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CSO Has New Three-Year Contract

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Oct 4, 2004 - 12:00:00 AM in news_2004

   The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has a new three-year contract with its musicians.
   Approved Sunday by the CSO board of trustees and the Cincinnati Musicians Association, Local No.1 of the American Federation of Musicians, the agreement includes a two-year wage freeze, re-negotiation of the orchestra’s healthcare plan and a reduction through attrition in the number of full-time musicians from 99 to 92.
   The players will receive a 2.4 percent wage increase in the third year of the contract and an additional week of vacation, for a total of eight weeks vacation per year.
   Under the re-negotiated health care plan, premium costs will be reduced by 11 percent through higher co-payments and deductibles.
   Effective until September 9, 2007, the agreement will reduce CSO costs by $1.5 million, help the orchestra achieve a balanced budget and take some of the pressure off its endowment.
   The orchestra had been playing without a contract since Sept. 5.
   Approval of the new contract allows the board of trustees to complete the CSO budget and long range plan, said board chairman James B. (Rick) Reynolds.    "We’re undertaking that process now. The main component (the cost of the musicians) is now known."
   Though the CSO ended its 2004 fiscal year debt-free - thanks to an anonymous donor who pledged $1.8 million to erase its entire accumulated deficit - the CSO still needs to grapple with ongoing structural indebtedness by reducing costs and re-building its endowment.
   The CSO endowment stands at $68 million, down from a high of $94 million at the height of the bull market.
   The board will reduce the draw rate on the endowment from the current 8 percent to its normal 6 percent, said CSO president Steven Monder. This will take place over a three-year period concurrent with the new contract. "We are taking it down as far as possible immediately. It gets done six-point-something each year, 6.0 in the third," he said.
   On the horizon is an endowment campaign, "probably in the next 12 months," said Reynolds.
   "We have to pay attention to the economy, but things look good maybe for the next couple of years. That would give us a window in which to launch something."
   Under the terms of the new agreement, the musicians’ minimum weekly salary will be $1,725 in 2004-05, the same in 2005-06, $1,750 in the first 37 weeks of 2006-07, and $1,800 beginning May 7, 2007. These include compensation for recordings, television broadcasts and other media opportunities.
   The number of CSO full-time musicians will be reduced to 95 this season, 92 in 2005-06. Additional musicians will be hired as needed to meet repertoire requirements.
   The reductions will take place by attrition, "as positions come open," Monder said. Which are filled with full-time players and which are left open "will be up to maestro Järvi (CSO music director Paavo Järvi). Artistic considerations will be foremost in implementing this efficiency.
   "We will maintain a world class orchestra."
   Cost-cutting measures implemented earlier this year include cancellation of the summertime "Bach and Beyond" chamber orchestra series at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and elimination of the printed season handbook. Information about season programs and artists is now available online at www.cincinnatisymphony.org.
   On the revenue side of the ledger, ticket prices were increased for the 2004-05 season by an average of 25 percent.
   The CSO is one of several major American orchestras who have had contracts up for renewal this fall. Still talking are four of the traditional "big five," New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago. All have passed their contract renewal deadlines and are running deficits.
   The CSO is entering its fourth year with the charismatic Järvi. On schedule for this season are their first tour of Europe together (Oct. 29-Nov. 10), a return to Carnegie Hall in January and two recording projects for Telarc.
   With the new contract approved, "it’s all a go," said Monder.
(first published in The Cincinnati Post Oct. 4, 2004)