Trouble at Melbourne Symphony as players are cut off without pay

Trouble at Melbourne Symphony as players are cut off without pay


norman lebrecht

September 03, 2021

We hear that that orchestra’s CEO Sophie Galaise has terminated all freelance contracts, leaving a group of regular players without pay, or prospects of work in the future.

Covid is being blamed. Other agendas are also possible.

But morale in the Melbourne Symphony has just gone south … or even further south… and the players are too scared to speak out (except privately to

Galaise recently announced that the company was in good shape.


  • Peter says:

    Refuse people work and then close the borders so they can’t go anywhere else. Nice.

    Australia – what happens when you inhabitate an island with prison guards and let them pass on their genes.

  • BRUCEB says:

    Using the pandemic as an excuse to impose cuts they’ve wanted for years. We’re used to this in the US, but sadly I guess it doesn’t happen only here…

    • G says:

      The difference between American and Australian orchestras in situations like these is the willingness of American orchestras to go on strike, which no Australian orchestra has done for at least thirty years, when they’ve had ample opportunities to do so, particularly during the last decade. Little wonder they end up in situations like this, then.

  • Colin says:

    I do not know the music business or the particular circumstances here but freelance status always leaves you vulnerable, protected only by the terms of your contract. It could be 30 days paid notice (or 7, or 60) with no further financial compensation.

    This is why orchestras/companies employ people on freelance terms, to minimise the cost and complication of job termination.

  • Steve says:

    Hang on. As ‘sad’ as this is, according to the article these are all freelance (although regular) players. I was a freelancer for many years. Isn’t that all a part of a freelancer’s life, even during these tough times? Personally, I’m more concerned about those orchestras not paying their contracted players.

  • Donald says:

    are you a news site or a gossip column that promotes unsubstantiated bullshit?

  • Ann Blackburn says:

    Statement on behalf of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Players’ Committee

    Unlike much of the world, where concerts are once again taking place to live audiences, Melbourne is under strict lockdown, as it has been for well over 200 days since the pandemic began. Many arts workers have been severely effected by this pandemic and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is not immune to these impacts, with over 50 concerts having been cancelled this year alone.

    Regarding your article from 3rd Sept 2021 entitled “Trouble at Melbourne Symphony as players are cut off without pay”, I wish to address the many inaccuracies.

    1. “We hear that that orchestra’s CEO Sophie Galaise has terminated all freelance contracts”.

    The five contract casuals who have been affected have had their contracts “suspended”, not terminated, until such a time as the orchestra is working again. There are many arts workers across the industry who have found themselves in the same predicament. This is not unique to the MSO.

    2. “Leaving a group of regular players without pay, or prospects of work in the future”.

    These players’ contracts will be reinstated as soon as the orchestra is working again. In the meantime they are able to access the government’s disaster payment of $1500 per fortnight. It is a requirement of the Award that 7 days notice be given to terminate a contract. These musicians were given 2.5 weeks notice. They have already received 6 weeks of pay since the lockdowns began, during which time the orchestra was unable to work.

    3. ”COVID is being blamed. Other agendas are also possible”.

    COVID lockdowns are responsible for the orchestra’s fragile financial position and are the only reason for the decision to suspend these contracts.

    4. “The players are too scared to speak out”.

    The Players’ Committee is in frequent contact with members of the orchestra who regularly bring their concerns forward. We then address these concerns with management and ensure that the company is abiding by its obligations.

    5. “Sophie Galaise recently announced that the company was in good shape”.

    This statement needs to be seen in the context of the current and ongoing COVID crisis. The financial position of the company is still fragile.

    On behalf of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Players’ Committee
    Ann Blackburn

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      It’s hard for me to get excited about any of this when I know that airline pilots – especially the international variety – have been packing supermarket shelves for nearly 2 years now.

  • MSO Management says:

    This post by Norman Lebreecht on has misrepresented the current situation at Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

    Melbourne has endured the harshest and longest periods of lockdown in the world, resulting in devastating impacts on many individuals and organisations, including live performance and the broader Australian arts/culture sector.

    Throughout the Covid pandemic the MSO has survived through its collective efforts to manage costs responsibly, pursue new fundraising opportunities, and advocate to government for funds to ensure we remain operational. In response to these challenges, federal and state governments have provided additional funding, which has been essential to our financial sustainability. 

    At MSO we have seen many casual and freelance conductors, soloists, artists, musicians, production crew and staff, technicians, venue staff and even piano tuners left without pay during these lockdowns. While balancing fiscal responsibility with our commitment to staff and contractors, we have consistently sought to offer assistance within our capacity. 

    Due to the latest lockdown and the inability to perform in the coming months, we recently made the difficult decision to pause a small number of casual contract arrangements until we can recommence performances. These decisions are not made lightly, and we have offered extended periods of paid notice in addition to the payments made for the past 6 weeks where players were not working. These generous allowances endeavour to find a balance between conflicting demands.  

    While the MSO cannot provide financial support to everyone, the federal and state governments have an extensive series of programs to assist them. 

    MSO’s musicians are freely able and encouraged to ‘speak up’ about the challenges they are facing  – either directly to management, through their representatives in the Players’ Committee or via our confidential and independent ‘Integrity Line’. 

    It has been heartening to receive vocal support from the majority of players and other staff during these difficult times and we are encouraged by their resilience and respect for the challenges we all face.