggest cities need to pay the most in order to attract and keep the highest levels of musicians.

When I was growing up, my parents had a Wednesday night subscription to the CSO. That meant babysitters for me and my two older sisters, and stories during the week of what was played (that music would be wafting around the kitchen while meals were being prepared). We all learned those pieces, got dressed up and went downtown to the concerts on occasion – pointing to the musicians we knew in the orchestra, waiting by the stage door to catch a glimpse of our heroes. They were our teachers, our coaches, the people playing in the local chamber music series. And they were ours.

Later, as I began to make a name for myself and to have actual, paying concerts, I would have the opportunity to invite a member of the orchestra to be a guest with my quartet or trio, or to teach with me at a festival. One such person was the incredibly poetic and engaging John Yeh, who has been Assistant Principal Clarinet for the CSO since the tender age of 20. I have played nearly every possibly chamber work with him – from the trio version of L’Histoire to Mozart Quintet -eventually recording works of Hindemith for the Cedille Records, a Chicago-based label. He is all around town – from founding the Grammy award-winning Chicago Pro Musica to teaching at summer camps and coaching the local youth orchestras. He is a friend and mentor to the Chicago musical community, and I was able to catch up with him this week to get an insider view of the recent events. Thank you, John, for taking the time to show us what it feels like to be a musician inside this cultural keystone. You are a treasure to Chicago, and to the entire classical music world.

Anthea: Can you please give us a summary of the recent events?
John: Yes. On Saturday, April 27, 2019, the Musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra ratified a 5-year agreement with the CSOAssociation. This was following a nearly 7-week strike, which began on March 11, 2019. This was the longest strike in the 128-year history of the CSO. The strike was precipitated by the refusal of the CSOAssociation to propose a fair contract with the musicians. The strike went on for so long because the CSOA failed to come to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith. They attempted to impose a sub-standard contract on the musicians, which we overwhelmingly rejected. Then they kept canceling weeks of our season without any attempts to improve their contract offer. It was very discouraging to view our management and our board in this way. They thought nothing of the damage their behavior would wreak on the great institution.

Anthea: There was a lot of local and national support – what did that feel like?
John: This was one of the silver linings to the dark cloud! We have garnered such an outpouring of support and encouragement from so many communities worldwide. The vast public support we gathered during this extended strike was what allowed Mayor Emanuel to finally step up and mediate.

Anthea: What were the darkest days?
John: The darkest days were when the CSOAssociation refused to engage with the musicians in any meaningful negotiation. This showed their true colors. We will have a lot of healing to do.

Anthea: How secure do you feel now?
John: We feel secure for the time being, and are happy to return to the stage of Orchestra Hall with our dear Maestro Muti this week.

Anthea: Are you wary?
John: Yes, more than ever. We have seen how the ideological agendas of a small minority of the Board of “Trustees” can wreak havoc on the bedrock of a great cultural institution.

Anthea: Does this experience change the way you think about the future of musicians in the states?
John: Yes. We must all continually stand together with our brothers and sisters in other orchestras who may have to endure this sort of onslaught from union-breaking entities who have infiltrated their boards and managements.

Anthea: When you sit together as an orchestra on stage again, what will be different?
John: Every time we sit together on stage, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra experiences a sense of unity, collaboration, and sensitivity. Now, our sense of solidarity has become strengthened and even more unified. This is another great component of the silver lining to the dark cloud of the strike we have all endured together.

Anthea; What has changed in your heart or mind?
John: We are more resolved to resist any attempts to degrade our standard. We will now take steps to facilitate the removal of forces that would act to cut us down.

Anthea: Does the music mean something different?
John: Yes, just yesterday in a Chicago Symphony Winds concert at the University of Chicago, we had an amazing experience of playing for a most appreciative public. The music went out like love and telling a story of strife, unity, strength, dedication, beauty, and magic. I think each and every adversity we experience as deeply feeling musicians serves to enhance the communication we bring to our audience on a profoundly deep level.

Anthea: Were there some people who just didn’t get it?
John: There were some that didn’t get it, some of the public who didn’t know the complete story, or the history of our institution, of the need to honor our predecessors as well as our successors.

Anthea: What role did the Mayor have in the outcome?
John: He stepped up at a crucial moment, not a moment too soon, to mediate a settlement. He very clearly understood the damage being done to the city of Chicago by this work stoppage. He was instrumental to bringing our management back to the table for meaningful talks. They couldn’t ignore him, as they had ignored even their own subscribers, their own patrons, and their own musicians.

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    • Had the very same thought. Even if you started with wikipedia go to the resource section and at the very least give credit to an actual entity. University of Washington was cited. I mean, come on.

  • 1. “the ideological agendas of a small minority of the Board”

    Small … but presumably big enough to comprise 51%, or, given the importance of the vote to replace the pension plan, even 2/3 of the Board?

    2. “We will now take steps to facilitate the removal of forces that would act to cut us down.”

    You live but by the grace and generosity of your board of trustees. If you removed the wealthiest on the Board, who will be left? No one else was willing to pay you more, if there was such a patron, she or he would have written a $500 million check on the spot.

    There are people willing to write a $500 million check, but they want something in return, their name on the building…

    Good luck.

    • How much does it cost to endow a chair at the CSO? $1.5 million?

