Utah symphony musicians sacrifice to keep the music alive
Utah Symphony orchestra musicians have agreed to an unprecedented three-year extension of their contract to help sustain the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera through another difficult year for the state's largest performing arts organization.
Artistically, the organization is enjoying a successful season with music director Thierry Fischer leading the orchestra through an ambitious cycle of all nine Beethoven symphonies, after last summer's popular Deer Valley Music Festival that's led to launching a two-concert winter series in Park City.
But the ongoing recession still threatens the orchestra's financial security, so musicians and management are working together for a long-term solution.
In a contract extension that was effective Dec. 1, orchestra musicians agreed to waive $616,000 of their salaries this season, with a total waiver of $1.1 million over the next three seasons. From 2008 to 2015, when the current extension will expire, the musicians will have endured $3.8 million in salary cuts.
That musicians are willing to work with management is a scenario that was unthinkable in 2007, when the union threatened a walkoff that was averted just one day before the season-opening gala.
Taking a salary cut is a sign of how proud the musicians are of being a 52-week orchestra, said principal trombonist Larry Zalkind, the musician representative on the US | UO board. "That still defines us," said Zalkind, who was one of the lead negotiators for the contract extension. "We look at communities three, four and five times our size who don't support a 52-week orchestra."
Musicians aren't the only ones who have undergone austerity measures. The US | UO's $19.5 million budget was cut by $1.1 million with a staff hiring freeze, $300,000 in staff salary and benefits cuts, and even a $45,000 contribution by Fischer. Those measures were implemented in response to a $950,000 deficit at the end of the 2010-2011 season.
The continued sacrifices of orchestra musicians are being applauded by management and sources in the music world outside of Utah. Word of the union's sacrifice has spread across the country, said Bruce Ridge, chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians.
"The audiences that surround and love the Utah Symphony are fortunate to have this inspiring group of musicians as members of their community," Ridge said in a statement. He termed the contract extension a sign of the musicians' "commitment to the citizens of Utah."
But the financial difficulties aren't over, and others will have to join the cause as well, said Pat Richards, chairman of the US | UO board of trustees, and Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO.
There's some good news, as ticket revenues for the 2011-2012 season were up 4 percent over last season, while last season's Deer Valley Music Festival in Park City was the most successful in its history, with more than 32,000 tickets sold.
Yet that's in contrast to leaner revenue from the Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) tax fund after the sales tax on food was eliminated in 2007. In addition, the US | UO's interest revenue from its endowment have shrunk because of the recession.
And while generous support has been cultivated from donors such as the LDS Church Foundation, the Eccles Foundation and the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, many other past donors haven't been able to contribute as much as in past decades.
"We are working together, but we need a call to action that this economy is not so kind to any of us," Tourangeau said. "All is not fine."
P With guest pianist Kirill Gerstein, the Utah Symphony will celebrate the works of Franz Liszt, the music world's first piano "superstar." The program will be led by guest conductor Gilbert Varga.
When • Friday, Dec. 2, and Saturday, Dec. 3, 8 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Cost and info • $17-$51 ($5 more the day of the show), at 801-355-ARTS or arttix.org.
More • Varga and Toby Tolokan, Utah Symphony vice president of Artistic Planning, will present a free preconcert lecture each night, 45 minutes prior to the start of the performance in the First Tier Room of Abravanel Hall.
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