CSO musicians, management need to end strike now–for the good of Chicago and themselves

Wed Apr 10, 2019 at 3:46 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Hopes were dashed once again when, after a long weekend of renewed negotiations, the striking musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra rejected a revised contract proposal by the CSO Association on Monday night. Two more weeks of CSO concerts and other events at Symphony Center have been cancelled and things look bleak for the remaining seven weeks of the orchestra’s season.

Today marks exactly a month since the CSO musicians walked out, as they voted to do if an agreement was not reached on a new contract by March 10.

It is way past time for both sides to settle this strike—for the good of Chicago, for the good of the city’s arts and cultural scene and— perhaps most importantly—for their own good as well.

There are no villains in this conflict. Both sides are doing what they believe to be right. The musicians feel they are defending their hard-won benefits and fighting for a salary that recognizes the status they think they have earned as the top American orchestra. And CSO management is doing what it believes to be right in firmly holding out for a change in the pension plan to guarantee a more secure financial future.

As is often the case in this kind of standoff, both sides have hunkered down in a kind of labor trench warfare—one in which they tend to be overly influenced and emboldened by praise and encouragement from people who already agree with their side.

The fact is that with every day the strike continues and more concerts are cancelled, grievous damage is being done to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It’s not something that you can see or calculate or get a quote from on the picket line. But slowly, quietly, yet inexorably both the institution and the musicians appear to be losing material support and hard-won loyalty from the very people that matter most—their long-time subscribers and loyal audience members.

It often seems that CSO subscribers are the forgotten men and women in this whole ongoing mess. Most of the media coverage has focused primarily on the most public and dramatic manifestations of the strike: Riccardo Muti’s starry guest appearance on the picket line the first day in support of the musicians—despite his later backtracking that he was not taking sides— as well as a parade of union officials and opportunistic politicians and celebrities, most of whom have likely never attended a Chicago Symphony concert in their lives.

At the start of the strike most CSO concertgoers supported the musicians instinctively, hoping for a quick end to the impasse. But as time has gone on and the number of cancelled concerts has steadily mounted, I’m hearing an increasing degree of antipathy and anger from people turned off of the CSO by the strike.

Since the strike began on March 10, more than 51 events have been cancelled as of today. These include some of the most eagerly anticipated CSO concerts of the season including programs that were to be led by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Osmo Vänskä. That’s in addition to chamber concerts, ancillary events and young people’s concerts.

Perhaps most unfortunately, the strike has essentially wiped out the season for the innocent, youthful musicians of the Civic Orchestra. All of their events—at Orchestra Hall and off-site—have been scuttled, including a concert celebrating the Civic’s 100th anniversary, which was to be led by Salonen with Yo-Yo Ma as soloist.

I’ve also had emails over the transom from teachers who had scheduled trips to bring their young student musicians to Chicago to hear the CSO. Not only were they crushed by the fact that their plans were for naught, but in some cases, their money has been lost as well.

No doubt there are those who continue to support the striking musicians and believe their salary demands and unwillingness to consider changing their retirement plan are wholly reasonable.

But I have yet to meet or hear from these people. The impression of most of the concert-loving audience appears to have gradually shifted over the last four weeks—from vague sympathy to dismay, impatience, frustration, anger and even outrage. Words like “unrealistic,” “out of step,” “spoiled,” “childish,” “pampered,” and “selfish” are increasingly being voiced. And it’s not being directed at management. This is coming from people who are regular concertgoers and dedicated supporters of the CSO and its musicians.

What has most infuriated many members of the concert-going people is that the CSO strike has not only eliminated their own concerts, but that of top-flight touring artists and ensembles that would have appeared at Orchestra Hall under the Symphony Center Presents and Piano Series banners. Among the major classical artists whose appearances were nuked by the strike are Anne-Sophie Mutter, Maurizio Pollini, Midori and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Michael Tilson Thomas’s farewell tour with the San Francisco Symphony.

Was it really necessary for the musicians union to draw a red picket line in the sand at the outset of the strike and, essentially, dare visiting musicians to cross it? The distinguished artists cited above are not scabs brought in to take CSO musicians’ jobs away. Other striking orchestras—most recently the Pittsburgh Symphony musicians—have allowed events by touring artists to take place as scheduled with no problems or interference from strikers. Preventing these non-CSO events from taking place has only hurt Chicago’s classical concert-going audience members and the musicians’ own cause.

Even among those who are major CSO supporters and predominantly liberal people who tend to support the union side reflexively, the majority feel that the musicians are overreaching and doing so in a very big way. Nonpartisan observers have dug into the details of the contract offers rejected by the striking musicians. Some are business people who deal with these types of plans regularly—and virtually every one is unanimous that the musicians seem to be living in a parallel universe to the realities of the 21st-century workplace.

The kind of defined benefit plan at the crux of the dispute that the musicians want to maintain is virtually nonexistent in the business world of today outside of public service unions. And if musicians still think that the CSOA is exaggerating the financial dangers that the existing plan poses to its future, one has only to look at the bottomless crater that craven politicians have driven the state of Illinois into due to the exponentially rising costs of these plans (current deficit $3.2 billion).

________

Here, again, are the details of the latest offer:

*While remaining firm that the musicians must eventually be shifted from a defined benefit plan to a defined (or direct) contribution plan, CSOA has offered a new phased-in transition plan; musicians can select two dates (July 1, 2020 or July 1, 2023) to transition to the new plan, depending on what works best for their circumstances.

* The base salary would increase 12% over five years (annual increases of 2%, 2%, 2%, 2.5% and 3%). That would lift the starting musician salary from $167,094 in the previous offer to $178,152 in the final year of the contract. Principal players can earn substantially more.

* An increase in the employer contribution for the new plan from 7% to 8% for all current and new musicians;

*Additional transition contributions for three years, based on years of service and age.

*An added investment protection feature to provide security of their annual benefit in retirement.

The existing benefits already offered or in place include: a 20-hour work week; a minimum of 12 paid weeks off annually; no reductions or changes to current medical, dental and health insurance plans; a continued freeze (that has existed for 11 years) on health insurance premiums; long-term disability benefit (increased $5,000) of $15,000 a month; two consecutive days off at Ravinia four times every summer; a limitation on Saturday rehearsals; no daytime rehearsals or concerts on the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

________

I don’t want to minimize the musicians’ concerns or their legitimate right to strike for their rights and benefits. But I would be willing to bet that 99% of working people in 2019 America would kill to have the kind of plan that the musicians union is rejecting. 

The fact is that in today’s business economy, most of us working stiffs have no pension plan at all, let alone one like this, which looks pretty darn generous to most reasonable outsiders.

Some of the striking musicians have recently been quoted about the financial strain of having to come up with the money to pay their health insurance premiums, which are usually paid by the CSOA.

Again, not to be unsympathetic, but welcome to the world. Those of us who are self-employed or sole proprietors have to pay 100% of health premiums all the time—and often for overpriced, not very good insurance with huge deductibles (in addition to paying double social security taxes).

Last week, the musicians’ PR firm sent out a release asking that supporters of the striking musicians send checks “to ease the strain on individual orchestra members.”

Given the generous salaries and benefits above, it’s not hard to see why many people would view such a request as tone-deaf and preposterous. These aren’t poverty-stricken garment workers locked out of their jobs in Appalachia; these are musicians making a comfortable living who voluntarily walked out on what most would view as a pretty cushy gig. The fact that the new pension plan may make things fractionally less cushy doesn’t evoke a great deal of sympathy.

Finally, I think that the musicians may be in danger of seriously overestimating their importance and the centrality of the CSO to the Chicago of 2019. This is not the early 1970s when Georg Solti and the CSO returned from a triumphant European tour to a ticker-tape parade down State Street. The city is a much more divided and heterogeneous place.

If anything, the frequent touring of the Muti era may be having the opposite effect of the hometown pride of decades past. The orchestra has only performed a dozen concerts in Chicago since last Christmas—before the strike commenced on March 10.

It’s hard to have much civic pride in an orchestra that seems to be playing here so rarely. People were already finding alternatives to CSO concerts before the strike. And there is a real danger that the distrust, ill will, and hostility that many patrons are feeling over the strike and the many cancelled concerts will make itself felt in a way that will damage the CSO as an institution—with declining ticket sales, and lost bequests, gifts and donations.

I don’t think either side—certainly not the musicians’ union judging by their public statements—has yet recognized the degree and intensity of harsh negative feelings that this strike has already produced among the general public, arts and culture observers and even their loyal subscribers.

The damage that is being done by the current strike may take years and even decades to repair—damage to the reputation of the CSO as an institution, to the popularity and positive feelings towards the musicians, and even to the city itself.

At this one-month mark, it’s time for both sides to step back, take a deep breath and consider the broader, long-term implications of the path they have embarked upon.

The musicians deserve to be well paid based on their standing and acknowledged excellence without any nickel-and-diming over geography.

But they have to recognize that management has a fiscal responsibility to act in the interest of preserving the financial security of the organization. Would CSOA really be this intransigent on the retirement plan issue if they didn’t believe it was essential for the orchestra’s long-term survival? What would be the upside of all the cancelled events, disarray and negative publicity?

Whatever its seemingly ineradicable issues with violent crime, massive debt, high taxes, corrupt politicians and Jussie Smollett, Chicago had always enjoyed a sterling reputation as a city committed to the highest level of excellence in arts and culture. Let’s not destroy that as well.

Posted in Articles


120 Responses to “CSO musicians, management need to end strike now–for the good of Chicago and themselves”

  1. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 4:10 pm by Brian Park

    “But slowly, quietly, yet inexorably both the institution and the musicians appear to be losing material support and hard-won loyalty from the very people that matter most—their long-time subscribers and loyal audience members.”

    This sums up my thoughts perfectly. I’m not a subscriber (yet). But I’ve been attending as many CSO concerts as I could afford from my shoestring-budget, grad school days in the mid/late 90s. And I’ve brought my family to several concerts this season alone (Scheherazade with Muti, Bruckner 6 with Haitink, Ma Vlast with Barenboim, and Rachmaninov 3/Tchaikovsky 1 with Trpčeski and Heras-Casado). Even for gallery seats, that’s still a chunk of change for 5 people at each event.

    We still have tickets for an April Family Matinee, the Harry Potter concert in June (yes, I’m a fan, and the music is actually quite marvelous), and the Aida concert with Muti. But I’ve become so disheartened by the strike that part of me is honestly hoping that the rest of the season gets cancelled so that I can request a refund. I was also thinking of becoming a subscriber for next season, but I’m having second thoughts about that as well. My wife and I love the CSO, and we love exposing our children to the performing arts at the highest level. But we have plenty of other ways we can spend our hard-earned money.

    If these comments upset some here, so be it. Just know that they come from someone among the “concert-loving audience [whose opinion] appears to have gradually shifted over the last four weeks.”

  2. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 5:03 pm by Christian Vinyard

    Very well noted, Larry. Good job. I hope the union reads it. Thanks.

  3. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 5:31 pm by Paul C

    Perhaps you will now hear from “long-time subscribers and loyal audience members.” This website has been a welcome addition to the Chicago classical music world, primarily because of its reviews of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (and other events at Symphony Center). Obviously, from the comments section, musicians of the CSO read your reviews, and I am guessing will read this article on the strike.

    As a long-time subscriber and loyal audience member myself, I know I miss the concerts. Let’s hope when this is all over, it remains the greatest orchestra in the U.S.

  4. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 7:05 pm by Anne-Marie

    You have articulated logically and clearly what many of us feel. When the musicians first rejected the changes to their pension benefits, I was tempted to write that for many of us in the corporate world, defined pension benefits went out the window in the mid-90s and we had to settle for a 401-K Plan whose terms were at the employer’s discretion. This is the real world of the working man and woman!

    As highly as I regard the skills and intense work of these musicians, I am very disappointed in their refusal to compromise. It smacks of a certain arrogance that leaves me wondering whether it’s worth renewing my 10-plus subscription after 25 years and more as a loyal subscriber.

    I would hate to lose the experience of seeing Aida conducted by Muti but I am ambivalent about the musicians who’ve allowed the loss to Chicago to last a month.

  5. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 7:15 pm by Steve

    Yes, I find it difficult to comprehend why the musicians refuse to accept the shift to a defined contribution plan that the CSOA has proposed. It is not as if they will struggle for the rest of their lives after they retire upon the implantation of this change; they will make enough with their current 6-digit salaries to have significant savings for their retirement. And yes, the defined contribution plan will require more financial planning on their part, but that is simply the reality of the times we all live in today.

    With regards to the wage increase issue: yes, I understand that these musicians are talented and have spent an inordinate amount of time and financial resources to land a position at this top orchestra (though, I’m willing to bet that many of the musicians’ upbringing wasn’t in poverty and were in relatively good/safe/wealthy or middle-class environments, and that it was because their parents had the financial resources to support them that they are in the positions that they are in, which goes to show the gross inequalities in being able to pursue music for education and as a career).

    The musicians are not necessarily wrong in thinking that they should deserve to be paid at a high level (which they are). However, they then complain that they are not being paid the absolute highest dollar amount, which brings up their concerns about attracting top talent in the future. This is really puzzling because at the end of the day, I do not think future musicians will use the absolute dollar amount of salary as a metric in choosing between top orchestras, but instead take into account other important metrics, such as cost of living and housing, and then adjust the exact dollar amount of salary relative to these metrics.

    It is no surprise that the LA Phil and San Francisco Symphony are getting paid more today because the cost of housing is absolutely insane on the West Coast (a burned down house can cost over a million dollars there; that’s simply how high the property value is on the West Coast). Then again, if the musicians are ignoring this key fact, then maybe that is why they are hesitant to change to the defined contribution plan (because their understanding of basic finances is lacking and so they would be incapable of managing their own finances & retirement funds).

    Furthermore, what has really disturbed me is that there has been characterization of Jeff Alexander, Helen Zell, and the other Board of Trustees by certain members of the orchestra, the union, etc. as somehow evil individuals who solely seek to degrade their quality of life and destroy this orchestra. This is extremely juvenile and petty.

    But yes, to go off this well-written and well-argued column, this strike needs to end as soon as possible, for the good of the orchestra, institution, and the city. As a potential future subscriber, this is doing nothing to convince me that I should choose to invest in this orchestra, no matter how much I enjoy and love the art form.

  6. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 7:51 pm by G. Zimmerman

    Perfectly stated Mr. Johnson, thank you.

    I am a subscriber/contributor

  7. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 8:52 pm by Harry Feldman

    Mr. Johnson

    Thank you for eloquently offering this view point. much of the mainstream press had fallen all over themselves to back the musicians.

    The musician’s demands have motivated me to try to understand the issues better. Almost no private corporation offers any form of defined benefit pension – they are too expensive and are growing more and more expensive each year.