      (There are still some unfunded principal wind chairs, surprisingly.)

      Anyway, the going rate for a building/school appears to be $100 million, so much less than $500, which is a relief, phew.

    • Dear Anonymous, thank you for your comment. We CSO Musicians are of course always grateful and appreciative of the support given by all our public, patrons, donors, volunteers, and audiences, including our Board of Trustees, Governing Members, and League of the CSO. My comment was intended to draw attention to the fact that during this most recent strike, there was an unprecedented insistence by the CSOAssociation management to devalue the Musicians’ contributions to this great institution. We musicians are performing at the highest level in our 128 year history. We do not intend to lower our standards of performance in any way. By their own reports, the CSOAssociation is also performing at the highest level in history, raising more contributions and receiving more ticket revenues than ever. Therefore it was incongruous that we musicians were demanded to accept a lower standard of pension benefits and salary at this time.

      • Thank you, John, for taking the time to react to readers. This is indeed one of the only places in the world where passionate classical music dialogue happens, and to have someone of your stature engaging with us is an honor. Thank you!

      • “We musicians are performing at the highest level in our 128 year history” . . .

        I suggest you purchase the Martinon/CSO box on RCA and take a serious listen through it.

        • I have heard the CSO in concert twice; once in 1988 with Solti and again in 2011 in Vienna with Muti. The latter was even more stunning that the former – and that’s saying something!!! I thought the CSO was the finest orchestra I’d ever heard, alongside both the Berliners and Wiener Philharmoniker.

      • “We do not intend to lower our standards of performance in any way.”

        Equating performance standards with your already very high salaries’ further growth is IMHO a slippery slope and intellectually dishonest.

        It’s NOT related. Or do you say that if in a hypothetical drastic development where your salaries and benefits would be cut in half, your musical abilities and thus performance standards would also be cut in half?

        Do you honestly think that musicians and orchestras who make only about half of what you do (e.g. top London SOs) are only half as good?

        Please stop colluding the minds of the public by mixing these things up.

        What you did and demanded had everything to do with market and power. You did it because you could. Not because your performance standards demand it.

        Of course there is one point, where your financial benefits impact your performance standards in the long perspective: competition with other ensembles for the best young musicians.
        But that clearly NOT why you went on a strike, because that group was the one thrown under the bus in your deal.

        Good luck with to the CSO, a great orchestra with a great tradition.

  • “An orchestra, be it in a small, rural town, or bustling metropolis, is an indicator of the health of that community.”

    I’m not sure that thesis holds water. Considering how the financing of ‘high’ culture works in the US. An orchestra is IMO not more or less only an indicator of the presence and willingness of local financial aristocrats to pay for it.
    It would be different, if the orchestra was financed by the community in some form.
    But that’s not the case. It is simply a private matter of entertainment, with the added benefit of opportunity for participation for the still financially fluent but not only rich people.

    • That’s what the CSO musicians don’t seem to grasp, they’ve got to make nice with their trustees, they can’t just go on strike every time they renew their contract and put out these blistering, scorch-earth statements that their board is made up of blood sucking philistine leeches.

      I mean, it sort of discourages the local financial aristocrats from wanting to join the exclusive club. What the musicians want is for every arriviste billionaire to aspire to be a CSO trustee not, you know, go across the street to the Art Institute of Chicago, or curse the day, the Lyric Opera.

    • Indeed an article entitled “How to save Cleveland” I once read began with the lines:

      “You want a quick indicator of urban decline in any city you visit? Ask a local what’s great about the place. If the top three answers include “a world-class symphony orchestra,” you’re smack dab in the middle of a current or future ghost town.”

  • Wednesday night subscription? probably Thursday. Maybe Tuesdays…. not Weds., I think. But interesting article. Tonight’s concert will be very interesting!

    • I remember it was when “Love Boat” was on! What day was that? We used to convince our babysitter to let us watch that, after we practiced, of course.

      • Never saw a single episode of the “Love Boat”, but for reasons unknown I remember it being prime time Saturday nights in the 1980’s. Your parents had a Saturday night subscription. There never was a Wednesday subscription. That’s usually a double rehearsal day. Long and grueling day for the musicians, as is Thursday when they usually have to rehearse in the morning and perform at night. A lot of people who are quick to comment negatively have no idea that life in show business is far from glamorous

        • Somehow it was a school night. Maybe Fantasy Island? It was exciting because it was a school night and we could trick the babysitter into letting us go to bed late. Maybe Thursday? Is that possible? I was around 6-8 years old.

        • Bravo. It IS a labor of love. And the comments and tone about philanthropists has more than a tone of condescension, contempt and anger. Ah, the politics of envy.

          Listen up, folks; people who have LOTS of money have problems you and I never dream about. Usually they are responsible for the welfare of thousands of people, complying with a myriad regulations, the depredations of the market and so on. That’s not to say they don’t enjoy a certain lifestyle – sure – but their appetite for risk and reward is something you wouldn’t understand. If they’ve merely inherited their wealth they have the obligation and responsibility to ensure its continuation. And to become a lefty, of course, so that they can deal with the ‘guilt’.

  • “He very clearly understood the damage being done to the city of Chicago by this work stoppage.”

    Is this really true?

