Let’s make a deal!

The Seattle Symphony musicians and management have reached a tentative agreement on a multi-year contract, paving the way for the next phase of the orchestra’s future.

The contract is shorter (23 months with the option of another 8 according SSOPO spokesman Dale Gluck) than the five year agreement management proposed. Musicians must endure an immediate 5% across the board salary reduction for the rest of the season, returning to the current scale in 2011. There is also reduction in the number of allowable unfilled positions. Currently there are eight vacancies. Under the new contract, the vacancies would be limited to six.  I speculated in a post awhile back that a shorter-term agreement made the most sense for trimming the cumulative debt and give management and the new music director the flexibility to shape the orchestra’s future.

Of all the proposals in the tentative agreement, none is more interesting than a new “2010 Challenge Fund.” The fund will be initially constituted with a $2,010 donation from each of the orchestra’s 84 musicians and according to the SSO’s press release:

“This donation, totaling $168,840, from the musicians is intended to be a catalyst for the Seattle Symphony Board’s next phase of fundraising.”

The new fund might appear to be an unusual gesture, but one theme kept coming up over the course of my conversations with musicians. Musicians believe the way forward for the SSO depends on the orchestra’s ability to present world-class performances. You can’t cut your way to success, they argue. If you produce great art donations will follow. The 2010 Challenge Fund represents confidence in this business philosophy and confidence that the SSO’s musicians can produce the type of performances that will open wallets.

While a new contract is a step in the right direction, it is only one part of what will allow the SSO to hopefully compete with other west coast orchestras like the San Francisco Symphony and the LA Philharmonic. A few weeks back, at a press availability, the SSO’s chair Leslie Jackson Chihuly presented management’s contract as a five year plan that would lift the orchestra into the future.

What remained unanswered were details or a plan of any sort to expand audiences, cultivate new donors, grow music education, and make the SSO a classical music destination. According to Thomas Philion, the SSO’s current executive director, a committee has been working through the details of a long-term artistic vision for the orchestra. I have been assured a detailed plan is coming soon. Let’s hope this initiative isn’t abandoned once a new contract is in place.

On with the show.

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