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Detroit Symphony Orchestra on strike

DSO Musicians Go On Strike (Detroit Free Press, Oct. 4, 2010)
Trust issues at root of DSO strike set to begin today (Detroit Free Press, Oct. 4, 2010)

The basics are this: The management of the orchestra wants a pay cut of roughly one-third for the musicians with nowhere near a complete restoration at the end of the three-year contract. They're also proposing "work rules" changes that would have the musicians doing much more education and outreach work that they now can do for additional money but would be included in their salary. The musicians have proposed cutbacks, but not as severe as management's. The elephant in the room is, of course, the badly damaged local economy, which means (1) fundraising has been weak with major donors such as the auto companies cutting way back, and (2) income on the orchestra's endowment has drastically underperformed projections. The orchestra is said to be a handful of years from its end if something drastic is not done now.

The season was to start this week; though concerts have not yet been canceled, it's looking more and more likely as time goes on.

I tortured myself by reading the comments on one of the articles last night. Predictably there were many showering abuse on the musicians for not taking their medicine and being thankful they have a job, and such a soft one at that, or that the whole symphony thing was only a concern to very wealthy suburbanites so who cares. There's a lot of myopia in this city where arts and culture are concerned. A lot of people either don't know or don't care that the DSO is one of the ten most prestigious orchestras in the U.S., due in large part to the musicians. That's not something to take lightly.

But it is something that is on the table now, as far as whether Detroit can afford such a thing. A world-class orchestra does certain things, like pay their musicians a hundred thousand dollars a year, or put on several concerts a week in season, or hire renowned soloists like Yo-Yo Ma or Angela Hewitt, or make recordings, or commission new works from noted composers. Can we enjoy an orchestra that's merely "good"? Well, probably, but there are perks we won't see. I don't think anyone can say with certainty that this is the end of the DSO's prestige, yet. But we're at a crossroads, and we're still trying to get on our feet in Detroit, and the whole metro area, on so many different levels. It's easy to predict that we're getting a different orchestra as a result of what's happening now.

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