    The Arts always need to be present in the world, but The Arts aren’t a bedrock that societies are built upon. They shouldn’t be viewed as a superfluous luxury either. But to say that the entire city is damaged by this is a stretch. It would be more accurate to say that the arts/music scene and reputation has been damaged by this. Many subscribers and patrons weren’t happy about this and many people who had plans to attend concerts in Orchestra Hall were upset that concerts the planned on seeing were cancelled.

    There were a lot of people who supported the musicians 100%, but the amount of people who either didn’t agree with them or were completely disgusted by them should be noted.

    Other than that, life went on in Chicago and the world.

    I don’t want to sound like some philistine who thinks musicians should work for less, but the members of the CSO need to realize that they’re living the dream. No one tried to take retirement from you, they just tried to change the way it works in the long run.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is how aggressive the musicians have been when speaking publicly about the CSOA. It’s really off-putting. A board of directors shouldn’t lord over their members as if they were worthless proles, but it is their responsibility to guide an organization and make sure the ship sails in the right direction. I, and many others, think that’s what they were honestly trying to do.

    Or maybe it’s just a woodwind thing? (Flute, clarinet, etc)

    • Huh? I think they simply see a mismanagement of funds. The staff is ridiculous, you don’t need that much staff. Z ell apparently put just 17mil into her will. Where is the money from CD sales and streaming. Considering how long they have been around they should have Beyonce money with sales.
      That’s odd. Ticket sales are up as well. i understand their confusion. It’s the record label business model.
      I never knew where the money went. I’m pretty sure posters didn’t cost $100,000 in Tower Records back in the day; ergo, I never recouped. When I asked to see the books they balked and I walked. Guess what I see more money than ever on my own and that’s with lower sales due to streaming. something is rotten in denmark with the board .

    • Hello Timpanitroll! (Nice handle, by the way). Yes, Mayor Emanuel unquestionably understands the economic toll a work stoppage at one of Chicago’s major arts institution takes on the entire city in terms of lost tourism and patron revenue. The two restaurants on the same block of Symphony Center reported drastically fewer patrons during the strike. Tesori, the restaurant owned by the CSOAssociation even had to close altogether. Many patrons come in from out of town, even out of the country, specifically to attend our concerts. I met many of them while I was picketing. They stay at local hotels and patronize Chicago businesses. When these travelers have no CSO concerts to attend, they may stay away from Chicago altogether.

    • A strike could affect local businesses in the area of the hall. Probably not a huge impact in a city like Chicago, but in Minneapolis during the lockout, the loss of revenue to surrounding businesses was significant.

    • “No one tried to take retirement from you, they just tried to change the way it works in the long run.”

      When the board of the Philly Orch. took away musicians’ Defined Benefit plan by declaring a false bankruptcy in ’11, I commented that instead of practicing 6 hrs/day in the Curtis practice rooms, they’d have been better off studying @ UPenn’s Wharton business school.The onus of investing will now fall on individual musicians instead of on CSOA’s board. That’s a BIG change on the way it works.

      • If the Philly orchestra had studied at Wharton, they would know they would have been better off if their pension had been in a 401k/403b where the association couldn’t get at it no matter what shape it was in. It was precisely because it was in a Defined Benefit plan that all the association had to do was to declare bankruptcy in order to gut it. The fact that DBs are “risk-free” versus DCs is the biggest dis-information that has been sold to to the musicians by their negotiating committee. Yes, there is risk in investing your own money. But you can choose to invest very conservatively and still come out with the same amount as the DB now. With the DB, you’re completely hostage to what kind of financial state the orchestra will be in the future, and your “risk-free” pension might go the same way as Philly’s.

  • Most comments about the strike are a venomous mix of envy and arrogance. They represent a challenge to our cultural institutions, they are a measure of how much needs to be done to cultivate the empathy that is at the heart of artistically creative life. Here is a parable that may offer some insight.
    God granted three people one one wish. The first had a neighbor with a beautiful horse, and he asked God for a horse like his neighbor’s. The second had a neighbor with a beautiful cow, he asked for a cow like his neighbor’s. The third had a neighbor with a beautiful goat. God said, I suppose you want a goat like your neighbor’s. He replied, No, I want you to kill his goat.

    I don’t want the musicians to worry about their retirement, the direction of the markets, and the current level of the S&P. These musicians are very special people, who began developing their art when many of us were still pissing in our pants. We should not forget how much was required to develop their gifts. My greatest musical experiences were when I felt the music as if I were a child, when I was engulfed with the wonder of sound and beauty as if for the first time. We should show respect for those who can open such experiences, and do what we can to provide the conditions they need for success.

    • ‘cultural institution’

      worth repeating that word a few times.

      What is an institution?
      Isn’t it an entity constituted and funded by, and for the benefit, of the community?

      Now if said ‘cultural institution’ is fully financed by financial oligarchs, is it still a ‘cultural institution’?

      Or is it a private cultural holding, made accessible also to the wider public?

      also:
      “…to cultivate the empathy that is at the heart of artistically creative life.”

      well, empathy requires co-ownership. Not necessarily in material terms, but in terms of communal and social participation. Now how empathetic can the common man be to an entity, that is run by the upper 1% for their cultural entertainment primarily, tax breaks included?

