US orchestra lays off 76 musicians, 19 staff, 2 conductors

US orchestra lays off 76 musicians, 19 staff, 2 conductors


norman lebrecht

March 22, 2020

The Oregon Symphony has stopped paying its musicians and staff.

Health benefits will continue for musicians, but will end for staff after 3 months.

The decision was announced to the orchestra as it gathered for a rehearsal of Berio’s Sinfonia.

This was to have been the final season under music director Carlos Kalmar.

Our pals in Oregon say some of the musicians fear they may lose their homes.


  • drummerman says:

    Sad news indeed but I’m wondering why they will not keep staff health insurance the same as the musicians. Yes, I understand that the orchestra works under a C.B.A. but this is a shabby way to treat the very people who sell the tickets and raise the money which pays for the orchestra’s health insurance. Shame on them.

    • Perhaps the money they have left will cover the musicians, which they are obligated to pay, and no more?

      • drummerman says:

        Perhaps but then get the board — more than 30 people strong — to put up the money. In a time like this, health insurance is MORE critical than ever!

        • Enquiring Mind says:

          I take it you aren’t a Bernie supporter because, you know, Bernie is very anti-the people who have the money to bail other people out.

          • drummerman says:

            E.M., I don’t give a “gosh darn” about Bernie, or Joe, or Donald, or Mitch or the man in the moon. I’m talking about these staff members continuing to have health insurance (like the musicians) in a time of an international health emergency. Let’s leave politics out of this, shall we?

          • fflambeau says:

            Correction, “Enquiring Mind”, Bernie is very anti the present “medical System” in America which leads to events like this.

      • Daphnis says:

        “musicians, WHOM they are obligated to pay …”
        Take that “left-over” money and divide by 95 instead of 76.

  • CA says:

    Staff, I’m sure, also fear losing homes. It’s everybody.

    • Diane B. says:

      But the government is going to put in place different kind of help, like in Quebec, no ? All countries are aware of that problem touching everybody.

      • drummerman says:

        I’m not aware that a portion of our government’s proposed help is specifically earmarked to pay for individual health insurance.

  • Anon says:

    There’s a govt. program called COBRA which gives laid off US workers the option to continue health insurance. Same coverage as what they presently have but at a reduced cost, as I recall. I think both employer and employee pay into it.

    Look, all of this panic about laid off orchestra musicians isn’t helping. Everyone is getting laid off. The problem with this site is that so many people from outside the US read it & don’t understand that these “poor laid off musicians” will be entitled to decent unemployment payments and continued health care coverage. Also, and this is important: FULL TIME ORCHESTRAS IN THE US PAY MUCH MORE THAN ORCHS IN EVERY OTHER PART OF THE WORLD. Oregon Symph is not even a top tier orch. Base salary for musicians is $48,000/yr. Base salary for the MET musicians, I believe $135,000. These musicians are not poorly paid and should be in a good position to weather this crisis. They are only being laid off, not fired, and will re-assume their jobs when work starts up again.

    Europeans, whose orch. players are mostly paid by the govts. and earn much less, read that these US orchs are being laid off and FREAK OUT because they think they will be homeless and in the street.

    People who are music lovers but who don’t understand how much these musicians make and what their employment benefits are FREAK OUT because they think the arts are under assault in the US. People are doing absurd things like taking up collections for laid off MET musicians because they think they need food and clothing. Why on earth should anyone who makes at least $136,000 year need charity????

    Everyone is getting laid off right now. Why should musicians, esp. ones who usually earn a comfortable living, be exempt?

    So please, people, STOP FREAKING OUT about musicians being laid off. The arts are not under assault. MET musicians do not need charity collections for food and clothing. The US govt. has measures in place to protect laid off workers in every profession. These are savvy and experienced professionals who make comfortable incomes from not only their orch jobs but also teaching. We are all in a crisis, lots of people are being laid off and orch. musicians are no exception.

    • Musicianintheeast says:

      I’m guessing you are not familiar with the US unemployment system, so I feel the need to point out a couple of inaccuracies in your comment-
      1) COBRA coverage is not a continuation of employer coverage “at a reduced rate”, rather the employee is on the hook for up to 102% of the cost of coverage (see COBRA here: Health insurance in the US is necessary and EXPENSIVE, the cost of my employer plan is $800+ per month, and that’s for just myself. Adding a family could easily double that.
      2) Yes, these musicians are eligible for unemployment, however there are max weekly payouts that range anywhere from $200-$500 depending on the state. That doesn’t go far in expensive metros like Portland and New York.

      Rather than judge others without knowing the full situation, lets have empathy for all artists who are currently having their worlds turned upside down without much light at the end of the tunnel.

      • drummerman says:

        Well said!!!

      • Anon says:

        Thank you for the correction on COBRA. $200-500 is still an income. It’s what many other musicians make when they’re not laid off.

        Yes, empathy is order, but charity collections for laid off MET musicians is a misplaced effort, and it’s due to panic and misunderstanding. These are musicians with good jobs. What about empathy for freelancers?

    • Ilya says:

      $48K in the USA is a laughably small amount compared to the cost of living, cost of a mortgage for a home, cost of a car loan. Only a person who doesn’t live in the States, or lives in some sort of fantasy land can say that $48,000 puts you in a good position. You can’t even buy a decent home in most good areas in the country for less than $600K – do the math.
      Also, unemployment in the States stinks. You get 60% of your pay check, and what if you have kids?

  • Lauren says:

    All these situations with orchestras, staff, and indeed employees all across the country, point out the ridiculous idea of health benefits being tied to employment. If nothing else, perhaps this crisis will wake the US up to that fact. It is time for national health care. No one should end up wondering how in the world to pay for health care when they have no job. No system is perfect, but I can tell you from having a number of family members who have lived in Eurpope and Canada and participate in their systems, that they have recieved better care, promptly, and inexpensively.
    To the person who thinks COBRA is the answer: There is no way any unemployment benefit would cover that cost, let alone rent, groceries almost any market in the US.

  • Mary says:

    Please get your facts straight. The San Antonio Symphony has canceled the rest of its 2019-2020 season–indeed, the SAS had no choice as all large gatherings have been prohibited in San Antonio for the next 90 days. As of this writing nobody has been laid off. It would be very helpful if you would avoid pre-emptively announcing decisions on behalf of our board and management that have not in fact been made.