    Not mentioned in your article is the fact that the musicians seem to be fixated on being the highest paid, irrespective of significant cost of living differences between the locations – thus they are fixated on an apples to cucumbers difference. This somewhat seems like a ‘bragging rights’ issue of being the highest paid.

    As a CSO subscriber and average donor, who is not as well paid as a CSO musician, I wonder who the musicians think attends their concerts.

    This is not in any way to say that musicians do not work hard; they do spend significant time practicing and preparing for concerts. However, the musicians should not pretend that they are the only ones who work hard.

    Most average people need to spend significant amounts of time outside of their work remaining current in their field, paying for training from their own money to remain relevant to their employer. Most average people also work 40-50 hours at work and bring work home with them to do after we put the kids to bed. I doubt most CSO musicians are responding to work emails late at night and on the weekend, cancelling family trips due to work emergencies, or wondering if their company will be sold and they will be downsized out the door.

    Their CSO work hours enables many of them to take on private students, consult for instrument companies, take solo gigs out of town, and engage in other activities.

    So sympathy for the CSO musicians – as you suggest declining every day. Renewing my subscription – on hold; as you suggest Chicago has many other cultural opportunities.

  8. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 9:08 pm by Benson

    The musicians’ argument that changing to a defined contribution plan would jeopardize the ability to attract top talent is absurd on its face. How many openings do top level American orchestras have in a typical year? Perhaps a handful, and hundreds of top flight young musicians vie for each and every one of them. Many or even most CSO musicians would fail to win their own job back if forced to audition for it. Tenured jobs offering salaries north of $160K are rare, and the more details the general public learns about the musicians’ compensation, the less sympathy they have for their plight, if it could be described as such.

  9. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 11:07 pm by Tim

    As a long time subscriber to the jazz series (of which concerts have also been getting canceled) who regularly adds on orchestra, piano, and new music concert tickets, I’ve been seriously thinking about the situation. And, I wonder, has the time just come to call it a great 125+ years and move on?

    Maybe the orchestra should go their own way. Rent the Auditorium Theater (or other venues) and start anew with whatever current members choose to give it a go. Let the CSOA, for its part, dissolve and distribute their assets, or run and rent out Orchestra Hall and the other spaces; maybe just hold alternative music programs at Symphony Center, like so many other concert venues in town.

    Indeed, the musicians already have sort of been doing their own thing by holding free concerts, and participating in other musical activities around town. In fact, perhaps this is the best thing that has come from the strike: an opportunity to reach alternative audiences, some of whom might not otherwise be able to even afford tickets, or whose exposure to classical music is limited.

    Greater community engagement may well be exactly what is actually needed at this moment in time to make music meaningful to the citizenry. After all, as is rightly noted by Mr. Johnson, I honestly don’t think that there really is the sense of civic pride for the symphony which once existed, anymore.

    Shucks, even across the Loop the Lyric Opera (where I also subscribe) is cutting performanes (which are usually undersold with plenty of empty seats) and retooling itself with additional, alternative non operatic offerings. Long gone are the over 100% sold out performances of yesteryear.

    The CSO has been an important cultural institution. But, if it matters so much, why isn’t the mayor (or mayor elect) intervening to help bring an end to the trouble? Or where is the real public pressure to resolve it? Does anybody, really, care?

    So, while I’d hate to lose the institution, along with the highest level of quality music and programming they offer, I have become indifferent. I’d like to attend the concerts I still hold tickets to this year (including Bella Fleck/Chick Corea and Aida.) But, whatever.

    I don’t really think that the orchestra or management cares that much about me. Even if this does get resolved, I expect ticket prices to increase, no matter what the particulars of the deal. And it’s almost gotten too expensive for me, anyway. Without the subscriber package perks I have, I probably wouldn’t be buying any tickets even now, as is it. (All the more so as there are extra fees tagged on top of ticket prices in the last couple of years.) I hardly even think about buying anything other than gallery seats, these days, whereas I used to get seats on the main floor and everywhere else. In my impression, the stereotype that classical music is just for the rich and elite is becoming more and more true at CSO.

    What would I like to see happen, however? In an interview I read on another site, one orchestra member raised larger questions about how musicians engage with the populous beyond just concert culture, and as audience members. How can musicians meet their human needs, as part of the larger community? I think that this needs to be the current conversation which the present crisis really raises.

    Perhaps such public rhetoric and invitation to civic conversation would, ultimately, prove more rewarding as the CSO, once again, might move towards cultural relevance to many more Chicagoans, who in turn would want to reward them with the sort of security they (both musicians and the administration) seek. Maybe, in this way, musicians really would be culturally and economically valued as the sort of significant high class members of our society which those of us who already appreciate their musical efforts respect, understand, and often articulate as supporters, in advocacy.

    The present labor tension has been called, by some, trend setting – with the whole classical music world watching. I suppose it could be, if something different or dynamic were to come of it. But, should it simply be resolved one way or another over salary and pensions, I’ll see the entire situation merely being “business as usual” with none of the underlying challenges to the classical music world having effectively evolved at all.

    And, likely, they’ll also have effected, in the process, the loss of yet another patron.

  10. Posted Apr 10, 2019 at 11:23 pm by Andre

    “No doubt there are those who continue to support the striking musicians and believe their salary demands and unwillingness to consider changing their retirement plan are wholly reasonable.But I have yet to meet or hear from these people.”

    Here I am! Before spreading unaccurate information, just ask. There is a strong support towards the musicians, because their strike is an image of the whole United States: shitty pension system, poor funding for the artistic field, and greed from the finance world. Did you know that the current “CFO” of the CSO is himself selling pension plans, and may have a conflict of interest (and thus a breach of duty of care) when making decisions?

    Artists deserve support, and should be payed at a fair value. In order to unlock the conflict, one thing would be very helpful: resignation of the CSOA board which is responsible for an historical unability to resolve a negotiation, and an historical mess. By the way, it’s shameful how they use the CSO mailing list for their propaganda like “final reasonable best offer”… Who said it was resaonable? Just their personal views.

    For sure, the musicians do not have a “poor pension plan”. And for sure 99% of people would kill to have theirs. But these musicians are top notch. It’s not easy to find a new ones of this caliber, unlike the army of investment bankers which makes 10 times more. So before targeting the CSO musicians, there are more urgent cleanings to do in other places to get money.

    But the board won’t resign, because they’d rather take their salary instead of saving the season.

    I’m 100% with the CSO musicians, and hope they resist, and possibly bankrupt the CSOA, to give a lesson to the board, to Chicago, and possibly to the United States.

  11. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 12:13 am by Yuan-Qing Yu

    I have been playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the past 24 years when I won the audition in 1995. For that audition, I had to beat out 275 other contestants. This is a hard earned position that each musician is proud to have, and each has his/her own long journey of getting here, one of the world’s best orchestras.

    I started playing the violin when I was five, and have dedicated my life to music and my instrument. Mr. Johnson, in your article, you mentioned that the musicians have a 20 hour work week. That is true in the sense that we spend that amount of time at the Orchestra Hall. However, you failed to mention the countless hours that we spend daily on practicing and preparing for the rehearsals and concerts each week. Not to mention that most of us play many free outreach concerts for the communities and give free lessons to the young musicians.

    While we are not able to play the scheduled concerts during the strike, we are performing free for the communities because we believe our public deserves our devotion. We want the music to continue, we owe that to our public. At the beginning of this week, the musicians were shocked by the CSOA’s decision in canceling the next two weeks, that only showed that the CSOA had no intention to settle the contract in these coming weeks.

    The CSOA has not treated the musicians fairly since the onset of strike. From the very first day, while the musicians were signing up for their COBRA insurance, the CSOA hired outside armed guards to intimidate us. When the article addressed the cost of insurance, you failed to recognize the exorbitant cost of COBRA (not your regular premium).

    While we are not able to play the scheduled concerts during the strike, we are performing free for the communities because we believe our public deserves our devotion. We want the music to continue, we owe that to our public. Mr. Brian Park, I feel sad that we were not able to perform for you recently, but please come to our free community concerts. Visit http://www.chicagosymphonymusicians.com/ for information regarding free orchestral and chamber music concerts, and please come up to say hello to the musicians.

    The CSOA has strayed too far away from its most important mission which is serving its communities through music performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Currently, the CSOA has an endowment in access of $300 million, had its highest ticket sale revenue last year, and has a $175 million fundraising goal for the upcoming season. According to the CSOA’s own calculation, its proposal to gut the pension and to replace it with a 401K is projected to cost the association more money in the next 10 years than to maintain the current pension plan.

    In the hope to end the strike, the musicians’s negotiation committee proposed a compromise that would not cost the CSOA more than its expected cost under its 401k plan. However, that proposal was rejected. Furthermore, the CSOA decided this week to cancel two more weeks of concerts, sending the musicians a message that the management does not wish to settle the contract in the near future.

    Lastly, Mr. Johnson, when you said “I think that the musicians may be in danger of seriously overestimating their importance and the centrality of the CSO to the Chicago of 2019”, you should think long and hard about your position in the music world. Are you here to advocate for it? If you are, you should be advertising our free public concerts instead of devaluing the musicians and the importance of this cultural institution.

  12. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 12:30 am by Andrew

    I’m with Andre and I’m with the CSO musicians, full stop.

  13. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 12:48 am by Benson

    Mr. Johnson raises a great point about the picket line. What do the players think they’re accomplishing by forcing the cancellation of Midori, Pollini, Mutter, etc? Chicagoans may well miss out on their last chance to see the likes of Wayne Shorter and Itzhak Perlman perform live.

    The lost revenue of these concerts will only be another talking point in management’s favor once the players wake up and see how little leverage they truly have.

  14. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 1:15 am by Rationalist

    I will believe the musicians are serious about a fight when they start leaving for other jobs. If they can’t find equally good compensation elsewhere, this is just a temper tantrum. I suspect they can’t, and this is just a temper tantrum.

  15. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 5:22 am by Ludwig Schoenberger

    This message is in response to Ms. Yuan Qing Yu.

    First, I would like to defend the writing and work of Mr. Johnson. I have been reading his website for over 10 years and had the pleasure of reading him on South Florida Classical Review when I was living in Florida.

    Your attitude as if he needs to only review the CSO to be relevant speaks volumes and shows exactly the kind of bubble you and probably your colleagues live in. There are so many musical offerings in the city that I am sure Mr. Johnson would do just fine should the CSO remain on strike.

    I for one am tired of musicians giving these random unverified examples of how they contribute to the community outside of the workplace. I asked a CSO musician what the rate to teach one of my children would be (who actually got a scholarship to Interlochen and now plays in the National Youth Orchestra). I was told 250 dollars an hour when I said that was out of my price bracket the person then told me that was the going rate and that she could give me a number of a freelancer in the city who would be cheaper and more appropriate. Yikes! If I as a white man who has a good education, decent job (no pension of course) and two-income family and supports the orchestra through buying of expensive tickets gets treated in such a fashion, I cannot even imagine how a black student or family is treated.

    I recall Muti when he started said he was going to go to prisons and bring music there. It struck me as a hollow gesture only to get media attention. Prisoners need culture and advocacy but maybe Muti should consider what he can really do to help bring music to the south side and other communities where it would have a long term impact. Middle class black citizens.

    Ms. Yu, I hate to break it to you and your colleagues but unless there is a governmental change in regards to Social Security and taxes, expecting a pension from a private organization is a fool’s errand in the 21st century. You might do better by voting in interests of lower and middle-class people, which if you make six figures (as I do as well) then you are in the upper range of middle class.

    The orchestra is making itself less relevant by the day and people, myself included, view the musicians as entitled out of touch members of our community.

  16. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 8:04 am by T Y

    Employees that generate less revenue than their costs are overpaid. There isn’t a company or organization in the world that can keep running red ink without going out of business. This is despite a salary that is subsidized by the National Endowment for the Rich, corporate giving, state and city tax dollars, and donations by subscribers.

    The musicians have gotten an inflated sense of self-worth. The concert-going public has already spoken witnessed by the many empty seats at concerts. Maybe it’s time to do what Reagan did with the air traffic controllers.

  17. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 8:32 am by Brenda Jordan

    I too have enjoyed attending the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Jazz Concert Series. I’ve truly looked forward to attending, as I was unemployed for so long, it’s truly a great “treat” for me, as I love Jazz. I just had to get a refund for the upcoming Cecile McLorin Salvant Concert this Friday.

  18. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 8:41 am by Raquel

    Thank you! You nailed it. All of it.

    For chumps like me, who love the orchestra and what it brings, but who can hardly afford to attend concerts anymore (because we both work for non-profits and make nowhere near 160K/year), I have zero sympathy for the orchestra.

    This is the rich fighting the richer. The orchestra has placed themselves in this false narrative where they think they’re playing the part of the down and out, fighting against the evil corrupt capitalist. It’s lunacy and it’s an affront to those who are really struggling. They have the gall now to ask the association for healthcare coverage after THEY walked out?

    How many people in this day and age are under-employed, or are stuck in jobs they don’t like, that don’t use an iota of their gifts or talents, and that leave them exhausted? But they do these jobs because, quite simply, they need to survive. And these players are refusing to play because they want a pension plan a la 1952?

    I was really looking forward to taking my little ones to the last family concert and seeing if I could somehow sneak into the Yo-Yo Ma concert. Forget it. We’ll have to buy the music online, but I’ll make sure it was produced by another orchestra! Cleveland sounds pretty good these days.

  19. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 9:28 am by Tod Verklärung

    One additional point that hasn’t been raised much in this month-long discussion.

    Most of the attention to the cost of running the organization over the past few years seems to have involved cutting programs: no more “Afterwork Masterworks,” no more “Beyond the Score,” and a reduced proportion of professional members of the CSO Chorus, as well as fewer concerts involving the Chorus.

    This leaves open the question of whether the CSO administration has any new ideas to generate more interest in the orchestra and encourage people to fill the empty seats. Such initiatives have been taken elsewhere in the USA (especially on the coasts). Europe also offers examples. The CSO appears to run on the belief that it is sufficient to proclaim how wonderful the orchestra is (no argument here) and tout the conductor’s talent.

    With all the other cultural and entertainment offerings now available, this 1970s model is inadequate. Perhaps some imagination might generate more income and help reduce the distance between management and the players. If management is at a loss, perhaps there is a need to find new people with new ideas.

  20. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 9:28 am by Charles R Brown

    I am with Benson: Mr. Johnson raises a great point about the picket line.

    I miss the CSO, but there are other fine orchestras in Chicagoland. There is no replacement for Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter!

  21. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 11:22 am by Andre

    @ the musicians of the CSO:

    You HAVE to communicate! The CSOA management has started a subtle bashing campaign against you by using the CSO mailing list for their propaganda, and using their press network to promote their views.
    The “shift” in opinions (if real, to be determined) is due to their communication campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if they hired consultants (with CSOA’s money) to manage the crisis.
    Contact the journalists directly, write a paper and get it published in a major national newspaper, and possibly in music soecialized press.
    Who will win the image war will win the negotiation.

