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Strike (of) the band

The classical music news in this time of recession has been filled with heartwarming stories of orchestra players offering up considerable concessions for the sake of their organization (the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is a notable example). But recession is not a magic panacea to heal all labor-relations difficulties. Not every orchestra's musicians are willing to make such concessions; some feel the demands for concessions go too far. At least two orchestras are currently playing without contracts -- the Seattle Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra -- and the Cleveland Orchestra may well already be on strike, having set Sunday at midnight as its deadline. (Further talks are scheduled for Monday, the day the orchestra is supposed to leave for a residency at Indiana University.) [Edited to add: as of Monday morning, the orchestra is on strike.]
(read more after the jump)

Many people would aver that the Cleveland Orchestra is the best in the United States. Yet it’s become a question, in this difficult financial climate, whether a city the size of Cleveland is actually able to support an orchestra of this caliber. The orchestra has been openly searching for new audiences, and not only in Ohio: its new, annual residence in Miami is one obvious way to tap a market of potential ticket-buyers. Donations, obviously, are falling. Yet the musicians aver that cutting their benefits and salaries to the degree desired by management will actively erode the orchestra's standards to the point where it will have to cede its position as one of the country's leaders -- because it will cease to attract the best players in the world.

I won't try to parse the differences between the Cleveland Orchestra's musicians and management; the Cleveland Plain Dealer has outlined the situation, and the musicians have started a blog of their own to get their views out. (The orchestra's official blog, not surprisingly, makes no mention of the issue.) But this situation is bringing to a head a lot of questions about the recession and the future of orchestras, such as: what happens if a city is no longer able to afford one? Or, more realistically (since the Cleveland Orchestra is not actually likely to pack up, like a baseball franchise, and move to another city), how many modifications can an orchestra make before it loses its identity? There have been a number of closures in the past couple of years, but a threat to the Cleveland Orchestra, one of our crown jewels, represents a particularly alarming kind of amputation. A lot of people will be watching anxiously to see how this situation plays out.

By Anne Midgette  |  January 18, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  national , news  
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The Cleveland Orchestra situation is really just the tip of the iceberg. More importantly, how does any major arts organization where ticket sales are so small a percentage of total income despite increasing ticket sales grapple with these situation in the face of today's economic realities? The Orchestra members have received raises in every contract negotiation that has taken place. When income is down dramatically, do the musicians really think that they're not going to be asked to take less money?

Posted by: BobTatFORE | January 18, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Though perhaps opening a "Pandora's Box," one should explore the lack lustre of The Cleveland Orchestra's choice of Music Director rather than conveniently and automatically blame the orchestra's current dilemma entirely on the economy.

Posted by: leonmax | January 19, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

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