    • Bravo Stan. Yes, the bitterness and mean-spirited vitriol that characterize so many of these comments always take me aback. You see the same screen names over and over; what sad little lives wasted at a computer screen!

  • Where do they get this idea that they had an outpouring of support? The picket lines were completely barren most days save for a handful of musicians. The online community (as witnessed at this website) was probably 90% against what the musicians were doing.

    • Hi Russ, most days when I walked the picket line, we had numerous people engage us striking musicians in conversation. When we explained to them our issues and our situation, they were overwhelmingly supportive with their comments, and many also signed our online petition at http://www.chicagosymphonymusicians.com
      A great number of passers by were out-of-town visitors. I actually met several foreigners who knew musician-friends of mine from their homelands! Each day on leaving the picket line, I felt energized, uplifted, and nourished by the outpouring of support. On many days, we CSO Musicians were joined on the picket line by other union members, including school teachers, stage hands, electricians, construction workers, as well as many of our subscribers.

  • I would just like to encourage Anthea to talk to someone from the CSO Association to get their viewpoint also.

    • I agree that it would be interesting to hear from those on the opposite side of the negotiating table, but what do they gain by going public? What do they risk? Regardless if management’s position was well-reasoned (and I have no idea if it was), the overwhelming majority of the public would never have the time, energy, interest, knowledge and/or desire to dispassionately assess the situation. The willingness of people on this website to condemn one side or the other after reading a blurb is testament to that.

      Management certainly has many advantages, tools and leverage points at their disposal, but public opinion is generally not among them. It’s far more prudent for management to keep silent to protect themselves, their families and the other companies and organizations they are associated with from vitriol and criticism, be it warranted or unwarranted.

  • Hi John,

    Thank you for taking the time to reach out and reply to the online community. I am very happy that the issue was resolved and I look forward to attending the remaining concerts for this season.

    My main problem with the whole strike is the musicians’ characterization of the CSOA and the board of trustees. The letters from the CSO musicians showed such a heavy disdain against their benefactors. There was even a line that mocked the fact that the CSOA chooses to pay their bondholders rather than their musicians. There were also articles in socialistic websites that even painted this strike as a battle between the wealthy patrons and the workers. What “ideological agendas” do you think the board has against the musicians.

    Coming from a heavy finance background, I understand why the CSOA was adamant on cutting the defined benefit plan. Without going into the details on the current financial situation of the CSO and the difficulties of a defined benefit plan, the main foundation of their hardlined stance is to protect the future of the organization and in doing so, the future employment of the musicians. They had nothing to personally gain from withholding from the musicians.

    My question is, how do you foresee the relationship between the musicians and the association? Do you think this can be repaired, or do you feel like personnel changes must be made?

    Thank you,
    Luigi

  • “Removal of forces that would act to cut us down” . . a.k.a. Helen Zell . . a.k.a. “La Bruja” . . . . . .Thank you CSO musicians for taking the battle to the CSOA for what is right and just

  • I was struck by this line in Anthea’s introduction to the Q&A: “When I was growing up, my parents had a Wednesday night subscription to the CSO. That meant babysitters for me and my two older sisters.”

    Anthea, it is precisely the point that today in America, it is very common to attend a classical music concert and find it hard to pick out anyone in the audience who looks like they had to hire a babysitter for the evening. Or rushed off from the office to make it in time. Or joined a bunch of single friends for a drink at the bar before heading over to the concert hall. Of course there are many exceptions – I’ve seen them as you have. And this dynamic works rather differently (but not entirely so) for the very largest and most prestigious symphony orchestras. But the last time I was at a CSO concert, this dynamic definitely was at play, as school groups “papering the audience” (the easy kind of outreach) shared one of the upper levels of Symphony Center with overwhelmingly people their grandparents’ age, which sends an odd message about whether attending classical music concerts is a normal adult activity.

    It’s against this background that many people in Chicago and beyond were clearly put off by all the pearl-clutching over defined contribution retirement plans that emanated from the musicians. (And even seems to continue here in these surprisingly aggressive interview responses.) I’m not being an advocate here for or against the strike itself or the settlement terms, I’m being diagnostic. There was clearly a reaction from the working public, in many ways the peers of the musicians of the CSO and the very people who everyone wants in the audience, in the questions they were posing to newspapers and commenting on in forums. Of course people at the picket line were nice – I was always taught to respect picket lines and to find out what the people on them were facing – but a lot of what John Yeh reports about the support there seems to be “inside baseball” among musicians and global fans of the CSO rather than organic support in the Chicago community. I wish the CSO the best as it starts back up tonight, but I think you have to keep all of this in mind.

    • David, perhaps it might have occurred to you that the reason you don’t see too many folks obviously in need of babysitting is that our generation of 30/40-somethings is working harder than your generation in more jobs for less money, commuting longer and shelling out multiple arms and legs for childcare, not to mention possibly having to schlep kids to extracurriculars (which conflict with concert schedules) without which they won’t get into the next level of semi-decent schooling. Those of us in such positions don’t envy CSO musicians for a $180K starting salary, as we know how hard it is even on that money for a working professional to raise a family in Chicago. We aren’t not attending because we consider the CSO “irrelevant”, we’re not attending right now because we can’t. That doesn’t mean we won’t later (when we’re of an age when we can whine about why younger folks don’t go to the symphony). And those young kids, with whom the audience is supposedly being “papered” might also not come in their 20s, 30s and 40s when academic, career and family demands interfere. That doesn’t mean that the seed of classical music that has been planted won’t bear fruit later. You can go through decades and centuries of journalism on classical music and find the same complaints about the supposedly aging audience and the dyuing art. It has never been true and isn’t now either. Nor does the relative absence of that generation somehow signal a lack of support for the CSO musicians.

