Exclusive: A second NY orchestra is starving out its musicians

Exclusive: A second NY orchestra is starving out its musicians


norman lebrecht

April 13, 2021

While all the attention has been centred on the Metropolitan Opera’s Peter Gelb witholding musicians’ wages for the pandemic year, beneath the radar another orchestra was being similarly deprived.

The orchestra of New York City Ballet normally plays for half the year. Its music director is Andrew Litton and its principals have a range of other activities in their down time across the NY musical ecology. All that stopped with Covid.

Here’s what the players tell Slipped Disc:

In March of 2020, we had just finished our winter season. On March 1st, Covid was deemed a national emergency. At the end of the month, March 25 or after, the contract we had, which would have expired on Labor Day, was replaced by a special new agreement. It called for us to be paid for 6 shows/week as well as a number of other things, Principal pay, seniority…and continuation of our health plan. We were paid this for our 6-week Spring season, end-April to beginning of June.

At the beginning of July 19, 2020, management sent us a WARN letter. Our orchestra committee and our union (Local 802) assured us that the furloughs described were for administrative positions and would not affect our 6-show payment for the weeks we would have worked. There was mention of meetings with mgmt at the beginning of Sept., but when our season would have started, no pay check. We have received $0 since June, 2020.

Our union filed a Grievance with the American Arbitration Association, who scheduled the hearing for April 7, 2021. According to the most recent (and one of the only) communiques from our orch comm, that hearing has been moved to the beginning of May.

And that’s how things stand for these musicians: no pay for nine months. No money for their mortgages, their kids, their overheads.

Not much action from the union, not a word from the music director.

Why is no-one in New York media kicking up a fuss?

Oh, maybe the Times never got a press release.


  • alexander says:

    Is there a required course called “Entitlement” in conservatories?

    For fuck’s sake, get a second job. Like everyone else.

    You know how to ride a bike? You can deliver for Uber Eats.

    See some of your patrons at home by delivering their lunch.

    • Rogerio says:

      And look on the bright side.
      Because of the fact that you live in a country where the government helping you is considered communist, said government has the funds it needs to protect you against your foes.
      By way of the F35.

      Try to find a millionaire willing to give you one of his tax-deductible hand-outs.

      • Dave T says:

        In the past year this government has helped its people to the tune of $2.2 trillion, then $800 billion, and followed by $1.9 trillion.

        Please don’t post until you actually know something.

    • Sam says:

      You have written a discussing comment under a depressing, but a common issue. Shame on you. Take your cheap advice back, I am sure the musicians in the article are able to take care of themselves without your unnecessary thoughts.

    • OrchMember says:

      I would get a 2nd job but my delicate musician hands are too fragile.

    • BRUCEB says:

      Right, because this is not about a broken contract at all (fifth paragraph). It’s all about whiny, entitled musicians.

    • Meg says:

      First, those courses permeate what passes for “Higher Ed” these days. Note the paid rioters all with smartphones.

      Second, they’re all waiting with breathless anticipation for the Biden-Harris administration to “rescue” them as they did their closest Democrat friends. Aren’t they in for quite the shock just like Biden’s rejection of “canceling ALL student loan debt.”

      Third, they’re all dumb enough to be lead by fellow emotional leftys who are too busy ruining their own environments and screeching about.

      Lastly, having transferable or secondary skills is nice ONLY IF THERE ARE JOBS AVAILABLE! They all can’t become hookers like you alexander as age discrimination still exists.

  • Roger says:

    Norman, let’s try to be rational. The same thing is happening across Broadway and across the US. Why the targeting of only on a couple of NY orchestras?

    If there is no revenue coming in, who is supposed to pay? The donors? The government? How are these salaries supposed to be financed? Through increased taxes or by taking on municipality debt?

    What happened to the thousands and thousands of workers laid off for hotel and restaurant closures? Don’t they have the same rights as musicians?

    Let’s be clear on who is supposed to pay and let’s come up with solutions if we can. “Starving out” workers is a heavy accusation, perhaps it is time for Marx to be revisited?