    You guys earn $160k to please out ears. How much does the CSOA board earn to fail in managing this situation? Bring that up and ask for their resignation!
    Who doesn’t care about subscribers are the board, not the musicians who keep playing for free all around Chicago. Your strike is the voice of a country sickened by an unsustainable pension and financial system!

    Others (contractual hotel employees) too are striking for similar reasons since 1 year (!!) protesting every single day in front of Chicago downtown hotels.

    It s up to you to be the leaders of a change, for yourself first, and possibly for the whole country!
    Remember that the louder instrument you can play, is the one you all play: your voice. Stand strong, and possibly think about ditching the CSOA and creating a new structure. Yoy don’t need a vintage building to play great music… Ditch the CSOA board and the Symphony center and leave them with their millions of debt! You’re the real value, not them!

  22. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 12:09 pm by Steve

    I have been a CSO subscriber for over 30 years and a frequent attendee before that since moving to Chicago 42 years ago. When I first subscribed I was in my early 30’s and even then the orchestra was having trouble attracting younger listeners.

    As the current impasse continues, I’ve found myself wanting to address the musicians, and since this forum is apparently read by at least one of them, I’m finally writing my thoughts down. It’s been tempting to just not bother because in these hyper-partisan times, people seem to dig in and not even consider thoughts that may not perfectly align with theirs. But saving the CSO is worth at least a little effort.

    Over the years, I have followed with interest articles and information about how the orchestra works, including how the musicians are compensated, what their schedules and workloads are like and the constant effort and dedication it takes to achieve the distinction of playing in an orchestra that is at the pinnacle of the field. I’ve always considered the musicians as heroes and worthy of the utmost respect for what they produce.

    During that time there have been other strikes that were settled quickly and the music continued. That is why, even though the current strike had already started, I renewed my usual 10-concert series subscription, and made what is for me – a retiree with a 401K – a substantial donation. As it has become clear that this strike is different from those past, I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t.

    As the article pointed out, about the only workers who continue to receive defined benefit pensions are public sector union members. The poor management of those programs has bankrupted this city and state, and taxpayers – the only potential source of future revenue – are leaving.

    My annual subscriptions and donations are a drop in the bucket when it comes to where the musicians’ pay comes from but, taken together, subscribers do make up a large share. And concert attendance has been dwindling. If that continues, there will be no source of revenue from which to fund any orchestra.

    The musicians argue that traditional pensions are still the norm for some large orchestras and if the CSO were to drop its pension it might be harder to attract the top talent. But it’s likely that if the CSO converted to defined contribution, the others would quickly follow.

    I have always put the musicians on a pedestal, feeling that such dedicated and accomplished artists must be on a higher intellectual plain in general. Their conduct during this strike has burst that bubble.

    The last straw for me was their decision to give a free concert for the Chicago Teachers Union. I support good teachers, but the CTU is a loathsome organization. Associating with groups of that ilk has tarnished the musicians immeasurably.

    As others have commented, I have also had to consider whether the time has come to start over. Fresh blood wouldn’t be a bad thing. Maybe more new music. Maybe fewer empty seats. Maybe a music director whose salary isn’t dozens of times more than the musicians’. It would be a shame if it really came to that. Muti and the orchestra have undeniable chemistry and work beautifully together.

    Musicians, you are throwing away all your goodwill. We who fund you are not stingy, but we are subject to the same financial constraints as you. We love you. But shape up. Accept the decent offer on the table and go back to work before you ruin one of this city’s cultural jewels and the goose that lays your golden eggs.

  23. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 12:48 pm by Raquel

    Yuan-Qing Yu, no one is disputing the amount of hard work that you’ve put into playing, or your talent. That’s why we’re upset about this. We want to listen to you play!

    However, your points are highly disputable.

    As for free concerts, how many? Two? Three? And where? And who is teaching these free lessons? If the musicians are as egalitarian and generous as you’re saying, then I’d love to see a brochure detailing where and when these free lessons occur. I’d gladly sign-up my children.

    That said, if all your talents and efforts are worthy of all this hubbub, then why are you giving it away with “free” concerts and “free” lessons?

    You cite record sales (which, incidentally, is probably due to the astronomical price of tickets) but my understanding is that the orchestra has been running a deficit for several years (I don’t have the link, but there was an article detailing the 2018 fiscal year).

    As for the pension, yes, what you’re saying is partially true. However, their proposal is not “gutting” your plan; that’s hardly the case. It will cost more to transition to a 401K in the next 10 years, but it would save money in the next 20, and given the the trend in running a deficit, the CSOA is wise in wanting to save money in the long term. If you find that operations start running in “the black,” then take the opportunity to renegotiate your contract.

    As for your final question to Mr. Johnson, it would behoove you to pose the question to yourself and your peers. To me, and seemingly the majority of commenters on this site, it seems that you are the ones devaluing the orchestra and the music.

  24. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 12:54 pm by D Moore

    One red herring which has appeared in this article and virtually all similar articles dealing with orchestra strikes and lockouts is the “20 hour work week.” While onstage, yes, the work week can average roughly 20 hours; but that certainly doesn’t count the other 20-40 hours that each player has to spend preparing for each service and generally staying in top shape. And how many workers have to go out and purchase and maintain instruments that can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars?

    The CSO is at the top of the profession and needs to remain there. It is not the only orchestra with a defined benefit pension, and they are fighting for those other orchestras as well. It is unfortunate that most other workers have lost those benefits, as now one’s retirement is at the mercy of the stock market- a major depression could wipe out millions of retirees very quickly, whereas a traditional pension could hold out for a while.

    They are certainly expensive, but where should the risk be to ensure retirement? with the company that enjoys the benefits of having that worker for decades or with the worker? Anyway, the 20 hour figure certainly does not reflect the reality of a musician’s time commitment at this level.

  25. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 1:48 pm by Lori

    The musicians of the CSO need to think long and hard about their claims and the PR they are releasing and generating. They are an excellent orchestra (the claim to be the “best” in the US is dubious — there are at least five other orchestras– San Francisco, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, the Met — that can lay claim to that title at any given performance).

    Are changes to their pension plan going to keep them from attracting new and superlative talent? Not a chance. The simple laws of supply and demand say otherwise: this country alone has over 500 schools of music, about 15 of them world-class; each pumping out hundreds of superbly trained, gifted, and hard-working musicians *each year*. I’ve been in the classical music business for 35 years and have NEVER heard one auditioning musician (even those auditioning for the CSO) inquire about an orchestra’s pension plan.

    As for the salary, the public needs to be reminded that the figures quoted are BASE salary — virtually all of the musicians in the orchestra earn considerably more. As this strike drags on, the musicians are in danger of being seen as petulant children who don’t deserve the support of the public, foundations, or government. They need to spend some time adjusting to the reality of the working world, in which they are already generously compensated both in terms of wages and benefits.

    Get smart and end the strike, before your subscribers and funders decide they have better things to do with their money.

  26. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 2:31 pm by Barbara Stanukinos

    I support the musicians in their strike to keep their pensions. I am tired of hearing how private industry doesn’t have pension plans. You listened to your employers and they talked you out of your plan for their benefit not yours. Major corporations got huge tax cuts or paid no taxes. Their coffers contain billions of dollars, does yours? It is a known fact that 401k plans will not support you thru retirement.

  27. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 2:39 pm by Jonathan Grover

    Yuan-Qing Yu,

    Interesting. I walk by Symphony Center every day but I see no “armed guards.” Plenty of musicians picketing, though.

  28. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 3:34 pm by Kit

    You’re so willing to offer praise when everything is sounding how you like it, but doing what it takes to uphold that standard is too inconvenient for you?

    Very unhelpful to put the entire blame of the strike on the backs of the musicians. The musicians have proposed an offer that costs less than the proposal written by the management while maintaining the pensions that they were all promised when they were hired, so why did the management turn it down? It costs less!

    The management had a year to find middle ground and prevent the strike, but they did nothing. Then they refused for 2 weeks to meet to negotiate at all while the musicians picketed out front and perform free (and unpaid) concerts for the public. (Info for free concerts at chicagosymphonymusicians.com) Then when they finally meet they reject the cost-saving offer by the musicians. How then did you find a way to put all of this as the musicians’ fault?

    You do make some valid points, but your one-sided critique of the musicians over the management ruins your credibility.

    How can you say a symphony musician has a 20-hour work week when they have a job that requires dedication of their entire lives? Why would you expect touring musicians, that are part of the same union, to cross the picket line? Their has been an outpouring of support from these same musicians that understand what’s at stake.

    I agree completely with your final thought though, lets stay committed to the highest level of excellence in arts and culture, and lets treat those that spend their lives achieving that highest level with some respect.

  29. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 3:38 pm by David Pickett

    I realize that people in the financial sector, doctors, lawyers, etc make much more; but 160k p.a. as a starting salary sounds pretty good to me. Many players will be taking home far in excess of that. Plus medical and other benefits… On that salary, a social security pension based on FICA payments is going to be pretty good, BEFORE the CSO pension is taken into account.

    The musicians’ case is weakened by the fact that there are over 200 applicants for a position. Let‘s say that 20 of those applicants are excellent players. That means that there is no shortage of orchestral musicians. If CSO musicians have tenure, they are better off than many professors at major universities these days.

  30. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 3:44 pm by timpanitroll

    “While onstage, yes, the work week can average roughly 20 hours; but that certainly doesn’t count the other 20-40 hours that each player has to spend preparing for each service and generally staying in top shape”

    Orchestral musicians spend the most amount of time practicing when they are in college and on the audition circuit. The amount of time spent practicing declines a lot after they’ve won the Big Gig, and it really declines after they’ve been granted tenure.

    They really only practice when learning a contemporary work or preparing for a recital. If you think anybody practices more than 2 hours in a week when they’re getting ready to play Beethoven’s 5th for the 50th time, you’re mistaken.

  31. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 3:55 pm by Brad

    There have been many eloquent comments made here from various points of view, but there are some questions that remain for me. For one thing, why is it that the CSOA can’t find a way to maintain the current defined benefit plan when other orchestras (San Fran, LA, Boston, etc.) can and have?

    For another, why can’t the CSOA match (or come close) to the pay at San Fran and LA? I understand that those west coast orchestras are paying the musicians more to compensate for the higher cost of living, but so what? Regardless of the reason, the managements of those orchestras are still able and willing to pay more to attract and retain top musicians.

    And let’s consider something else: while Chicago is a great city, so is LA. So is San Fran. Is it hard to imagine that, all things being equal, some great musicians might take the higher pay (and better climate) and move west? Does the name Eugene Izotov sound familiar?

    There are many other musicians who have resigned from the CSO in recent years, so much so that the woodwind section is almost completely new. What about the fact that, years later, there are still openings for principal horn and principal trumpet? One of the world’s great orchestras shouldn’t see resignations on this scale. And how has the CSOA addressed that problem? They haven’t, and now the institution is in the midst of perhaps the worst crisis in its history with no end in sight.

    It’s frankly appalling that the CSOA could spend $110 million in the ’90s ($175 million in today’s dollars) on a disastrous renovation of Orchestra Hall that made the acoustics worse, and yet their goal now appears to be to nickel and dime the musicians on salary and leave them feeling unsettled about their retirement.

    People like Mr. Alexander and Mrs. Zell should instead be thinking creatively about ways to bring new audiences and revenue to the CSO. In fact, I can’t think of a single new initiative during Mr. Alexander’s tenure. The Berlin Phil has the Digital Concert Hall. The Detroit Symphony has live concert webcasts and something called DSO Replay, which allows people to watch concerts on-demand with a computer or on a mobile app. How has the CSO’s administration responded? The occasional CSO Resound release. A random concert clip or interview uploaded to YouTube.

    The musicians of today’s CSO, like the ones of years and decades past, do their part by staying at the top of their artistic game and maintaining, probably now exceeding, the standards the ensemble has long been known for both here and around the world. To do this week after week, year after year, has to take its toll. But they do it, presumably because of their pride, the tradition, and the desire to honor the masterpieces they play as well as the audiences who come to experience them.

    It’s time for the CSOA to work just as hard, and for the right reasons.

  32. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 3:56 pm by Marko Velikonja

    As a federal employee with a defined-benefit pension plan, I definitely sympathize with CSO members’ reluctance to give up theirs; clearly it’s an effort by the CSOA to transfer the risk from the institution to the players, and it makes little sense given the access to expert financial advisers the CSO surely has. The fact that much of the corporate world has moved away from defined-benefit plans doesn’t in itself justify joining a race to the bottom.

    I’m a little less sympathetic to demands for salary parity with LA and SF, given the high cost of housing in those cities.

    And it does seem rather petty on the part of the CSO musicians to force other performers to respect their picket line. It would have cost them nothing to let recitals and performances by visiting orchestras to proceed; those performances were not taking away work from the CSO.

  33. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 4:18 pm by Rick

    The CSO players’ position reminds me of that infamous quote from the head of the Airline Pilots Association at United Airlines during their union negotiations: “We don’t want to kill the golden goose. We just want to choke it by the neck until it gives us every last egg.” With this kind of employee attitude it’s not surprising that United went bankrupt.

    As a 40-year subscriber I’m eager to see the players get their hands back on their instruments and off the subscribers’ necks.

  34. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 4:46 pm by Robert Prindle

    Just as a point of information: AGMA (union representing LYRIC OPERA performers, stage managers etc.) members in a defined contribution plan receive 10% (not the 8% CSOA is offering). And I also would like to inform CSO patrons that all the trades (plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, carpenters etc.) still have defined benefit plans (not just government workers). Many of them have, in addition, 401k plans.

    Organized labor has endeavored to represent workers fairly and equitably for over a century now. The foundation of their organization and growth was a challenge to the robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among their accomplishments for ALL workers was a 40 hour workweek and job place safety rules (look up Triangle waistcoat fire NYC).

    We are currently in an era where the wealthy since the late 80’s have seen their net worth exponentially grow as opposed to the average worker’s salary. The Helen Zell’s of the world now expect to dictate what happens not only at CSO but in our country and worldwide. Is $160,000 a large salary? MAYBE….unless you compare this to what Helen and other BOD members earn in a DAY! If they feel their fiduciary responsibilities as BOD members are too hard (and remember, REVENUE including fundraising is solely their responsibility as BOD members), they should consider resigning.

    Otherwise, the CSOA (Helen Zell etc.), are presiding over NOTHING. And NOTHING is what the CSOA is worth without an ORCHESTRA!

  35. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 4:53 pm by Tod Verklärung

    Maybe we should think of the standoff as a tribute to the end of WWI, just one year late. Both sides, I’ll bet, went into the battle with high hopes, thinking they’d win a short war at little cost. Surprise!

