Opera sacks its orchestra under California’s new gig law

Opera sacks its orchestra under California’s new gig law


norman lebrecht

January 26, 2020

Valley Opera’s production of Gounod’s Faust has, we hear, been forced to stand down an orchestra of 22 musicians and replace them with a rehearsal pianist under California’s new “gig law” (AB5), which prohibits freelance engagements.

The first the audience heard about it was on the back of the programme book, which urged them to contact their local legislator to amend or repeal the law.

This is not the first such case.



  • MacroV says:

    I am sure the legislature had no intention to cover freelance pit musicians. I wonder if the institutions are being too cautious; you would think a good lawyer would be able to argue effectively against any enforcement action by the state.

    • Denise Stein says:

      Just force musician’s AGENTS to make both players and singers their employees.

      They already get a big cut ‘managing’ talent as it is besides writing off their business expenses. They can afford healthcare for their artists.

      Artist EQUALITY!

  • Chris says:

    As someone who works in the arts in California, I can attest to the fact that Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) is having a devastating effect on freelancers from musicians, to journalists, to photographers, to Uber drivers, to even those teaching part time at private universities. (California lawmakers exempted state-funded universities from the chaos, unsurprisingly.)

    Lawmakers thought this would make companies hire these freelancers as regular employees with all the benefits therein. But the cost of doing that for most small businesses is not practical at all and thus we’re seeing more lose work instead of gain. Some people also prefer the freelance, make-your-own-schedule lifestyle too.

    AB5 was written and signed into law by those who had absolutely no idea what the consequences were going to be and we’re sadly seeing that now, less than a month into it going into effect. Hopefully the considerable backlash and lawsuits we’ve seen so far will have this law repealed soon.

    • The View from America says:

      Like so much of economic and social engineering, the road to h*ll is paved with good intentions …

  • Musician says:

    The law does not prohibit freelance engagements, rather it requires freelance musicians to be paid as salaried employees rather than independent contractors. This entitles them to benefits and workplace protections. All reputable orchestras already do this. Valley Opera should concentrate on raising the funds to contribute towards their employees’ benefits rather than trying to change the law to allow musicians to be exploited by unscrupulous employers.

    • anon says:

      There are many more per service orchestras not providing benefits across the US than there are full time orchestra gigs. Your statement, “All reputable orchestras do this [provide benefits]” is simply wrong. Union and Master Agreements exist with many highly reputable per service institutions to insure workplace protections and minimum pay scales.

      Would that your assumptions that orchestras can blithely go forth and raise funds to pay musicians as full salaried employees were true………….

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Disagree. The distinction is not between “reputable” and “disreputable” orchestras or musical organizations. The distinction is in the nature of the work and the engagement, between regular genuine and more or less full-time employment and very occasional jobs. If an opera company puts on one opera a year, hires an orchestra of free-lancers, they pay for the work done, stop paying when the work is over, but can hardly be expected to provide health insurance, or have to pay the entire orchestra employment compensation as if they were “fired” at the end of the run. The work is over. That is not “unscrupulous.” It’s just the facts. There are in this world genuine independent contractors and California has attempted to legislate as if there are not. So of course there will be “unintended” consequences.

      Think about this next time you need a plumber or electrician. They do their job, you pay them, you say goodbye. Maybe you retain them again someday, maybe not. They are independent contractors. You do not have to pay into Social Security for them. You have not “fired” them – it’s just that their work is done, so no unemployment compensation. If they hurt themselves at your house, you do not have to provide worker’s compensation. They have their own insurance. And the reason you can have this degree of separation is because the law says so, in its definition of independent contractor versus employee. Well, California has changed the definition.

      Question for “Musician.” Is the person who maintains or repairs your instrument your employee? If they botch the job and you go elsewhere do you owe them “benefits” because you “fired” them? I assume you’d say of course not. And that is entirely because of legal definitions.