      • Hard to raise a family in Chicago on $180K (PLUS whatever the spouse is making– say $50)?
        Pish posh.

        • Have you looked at the state of public schools, as they have been destroyed by Rahm and his predecessors? Do you know the cost of private school? Cost of housing in the few suburbs with good schools? Cost of daycare/afterschool if both parents work full time? If you don’t you hardly know what you’re talking about.

      • SEATAC, let’s stipulate that you have the germ of a point about contemporary life in America – traffic, housing, kids, dual incomes, extracurricular activities, exhaustion, the whole ball of wax. Beyond that, I’m afraid that your argument just doesn’t play. I assure you that the babysitting business is alive and well and people are hiring them for something! There’s a reason why here in Washington (D.C., that is) where I am, the Kennedy Center – with some bumps and bruises along the way – has successfully converted itself to an all-arts-and-culture center from a strictly classical programming house. Compare the audiences jamming the Opera House in the middle of the building for runs of musicals with the 2/3 houses for scattered performances of Washington National Opera (which actually aren’t bad audiences, but still) and you’ll see what I mean. In Chicago I believe that this month’s run of West Side Story at Lyric Opera, which also had labor problems this year, is saving the season finances. The number of performances cannot possibly be accounted for without including the attendance of working parents among other population segments.

        At the risk of pointing to one aspect of my own work here in Washington, when I conducted a Q&A interview last year with National Symphony Orchestra music director Gianandrea Noseda, after I turned off the recording device I told Maestro Noseda that I’ll know he’s a success here when I hear his name – pronounced correctly – brought up spontaneously in conversation when I’m not otherwise expecting it. To Maestro’s credit and with his deep experience in multiple different cultures (not just Italy but also particularly Russia, Israel, and America) he knew exactly what I was talking about. It’s motivation and cultural cachet, not excuses and rationalizations, that ultimately matter, and all of that depends on daily conversation independent of the explicit marketing of ticket sales and donations.

        Well it seems to me that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has gotten itself into the daily conversation of the general public, but not in the best possible way. I use the comment of Stan Collins above – I doubt he’s a member of the orchestra but it’s similar to the rhetoric I’ve read from the players’ representatives. “I don’t want the musicians to worry about their retirement, the direction of the markets, and the current level of the S&P.” Half an hour’s education on the workings of defined contribution plans will reveal that in the accumulation phase of working people, you do NOT want the market to lack volatility and for the S&P to always be going “up” or stand at a record. I’m not going to go into why that is, because the point is that some of the dismissive and fearful language I read and heard clearly hit a clanky tone to the broad population of adults who you must agree are the ones who are the key target audience for all cultural endeavors.

        As for the “seed is planted” cliche often used in outreach programs, that’s a broader subject for another day. Let’s just say that attention to the social context and depth and continuity of programs all matter in this field. To be continued elsewhere, I’m sure.

      • What’s the ticket price for the kids if I may ask?
        And how much do you pay for all of you for one concert?

      • @lori,

        So do I, but that only works from a certain age onwards. CSO policy is to accept kids 8 or older (I have brought mine starting at 6, no questions asked). You’re still out of pocket for a sitter the first six years of their lives.

      • I think my parents were on a weekly “date night”. No worries – we went to plenty of concerts – CSO to CYSO to studio class and school orchestra and chamber music. Summers were spent on my grandfathers farm where I heard the Mirecourt Trio play every night for 3 weeks. But we lived a good hour away from Chicago so getting to the CSO was definitely a bigger event, and a super late night for me.

  • John Yeh, this is very accurate and thank you for taking the time to reply to some comments. Yes, the Musicians support locally and worldwide was overwhelmingly positive on many levels.. Artistic, Local, Worldwide, Political, Professional Media, Social Media all greatly favored the media.

    Musicians believe that 100% of CSOA Trustees have their best intentions for the well being of the CSO. Unfortunately, the Executive Committee of the CSOA has not bothered to balance the ideology fairly amongst their members. The lack of representation for the Musicians for MANY years likely resulted in the recent conflict.

    The picket lines were well attended, especially since there were 3 doors to cover for 12 hours a day, and only 100 Musicians! We were out engaging the public and presenting dozens of free concerts throughout the community during the strike.

    The few trolls in this community are a sour bunch indeed. And the one (and only!!) hit job we had in the local media was fueled by many of these same trolls and some were even paid by management to write comments.

    John Yeh is a hero.
    Emma Gerstein is a hero. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Musician of the CSO. We are going to blow the roof off of Orchestra Hall in less than 2 hours and I can hardly wait!

    • Wow. So:
      We CSO musicians are all heroes.
      All critics are merely trolls.
      Got it.

      And… isn’t it funny/hypocritical, how people like to benefit from capitalism in a moneyed plutocracy like the US (which is why musician salaries in top orchestras are the highest in the US) but then cry “ideological agendas” when said capitalism comes too close to home apparently, when the chicken come home to roost?