  36. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 5:23 pm by DW

    Even if they are spending 20 additional hours practicing only fundamentals and their CSO repertoire (I have no doubt they spend at least that amount of time practicing, but I imagine much of it is not devoted to CSO specific pursuits) … that’s 40 hours total.

    Are any other professions working as little as 40 hours and making that much? I’d love to know how these people are doing their part for the underserved parts of the community on the south and west sides. It’s hard to have sympathy for people making that much working that little and who serve only the most privileged.

    And if you’re going to compare your salary to that of Los Angeles and San Francisco, you ought to factor in cost of living. These people are so disconnected from reality.

  37. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 6:21 pm by myra jost

    Maybe you should ask the CSOA why they can find $5 million a year to pay the banks from which they foolishly borrowed $145 million 20 years ago and still owe $145 million today due to financial absurdity? Banks and buildings don’t make music – musicians do.

    And perhaps mr. JOhnson, you and your readers should ask why the Association only spends 1/3 of its revenues on the orchestra – As a often full price ticket holder – I thought i was paying for the Orchestra only to find out I am paying bankers and buildings.

    I stand with the musicians –

  38. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 6:46 pm by David

    To everyone that is writing like a macroeconomics expert, here is a thought experiment:

    Other City Orchestra has a similar salary to the CSO, but also has a pension plan. It is 2023 and the CSO no longer has a pension. You are a youngish member of the CSO or that Other City Orchestra. What economic sense does it make to stay in or join the CSO?

    The CSO has attracted (ie competed for) top talent from other orchestras for years (eg David McGill from Cleveland, Steve Williamson from MET and NyPhil, Gina Dibello from Minnesota, David Herbert from San Fran, Gene Pokorny from LAPhil ). Just read the musicians’ bios and see if they were in another big city orchestra before CSO.

    No financially minded individual would play in the CSO if they could get in a comparable orchestra that has a pension.

    If you are arguing about ‘whether’ the CSO ‘should’ have a pension, that is a moot point as long as multiple other big orchestras do have a pension, as many do with no signs of ending them.

    In the orchestral musician marketplace, the CSOA needs to compete for talent as any corporation would compete for executive level employees. A pension is a retirement benefit that needs to be at least equal to the other Big City Orchestras in this country if the CSOA has any hope of maintaining the CSO as the best orchestra in the country.

    There is a very good likelihood that the CSOA does not care to maintain this level of musical excellence, and in that case they are very happy to keep the strike going for as long as they want (as President Alexander said, they are saving money by not paying the payroll!). Audiences may be surprised that boards and orchestra administrations do not care about the artistic product as much as the musicians.

    I’ve read Howard Reich in the Tribune a few years ago lament the fact that certain members of the CSO, after perhaps 10-15 years of service, have left to play in Other Big City Orchestra. He waxed about the good ole days of musicians playing for the CSO for 40 years with never wanting to leave. Well guess what would happen without a pension… the CSO would have zero chance of attracting and maintaining top musicians who would receive a comparable salary in addition to a defined benefit pension in a different orchestra.

    If audience members and subscribers reading this are thinking, these overpaid, money grubbing babies just want to drain the piggy bank for their benefit, ask yourself, if you had a job offer for your same position at an equally prestigious organization with a comparable salary, but with a defined pension benefit, what would you do? Now imagine that your organization’s product and performance is solely dependent on the quality of employee that is hired alongside you, and the boss wants to cut the salary and benefits of everyone hired after you so that they can pay for the renovation on your office, does that make good business sense?

    The musicians are not striking for themselves. Many of the members are fully vested in the pension and will receive it regardless of the outcome of their new contract. In fact, the last offer extended the timeline so that over 50% of the musicians would be vested, with the hopes of splitting the orchestra and getting the vested members to vote for that contract. They are striking for the new members they hope will join, as well as the younger members they hope to maintain.

    It’s pretty useless to compare the CSOA salary offer to the average American worker. The musicians aren’t average. And, their entire field is not average. The comparison must be made among the Big City Orchestras of the US, and the musicians are striking so that the salary and benefit package maintain parity within the industry, so as to attract top talent and maintain the CSO as the best in the country.

    If you don’t care that the CSO be the best in the country, if good enough is good enough, then the strike will never make sense to you.

  39. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 7:10 pm by Plush

    Editor Johnson:
    You sound like a big bidnezmang fed up with lowly workers. I cannot support your position for even one second. To solve the strike, firstly give the CSO musicians the highest orchestra pay in the world. This what they want and deserve. Then I believe you will see movement on the pension issue.

    The CSOA must also control their own costs which are way out of control. The CSOA is a bloated bureaucracy. Too many development drones, too many PR mopes. Donors money is not well spent. They must address the bloat and the waste.

  40. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 7:32 pm by Ann Raven

    I agree with Myra Jost. I stand with the musicians even though I have been very disappointed about the cancelled performances to which I have looked forward all year. I feel that the musicians should be able to keep their defined-pension plan and I am shocked that, as a long time subscriber, only 1/3 of revenues go to the orchestra members. Loosen up, Ms. Zell and Mr. Alexander!

  41. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 8:30 pm by Matthew Weflen

    This is about more than the particulars of the musicians and the contact they desire. This is about stopping the erosion of workers’ rights and benefits in the face of relentless corporate capitalism and its ethos of treating human beings as cogs and liabilities.

    As a former adjunct professor (whose union was illegally ignored by Saint Xavier University) and a patron of the CSO for years, I support the musicians unreservedly.

  42. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 8:41 pm by Eran

    The musicians of the CSO do not get paid for the hours that they rehearse and perform. They get paid for their expertise. If you are in need of surgery would you like to have a surgeon who is making $25,000 a year or $250,000 operating on you? You wouldn’t have any qualms with the idea that the surgeon is getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars because he or she are being paid for their expertise not the hours that they spend in the operating room.

    All of the musicians who play in the CSO are highly skilled experts in their field and they all spent tens of thousands of hours in their lifetime to reach this level and continue to spend countless hours every week to maintain their level of playing.

    To compare their salary and benefits to every other regular job in the market makes no sense. And who decided that having defined benefit pension is a thing of the past?

  43. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 9:08 pm by Outside Observer

    I am not a resident of Chicagoland, but one of my favorite pastimes whenever I’m in town to attend a trade show at McCormick Place is to catch a Joffrey Ballet or CSO performance downtown. I have experienced some really memorable CSO performances over the years; often they’re the single most fulfilling highlight of my trip, remembered long after that expense-account dinner at the Chicago Chop House.

    I am not a professional musician, but I’ve made it a point to attend concerts by the leading orchestras in many U.S. cities over the past 20 years — Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, DC, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, etc. To my ears, the difference in “quality” between them is nearly indistinguishable. I’m quite sure many (most) other concert-goers would be left with the same impression.

    To the CSO players, here’s your reality check: There are musicians in numerous other cities who are just as talented, just as experienced, and just as good as you are. They would be more than happy to step into your positions at the CSO — defined pension plan or no.

    That’s not only the reality; it’s also your wake-up call.

  44. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 9:19 pm by Steve

    To everyone complaining about the CSOA improperly managing their finances—then why don’t you apply for the job or start studying up for a career in orchestral management? Or better yet, why don’t you cough up a couple hundred million dollars to become a board of trustees member, especially if you’re so unhappy with how Helen Zell and Jeff Alexander are running the CSOA?

    Orchestras in the US are not like those in Europe—there is no state funding in the US (which is why philanthropists are so crucial) and the value of orchestras and classical music in general is substantially lower in the US. Example: the Vienna State Opera is thriving, with over 99% seats sold annually. If people in the US were like those in Vienna and other important capitals of classical music, then maybe this strike wouldn’t be happening at all, but until then, this is the reality.

    If the musicians really want to be valued by the entirety of society, then maybe they should try to win a position in Europe. Then again, base salaries in many European orchestras are generally not going to be as high as the one the CSOA is providing, so the musicians are essentially weakening their own argument…

  45. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 9:51 pm by Ex-CSO fan

    I have been a CSO subscriber for more than 30 years. I attend 20-30 concerts a year, and have been following this strike very closely. I have read the details of the proposals, and seen the newspaper and Internet articles and the attending comments.

    Here are my two comments:

    1) If CSO players are so unhappy here, why don’t they just leave? Since they all claim to be the world’s best musicians, I’m sure they can find jobs at other orchestras easily. With
    the title of “CSO musician,” I’m guessing they wouldn’t even have to audition.

    As the musicians in Boston and San Francisco are so supportive, they undoubtedly would be willing to step aside for the superior talent coming from Chicago.

    2) If I buy a flight ticket and decide I can’t go, I have to pay a cancellation fee. If I reserve a hotel room and cannot go because I am sick or have to work, I have to pay a cancellation fee. If I hire a babysitter to look after my children, then change my plans, I have to pay a cancellation fee.

    I had opportunities to take a trip this spring at a really good price, but turned them down because I had several sets of CSO tickets. Now the players have decided not to honor their commitment to play. I would like to demand the same cancellation fee for each of these concerts, but I’m sure the arrogant and irresponsible musicians won’t be paying me
    anything.

    CSO musicians bear some obligation to subscribers. Playing free concerts to small crowds of non-subscribers does nothing to fulfill that obligation.

  46. Posted Apr 11, 2019 at 11:00 pm by Michael

    As an avid supporter of the CSO for decades, I have to say that this strike has left me dispirited, and I feel the musicians (some of whom I know) have badly miscalculated their standing in the community. As Larry mentioned, these are not the days when the orchestra would be greeted with parades after prestigious tours. Does anyone remember the last time the CSO won a Grammy? Solti used to bring these home like candy, and there was tremendous local pride when these announcements were made..

    In past eras, for wind and brass players, the CSO was the ultimate gig. It’s sad to notice how many of these extraordinary players have left in recent years for, apparently, musically greener pastures.

    Most articles on this subject underestimate the salaries. The “base” salary is for newly hired players. The average salary is well over $200,000. It would be great if that figure were more widely known. Can’t say I’m surprised that the musicians haven’t passed along that amount.

    And don’t get me started on the Civic Orchestra tragedy.

    Time for both sides to swallow their pride and get back to work.

  47. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 12:01 am by Henry

    This is a truly embarrassing moment for the players. Every member is rich by nearly any metric. $200,000+ a year, when most come from well off families to begin with? Give me a break. Stomping your feet like children just shows how entitled and out-of-touch you truly are.

    Cut them loose and audition a new orchestra, there won’t be a drop in quality.

  48. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 12:15 am by Peter DG

    Mr. Johnson has expressed my feelings very well. I just want to add my dismay as to how confused the orchestra musicians are relative to some simple facts in this dispute. Who advises them, I wonder.

    For example, 401K has been mentioned many times, Anyone on the ball knows it’s 403b NOT 401k that applies to them. As to the retirement benefits from a defined contribution plan vs a defined benefit plan I can offer my own situation.

    I have had a defined contribution plan for my entire working career and in my 20 years of retirement my benefits are many times what they would have been under defined benefit. Yes it took some rational investing and yes there was some market risk, but that’s the real world. If you stick with it you’re way ahead. As a result I am now in a position to donate “huge” sums to support the musicians.

    You will be much better off with what CSOA is proposing than with what you have now.

  49. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 3:24 am by D Michael

    Many commentators have taken issue with the “20 hour work week” claim. Very well, so the musicians put in more time in private preparation.

    No one that I have read, however, has mentioned the work year. The typical American worker works 50 weeks. After 10 years, five if they’re lucky, they can cut that down to 49 or 48. Can the CSO musicians claim 50? I don’t think so.

    They have it pretty easy.

  50. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 3:49 am by Frank Lyons

    This is a very well-balanced and considered article. I’m a former orchestral musician, union rep, and orchestra manager, with natural sympathies for both sides. I believe in having good unions, but the union side has lost the plot here. It’s tough enough keeping orchestras alive and thriving in the modern world without acts of deep self-harm.

  51. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 8:14 am by T Y

    The orchestra loses over $1M a year. That means the orchestra members are being overpaid for the value they bring to the organization. A 401k and 403b are basically the same with one being for non-profits. Most people are offered a 401k or 403(b) which the employer matches half of what you contribute on your own up to say 6%. So, basically the company gives you 3%, but you have to contribute on your own 6%. In some cases, you aren’t fully vested into the company matching until a certain amount of years, say 3 years.

    Here’s what is being offered to the CSO musicians. They will get 8% without having to do a thing. They also have a separate 403b which is not matched.

  52. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 8:43 am by Jeff Rice

    It is with great disappointment, Mr. Johnson, that your enthusiasm for music does not match your belief in and enthusiasm for the musicians without whom there would be no music. We the supporters of the CSO do not go to Orchestra Hall for the building and its dubious acoustics, we do not go for Chairwoman Zell or any other members of the BoT, or Jeff Alexander. We go because the work conditions of the CSO have allowed them to recruit the best orchestral musicians out there.

    The proposal of the Board will likely undermine that situation — if we do not offer the best, we cannot attract the best. We are falling behind other orchestras; such s the danger to Chicago. I personally hate when the media says things like, well there are more than one side and pretend all sides are equal. And then come out to support the rich and powerful.

  53. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 11:00 am by Sandie Thomas

    Mr. Johnson, you haven’t heard from anyone supporting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Musicians in their strike to protect their pensions? Well, here I am. My support is not waning, my support is strongly and unequivocably on the side of the Musicians who have been studying their craft since they were small children and whose parents sacrificed for the sake of their children’s lessons and instruments, and who have continued to devote their lives to the perfection of their craft. These Musicians work far more than 20 hours a week to keep their skills at the highest level. The Association has spent an enormous amount of funds to gussie-up Orchestra Hall (it is beautiful) putting the orchestra heavily in debt.

    I attended the Town Hall event on 4/11/19 put on the by Association, and it was carefully choreographed to limit the “voice” of the patrons. We had to write our questions on index cards, were not allowed to actually speak with our human voices, and some of the questions were then “edited” by Association staff (I saw them rewriting some of the questions) and read by someone named “Craig.” I am fairly certain the first questions were written by the Association or friends of the Association because they were obsequious and almost childlike. “Why are you taking away the Musicians’ healthcare?” What? Where would anyone come up with that infantile question? And the second question: “Why are you taking away the Musicians’ pension?” The panel of commentators then spoke directly to “Craig,” instead of making eye contact with the audience, as if we were merely onlookers to this event.

    Jeff Alexander has mastered the art of quietly and calmly giving non-answers to questions. My question was “Your last offer to the Musicians was your ‘final, best and last offer.’ It was turned down by the Musicians, so if ‘the final, best and last offer’ was turned down, then it’s all over. You will terminate the musicians?” There were only two possible answers to that question, either “yes, it’s all over,” or “no, it was a bluff.” But Jeff Alexander’s response wandered all over the map and never said “yes, it’s all over,” or “it was just a bluff,” just a non-answer, one of many over the two hour session.

    The CFO was articulate as she spewed forth many statistics that, in my opinion, were just numbers, not attached to anything that would have given them context or meaning.