    • Chris says:

      Your comment ignores the fundamental cost of moving people from freelance musicians to salaried employees. For example, if health benefits need to be provided then that can cost upwards of $20,000 per person annually. In addition, moving someone to salaried employee triggers a whole bunch of taxes and fees (state and federal) needing to be paid for by both employer and employee. Multiply that by having to hire an orchestra or even a 10-piece pit band and you see how this is extremely cost prohibitive.

      Simply raising the funds as you say is not at all a reasonable suggestion because some smaller organizations would have to raise more than their annual operating expenses just to keep doing business the way they did before AB5. I don’t blame these companies for just saying “it’s not worth it” to the detrimental of all.

      I applaud the desire of lawmakers to move more people to stable work but the way they wrote this law is doing the complete opposite.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Please provide more information about this, Norman.

  • Rick says:

    California deserves this self inflicted development, along with high gas prices and intermittent power supply outages.

  • Sharon says:

    I was just reading in The Economist that in order to increase the minimum wage without reducing employment among marginal employers some countries have given these employers subsidies. Maybe certain non profits can get some sort of a subsidy so that they can be in compliance with a law that requires giving benefits such as paying the employer’s piece of the social security tax.

    Also, as I mentioned in another post, non profits can consolidate certain bookeeping and payroll responsibilities so that they will not be so onerous on any given organization.

    • anon says:

      I don’t see government subsidies for non-profits being popular with voters in the US, sadly.

      Fully agree that too many non-profits have far too many administrative and operational full time salaried positions on the payroll while the artists are contract, no benefits. Consolidating business or outsourcing business functions would be considered more frequently.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    California, always at the vanguard of stupidity.

    • Joe says:

      I never saw this kind of “hating” on one of our states before 2016. But I also never saw such name calling and bullying by grownups before, either.

      • Tromba in F says:

        Then you aren’t very observant. California has been a laughingstock for decades. It is a state of unmatched natural resources and beauty being driven into the ground by the local politicos. This is no new development and has been happening since long before 2016.

        • Joe says:

          How can you say a state is or has been laughingstock? For one thing, with one of the world’s most powerful economies, they’re probably paying for your entitlements.

          If you take joy in anyone’s (or any state’s) suffering or misfortune, you have proven my point about a recent change in our standards for good citizenship and morality.

          • Tromba in F says:

            I take no joy in CA’s situation at all and I don’t receive any entitlements. I work, I pay my taxes, I pay for my family’s healthcare, I pay for my child’s education and meals. I am not riding on anyone’s coattails. California politics have long been leading to its own demise. People are fleeing the state in droves (legal citizens, at least) and the big cities have become havens for crime, homelessness and disease. Yes, CA has a huge economy. With it’s insane tax basis it should have a huge economy. Yet with liars and thieves like Pelosi, Schiff, Feinstein, Harris, Swallwell, Lofgren, Waters, Garcetti, Schaaf, Newsom (and Brown before him) et al it is a wonder anyone still lives there. They have all lined their personal nests while the state goes to hell around them. CA’s financial decline under largely Democratic rule is impossible to ignore. And while thousands flee to states that are more responsibly managed CA continues to throw out the red carpet for illegals who have committed felonies and who receive entitlements. CA is a national disgrace. Not the only one, but perhaps the biggest one. And while I take no joy whatsoever in saying so, I do take joy in the fact that I left there.

          • NYMike says:


          • Horn in F says:

            Tromba in F-

            And we may soon follow you out.

          • Joe says:

            Tromba in F: I can tell that my comment irked you, which may be a good thing, if it prompts you to reflect.

            Usually, when people laugh, it is viewed as an expression of joy, or, in this case, ridicule and derision. Hence, my judgment of your use of “laughingstock.” If you used to live there, don’t you have any friends or family still there? Those are Americans, too. Your tone conveys the attitude that anything bad that happens there serves them right.

            Regarding your assessment of California, you are incorrect about the state going “to hell.” All states have problems. Have you ever done a search on which states have the worst education or the highest crime rates? Have you looked up which states have the most poverty and disease? Hint: it’s not California. There are a lot of different ways to measure quality of life. At least people in California can afford to relocate, if they want.