      How, dear CSO musician(s), you think the money was created in the first place, that now finances your salaries and pension plans? Have you checked for ethical compliance? Have you made sure, no blood money from an e.g. Boeing Corp. stock holder (Boeing is a major military industry entity) is part of the revenue that finances you?

      It’s a bit more complicated than ‘heros vs trolls’ me thinks. Life is not a comic strip.

      • “We CSO musicians are all heroes.
        All critics are merely trolls.”

        Yes, that’s exactly what I said. You captured the very essence of my comment. Thank you!

    • Thank you David! You are most definitely My Hero! Hey, do you know “Timpanitroll” on this thread, by the way? I had a chuckle when I saw his handle, and immediately thought of you!!! xoxo

  • Whatever arguments being said by the CSO members, especially from John Yeh (who published an article elsewhere that I am absolutely unimpressed with), they need a whole lot of time to grow on me.

    For one, Chicago isn’t the epicenter of the American orchestras. I feel many people like me who are fortunate enough to show up at Carnegie Hall every week or two could attest to that.

    However, this “we are the very best and need to be treated out-of-the-way to be among the very best” is understandable, even when I disagree with.

    They don’t listen to their peer orchestras live. I am sure they don’t like to neither ——— mostly by profession, some by competitive spirit. It is rare that they would listen to orchestral works on CDs (their own, or other orchestras). This “the best” mentality is nothing more like marketing, ego, and illusion created by the media.

    As an outsider who visit Chicago every now and then, I could see things from 3rd person, more objective perspective. I feel this strike simply reflects the whole orchestra as a bunch of hypocrite who insisted being “accessible”, “community-friendly” and “for the people of Chicago”, when what they are getting now and what they gonna get are completely out of line with the working class of the greater Chicago area, and in direct violation of Economy 101 (Supply vs Demand)

    But good for them. I have no ill feeling about others getting loaded.

    • Hi Ben, everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course. I’m just telling the story from my own perspective of 42 years in the CSO. I regularly attend concerts and listen to recordings and videos of my colleagues in other great orchestras. Many are amazingly great, to be sure! I especially enjoy my subscription to the Berlin Philharmonic’s “Digital Concert Hall.” Why doesn’t the CSO have something similar? In the words of the CSOAssociation’s marketing department, the CSO is the “World’s Best. Chicago’s Own.” We must continually prove it to discriminating listeners like yourself. This takes constant self-improvement and lifelong dedication. In the words of my mentor Sir Georg Solti, “My Dearsss! Ve Must Maintain our Standard! And Ve Must Raise our Standard! Zeeess eees The Most Difficult Sssing, but VE MUST Do it!!!”
      Thanks for your comment.

      • As has been pointed out on this website many many times, The Berlin Philharmonic makes about 2/3rds of the salary that CSO musicians make. What is making them maintain their standard with such unacceptable compensation?

  • The simplistic “they’re bad, we’re good” narrative is tiring and Yeh continues with this superior, self-indulgent tone that is bad form and not respectful of the generous and hardworking people who support his work.

    News flash: the CSO is not nearly as good the musicians think it is. Many need to start collecting that pension of theirs. Maybe with the new unity, Yeh won’t play so loud. It’s as though everything is an Eb clarinet solo.

    I’ll not be back. Great music makes me believe in beauty and the soul of this institution is ugly. I could never attend one of their concerts again without hearing ugly.

    • Uhhhhh… Them’s fighting words, Mr. R. Care to step into the alley? 😀 Actually, I’m always open to suggestions from well-meaning folks. Please feel free to email me at jyehcondor@aol.com and we can discuss your musical preferences. I would be delighted!

    • Dear Realist,

      I urge you not to take up Mr. Yeh’s offer to go into a dark alley to resolve your differences.

      He is licensed by the State of Illinois to carry his Eb clarinet as a “conceal carry” weapon and unless you have adequate protection (such as Charlie Vernon’s trombone) you are in very grave danger.

      Perhaps Rahm can help you two resolve this peacefully since he will have more time on his hands in a month.

  • I don’t understand the use of scare quotes in referencing the “trustees;” the musicians’ insistence on tarnishing people whose generosity keeps the doors open has been disappointing throughout this episode. And then to praise the mayor’s efforts so uncritically….I mean, he delivered to the board their central priority, what was always at the heart of the disagreement, the defined contribution plan.

    • Actually, the CSOMUSICIANS delivered the same version of a defined contribution plan in a compromise proposal presented two weeks into our strike. The CSOAssociation refused to negotiate for 5 additional weeks, until the Mayor stepped up.

      • Are you saying that the CSO musicians were actually in favor of a defined contribution plan from the outset? If yes, documentation please.

        Jasper

      • It is disturbing that Mr Yeh, as an outspoken spokesperson during this whole period, does not seem to know the details of the so-called “same version of a defined contribution plan in a compromise proposal” that the musicians put out. Either that or he is deliberately putting out misleading information even now to rewrite history.

        The musicians never put out a counter-offer that included closing the DB to future members, which was the whole point of why the Association wanted to change the pension plan – to rid itself of future federal funding requirements. They were even willing to incur higher costs in the short run in order to do this. A liability like this bounces up and down –especially when changes occur due to outside factors, such as the interest rates used, per government rules, to determine the annual contribution.

