Muti joins striking CSO musicians on picket line in show of support

Tue Mar 12, 2019 at 12:16 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Riccardo Muti made a statement in support of striking Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians Tuesday morning. Photo: L. Johnson

UPDATED. Riccardo Muti joined striking Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians outside Orchestra Hall Tuesday morning in a show of support for the players on the second day of their strike, as concerts started getting officially cancelled.

A somewhat incongruous festive air reigned as CSO brass players performed in the bright sunshine on a mild Chicago winter day. Muti smiled and joked with musicians as a large phalanx of media gathered and news reporters set up their cameras.

The musicians showed up in force Tuesday for their music director’s appearance. Dozens of players walked an oval picket line on Michigan Avenue in front of Orchestra Hall at a time when they would normally be rehearsing inside the building.

While Muti reaffirmed his support of the musicians, he stepped back a bit from previous statements and stressed more than once that his appearance should not be viewed as an “an attack on the board.”

“I am not against the board,” said Muti. “I would just like them to understand and meet with the musicians, who represent the greatest orchestra in the world.”

“I’m sure that with intelligence and goodwill this will be resolved,” he said. “The whole musical world is listening to what happens in Chicago.”

The CSO’s PR officer distributed an official, more ambivalent Muti statement after the event. It quoted the conductor as saying “I intend my position not to be neutral” and that while he is “not participating in the picket line,” he was there “to listen to what the musicians have to say.”

That may be a distinction without a difference since—while the Italian conductor wasn’t marching with a sign—his appearance with the striking musicians on the picket line made a pretty unambiguous show of solidarity.

Though the event was billed as a press conference, Muti took no questions after his remarks, though the CSO musicians made themselves available to reporters.

Stephen Lester, chair of the negotiating committee, confirmed CSO president Jeff Alexander’s statement Monday that actuaries from both sides would be meeting on Friday to discuss the competing pension plans that are at the heart of the contract dispute. Lester said the brief talks involved in setting up that meeting were the only contact between the opposing sides since the musicians walked out of the contract negotiation meeting Sunday night.

He reiterated that the musicians feel their back is against the wall on this contract impasse “after many years of concessions.”  

“We don’t believe it is a question of lack of resources,” said Lester. “We have to make a stand now.”

Later in the day, Orchestra Hall announced the first official events to be cancelled due to the strike: Muti’s CSO program for Thursday through Saturday and a jazz concert on Friday.

Riccardo Muti holds a score steady as CSO brass players perform outside Orchestra Hall Tuesday morning. Photo: L. Johnson

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4 Responses to “Muti joins striking CSO musicians on picket line in show of support”

  1. Posted Mar 13, 2019 at 3:10 pm by Subscriber

    These guys are worse than the air traffic controllers.

  2. Posted Mar 13, 2019 at 5:27 pm by Burton Sachs

    It is unconscionable that orchestra musicians are asking for a raise. The avg week for an orchestral member is 20 hours. 4 rehearsals at 3 hours each is 12 hours. 4 concerts at 2 hours eac total 8 hours. This leaves time for teaching and practice.

    Who pays for this? the public with rising ticket prices

  3. Posted Mar 14, 2019 at 12:57 pm by Rita

    I truly love the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! They ARE the best orchestra in the US, hands down! I admire their unique talent and respect the cultural gems that they are in the city of Chicago and in the world. As a life-long Chicagoan and musician, I have been an attender since I was a child. I have also been a subscriber many years.

    But lately, I can’t afford to attend nearly as many concerts. Ticket prices have gotten ridiculously high, and the hall is sometimes 30-40% empty when I attend.

    I’m sorry, but these musicians are out of touch with reality. Maybe they didn’t get the memo: times have changed drastically in the world of employer-provided benefits. The fact that these musicians are being offered this excellent salary and these types of benefits at all is virtually unheard of these days. And who gets a defined pension anymore? Maybe police officers and fire fighters? (But they’re literally risking their lives when doing their jobs!) I don’t know of anyone who gets a pension anymore, outside of CEOs and executives in large money-making companies.

    Last I checked, the CSO is a not-for-profit! Is it really so much to ask that these musicians use some of their spare time to, God forbid, keep track of their personal retirement investments? Like the rest of us have to do?

    Frankly, this is a monster that the UNIONS in Chicago have created! The unions have infected every aspect of doing business in the city. It’s no wonder that the CSO administration can’t afford to operate–it has to worry about a group of union musicians, and a union box office, and a union stage crew, etc. It has really gotten out of hand.

    It’s time these musicians wake up and realize how good they already have it, instead of demanding for more and more. I’m afraid their continued demands might soon land them without jobs at all, and then put the future of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in jeopardy. That would be a very sad day for everyone.

  4. Posted Mar 17, 2019 at 10:35 pm by Robert Prindle

    Just a point of information: Defined benefit plans still exist in most of the trades in Chicago: pipefitters, plumbers, electricians, carpenters etc. Collectively this represents about 50,000 plus workers in the Chicago region and about 200,000 residents inclusive of family members. This doesn’t include the retirees (current recipients) who rely on this NOW. In addition, most trade unions have IN ADDITION, a defined contribution plan or a 401. Taking into account government workers the number of Chicagoans inclusive of family members means closer to 500,000+ Chicagoans. It is NOT extraordinary to request it be maintained.

    As an aside, across town is a fine OPERA company with an EXCELLENT orchestra that frequently discounts tickets and could use the support. But they are all union also. And expertly trained and educated (at Their own cost). Try a college ORCHESTRA. They’ll be good and non union.

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