            I have to ask: do you really see Republicans as looking out for the little guy? Most people use whatever advantage they have to line their pockets. Politicians are notorious for this. But, as far as policy, do you think Democrats are trying to make life worse for poor people, gay/trans people, and women? Do Democrats demonize immigrants and embrace dictators?

            Are you sure you’re not just a little bit upset about other current events? When you mention all of the Democratic lawmakers you despise, it seems like an attempt to distract from the issue that has become impossible for the GOP to ignore. I’ve learned to spot “Whataboutism” right away. “What about Hilary?” “What about Bengazi?” “What about Cher?”

            “Liars and thieves…lined their personal nests…” Who are we talking about here? Who has enriched himself and his family beyond measure? Who has made 16,241 false or misleading claims during his three years in office?

            California is “a national disgrace?” Who has brought our country shame and humiliation? Who has sold out our democracy for personal gain?

          • Inez says:

            Hillary sold out the country Joe!!

            That’s why the Clinton Foundation had to GIVE BACK hundreds of millions of dollars to US and foreign donors when she was easily defeated.

            The Obama administration had the legal responsibility to report ANY irregularities or fraud. They did nothing. Ergo the election was certified without question.

            She famously claimed she had to inject cash into the poorly run DNC. Wherever do you think she could come up with that much money? From her government job she got stuck with after Obama railroaded her into subjugating herself using his race and sex…

            PS California only cares about the 1% people like Pelosi, Newsom and their LILLY-WHITE ilk! Look who owns the Tech and Real Estate sectors. Mighty WHITE for all their grandiose talk Joe!

      • Phil Goldberg says:

        The Democrats riot and are unworthy of being taken seriously

        • Anon says:

          Huh??? What riot? You mean the impeachment? Your orange skidmark of a president is the one nobody can take seriously. His lawyers are trying to argue that he didn’t do anything wrong, or if he did, it was the Democrats’ fault. We should be rioting, but instead, we’re calmly following what was laid out in the Constitution, hoping a few Republican senators grow a pair.

          • Anon WINNER! says:

            The election night riots by the Democrats out of envy and hate are obviously what is being referred to Anon.

            Your girl was simply not ready for prime time.

            A leader would have addressed both her legal and illegal voters appealing to their intellect (of which they lack) calling for CIVILITY. She was too emotional again.

            She couldn’t have been bothered to address anybody at the Javits Center either (except for PRESIDENT TRUMP) after Obama scolded her either. She just couldn’t cope with reality.

            Sarcasm and violence don’t get ratings, accolades or WIN ELECTIONS Democrats!!!

            Ask Hillary..

          • Bill C says:

            LOVE IT! Absolutely spot on!

            Hillary’s WHITE PRIVILEGE did her in.

            She isn’t even welcome at the women’s march. Wrong ethnicity..among other fitness of character issues.

            What do the Democrat candidates have to offer now?

            No achievements

            No social skills

            No JOBS

            But they DO have:

            MEN…again with grandiose tax hikes not knowing how much anything costs.

            “War-paint Warren” will ‘suspend’ her campaign soon enough.

            Another MAN, “Billionaire Bloomberg” is already trying to BUY the upcoming election.

            Wonder what the educated POLLSTERS will trot out this time?? LFMAO

            Easy win for Trump.

          • SDL says:

            It’s funny seeing the MAGAtards try to shift the focus to Hillary, over and over. The more the impeachment heats up, the more desperate the attempts. Hillary’s out. Nobody cares about her. Your despot is in trouble.

          • Xavier Munoz says:

            You’re correct about Hillary being all used up by the DNC. Wasting all that QUID PRO QUO money along with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s ‘Tech help’ from Boca Raton and Weston, FL made it worse.

            Post-Election she’s ‘only a woman’ as she said along with Bill and the Obamas as well as CNN, MSNBC, NY Post, WAPO, etc, etc……….

            Can’t wait until she is called to TESTIFY along with Barak!