        The musicians’ proposal that Mr Yeh is referring to never addressed that concern. The proposal, in effect, said keep the current plan as is and add the 401(k) plan. Not surprising that it was rejected. As long as the current plan was left “open” (ongoing accruals and new entrants) the CSOA would have been mandated by law to fund those open benefits—so they really would not be able to wait and see how much goes to DB and how much goes to DC

        Management was looking for something that definitively put an end to the liability and volatility. The musicians knew this, yet persisted in putting out offer after offer that kept the DB open. Clearly, the Association got weary of this and refused to meet until this was addressed. The musicians finally caved on this issue only at the Mayor’s meeting.

        • My Two Cents: “The musicians never put out a counter-offer that included closing the DB to future members, which was the whole point of why the Association wanted to change the pension plan – to rid itself of future federal funding requirements.”

          To my understanding, this is exactly correctly. Mr Yeh is obfuscating.

          Jasper

      • I found John Yeh to be altogether disarming, charming, funny, engaging, and effective.

        Be engaging directly the critics on their own turf, Yeh’s voice balances out opinions here and allows his supporters to speak up.

        I remain unswayed on the other side of the debate, but that’s besides the point, one will never win them all, but the point is Yeh should’ve been the spokesman of the group, and the way he engaged the readership here, he should’ve engaged them from the beginning of the strike, and the reasonable, respectful, rolling-with-the-punches but firm and steadfast tone he adopted here, the orchestra should’ve adopted publicly with the board from the beginning.

        Then let your lawyer be the pitbull, the one to say all the nasty things about the board, and all the over-the-top praise of the orchestra, because it is always better to have a third party doing that.

        If I was a billionaire philanthropist, I could see Yeh talking me into giving a million (still not enough to fund a defined benefit plan, but hey…).

        • Anon –
          Well-said. I double that! He is one-in-a-million – you can hear that in his playing as well.

        • Anon- I get what you’re saying about Mr Yeh’s tone being charming and engaging. For me, however, this makes it in some way more offensive then if the same incorrect, ignorant, and misleading statements were being made in a belligerent tone. (As an exercise, conjure up a mental image of the most offensive propaganda of any kind you can think of, and think of it being delivered in a cheerful funny tone.). I was not going to bother wading into the details, but your comment spurs me to point out the sheer volume of questionable statements Mr Yeh makes in this interview:

          “The strike was precipitated by the refusal of the CSOAssociation to propose a fair contract with the musicians.”

          Given that the CSOA proposal that was on the table at the beginning of the strike was essentially the same as the ratified contract which the musicians considered a “victory” as far as costs for the CSOA goes, the sweeping statement that it was not a fair contract is subjective at best. There were virtually no significant changes from start to finish. Things were taken from one pot and put into another in response to the musicians’ demands. As one example, the very first offer included an automatic 2% increase in everyone’s accrued Defined Benefit, but this was taken away when the pay raises were increased. The penultimate offer had 8% per annum to be funded into the 401K accounts, but the ratified contract has it dropped down to 7.5% with the wage increases slightly higher than the previous offer. Most of the other changes in the ratified contract compared to what was originally on the table were psychological “training wheels” to reassure the musicians they were not being unreasonably asked to shoulder risk in investing on their own.

          “The strike went on for so long because the CSOA failed to come to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith.”

          What is Mr Yeh’s definition of negotiating in good faith? The CSOA submitted two revised offers during the course of the strike. The changes addressed the musicians’ concerns about feeling they were being asked to take on more risk and about the wage increases not being greater. But they did not back down on the elements that made them stand firm at the beginning of the strike. They needed to phase out the Defined Benefit pension, and to contain escalating costs in general. They succeeded in both regards, and the resulting contract is something the musicians consider their “victory”, so I ask again how Mr Yeh could claim lack of negotiating in good faith by the Association?

          “They attempted to impose a sub-standard contract on the musicians, which we overwhelmingly rejected.”

          As in my previous comment on this thread, Mr Yeh seems to be unfamiliar with the details of the pension conversion offers, so the fact that he considered the contract “sub-standard” seems to be based mostly on what he was told by the musician’s negotiating committee. Also, as I pointed out above, the ratified contract has costs for the Association very little different from the original pre-strike offer, so characterizing that as “sub-standard” while finding the ratified contract satisfactory seems to stretch credulity.

          “Then they kept canceling weeks of our season without any attempts to improve their contract offer.”

          Again, this is not true. They addressed the concerns put forth by the musicians and revised their offer twice. They had no choice but to cancel upcoming weeks because the musicians refused to come back to work and they had to naturally notify the patrons with sufficient time for them to make changes of plan in their schedules. Not to do so in a timely manner would have been the height of disrespect to them.

          “It was very discouraging to view our management and our board in this way. They thought nothing of the damage their behavior would wreak on the great institution.”

          Throughout the entire strike, the musicians have been obsessed with the “damage” the management and the board were doing to the institution, but completely oblivious to the fact that the strike was initiated by them, continued by them, could have been stopped any time by then, and that they were the ones doing the “damage”. This was pointed out in commentaries by numerous concert-going patrons, but the musicians had blinders on about this.

