DSO: Too little, too late?
On February 19, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's management announced the cancellation of the season after players voted against a final contract proposal, continuing what has stretched into a 23-week strike.
Now, the players say they're ready to return to work, without a contract. (UPDATE: They do, however, want arbitration; the updated version of the Detroit Free Press story is here.)
The question is whether the season, and the orchestra, can be saved. It's a question that's far from rhetorical. There seems no solution to the standoff, and lots of Detroit players are looking for other jobs. Mark Stryker, in the Detroit Free Press, reports that the whole percussion section is leaving.
Given the stalemate that's reigned for weeks, the players' action now looks like a belated realization that their futures are very much at risk.
I lived in Germany during the period when the costs of reunification were playing havoc with arts budgets, and cities that had previously been able to afford lavish arts institutions were suddenly finding themselves strapped. (One of my first articles for the Wall Street Journal was about the city of Frankfurt going bankrupt.) At that time, Munich's daily newspaper ran a series of opinion pieces in which dozens of prominent artists, administrators and politicians debated the degree to which the arts were actually necessary to a community, when the choices are between, say, funding hospitals or the opera house.
One element that kept recurring in these essays was reminiscences of people who had lived through World War II, and seen postwar performances in the basements of bombed-out buildings, playing to rapt audiences of people who welcomed the chance to enter another realm for a few hours. That, they said, demonstrated the kind of spiritual sustenance that the arts can provide.
That image sticks with me as I think of Detroit, a city in which entire blocks are sitting vacant. Yet an orchestra is not necessarily providing the kind of sustenance that people in crisis today turn toward. It has a different relationship to the culture; to a lot of people, it still has to demonstrate what it can offer, before it can begin the work of offering it.
As I see it, the DSO management sought to respond to the changing landscape -- of orchestras, as well as of Detroit -- by expanding the definition of the players' role, introducing into the contract mandatory outreach activities which many of the players already participate in, but which would now be part of the job. But changing their job descriptions was one of the aspects of the proposed contract that players objected to most.
The problem is that art can't respond to crisis effectively if people don't want to hear it. Meanwhile, newspaper coverage of the players' complaints -- including the decline in base salaries down to around $80,000, a 30% decrease -- has not won them new fans in a city where most salaries are a lot lower than that and lots of people have lost their jobs altogether.
Is there an answer? Can music demonstrate that it is spiritually sustaining to an American city in trouble? Can a city like Detroit still afford an orchestra? And what do you think the DSO should do, moving forward, to start rebuilding?
| March 1, 2011; 3:41 PM ET
Categories: national, news, random musings
Save & Share: Previous: Links: Flórez, Hahn, City Choir and Chinese orchestra
Next: BSO does strong woman number in 2011-12
Posted by: MarthaFarquar | March 1, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tomasss | March 1, 2011 5:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ACDouglas1 | March 1, 2011 5:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Lutoslawski | March 1, 2011 6:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: pronetoviolins | March 1, 2011 7:41 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kashe | March 2, 2011 7:43 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ACDouglas1 | March 2, 2011 11:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Kent99 | March 3, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ACDouglas1 | March 3, 2011 10:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Kent99 | March 3, 2011 11:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dmason1 | March 4, 2011 9:32 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | March 6, 2011 9:47 PM | Report abuse