    • Jon Ulrich says:

      Simply let the Democrats support them then as they think so highly of themselves.

      They represent the major donors, yes??

  • RW2013 says:

    Glad we didn’t get a snap of Mr. Litton in a bathrobe living it up in a luxury hotel.

    • NYMike says:

      Enough of the YNS bashing! He continues to conduct streaming concerts in Philly where he’s loved and respected by orchestra members.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Heaven forbid someone should be at luxury hotel in a bathrobe, while so many rank and file musicians are delivering Uber Eats on bicycles. The least these conductors could do is to camp out on the sidewalk in a tent, like everyone else.

      • NYMike says:

        In case you’re not aware, YNS did a commercial for a hotel company that funds his Montreal Orchestra. Hence, the bathrobe photo.

  • Jim says:

    Local 802 is completely worthless. There’s no union leadership in NYC these days; just a self-absorbed President hoping to use his position to launch a career in politics.

    • Steve O says:

      It’s not just 802. It the AFM. Villain, thieves & scoundrels union. Lucky for them the taxpayers bailed out their mismanaged pension fund!

  • J Barcelo says:

    Just get all your liberal friends to have the Biden administration declare the ballet to be part of Infrastructure so it can be funded. That’s what they’re doing with every thing else it seems.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    There are plenty of openings in the Cry Baby Philharmonic.

    Seems like many in NYC are qualified and should audition.

  • fflambeau says:

    Sad. Lots of fans of orchestras are actually paying their musicians during Covid (Madison Symphony orchestra, for example). It might depend on the people and what kind of hearts, if any, they have.

  • Dave T says:

    “Our orchestra committee… assured us that the furloughs described were for ADMINISTRATIVE positions…”

    Why, yes, it would have been OK if it were just those saps sent packing, but us musicians? members of a union!? Now that is outrageous!

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    In this (UK) and other ‘civilised’ countries governments have introduced support schemes to help those hit by the loss of their pay. Some of these a proportion of their earnings, some all. Even so, groups classed as ‘self employed’ have complained that they have been ignored.

    Maybe rather than ask why this or that private institution is not doing what we believe they ought we should ask why the richest country in the world has had no such support scheme(s). The US prides itself on being the gold standard for market capitalism and the rise in the net worth of their centibillionaires would indicate that there are winners even in a pandemic. But equally, there are many more losers and it seems musicians fall very much into that category.

    If you believe in the market then you have to live with its consequences. Without wanting to seem harsh those who are now feeling the downsides might wonder about the times when they were enjoying the upsides. And maybe, when all this is over they might want to question how they can organise themselves to avoid it happening again. And multi digit pay deals and cozy restrictive practices by both employer and employee are not really the answer.

    • Roger says:

      Cynical and … uninformed?

      According to reliable sources (https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/poverty-rate-by-country), the UK has a bigger proportion of population living in poverty than the US. Spain and Italy are right behind.

      The US fiscal stimulus in response to the pandemic has dwarfed that of the UK and the EU.

      This is not a question of market failure. The question rather is – do musicians have special rights compared to the general population?

      • Musician turned Accountant says:

        Clearly no one told you that it’s not the size of the package, it’s the way you use it.

        The US has spent approximately $41870 per citizen in Covid, and what have you got to show for it?

        The UK’s response was in many ways utterly abysmal, but at least we’ve managed to pay our musicians every month; and our freelance actors, directors, costume designers; and our cleaners and our waiters. In fact everyone who was employed at the start of the pandemic is still earning a salary today, even those who may have been laid off, unless they had an irresponsible employer.

        The US isn’t the centre of the universe. And, btw, while we’re talking about being uninformed, a personal bugbear of mine: the market isn’t the economy.

    • Ashu says:

      [If you believe in the market then you have to live with its consequences. Without wanting to seem harsh those who are now feeling the downsides might wonder about the times when they were enjoying the upsides.]

      Working people have to live under it whether they believe in it or not. Or what do you suggest? That if they had any integrity they’d take their violins and trombones and go live in a cabin in Montana?

  • JoshW says:

    Where is Andrew Litton?