Nashville Symphony musicians agree to 15-percent pay cut

giancarlonewNashville Symphony musicians have a new contract. Their fans, meanwhile, will get to enjoy a complete and gratifyingly uncut symphony season.

Musicians voted on Tuesday afternoon to ratify a one-year contract that will require them to give up 15 percent of their pay, reducing their minimum base salary from $60,000 a year to around $51,000. They will continue to play a 44-week season.

The cuts, while steep, are significantly less than the 30-percent cut that management sought at the beginning of negotiations in June. Management also initially proposed cutting the season from 44 to 36 weeks.

Earlier in the summer, the NSO announced that music director Giancarlo Guerrero and CEO Alan Valentine were taking 15 salary reductions, though Guerrero and Valentine were also receiving 6-percent cuts in their retirement packages.

The agreement brings to a conclusion a year of Haydnesque storm and stress for the Nashville Symphony. The orchestra spent much of the 2012-13 season struggling to renegotiate the terms of a nearly $100-million bond debt, which had been used to build the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. A last-minute deal in June saved the Schermerhorn from going on the auction block.

That deal was followed immediately by a new crisis, this one involving a sharp disagreement with the musicians over the terms of a new contract. Those talks stalled for a couple of weeks in July and were only reinitiated this month.

After the musicians ratified the contract on Tuesday, the symphony and musicians union issued the following joint statement:

The Nashville Musicians Association, AFM Local 257 and the Nashville Symphony Association announced today that the orchestra musicians have ratified a new one-year contract. The contract will go into effect immediately and will run through July 31, 2014.

The agreement comes after three months of negotiations between the Nashville Musicians Association and the Symphony Association, which have focused on building a secure, sustainable future for the orchestra while maintaining an unwavering commitment to artistic excellence and community service. The terms of the contract include a 15 percent reduction in the musicians’ pay, which is similar in scope to the recent cuts in total compensation and benefits taken by members of the administrative staff.

“We are profoundly grateful to our musicians for their spirit of shared sacrifice,” says Nashville Symphony President & CEO Alan Valentine. “We were able to reach these mutually agreeable terms through a genuinely collaborative effort and a common desire to serve the people of Middle Tennessee. We are especially pleased that the new contract will allow us to continue offering the same high level of programming for our audiences, and it will also provide increased opportunities for the orchestra to go out into the city and engage everyone in our community even more actively than ever before.”

The salary concessions are part of a comprehensive financial restructuring that the Symphony has undertaken in response to the difficult economic conditions that have plagued the organization since the start of the 2008 recession, and which were exacerbated by the May 2010 flood. Taken in tandem with other restructuring efforts, which include reducing debt service costs by more than 90 percent, these cuts will enable the Symphony to lower its annual operating costs by a total of $6 million, or 29 percent of this year’s operating budget.

“This has been a difficult time for the Nashville Symphony and its musicians,” says violinist Laura Ross, who, as union steward, serves as a member of the negotiating team. “As challenging as this agreement will be for many of our musicians, it was ratified because we believe our role in this community is important. We continue to serve Nashville and Middle Tennessee with the same level of commitment and look forward to a revitalized and rededicated Nashville Symphony. We are fortunate to live in a vibrant arts community that supports excellence.”

Dave Pomeroy, President of the Nashville Musicians Association, adds, “This one-year contract is a stopgap measure that provides a way to keep the music playing in the Schermerhorn at the high artistic level Nashville has come to expect. These musicians will be working much more for considerably less money, and their collective sacrifice is a testimony to their ongoing commitment to our community. We look forward to working with the Symphony Association towards a mutual goal of restoring NSO salaries to a level commensurate with their world-class talent as soon as possible.”

The Nashville Symphony’s 2013/14 season will begin, as scheduled, on September 5-7 with “Russian Spectacular,” featuring music by Mussorgsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. “The Nashville Symphony’s Board of Directors has worked diligently to guide this invaluable institution on a path toward continued success and sustainability,” says Board Chair Ed Goodrich. “We hope that everyone in our community will take this opportunity to celebrate by coming out to hear the Nashville Symphony this season. It is the community’s support that has allowed us to accomplish so much, from the building of Schermerhorn Symphony Center to the orchestra’s growing list of Grammy Awards, and it is the community’s support that will help us thrive into the future.”

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.

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  1. […] began with a crisis over the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and ended Tuesday with the conclusion of contract negotiations with the […]

  2. […] The orchestra spent much of last season embroiled in a financial crisis, and it just barely avoided a foreclosure on its acoustically marvelous concert hall. An eleventh-hour deal with Bank of America narrowly averted that disaster in late June. But no sooner had that problem been solved then the symphony found itself in tense negations with its musicians over the terms of a new contract. That crisis was resolved, at least temporarily, just last week when the players agreed to a one-year deal that cuts their compensation by 15 percent. […]