    And poor Helen Zell, nervously rubbing her fingers constantly. She seemed so out of place, with very little of substance to contribute.

    I felt compelled to attend the Town Hall to hear what the Association had to say, but wonder if they truly have the respect for the Musicians (the best in this country) that would allow them to swallow their pride and come closer to what the Musicians need to assure the continuation of the quality of this truly outstanding orchestra. I fear this season is over, for sure, and Ravinia is over, for sure. Does the Association want to terminate the musicians and try to use Orchestra Hall for some other purpose?

  54. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 11:04 am by Beth Sjadur

    I am with the musicians. The CSO has brought continuous joy to my life.

  55. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 11:26 am by John

    Legacy costs have sunk many industries. Legacy costs are sinking Illinois and Chicago. Any well run enterprise knows these facts. Having a defined contribution plan where the dollars are in YOUR account that can be passed on to your heirs is an undeniable advantage to a defined contribution plan. The CSO musicians are holding on to an obsolete inefficient mode of funding pensions. Change isn’t bad.

    Of course, the CSO could stay with the defined benefit plan, raise ticket prices 20% and then see their attendance dwindle. Kind of like what the State of Illinois is doing to itself–raise taxes to sustain the pensions, people leave, raise taxes again because the people who could leave, left Illinois, more people leave.

  56. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 11:40 am by Stephen Straus

    I am among the ranks of most loyal Friday afternoon concert goers and have rarely missed a concert in the last 35 years. These two hours are the best part of my week. It took me years to get the great aisle seats I have now. I am not angry but very sad this is happening to us

  57. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 12:01 pm by Andre

    With an extra $150M, the US government could do 3 things:

    1/ increase federal fundings for arts by 100% for 1year or
    2/ buy one F-22 military jet or
    3/ fund 0.02% of a loan to banks for the 2008 crisis (of which a large part will never be reimbursed)
    4/ fund 3% of a wall

    USA, please stop whining. This is something you have chosen with your vote.

    The musicians are right to strike. There is money around, it’s just not going in the proper pockets.
    If they strike, this means they can afford to do so, because they understood something the business school alumni struggle to understand: value is not only measured by dollars, and they are hardly repleaceable without starting a1-year round of auditions (another concept that business educated people do not inderstand). The law of job offers and demand is not only valid in one direction, and here the musicians have a clear advantage. (Unlike them, there are plenty of business board managers out there to substitute the current board)

  58. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 12:21 pm by Charlie

    If the CSO really wanted to be the best orchestra in the world, they would find a way to ease out the elderly members in the orchestra who can no longer play to world-class standards. They would also try to upgrade the assistant principal players to be co-principals, i.e. no drop-off in quality when a principal takes the week off.

    Finally, the vacant principal positions in horn, trumpet, and viola should be filled immediately. There is no excuse for having principal positions unfilled.

  59. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 12:33 pm by Kelly

    in response to TY of April 11:

    “maybe it’s time to do what Reagan did with the air traffic controllers”

    Oh sure, great idea. NOT. It’s wasn’t just a coincidence that along with Reagan destroying the rights of critically needed public sector employees their voice in the workplace regarding the conditions they worked under, 1981 was also when the policies of “trickle down economics” commenced.
    After almost 40 years of union busting and deregulated capitalism, only the lemmings still blame the working class for Americas woes.

    Oh BTW… didn’t those replacement workers eventually attempt to unionize after finding out the realities of working in Reagan world?

  60. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 1:35 pm by G

    I’m with the board. These players are out of touch with reality and being juvenile at this point who somehow think the entire city revolves around them.

  61. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 1:54 pm by Mkay

    You who support the board are what’s wrong with the world. You keep giving power to those who lord over us and they will exploit us even further.

    They don’t make that much money considering inflation. All of you should be upset at what you make.

    My Father was a cop in the 90’s and pulled 150,000 a year as a Sergeant. That was the 1990’s. I easily afforded my rent by working jobs. I never had to worry about money because there were jobs that paid well enough for me to afford rent.

    I own a house as a musician. My friend’s who are ten years younger can not afford houses. All of you are idiots.

  62. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 2:19 pm by Barbara Rubenstein

    I am with the CSO musicians 100 percent.
    I teach music. I attend concerts regularly.
    I have made sure I am informed about the issues.
    After thoughtful examination,
    I remain with the musicians.
    I value all arts organizations in Chicago ,
    particularly those that are of the highest caliber.
    It is my hope that I am teaching a future generation
    to treasure all arts.

  63. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 3:17 pm by Robert Prindle

    Support of the esteemed musicians of the CSO and other similar professionals is essential to this situation. I am alarmed at the suggestion that virtually any trained musician can step into the CSO and play at this level. If so, those who begrudge the musician’s position can attend virtually any other semi-professional or volunteer orchestra and have the same experience. Of course this is NOT the case (tho many of these ensembles are very good and deserve support for what THEY contribute)!

    Classical music (including OPERA) is in the decline partly as a result of the decisions of the executives (i.e. BOD and chairperson) to “retrench” and offer other experiences, some completely removed from their original missions. LYRIC changed it’s corporate name a few years ago NOT for cosmetic reasons. The offerings of this organization include pop music and even non music events. This is done ostensibly to sustain the OPERA which the current administration views as a losing event (hence the drastic schedule reduction in productions and OPERA performances over the last decade).

    If this premise is correct everywhere, the downward spiral will continue unabated: fewer symphony performances and fewer opera performances. One executive at one organization offered this observation: “our audience is dying!” and there’s nothing that can be done.

    It is incumbent upon the boards of esteemed organizations to commit to growth not surrender. Attacking musicians while their own wealth expands is reprehensible! The American union worker is NOT the problem. The best musicians in the world (that’s the CSO orchestra) have committed their lives and futures to GREAT music. It’s time the CSOA and the rich do the same!

  64. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 3:43 pm by NorSider

    Not taking a side in this dispute for now. For the last several years, I’ve been heading north to hear the Milwaukee Symphony, and am now a big fan. They are really terrific, and have sent numerous musicians to the “Big Five” orchestras over the years, including the CSO.

    The next subscription pair is April 26-27, Mahler 9 with Edo de Waart. You won’t be sorry. (PS, these very fine musicians are paid less than half the CSO and lost their defined benefit pensions decades ago.)

  65. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 4:58 pm by George Young

    Okay, Larry, you need to hear from people who continue to support the orchestra musicians? I’m one and I will share my reasons here since you asked.

    I’m a current CSO subscriber and have been for over 51 years. That’s before Solti arrived and a time before the musicians union had achieved many hard won and important benefits, including the current pension plan. I firmly believe that having such a plan had in fact a role in the development and maintenance of the artistic stature of the CSO and will continue to do so if retained.

    Why do I say this? Well, I retired from private industry with both a defined benefit pension and a company-sponsored 401(k) matched with company contributions, am equally familiar with aspects of the evolving defined benefit/defined contribution pension arguments.

    It’s a specious argument to just say “well nobody gets a defined benefit pension anymore these days”. Defined contribution plans have increasingly won out over defined benefit in private industry only because of funding level ‘mark to market” balance sheet accounting that flies in the face of for-profit companies having to squeeze out every last .1% profit each and every quarter.

    For a non-profit arts entity such as the CSOA, there is no inherent need to transfer all the risks of pension fund return variability onto the backs of the musicians. Whatever side of the passive vs. active investment management philosophy you are on, there is no reason why defined benefit funding is handicapped. The CSOA board members and their financial advisers would seem too steeped in the corporate benefits mindset that led them to decide to not keep pension funding levels up in recent past years, following the same flawed advice that got the State of Illinois into the current predicament.

    I’m also an amateur musician and I understand first hand the total dedication and commitment necessary to achieving and maintaining the level of musicianship these particular players have attained. I don’t want them in the future having to spend any time focusing attention or concern as to how their entire retirement portfolio is doing, either whether they manage it themselves or farm it out to individual financial advisers.

    So I say to the musicians keep up your principled stand. I for one am more than willing to pay more for a concert ticket if you achieve keeping what you have earned. To the CSOA I say I intend on increasing my contributions to the extent that you compromise more in the direction of what the musicians are asking.

  66. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 6:47 pm by DW

    I’m a life member of the musician’s union who has also worked extensively outside the music industry, so I am trying to listen to the arguments of both sides. As much as I appreciate the incredible sacrifice of musicians who have given so much of their time, effort, and investment to achieve the level of musicianship that would allow them to play with the CSO, I believe that in this situation, the decks are stacked against them.

    The CSOA is stuck with the financial sinkhole that is the ill-advised renovation of Orchestra Hall, and they are very expert in their communications about the strike. Sympathy for the musicians’ situation is not going to arise from members of the public who have sacrificed equally to follow their own dreams — law students, for example, suffer a nightmarish curriculum and incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, only to graduate to no jobs or, if they’re fortunate, a highly-paid job at a large firm that will demand 100 work hours a week and then let them go after a few years because THEIR job doesn’t have tenure.

    Chicago has another prominent performing arts institution, the Joffrey Ballet, but I would doubt that the members of their corps de ballet receive anything resembling the compensation of CSO musicians. And I don’t know how much longer organizations that primarily promote 19th century European music can expect to retain such status and compensation in our increasingly diverse society.

    There has to come a tipping point where it will take the musicians a very long time to make back the money they will have lost during this strike, no matter which contract they end up ratifying. I wish them well, but I agree that there has been relatively little publicity and public support for the musicians, with only a very small portion of the local population aware of or even caring about the results of this strike.

  67. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 6:54 pm by Art Lover

    Who are the philistines masquerading as art supporters that are commenting on this article? It’s stunning the number of you that are taking the position that the musicians should just accept whatever crumbs Zell and her parasitic gang of ultra-wealthy offer them. Zells fortune of $5.5B could fund the orchestra for the next 367 years.

    The question isn’t why do they have a pension; it’s why doesn’t everyone have a pension. For those of you that are canceling your subscription over this strike, kindly donate your subscription to a person that doesn’t have the money to see the CSO but would be grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to art and culture. To the musicians that are standing up for the defense of art, Bravo.

  68. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 7:09 pm by Bryan Wendorf

    I fully support the musicians and hope they will continue the strike for as long as they need to in order to preserve their current pension plan. This strike has had a personal negative effect for me (I worked in orchestra hall) and I would love to see it end but I nevertheless support the musicians and your article did nothing to change my mind. We need more examples of strong disciplined unions fighting to protect people. I stand with the musicians whatever it takes.

  69. Posted Apr 12, 2019 at 9:55 pm by Debra Latimore

    Not at all a fan of classical music, but I do subscribe to the Jazz series and add on other concerts each season. I’m very unhappy that all of these shows are cancelled, and wish this strike could be brought to an end in time for the remaining events to take place.

    In the meantime I’m going to other venues to hear jazz, and while I normally renew my subscription each season, I’ll have to reconsider it.

  70. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 10:18 am by North Sider

    Thank you for this well articulated commentary – I have been following this strike with growing dismay and it is indeed time for the strike to end.

    I have been a CSO subscriber for two decades and will certainly continue once this strike is resolved. The CSO has enriched my life, providing innumerable memorable experiences in Orchestra Hall. I am continually in awe of the talent level across the entire ensemble and I know that preserving the highest level of musicianship is the foremost goal of all sides.

    In the hopes that some orchestra members might be reading these letters I have a couple of comments on the pension situation:

    I am retired and spent my full employment history in a defined contribution plan. If properly structured and funded such plans offer significant advantages over defined benefit plans and provide for a comfortable and secure retirement. No plan, including a defined benefit plan, is without risk. The primary trade-off is between the financial health of the employer (for a defined benefit plan) and fluctuations in financial markets (for a defined contribution plan). There are other areas in which DC plans offer real advantages and the bottom line is I am very happy with my plan.

    My advice to the musicians would be to accept the principle of a defined contribution retirement plan, and to invest their energies in negotiating the structure and funding of the plan and the terms of the transition for current orchestra members.

  71. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 12:11 pm by Peter DG

    I read all the comments “supporting the musicians” and quickly realize that they really don’t. They support “workers rights,” meaning the union movement that is so central to Chicago/Illinois politics. But as the typical affluent arts donor that the “pro” comments so decry, I am not politically extreme liberal pro-union. Please realize that without us donors there would be no CSO.

    Our musicians are entitled to an economic package that is superior to that of any other US orchestra, and I believe the current CSOA offer is. But the contract should not provide any and all conditions, and unlimited amounts, that the union happens to ask for just to promote its long term agenda.

    It would be nice to keep the comments here to the issues and facts related to CSO rather than just expressing general political sentiments.

  72. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 1:41 pm by Jim

    We were brand new series subscribers this year to an organization that clearly needs new subscribers to survive.

    To cancel concerts that have nothing to do with the orchestra itself, just because the CSO musicians want to hold on to a quaint defined benefit model pension (that is a thing of the past for the vast majority of Chicagoans) AND increase the CSO musicians’ $200K+ salaries for a wonderful lifestyle job, leaves a very bad taste for me.

    I will keep enjoying the many terrific options to enjoy music in Chicago, but it is highly unlikely I will be a subscriber next year. I cannot imagine that other new subscribers would not pass after this year as well…

  73. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 1:47 pm by Roger W Simak

    There are a couple of other aspects of this situation that have not been sufficiently acknowledged by the musicians and their supporters.

    First, there aren’t many professions that virtually guarantee continued employment over what might be a 50+ year career. Once a CSO musician has achieved tenure, he or she is pretty much locked in whether they perform at their peak level or not, as was sadly illustrated by the case of the former principal horn who stayed on at least five years beyond his shelf life. Can you imagine a Fortune 500 company allowing an under-performing Sales VP to do something like that?

    Second, noble though it may be, the performance of classical music is entertainment, and in today’s world there is unprecedented competition for the public’s entertainment dollar. In my case, $15 a month gets me a subscription to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall, in which I hear an orchestra as good or better than the CSO on strictly my terms. (And Mathieu Dufour appears to be in top form.)

    I’ve been a life-long supporter of the CSO. But they’ve really disappointed me on this one.

  74. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 2:59 pm by Marty Wekser

    My comments reflect those of a non-Chicagoan. I live in Los Angeles and attend usually a dozen concerts by the L.A. Phil every season. As a lover of classical music, I decided to use some air miles to plan a trip and decided that a visit to Chicago to hear the CSO would be enjoyable and I bought a ticket three months ago for a May concert, booked flights and hotel and was really looking forward.

    If the strike is not settled, I will cancel my trip as this was the real reason why I decided to pick Chicago for a three day getaway. I’ve visited Chicago four or five times over the last 40 years and love the city and its people. But I never had the opportunity to attend the CSO.

    I hope the strike is settled.

