By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Orchestra, musicians hit sour note on contract talks
Placeholder Image

Kathy Amos of Gainesville has always been drawn to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra because the music it has produced “does something for my soul.”

“Without the opportunity of not being able to see symphony, experience it live, watch the musicians, then I and a whole lot of other people are going to be the much poorer for it,” said Amos, executive director of Brenau University’s Center for Lifetime Study.

And so, she and others are closely watching contract talks between the symphony and the Musicians’ Union.

A collective bargaining agreement with the union ended Saturday.

“Although the musicians remain employees of the ASO, they will not receive a salary until a new contract is ratified,” according to the symphony’s website. “Health care benefits will continue through the end of September.”

Symphony officials say the core issue is money.

“For the last 12 years, the ASO has operated each year with significant operating deficits with costs outstripping revenues,” officials said. “That is an unsustainable trend.”

The ASO website shows an active schedule, including the entire 2014-15 season, set to start Sept. 25.

Amos is not hopeful for a resolution “anytime soon, not unless enough of the public is aware of what’s going on.”

“Frankly, what the management is proposing is unsustainable,” she said. ”You cannot reduce the numbers of your symphony and still have the sound, nor, frankly, can you play some of the pieces.”

Gladys Wyant, executive director of The Arts Council in Gainesville, said contract talks happen every two years.

“And it is always difficult, because like any other industry, you want to make a decent living — and this is a career for the musicians,” she said.

“The other side of the coin, for management, is they have a huge deficit they’re trying to overcome to keep the symphony in business. So, they have to cut corners any way they can.

“Everybody has to bend a little bit to make it work,” Wyant said.

The symphony, founded in 1945, is funded in several ways, including grants, donations and ticket sales.

It performs primarily at the Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center, but the orchestra also tours, including an annual stop in Gainesville.

“I just talked with the general manager the other day and she was telling me they’re going to have to go up on our price, so it’s going to be difficult for us to continue to present,” Wyant said.

“It just costs a lot of money to run an orchestra.”

Greg Whitmire, chief deputy clerk of courts for Hall County, performs in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. He said he hasn’t followed the situation too closely, but one thing is clear.

“If we don’t have an orchestra, we will not be able to sing,” he said.

But he’s hopeful the issue will be settled.

“The last time this happened, we were able to do our first concert with the orchestra,” Whitmire said. “But I think some of the concerts before us were canceled.”

Regional events