            After all, she’s the one who steadfastly claims interference and is no better than anybody else. She has nothing to hide unlike the Bidens, right??

            Obama needs to TESTIFY and clarify his support for Trump. His non-challenge of the election results under his 2 term administration emboldened Trump and his vast array of supporters.

            Thanks SDL!

            TRUMP 2020!!!!!!!

          • Not a Russian Asset says:

            Xavier, Bill C, Inez, et al–

            Sorry to burst your Faux News bubble, but
            your conspiracy theories are laughable. There is a universe of criminality surrounding your cultleader.

            All of these Trump associates have already been found guilty:

            Michael Cohen
            Paul Manafort
            George Papadopoulos
            Richard Pinedo
            Alex van der Zwaan
            Roger Stone
            Rick Gates
            Michael Flynn
            Lev Parnas
            Igor Fruman

            The list of cohorts charged or indicted is very long. It includes:

            13 Russian nationals
            12 Russian military intel officers
            Konstantin Kilimnik

            If your man is so innocent, why isn’t Moscow Mitch letting anyone testify? As someone said, if you’re hanging around that many shady characters, chances are, you’re in the shade.

            We all know the impeachment is happening now. Don’t change the subject to unrelated people you think are “no better than anybody else.” It’s getting really old.

            And I know you wish you could yell through your screen, but stop with the CAPITALIZATION. It’s IRRITATING.

            Anyone see this trending?

          • De Shaun says:


            from the Dems (all inclusive)

            soon Jan 31! YEAY!!!!

            our Black brothers and sisters

            our Jewish kin who don’t deserve to be demeaned by the likes of Ilhan ‘all about the dollars, 9/11 denier’ Omar

            our gracious Latino voters who want LEGAL Immigrants

            our growing, DIVERSE base of LEGAL citizens in favor of a strong economy, good JOBS and low taxes

            Hillary, Obama and Bo Biden must TESTIFY since they have nothing to loose and they’re “no better than anybody else”

            Eschew your fascist WHITE PRIVILEGE Democrats!!!

            Look at your Presidential candidates. Could they be any WHITER and RICH?!?! Ok, you’ve got 1024% Warren for a couple more months. LOL

            Glad you brought up the PARTISAN impeachment babe. So, you people want VP Pence as President??? Who do think would inhabit your fantasy outcome?

            Dems have become a HATE GROUP which many of us find very sad but not surprising. It was Southern Dems who created the KKK.

            PS Thanks CNN! Don Lemon’s vulgar immaturity just enhanced Trump’s voter base across the board. Those Hillary tactics really do the trick

            HAVE A GREAT DAY Mr. Dem BOT!

          • Enjoying this says:

            Beau (not “Bo”) Biden is deceased so it will be a little difficult for him to testify.

            Don’t you want Trumpo to get a chance to clear his name? How about John Bolton? We all want witnesses. Why can’t we hear from anyone who has firsthand knowledge of Trumpo’s crimes?

            Check it out.

          • De Shaun says:

            As I just thoughtfully put it to you Mr/Ms/gender dysphoric Bot

            “Hillary, Obama and BEAU Biden must TESTIFY since they have nothing to loose and they’re “no better than anybody else”

            Eschew your fascist WHITE PRIVILEGE Democrats!!!”

            Thanks for the correction! He gets confused with Obama’s anagram dog a lot. LOL

            PS Your President’s name is “Donald John Trump”! Blessings..

          • Candice Clark says:

            So, you people want to start saluting President Pence?!?!

            Haven’t you a clue as to who is next in the chain of command?

            The IGNORANCE!
            I’m embarrassed FOR you!

  • Valley Opera and Performing Arts says:

    Norman, in this post you state, “The first the audience heard about it was on the back of the programme book”. We actually sent an e-blast to over 6000 subscribers with details of this decision (similar to the text that was included on the back of the program) a week before the performances, which was when the difficult decision was made to cut the orchestra. We also posted about it on social media. With no budget for advertising, that was the best we could do to inform our audience beforehand.

    Thank you for covering this extremely important issue for arts organizations in CA.