  75. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 3:30 pm by Kelly

    Duly noted regarding the importance of donors to the existence of the CSO. Without the donors there is no CSO, and without the CSO there are no donors. Having acknowledged that, lets be clear that when someone offers an ignorant comment such as the one stating “it is time to do what Reagan did with the air traffic controllers”, we see an obvious slide toward the politically extreme right wing anti union sentiment.

    You cannot separate the union and the orchestra. They are one in the same. They also have every right to promote their long term agenda just as the CSOA has freely done for decades. So, in keeping comments based on issues and facts related to the CSO, I happen to have a couple observations that are also facts.

    The musicians had next to no input during the 100+ million dollar renovation of the mid 1990’s. That was purely the toy of the CSOA. Many of the older musicians at that time expressed concern over buying debt through issuing bonds. That voice was pushed aside. Now the debts have come due. Plenty of the money wasted back then was on a failed acoustical overall of Orchestra Hall. This was a debacle the musicians were powerless to. Here is another “fact” regarding the CSO I will leave you with.

    I have heard this greatest American orchestra play in concert halls all over the world where the acoustics were deserving of the level of skill and artistry the CSO puts forth. I have heard extended, thundering standing ovations in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Constant, unwavering applause through the bows and tenures of Barenboim, Haitink and Muti. Rock concert like hysteria. People standing in bunches just to get a
    glimpse of these musicians leaving the concert halls. I have heard these, people all over the world claim they have never heard another orchestra play in their venue to the level of musicianship the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has.

    It’s time the people of Chicago and especially this Board of Trustees take a step back and acknowledge that this orchestra has done their part decade after decade in keeping Chicago a world class city. Now it’s time the CSOA/BOT steps forward and does their part.

  76. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 4:31 pm by Skip

    Kelly writes: “Without the donors there is no CSO, and without the CSO there are no donors.”

    Kelly, fyi, writing as a donor let me just say, without the CSO, I’ll still exist. Without me (and others like me), the CSO won’t exist. As of now, I’m closing my checkbook to the CSO.

    CSO management is incompetent. CSO musicians are greedy. I want nothing more to do with the lot of them.

  77. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 5:55 pm by Steve

    I asked a friend of mine who has worked in finance for over 30 years and who doesn’t have any prior knowledge of the strike situation what she thought of the CSOA’s current contract offer, especially with respect to the terms of the shift from the defined benefit pension plan to the defined contribution 401K plan.

    The 8% employer contribution, which would be put forth by the CSOA, for each musician (new or current) is much higher than what many companies today offer their employees (which can be as low as 4%). Furthermore, the defined benefit plan only allows 50% of the amount to be given to a spouse/partner upon death, whereas the defined contribution plan will allow for 100% of the total benefits to be allocated towards any named beneficiary.

    This is a really good offer and it boggles my mind why the musicians refuse to take this deal, as the pension plan model is becoming outdated and actually has far more limitations than the 401K defined contribution plan.

  78. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 6:24 pm by berliner

    Kelly, with all due respect, get over yourself.

    The CSO is a fine orchestra. To call them clearly better than Cleveland, Boston, Philadelphia, etc is self delusion. No shame implied to the many wonderful musicians at the CSO, but you don’t need to try to put others down to better your own situation.

    In all honesty I’ve heard Minnesota play cleaner, tighter and in many respects better than CSO on a given night–this isn’t the Solti-era CSO that I grew up idolizing, but it is still a great and deserving orchestra. There are some fabulous, irreplaceable musicians in the CSO. There are also some musicians who no longer play on the level that would win them a job in a regional orchestra, and clearly aren’t practicing 20 hours a week at home. You and I both know this to be true. It’s like any workplace- some pull their weight (and more) and some don’t.

    Let’s be clear about the difference between this strike and previous strikes in Minnesota, Detroit, Pittsburgh and possibly upcoming in Baltimore. (Minnesota of course was a lockout) These were orchestras where the management was trying to implement a plan that would gut the orchestra- cuts of 20% or more, massive downscaling of artistic mission as well as life-altering cuts in compensation for the musicians. The musicians deserved and earned sympathy from most in the public, and from virtually all of their peers. Support that grew over time.

    Chicago is not striking against a cut in wages; they are offered a significant increase. They dislike the offer because it doesn’t make them the highest paid–how do you think Cleveland and Philadelphia feel looking at your current salaries that are significantly higher than theirs, knowing they are equally historic and deserving orchestras?

    And you are striking to keep a definined benefit pension plan- are you standing up for this to fight the battle on behalf of your brothers and sisters in the industry? No, most of us don’t have a defined benefit plan any more, only a few of the wealthiest orchestras still have them. Most of us are stuck in the AFM plan which has lowered their benefits to the point where it threatens the ability of most musicians to have a secure retirement, and yet is still headed towards insolvency. The AFM pension is likely to do more to lower the living standard of musicians than any management in the last 40 years.

    You are not defending anything for our industry, only for yourselves. You are not defending the artistic integrity of your institution, you are not providing us with any rational justification for your strike, and you are now causing yourself to lose more money than you would have lost by accepting the offer so it’s not even good for your players at this point.

    You are asking for contributions from players in orchestras who will never earn a third of what you make and for sub work in other orchestras that will be taken away from freelancers who make less in a year than you make in three months. All for a strike that you chose because you want to keep a benefit that most of us had to give up long ago and because you want pay parity with orchestras that are in better financial shape.

    I will gladly give three times the suggested contribution for musicians in Baltimore if their management tries to implement drastic cuts. I was all in to support Minnesota and Detroit and Pittsburgh. I have always thought of myself as a loyal colleague and passionately pro-musician.

    But I will tell you that you had better think twice about what you are doing; because no matter what they say to your face, there are a significant number of your colleagues in ‘lesser’ orchestras–some of them brilliant players deserving of more than they earn in a just world–that are quickly tiring of this strike and think it is giving all of us in the orchestra world a black eye.

    Either get your messaging together and find a reason to be out that evokes sympathy, or settle.

  79. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 9:01 pm by Jonathan Levine

    A number of those commenting have essentially argued that the CSO musicians already earn “enough” money. Compared to whom? How about Major League baseball players who earn a minimum of $450,000. How about senior corporate execs who earn well over $1 million?

    The only comparison that works is with musicians in other top orchestras. One may criticize the CSO members’ demands, but it seems to me they are not out of line with the salaries and benefits of the musicians of other top orchestras in the U.S.

  80. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 9:56 pm by Kelly

    Berliner, please allow me to clarify. I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the CSO.

    My opinion is based on observations made through decades of traveling with the CSO and working closely with them. No member of the CSO would make a self absorbed claim to be a member of the “best orchestra” on this blog or any other. I am simply giving MY opinion as a non- member, based on observations made abroad and with interactions and conversations among various worldwide patrons and staffs. I have also heard many foreign and American orchestras perform at Orchestra Hall. Many people have used these outlets to express their opinions of which orchestra they hang their hat on as the best. I am simply doing the same

    I respect your opinions and your points but I disagree with your conclusions. If you visit the CSO musicians website you will see some very well researched data that supports their cause. I just wanted to make clear my claims are not those of a CSO orchestra member. Either I didn’t make that clear or you may not have been clear about that in your rebuttal?

    I am simply a long time observer with an opinion.

    Thanks, K

  81. Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 11:37 pm by Veronica

    Sandie Thomas: I, too, was at the April 11th Q&A and did not see what you saw. I came there with no opinion, just wanting to know what’s going on after reading many articles about the strike.

    Jeff was professional, gave detailed answers, and so was Craig. Please don’t paint a bad picture of what actually happened. And the stats the CFO provided did have context and were informative. Additionally, the CSOA was respectful and laudatory when talking about the musicians, you forgot to mention that.

    I will say, I did leave the session thinking the CSOA is offering a really good proposal. There are so many wonderful artists and performers in Chicago (and in the U.S.) that don’t get half the recognition, salary or benefits the CSO musicians do. (And they, too, have put in countless hours of preparation and are stars in their own industry.) Yet they are out there still performing because they are so passionate about their art.

  82. Posted Apr 14, 2019 at 4:18 am by Chuck McCall

    The truly ironic thing is that the pension plan change works in the musicians financial favor if they will let it.

    It’s simple, but not widely known to non-financially oriented people.

    3 things determine investment returns over the long term:

    1) Asset allocation (stocks vs bonds; bottom line: over the long term stock returns crush fixed income returns).

    2) Time (the more time, the longer compounding works its magic).

    3) Low (like virtually zero) expenses, such as offered by the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, with an expense ratio of 0.04% ($4 per $10,000 invested).

    Fixed income is considered safe, but the reality is that in the long run it’s hazardous to one’s financial health. If I was a member of the orchestra, I would put the contributions the CSOA will be putting into my account 100% into a low cost S&P 500 Index Fund (surely that’s being offered?).

    This is much better explained by well-known investor Warren Buffett, who leads Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. The financially-fearful would do well to check out “The American Tailwind” section of Buffett’s 2018 annual shareholder letter (available online, page 13).

  83. Posted Apr 14, 2019 at 2:50 pm by Anna M.

    Considering how much has been taken from the arts and from education over the last many decades, it’s been deeply inspiring to see the CSO — long a leading orchestra — to lead in this way.

    Many artists and teachers want to say no to the interminable cuts and additional risks demanded of everyone except the super-wealthy, invariably made by the super-wealthy and their hangers-on, so CSO musicians speak for many when they say, No. That this is being derided by some on this blog is deeply revealing.

    I’m an educator and I want to do everything I can to support the musicians’ fight and encourage them to continue, as they have with the free concert series, to turn to the broader population that is smeared in this piece as “heterogenous” (!).

    I’ve attended a number of the From the Heart of the Orchestra performances, and yes, broad sections of the city’s population have enjoyed it. I sat next to an immigrant family in Pilsen whose children were dressed in their Sunday clothes. All three kids sat, rapt, through the final, dramatic performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

    Bravo to the musicians for your courage and your outreach. Turn out as broadly as possibly for support, as those in power will try to wear down your resolve.

    To be honest, and maybe I was naive, but I was shocked to read this piece in the Chicago Classical Review. It will reflect poorly on the publication and its founder for years to come. But I’m confident that the future will produce critics and commentators that can see beyond the tips of their own noses to the burning questions of our time, including ‘What kind of a society produces great art and artists?’

  84. Posted Apr 14, 2019 at 5:35 pm by Cindy

    “No member of the CSO would make a self absorbed claim to be a member of the “best orchestra” on this blog or any other”

    Well Kelly, maybe not on a blog. But there is a sign posted prominently outside the teaching studio door of a CSO musician at a major Chicago university with the following:

    “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is the top orchestra in the country, if not the world, as evidenced by winning a staggering 62 Grammy awards – because the musicians perform at the highest level. If those entrusted with this cultural jewel performed their duties as board members at the same level that the musicians perform their duties onstage, the CSO would have the largest endowment, the highest operating budget, no debt, and its musicians’ working conditions, salaries and benefits would be commensurate with their abilities as “World’s Best – Chicago’s Own.”

    How’s that for a bit of self absorption?

  85. Posted Apr 14, 2019 at 8:05 pm by Kelly

    Well Cindy, it was the marketing and development departments of the CSOA that put the label “Worlds Best-Chicago’s Own” label on the CSO

    Irony- an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

    How’s that for irony?

  86. Posted Apr 14, 2019 at 8:15 pm by Andrew B Simmons

    As a 25 year subscriber and donor I have one piece of advice for the CSOA: Fire them all and start over. In a couple of years no one will know the difference and we’ll have a fiscally sound orchestra I’d be confident donating more money to AND musicians who are grateful to be playing here and not whining about what they’re entitled to.

  87. Posted Apr 14, 2019 at 8:27 pm by Bill

    I have been a CSO subscriber and contributor for four decades, and I wish that the base pay for the musicians in the orchestra was $1 million. They deserve it. No question.

    But I fear that the economic basis for this compensation level does not exist today. We all know that (unlike when I began as a subscriber in 1979) many CSO concerts are now played to a concert hall with many, many empty seats. The audience has been ebbing away for a long time. And the reality is that continuing this strike will sacrifice even more of the existing subscribers/contributors and make the support problem worse.

    Speaking personally, I am not going to cancel my CSO subscriptions (I have signed up for three different CSO series for next season). But I am sufficiently irritated about the recent concert cancellations (both for the CSO and for the visiting orchestras, the piano series, etc.) to raise the question in my mind of whether I want to move my CSO charitable support to other Chicago-based arts organizations that don’t cancel week after week of concerts. They employ talented musicians too.

    Listen up CSO players: we love you, but you are not helping yourselves by driving away the people who pay the Orchestral Association’s bills. If you don’t think that an 8 percent contribution to a defined contribution plan will fund an adequate retirement, then save some additional money in a taxable account. That is what the members of your audience do (as few, if any, of us get an 8 percent employer contribution).

    And then let’s all work together to build the CSO audience so that some day you can each earn $1 million in base pay, or something similarly estimable. (I do think that you guys lead the pack in the U.S.)

  88. Posted Apr 14, 2019 at 10:09 pm by Disgruntled

    I completely agree with Andrew B Simmons. There are so many talented musicians who would be attracted to Chicago that the quality of the orchestra would likely be maintained.

    Let Maestro Muti work his magic with young, eager talents who want to make great music, and who do not whine about compensation that puts them in the top 10%.

  89. Posted Apr 14, 2019 at 10:39 pm by MusicMan

    The situation seems pretty straightforward. Classical music has been a declining industry for decades. CSO musicians are the best of the best but don’t produce enough value in society to justify this latest round of demands.

    You could always learn to code…

  90. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 8:21 am by TM

    As a fan of classical music, attendee of about 10 performances a year, and CSO donor, I encourage the musicians to challenge a few assumptions that many of them appear to be making.

    Many of the musicians have expressed in various ways that they believe the CSOA, as a whole or in part, may be acting in bad faith or with bad intentions. The CSOA consists of very significant donors. While it is saying the obvious, it apparently needs to be said, that a donor seeking to harm the musicians can do so more effectively and less expensively by not making the donation in the first place. Is someone really going to make a major donation then try to undermine that very same organization?

    While I do not know any of the CSOA members, I think any reasonable analysis will conclude that the CSOA is trying to do what is in the best interest of the CSO. People may disagree with their decisions, approach, or actions, but the musicians need to understand that the CSOA are volunteers and donors doing their best in a difficult situation.

    Yes, the CSOA cancelled approximately two weeks of concerts. The musicians appear to assume negative intentions, despite their enormous donations, and appear not to consider the possibility that the CSOA needs to be respectful of other musicians and the ticketholders who need to be able to plan more than 2 or 3 days in advance.

