Symphony Strikes: How Are They Avoidable?

There’s been discord within some of the nation’s major symphonies lately. How does the Houston Symphony maintain harmony with its own musicians?

By Amy BishopDecember 13, 2016 9:30 am| , , , ,

From Houston Public Media

It was a festive evening at Jones Hall a couple of weeks ago when the Houston Symphony and Chorus performed a concert of Christmas tunes. Holiday pops programs like theirs are some of the most popular events of the season for symphonies around the country.

It’s been a different scene four hours up the road in Fort Worth, where the inside of Bass Performance Hall has been silent for much of the season. Outside, however, there has been plenty of activity.

Beginning in early September, dozens of men and women in emerald green T-shirts began marching in front of the hall carrying picket signs saying, “Growth Not Cuts.” They’re Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra musicians and until last week, they’ve been on strike.

It started three months ago after management proposed a contract that would include a pay cut of 7.5 percent. This wasn’t the first time the musicians have had their salaries trimmed.

“In 2010, in the wake of the recession, the symphony needed relief and so the musicians accepted a contract that included a 13.5 percent pay cut,” says Ed Jones, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Tubist, who adds that  only 5 percent of that pay cut had been recovered by 2015.

Fort Worth is one of several symphonies where employee relations became rocky. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both experienced strikes earlier this year and San Antonio Symphony declared bankruptcy a few years ago. FWSO’s Assistant Principal Bassist Paul Unger says that doesn’t mean all cities are in trouble.  

“We’ve heard doom and gloom because one or two symphonies have gone on strike,” he says. “But what we don’t hear is that there are over thirty orchestras that have growing budge

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