Management for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra agreed on Nov. 11 to a new five-year contract with the ensemble’s 46 musicians. Terms of the deal were announced last Wednesday in a press release.

The agreement comes five months after reports emerged that the orchestra had for the first time in years finished its fiscal year, 2006-2007, with an operational surplus of more than $296,000.

At the end of the previous year, according to federal tax documents, the CSO was in the red by more than $179,000. This was the case despite a sizable pay cut on the part of musicians in 2003 in an effort to keep the orchestra afloat. The 18 percent cut, in effect for three years, has since been restored.

Musicians are getting ahead with the new deal. It calls for a nearly 3 percent salary increase over the next season with the same percentage increase annually through 2011-2012.

New musicians will get signing bonuses. Senior members with more than five years of service will get “seniority bonuses.” Part-timers will gradually get full-time status.

According to a June Post and Courier report, the CSO’s board had raised $500,000 during a fund-raising campaign that became in November 2006. During that time, the CSO received a grant from the Donnelley Foundation, a local private nonprofit, to commission a five-year financial plan.

Since June, the CSO hired a new executive director, Janet Newcomb. Renewed contracts are also in place for Scott Terrell, resident conductor, and music director David Stahl.


On the same day (Nov. 14) of the CSO’s announcement, the Florida Times-Union, the daily newspaper in Jacksonville, reported that that city’s professional orchestra had shut down.

Management for the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra locked out its 52 musicians after the two parties could not agree to the terms of a new five-year labor contract. Last weekend’s performances were canceled and the rest of the season will be determined week to week.

It’s the first time the orchestra has ceased operations in its 57-year history.

No surprise, at the heart of the issue is money.

The old contract expired in August. Negotiations for a new contract began in September. Management drafted a new five-year contract that was nearly $200,000 less than the previous contract signed in 2002. The cut would come from reduced pension contributions. In effect, though, a pay cut.

Management, according to board chairman Jim Van Vleck, is trying to save the orchestra and needs the musicians’ help. The symphony has reported a deficit for eight of the past 10 years, amounting to $3 million of debt. Board members in April called for no more deficits.

Musicians, on the other hand, say they already sacrificed, said representative Kevin Casseday. He told the newspaper they took a pay cut in 2002 and 2004.

“That was all with the understanding that this was going to make the business model work,” he said.

While the musicians feel the board needs to do more fundraising, management feels the musicians need to sacrifice.

According to Van Vleck, there would be no negotiating the bottom line.

Besides, what are the musicians complaining about? They got it made.

“There’s something about a 37-week year and 20-hours a week that doesn’t seem too onerous,” he said.

Base salary for musicians, by the way, is $38,000.