    The musicians appear to be frustrated by the large amounts that the organization pays to a bank. For the CSO to thrive, there needs to be a satisfactory venue that will attract people to the symphony. The work that was done to the building in the 1990s may not be exactly to a specific person’s taste or preference, but the purpose and intent should be clear to all. Work on an old, large, and ornate building is expensive. That type of work normally requires a loan, and that loan is being repaid now. For the musicians to suggest that money that is “paid to a bank” should be going to the musicians is naïve or just self-serving rationalization. Do the musicians have a better idea of how to finance large structural needs than through a bank? Comparisons to LA or SF building costs are irrelevant. We have the building that we have — not a newly built venue (as in LA) that there are many costs to maintain our building.

    Comparisons to the compensation in LA and SF do not sit well with many donors. Businesses in Chicago pay employees less than they pay employees in LA and SF — not because they value employees in Chicago less than those who work in CA but because the cost of living is different. As a business owner, if I paid employees in Chicago the same thing as employees in LA or SF, I would have nobody interested in working in LA or SF because of the cost of living being much higher there.

    The musicians appear to be frustrated that pensions are no longer suitable for a fiscally responsible organization. Pensions still exist, but they are almost exclusively with organizations that are not fiscally responsible or stable, see for example the City of Chicago and State of Illinois. Neither of those are great examples to follow. This is not the fault of the CSOA but rather it is the fault of mathematics.

    The musicians are saying that they are entitled to higher compensation. The CSO funding comes predominantly from donations. Therefore, the musicians are saying that they are entitled to higher pay at the expense of donors. That is rather offensive to some, and perhaps many, donors. The arguments that the musicians have made publicly do not appear to stand up to reasonable examination in the eyes of many donors. While I will not presume to speak for all donors, I know several, and the musicians are doing tremendous harm to the institution and their own reputation.

  91. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 8:22 am by A humble non-CSO musician

    I am a working musician, based in Chicago and from my point of view, the CSO musicians should get off their high horse, settle and get back to work.

    They keep claiming they are the best in the world and therefore they should get paid accordingly but the fact that they are “the best” in the world is debatable. It is clear that they are among the best and consequently, they do receive one of the best compensation packages in the world. Interestingly though, the musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic — who beats the CSO according to the latest Gramophone rankings — do not get paid nearly as much as their CSO counterparts. (The Berlin Philharmonic’s starting salary is about $115,000 a year.) It’s interesting how regardless of that pay discrepancy Berlin has been able to attract the cream of the crop in terms of musicians, including the wonderful Mathieu Dufour who used to be in the CSO. Evidently the pension plan was not enough to keep Mr. Dufour.

    Talking about the pension plan, it is understandable that some older members want to keep their defined benefit plan but I guarantee you the best musicians in the country would be happy to join the CSO regardless of the pension plan. That said, it seems like the pension plan being offered by the CSOA is still very competitive and could lead to better retirements in some cases.

    What worries me the most is that I don’t see a lot of upsides and I see many downsides with this strike. The musicians keep criticizing members of the board but they should keep in mind that those members are the same people that have donated millions of dollars to pay their salaries and benefits. They should perhaps get out of this bubble because the reality is that they depend on those donors to maintain the lofty salaries they already have. The pool of donors that art organizations in Chicago rely on is limited and CSO musicians should treat their patrons and donors respectfully.

    Finally, I am expressing the thoughts of many musicians in the city and around the country who are not as privileged as the CSO members and that piece a living together because they love this art. Some CSO musicians are outstanding and world class but they should realize how lucky they are to have the standard of living they currently enjoy. Some other equally outstanding musicians — who have not been lucky enough to win a major audition — in the city and the country would be happy to earn a third of what CSO musicians earn. And musicians in other orchestras would be happy to take raises that go up with inflation.

    I hope the musicians take a reality check and realize that our business is sadly not as popular as let’s say, professional sports. I do hope they take one for the team, settle and get back to work so they can minimize any further damage to the organization and all of our reputations as musicians.

  92. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 11:18 am by BJ Levy

    There will always be those who, for whatever reasons, bemoan the efforts of working men and women to better the conditions of their employment. That the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is an institution of great importance and influence is not up for debate. That the laborers are artists of the highest skill is also not up for debate.

    Ultimately, they have chosen to take a stand against a management that is ideologically opposed to their retirement plan. What makes an arts institution strong is the quality of the individuals doing the creative work. Management takes a cold look, misses the human element, and then misses the artistic element as well. They are the ones who are dangerously out of touch.

  93. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 12:53 pm by Michael Brenan

    Lets face facts: Irreparable damage has been done. The audience will no longer trust these musicians. The players will no longer trust management. Most importantly the big donors will look elsewhere to invest their cultural dollars.

    After a 48 hour-notice, lock the current team of players out and schedule auditions for June. If Maestro Muti does not want to continue, so be it.

    We need to preserve the institution and reputation of the CSO. I am confident under the right hand, the Orchestra will be as great as ever by next Spring. Time to begin anew !

  94. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 1:09 pm by Edward Little

    I’ve heard plenty of voices taking either the union’s side or management’s side. Sadly, until now, I’ve heard very few voices taking the side of classical music fans.

    Also, since you’ve mentioned a few anecdotes, here’s one more. I live in California, and Chicago has long been a favorite vacation destination. We were thinking of visiting next month, around the time of the scheduled Rautavaara/Sibelius/Rachmaninov program. At the same time, we’d catch a Cubs game and see a few sights.

    If one of the highlights of that trip is cancelled, the whole thing might not be worthwhile. That’s several room-nights of hotel stays that go unfilled, some restaurant meals that never happen, and a handful of ballpark seats that go unsold.

  95. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 1:48 pm by Anonymous

    The musicians have lost the hearts of the audience who once admired them. And this is irreversible.

    If you look at the spirited Civic Orchestra, look at Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan, China’s NCPA Orchestra (they played at Orchestra Hall), and the fine young musicians who play at the Cultural Center every Wednesday, there is no doubt there are an abundant of young talents to build a great orchestra in 10 years.

    The CSO belongs to the people of Chicago, not its musician employees.

  96. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 2:07 pm by Music Lover

    The salaries and the rest of the deal are amazing. The CSO musicians perhaps should all quit and go find jobs elsewhere if they think these terms are so awful. They don’t have to stay at the CSO. They might then discover that these terms were excellent, after all. They’re getting paid well and treated well. I have zero sympathy for the musicians but a lot of sympathy for the Board, the CSO non-musician staff members, and the many people who are missing what could have been fantastic music-filled experiences.

    Please find the many other orchestras, choirs, and ensembles in Chicago and go to more of their concerts. There is a lot of truly excellent music in Chicago – outside of the CSO!

  97. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 2:15 pm by Maria

    First of all, I love attending the CSO concerts. I have many fond memories after being a regular subscriber for around 5 years. I work downtown in the finance industry and am an amateur musician who still takes lessons. I am amazed with all the talent and artistry the CSO offers. As someone who learns the instrument, I can only imagine how many hours and hours were needed to get to where they are. They have my deepest admiration. If I had my way, musicians would have been paid like tech product managers. I feel that they put as much or even more hours than any other profession. Unfortunately, with market forces at work, money goes to those who beget more money.

    That being said, I am very disappointed and annoyed with the situation. The two parties should meet halfway, and from my perspective, the association has placed more effort in doing this. Defined benefit plans are outdated and impossible to maintain. Villainizing your largest donors (i.e. Helen Zell) and your board volunteers is ridiculous.

    These people have duties to the organization, there is minimal conflict of interest involved here. There are no shareholders or outside stakeholders involved in this “company”. Where do you think the money goes if they do not pay the musicians, to their own pockets? The same money they donated? Unfortunately, the CSO took a large loan in the past and it is now time to pay the piper. That is that. The CSOA is only looking to meet its past obligations and prolong the future of the organization.

    If the association looked to cut salaries by 10%, I would be at the picket line with the musicians. The current offer is FAR from gutting the employees’ benefits. “Barely keeping up with inflation in the past 10 years” is all BS considering the low-interest rate environment we were in for more than half a decade. If the musicians have no idea how to save for their own retirement while earning more than $15,000 a month, that’s on them. Hint: for every year you place 40% of your STARTING salary, without any of the appreciation or compounding, you can pay an entire year of your defined benefit plan. Don’t give me any of the “scared for our future” nonsense. Maybe they should take the advice of MusicMan and learn how to code.

    I hope that the free concerts series “From the heart of Chicago” does not give the musicians a false sense of support from the city. This “volunteer” work of the musicians is far from philanthropic in nature. It’s a PR stunt to rally for the city’s support. Unfortunately, people like free stuff. Most people are apathetic or unaware of the situation. Please do not harm a shrinking industry any more than this.

    I hope this strike does not last more than a few more weeks. If the Sibelius violin concerto gets cancelled, I will not be subscribing to the CSO anymore. Instead, I will be looking for smaller professional orchestras to support. You know, those orchestras whose musicians earn $80 per service and have to put in 3x the effort in hustling for gigs.

    Signed, your “target” (< 28 years old) audience member

  98. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 2:37 pm by Jeff

    To Michael Brenan, Do you really think your approach to negotiations is any approach at all? Yours is, sadly reminiscent of union busting, anti labor owners who wanted sweat shop conditions, endless hours, no safety etc. This ignores the long history of trade unions in the West and Supreme Court legislation whether it be the Wagner Act or before then, Muller v. Oregon.

    So lock out the musicians, hire a new conductor, throw together an orchestra willing to cross an AFM picket line and restore the centrality of the CSO, While you are at it, solve the Middle East. This is not a sensible approach.

    If 90% of the lawyers at Sidley and Austin quit tomorrow or were locked out, would that law firm continue its excellence three months later? Should we run the experiment?

  99. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 2:59 pm by Roger

    My, how times have changed.

    As I watch the current CSO musicians turn up their noses at a perfectly reasonable—generous, in fact—financial package, I can’t help but remember an experience I had in 1974.

    At that time I was member of the horn section in the Boulder (CO) Philharmonic, a community orchestra. Our music director decided he wanted to perform Robert Schumann’s Concert Piece for Four Horns and Orchestra. We were a pretty good horn section, but we didn’t have anyone who was up to the fiendishly difficult first horn part. So we managed to engage Dave Krehbiel, principal horn of the San Francisco Symphony (how ironic) to play it with us.

    Dave had begun his career in the late ’50s, while still completing his degree at Northwestern, as assistant principal horn in the CSO. During our practice session, he regaled us with stories about what it had been like playing for Fritz Reiner. At one point he began waxing poetic about how much he was enjoying his career as a high-end symphonic musician.

    He concluded his little soliloquy with the comment, “Sometimes I can’t believe that I actually get paid to do this”.

    The CSO needs more Dave Krehbiels.

  100. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 3:14 pm by Maria

    It depends on the definition of excellence. Does this pin on the fact that LAPhil and SFSymphony are paid more? Are Berlin Phil, NYPhil, Philly Orchestra, Cincy, and LSO excellent too? How are they able to attract musicians despite lower wages and defined contribution plans?

    The musicians’ current narrative is hard to rally for— we are the best and we deserved to be paid the highest. How do the NYPhil musicians feel about this as they donate money to these poor CSO musicians?

    On another note, here is the current mindset of the musicians from their most recent letter:

    “We find it worrisome that the Board of Trustees feels a greater obligation to the bond holders of a debt they incurred in the late 1990’s when they borrowed $145 million dollars (and for which they continue to make a yearly $5 million interest-only payments) than they do to meet their obligation to contribute to our pension, an amount less than the interest on the bonds.”

    Bondholders = evil bankers. Have they tried running up their credit card without making monthly payments? How did that work out? Ignoring debt is borrowing from the organization’s future. In an extreme scenario, creditors may start seizing assets.

  101. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 4:49 pm by Steve

    What also hasn’t been mentioned here is that this strike affects other employees and contractors who depend on concerts (and tips from patrons during the concerts) for their income. The nearby restaurant, Tesori, is closed due to the strike (meaning all of the waiters/waitresses/bartenders/cooks/etc. aren’t getting paid). The security guards who overlook different areas of Symphony Center during concerts and the bartenders who serve drinks during concerts are also not getting paid. Furthermore, all of the ushers who assist during concerts aren’t able to work due to the strike.

    I’d urge the musicians to think about how far their actions spread. While the musicians make a six-figure income and probably have a relatively comfortable amount of savings off which to live during the strike (in addition to the fact that many musicians also teach and are playing for other orchestras during the strike–real loyalty to Chicago there–), the aforementioned workers who are also affected by this strike may not enjoy the same luxury.

  102. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 7:19 pm by Jacob Hildner

    Full disclosure: my parents play in the Lyric orchestra.

    The fact that a defined benefit retirement plan is rarely available to non-government workers is no argument that the musicians should cave on this issue. There is no principle by which they are not entitled to seek to maintain the retirement security that only a defined benefit plan provides. The vast majority of workers would prefer a defined benefit plan for obvious reasons. The fact that they usually can’t get one is because most private sector workers have no power.

    But that’s not a good thing. That’s not a state of affairs to be emulated by the few remaining fields where labor remains relatively strong. Why this fervent desire to see a race to the bottom — to insist that because worker rights, including retirement security, are harder to come by today, they must be eliminated for everyone?

    Is it because those rights are simply not affordable or sustainable? Nah. The comparison to state and city pension woes is specious. Those pensions were not adequately funded. Pensions are affordable when they’re funded and well-managed. The real issue here, it seems, isn’t about the amount of money. It’s about ideology. For those of an economic libertarian bent, the idea of worker security not individually bargained for is anathema — a distortion of supply and demand in the labor market, a benefit not earned on individual merit but only possible through socialistic labor laws that artificially aggrandize the power of workers, or, in the case of the public sector, through outright capture of government by labor unions.

    I don’t buy it. You could just as well argue that laws artificially aggrandize the power of capital, by for example establishing the right to form a limited liability corporation, or that government is at least as susceptible to capture by business interests as it is labor interests. Meanwhile, security makes people happier and healthier, literally. We should find ways for more people to have it, not less. Entrepreneurial zeal is great, but we shouldn’t sanctify dog-eat-dog as the norm all must live by.

    When it comes to defined benefit vs. defined contribution, the question is simply, who should bear the risk? One way to answer that is to ask who is in the better position to manage the risk — the large, wealthy, ongoing organization with means of revenue on the one hand, or the individual retiree on the other? Clearly the former. I don’t know about all the details of the offers and negotiations, but on this central question of giving up defined benefit, my sentiments remain firmly with the musicians.

  103. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 7:45 pm by Gerry A

    I am a 3 decade CSO subscriber and I have also grown to resent ALL the musical programs at Symphony Center being cancelled, particularly the non CSO Jazz programs and even MusicNow at The Harris.

    I was fortunate to work last millennium & early this millennium for a Fortune 50 and had a Traditional Defined Benefit plan as well as Contribution plans & matching with IRA’s & 401’s. So some of us got lucky but those days are Gone. They were pretty much gone at the end of last millennium. I did much better in the voluntary programs that I could better manage myself, and the pension was ok but not great.