          “We have garnered such an outpouring of support and encouragement from so many communities worldwide.”

          The number of people who signed the petition supporting the orchestra could not even fill orchestra hall once. The musicians seemed to form their conviction of support from the community solely from the people who showed up at their free concerts and people who chatted with them on the picket line. Many of the “supporters” also were completely unaware of the details of the dispute, and just supported the musicians out of principle or an erroneous understanding of what was being “inflicted” on them by the management and board. Once told what the musicians were actually turning down and keeping Symphony Center closed for 7 weeks, words like “greedy” and “delusional” replaced their support.

          “The vast public support we gathered during this extended strike was what allowed Mayor Emanuel to finally step up and mediate.”

          Completely speculative contention based on zero evidence.He made no mention of supporting either the side of the musicians or the board. In fact, he refused when he was asked in the early days to come to the picket line in support of the musicians.

          “The darkest days were when the CSOAssociation refused to engage with the musicians in any meaningful negotiation. This showed their true colors. We will have a lot of healing to do.”

          It was the musicians who refused to engage in meaningful negotiations in the sense that they ignored the Association’s adamant stance that continuing to keep the Defined Benefit pension open would be ruinous to the financial future of the organization and future musicians. Their counter-offers kept their demand to keep the DB open in a mule-like obstinate fashion. Everything else was “tweaked” by both sides. The Association tweaked more than the musicians, but wouldn’t give up on keeping the DB open. When the musicians finally gave up on the DB at the Mayor’s meeting, everything else fell into place. So, given this train of events, who was responsible for the strike not being settled earlier?

          “We feel secure for the time being, and are happy to return to the stage of Orchestra Hall with our dear Maestro Muti this week.”

          The 5 year contract (versus the usual 3 year one) was put forth by the Association, which is largely responsible for the musicians feeling “secure for the time being”.

          “We have seen how the ideological agendas of a small minority of the Board of “Trustees” can wreak havoc on the bedrock of a great cultural institution.”

          I would contend that the ideological agendas of a small minority of the negotiating committee can also wreak havoc. The original union lawyer was fired by the committee for urging them to accede to the pension transition. Attempts by any musicians to question the direction the Committee was going on this was squelched. In the end, the Committee had to give up on this ideology – something that would have averted the 7 week strike if they had come to their senses earlier.

          “We must all continually stand together with our brothers and sisters in other orchestras who may have to endure this sort of onslaught from union-breaking entities who have infiltrated their boards and managements”

          The example of the Chicago strike will serve as an example that not all negotiation battles are the same. Plenty of posters on this site have mentioned that they were without hesitation in support of the musicians in Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Detroit during their work stoppages, because they were truly having their work conditions gutted, but they could not, in good conscience, support the Chicago musicians, who were just making unreasonable demands.

          “Now, our sense of solidarity has become strengthened and even more unified. This is another great component of the silver lining to the dark cloud of the strike we have all endured together.”

          The musicians were largely kept in the dark about the details of the negotiations. Most of the information they got was actually from the management, so their sense of solidarity and unity comes from the superb job the union does to stamp out any dissenting voices and keeping their membership in line through ignorance. I give them high credit for this!

          “We are more resolved to resist any attempts to degrade our standard. We will now take steps to facilitate the removal of forces that would act to cut us down.”

          Well, if they lose support from all the trustees, who I assume did not appreciate getting trashed by a bunch of people they were voluntarily giving money to, it shouldn’t be too hard to “facilitate the removal” of these forces. They will leave skid marks. And who, pray, is going to replace them, and be able to keep the organization supplied with enough to pay the bills that the great contract the musicians won dictates? The musicians seem to be living in a fantasy world.

          “I think each and every adversity we experience as deeply feeling musicians serves to enhance the communication we bring to our audience on a profoundly deep level.”

          ???? I do not know what this means, but it sounds good!

          “There were some that didn’t get it, some of the public who didn’t know the complete story, or the history of our institution, of the need to honor our predecessors as well as our successors.”

          The need to honor our predecessors and successors do not involve acting like spoiled children making demands that will undermine the future financial health of the CSO. Plenty of financial professionals have told the musicians that defined benefit plans are universally seen to be a drag on any organization, especially ones that have a precarious future ahead like the field of classical music, and there is great need to navigate the future as unencumbered of obligations as possible in order to survive. None of the musicians seem to have had any patience for this advice, but only obsessed on hanging on to their old pension plan.

          “He very clearly understood the damage being done to the city of Chicago by this work stoppage. He was instrumental to bringing our management back to the table for meaningful talks. They couldn’t ignore him, as they had ignored even their own subscribers, their own patrons, and their own musicians.”

          No comment. I would only be repeating everything else I have already said!

  • I really didn’t have much sympathy for CSO musicians during the strike. Defined benefit pensions are a thing of the past. How many others have such a luxury? Many of us are lucky to have any sort of pension these days. And if you’re making $170K a year and can’t save enough for your retirement, that’s your own fault.

  • This is really disgusting. I’ve generously supported the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a half a century, but in good conscience that will have to stop. It looks like at least the outspoken CSO musicians are a bunch of misguided socialists who never read their history books. Socialist attitudes invariably lead to destruction – Russia, Cuba, Venezuela … – let’s not support those politics here. Not with my money.

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