    I agree with Lawrence on this one. Both sides, End this asap to minimize additional ill will from those of us who donate to keep this money loser afloat gladly. CSO musicians are looking like fossils for not adapting to a very good imo, defined contribution plan. You don’t want people like me to cease additional donations AND resent the certain price increase next year.
    There’s a lot of other good music in Chicago, and they deserve to be supported as well.

  104. Posted Apr 15, 2019 at 9:53 pm by CZ Guest

    “When it comes to defined benefits vs. defined contribution, the question is simply, who should bear the risk? …I don’t know about all the details of the offers and negotiations, but on this central question of giving up defined benefit, my sentiments remain firmly with the musicians.”

    It’s too bad, Jacob, you took all that trouble to write your detailed analysis without looking up the details of the association’s offer, which is publicly available. It involves a safety net. For those musicians unwilling to shoulder ANY risk to decide how to invest on their own, they have the option to put the funds given to them by the Association into a conservative mix of investments, and, at the time of retirement, if this does not yield what they would have gotten under the current Defined Benefits plan, the Association will add the necessary funds needed.

    There is no risk the musicians are being forced to assume, only opportunity to make more than what they are getting now, if they choose.

  105. Posted Apr 16, 2019 at 2:06 pm by Terry S.

    For me, the bottom line is that the other five orchestras generally considered to be the best in the U.S., Boston, New York, Cleveland, San Francisco, and
    Los Angeles, are all able to maintain defined benefit pension plans for their
    musicians, and salaries close to, or higher than, those requested by the CSO musicians. They are able to do because the management is doing a better job than the CSOA generating support and enthusiasm in the community for the orchestra, and they have developed a far better working relationship with the musicians than has the CSOA.
    While the CSOA is focused on cutting benefits, those other orchestras are focused on increasing the size of the pie, for the benefit of the community and the musicians.

    It is unfair to expect the musicians to accept a lower compensation package than musicians in other top orchestras, if management could actually be generating more income if they used more creativity and effort. I also think it is foolish to compare the salary and benefits of the CSO musicians with those of the average working Joe. The proper comparison is with other top flight entertainers in our society, including actors, professional athletes and pop music musicians and singers.

    By that comparison, their compensation is tiny, and fully deserved. As I noted above,
    the salary and benefits they are asking for is fully in line even with those being offered at the other five top-flight U.S. orchestras.

  106. Posted Apr 16, 2019 at 6:26 pm by Jeff Collins

    The inflation rate in the U.S. is now 1.9%. So a “raise” of 2% amounts to an actual increase in income of 0.1%. Wow! How can the CSO musicians possibly turn that down. Let us not forget that mastering a musical instrument well enough to play in the CSO is probably equivalent to being a successful surgeon or an astrophysicist. CSO musicians are not paid anywhere near what they are worth.

    As to the retirement question: CSO musicians took their positions with the understanding that they would have the retirement package when they retired. Now it’s bait and switch. If CSO management were to offer something every bit as good as the current plan, I’m sure the musicians would take it. But that is not the case.

    Mr. Johnson writes that most people would be happy with what CSO musicians are earning. I don’t want to go to future CSO concerts and hear “most people” making the music.

  107. Posted Apr 17, 2019 at 9:40 am by Peter DG

    From CSOA on April 17: “The CFM essentially reiterated, with very minor changes, its previous proposals, including retention of an open defined benefit plan for all current and new members, untenable wage increases and additional paid time off. The CSOA was unable to accept this proposal.”

    Does anyone know the numbers associated with this and previous CFM (Chicago Federation of
    Musicians) proposals?

  108. Posted Apr 17, 2019 at 10:38 am by Mary

    In response to Terry S. — Actually, Cleveland and LA no longer have a defined benefit plan.

  109. Posted Apr 17, 2019 at 12:54 pm by michael martin

    This spectacle reminds me of the time Beethoven stopped working on his tenth when Archduke Bilgewater, his commissioner, fell into financial distress.

  110. Posted Apr 17, 2019 at 1:30 pm by CZ Guest

    Peter DG – I believe the CFM was asking a pay raise of 12% over the period of 3 years. But that was in the early days of the strike. I don’t know what their latest proposal was. As for the pension, their counter-proposal before the CSOA best and final offer was to keep their Defined Benefit plan open for all new musicians in the future, accruing at the same rate as now. But they also asked that the CSOA fund a Defined Contribution on top of that with any money left over in their pension budget after having fulfilled the federally required funding of the DB plan. In return, they said they would commit to not requesting any increases in the next 20 years in the DB cap from what it is now (which is $81,000 – $83,000 after 35 years of service).

    This counter-proposal was puzzling in a number of ways. First of all, it voluntarily gave up the 7.5% DC guarantee the CSOA was making in their original offer (which was subsequently increased to 8% with last and best offer). Theoretically, if investments were not doing well, there could be nothing in the budget on top of the federally required funding money to contribute to the DC plan.

    Clearly, the musicians didn’t care about this “risk” of nothing added to their DC, but only wanted to hang onto their DB. But everyone who has spent a good number of years under the DB plan would be getting that regardless, even under the total conversion proposal. Even for new people who have not worked under the DB system at all, the most they could ever hope for “guaranteed” under the musicians’ counter-proposal would be the $81,000-$83,000 that is the cap now, as the musicians committee was willing to forego any increases. In 20 years, $83,000 is going to worth only a fraction of what it is now. So why the musicians’ committee thought this was a preferred plan over what the Association was proposing is a mystery.

    The only thing I can think of is that, if the Association had accepted their counter-offer, it would have allowed them to claim that they kept the Defined Benefit pension, and claim victory. And the details of it are sufficiently opaque such that it would not be clear to most of their membership that they were actually worse off than they would have been by accepting the Association offer!

    They could continue the sound byte of “We won our fight to keep our Defined Benefit Pension” for all PR purposes, and save face to the rest of the world.

  111. Posted Apr 17, 2019 at 1:48 pm by Sam

    I have been hesitating to write this comment, as I always do when an orchestra goes on strike demanding more compensation because they are “world class”, or to “attract the highest quality musicians” etc. because I have been in the orchestral world for over 30 years and feel I should support musicians…even if I disagree.

    However, I need to say without any doubt that there are hundreds of musicians capable of performing in these seats who are just waiting for the 30-year members of these orchestras to hand off the baton to younger, eager, and more passionate musicians waiting in the wings.

    We musicians have gotten to a place where we have priced ourselves off the stage with these salaries, inflated our title of “world class” so much that it means nothing, and are actually asking the public to believe that we can’t survive on $167,000 base salary. I just can’t take this seriously anymore.

  112. Posted Apr 17, 2019 at 3:38 pm by Roger

    To those who equate defined benefits with “good” and defined contributions with “bad”, I would offer my own experience with both.

    I worked for 32 years for a company that had one of the best defined benefits plans in the country. I left them in 1997 and worked another 13 years for two companies that had excellent defined contribution plans.

    I retired in 2010 after working for 45 years. My retirement income has come from those sources, plus social security, and it breaks down as follows:
    Defined Benefit Plan – 43%
    Defined Contribution Plan – 30%
    Social Security – 27%

    Now, you might say, “See, you’re getting more from defined benefits than from defined contributions”. Yes, that’s true. But it took me 32 years to earn those defined benefits and only 13 years to accrue what I get from defined contributions. And I experienced the 2008-09 financial meltdown. That’s not to mention that my social security benefits, which roughly equate to my defined contributions, took 45 years!

    A couple of other notes: My defined benefit (pension) has not risen since I left the company in 1997. Social security gives out puny COLAs every few years. My defined contribution portfolio grows with the market. I’ve been drawing from it at an aggressive rate for 9 years, and it’s worth about 15% more than when I retired.

    My conclusion is that I would have been much better off if I’d had access to a defined contribution plan 54 years ago.

  113. Posted Apr 17, 2019 at 7:49 pm by Chuck W.

    The Chicago Symphony musicians strike is now halfway through its SIXTH week. There was a negotiating session yesterday in an attempt to settle this thing. The musicians union made some alterations in its latest offer to management. Management turned it down flat.

    The Board of Trustees for the Chicago Symphony, chaired by Helen Zell, the wife of multibillionaire Sam Zell, is trying to make this union break. It’s not happening.

    I walked on the picket line for about thirty minutes this morning with three longtime members of the orchestra, one of whom is a violin player who is on a leave of absence for the current season because of severe tendonitis in her shoulder which, if not treated properly, can threaten her career. This woman was scheduled to see a doctor today for a cortisone shot. It is unknown at this time whether she will need a corrective surgery to repair tendons in her shoulder.

    When the musicians went on strike, on March 10, their salaries went away and concerts were cancelled. In a retributive act, the symphony’s Board of Trustees also cancelled all the musicians’ health care. If one of them, or one of their spouses or child or other covered family member gets sick now, they’ll need to pay out of pocket. This is management’s effort to make the musicians kowtow to its contract demands, nothing more.

    It’s not working. This is only angering the musicians, to whom the Board does not listen with regard to even the simplest of audience outreach ideas even when a contract is in place. The anger on the part of every musician in this orchestra is seething now, and with the eventual end of this strike with signing of a new contract, whenever that may be and regardless of specific terms on health care and pension (which are the core issues), the resentment will not go away.

    The Board of Trustees is trying to kill this orchestra. They seem to believe that musicians of the caliber playing and putting fannies in the seats for the organization, are a dime a dozen. They know, as you all know, they are not. One theory on the part of the musicians that becomes more apparently factual with each week this strike goes on is that Chairman Zell wants to prove to her husband, the billionaire, that she can “handle the hired help”.

    She can’t, and she won’t, if that is indeed one of her goals. Helen Zell, at the end of the day, if she succeeds in this little power trip she’s on, will commit the professional murder of 100 world class musicians’ careers insofar as they exist as members of the esteemed Chicago Symphony.

    Don’t let her do it. Solidarity forever.

  114. Posted Apr 18, 2019 at 8:19 am by Charles R Brown

    Roger’s mathematical, real-life assessment of DB vs. DC is dead-on. It makes this impasse all the more inexplicable. The strike is crippling the CSO. It will cause irreparable damage if it delays the 2019-2020 season.

  115. Posted Apr 18, 2019 at 11:27 am by Kelly

    In response to Chuck W: Bravo for speaking to a truth that is right there in front of everyone’s face. Too bad so many think they have a simple solution to a troubling crisis the musicians have been battling for much longer than these past six weeks. Why so many people choose to believe the BOT’s flapdaddle mystifies me. Your comments are spot on!

    I stand with the musicians of the world class Chicago Symphony Orchestra. They are the ones who have made the CSO a world class institution, not anyone else.

  116. Posted Apr 18, 2019 at 5:45 pm by Fondly Remembering Solti

    When the supporters of CSO musicians demonize Helen Zell and other CSOA members, they are inflicting harm on the orchestra’s well being. CSO (and all symphony orchestras) rely on donors; ticket sales don’t begin to cover costs.

    If just a few big donors step away, CSO will be in deep financial trouble. Time to cool the rhetoric.

    As to the public’s sympathies in this impasse, the only true gauge of support for CSO musicians will come when the strike ends. How many paying customers will be in the seats of Orchestra Hall when concerts resume? What percentage of subscribers will choose to renew? What will attendance figures look like going forward?

    The number of attendees (and the number of empty seats) will mean more than any declarations on this forum.

  117. Posted Apr 18, 2019 at 8:29 pm by Davide Sagliocca

    Shame on you, CSO musicians. My disabled, wheelchair-bound, multiple sclerosis-affected wife and I had planned the musical journey of a lifetime by flying from London to Chicago next week for a Mahler 1st and Elgar Cello C.to at the Symphony Center. Now, after more than a month since the start of this strike, OUR concert has been cancelled, like many more before.

    Greed is all that comes to mind; sadly, we are deprived of our last chance to get to Chicago and listen to an orchestra that USED to be great, and a treasure for music lovers around the world. Travelled to the U.S. to see the fab NYP and the lovely San Francisco Symphony lately, they don’t let you down, unlike this ghost of the CSO, the ‘stuff of legend that was’. Totally disrespectful towards their supporting ticket buyers in the city and around the world like my wife and myself.

    And, as an Italian, I have to say a few words to Maestro Muti: Riccardo carissimo, ti seguo con passione dai tempi deil’Ifigenia in Tauride a Firenze con la Moser e Winbergh e dello Stabat Mater di Rossini e innumerevoli serate alla Scala nei 20 anni che ho passato a Milano (incluso un bellissimo Ring e un gran Parsifal). Tu, che sei l’onore di noi itaiani, sei ancora convinto che i tuoi orchestrali siano da sostenere nelle loro richieste come quando hai preso parte al picchetto davanti al Symphony Center a marzo? All’Opera di Roma hai fatto la valigia e invece a Chicago tutto bene? Bravo!

    I bet the CSO will toe the line and be back playing the Pini di Roma for you, but that will be too late for us, as we will have left the city by then. And I don’t want to know about any free and pointless concert by some of the CSO in the outskirts of some Apostolic church south of town. We spent a lot money to see and listen to a (once) great orchestra in its original instrument, the Symphony Center, which is like a violin case. Your free concerts are just a phoney.

    So long CSO musicians, one day you’ll realise what damage you’ve caused to your name and history with this pathetic – ill thought out – industrial action. Asked for refund already, going to the much better Chicago Phil Chamber concert at the winery on Sunday Apri 28th instead.

  118. Posted Apr 20, 2019 at 10:49 am by Florence Diehl

    My heart breaks for Davide Sagliocca and his wife, and the many like them whose voices we haven’t yet heard. On behalf of other Chicagoans, I apologize for this egregious letdown.

    These feted, privileged, six-figure salaried players could learn much from their colleagues about their profession’s integrity and purpose, but I do not think many of them are listening. – FD

  119. Posted Apr 22, 2019 at 2:25 pm by H Jowsey

    The Chicago musicians are on the frontlines of the defense of education and culture, as well as the RIGHT to a decent living now and at retirement. Chicago is home to multi-billionaires, whose wealth has been gotten the expense of the living standards of millions of working and middle class people. Three billionaires in the US control MORE wealth than one-half of the entire US population!

    Can these people – or indeed, the taxes which they should have paid, but didn’t – not fund the Orchestra, to put it “on a solid foundation”, as the writer claims? His spurious argument – that a decent living standard cannot be afforded – supports the argument that the working class has to establish Socialism, a concept now embraced by many of the young people.

  120. Posted Apr 23, 2019 at 7:29 pm by Benson

    What do these socialists, who are suddenly the CSO’s biggest fans, have to offer to the musicians? Do they attend concerts? Do they provide donations?

    Or do they just fan the flames of discontent with utterly vacuous rhetoric, casting aspersions on the very people who actually fund the massive gap between ticket sales and operating expenses – the donors, the board.

    CSO musicians would do well to remember who actually pays for their very competitive salaries and benefits, and who merely pays them lip service.

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