Detroit Symphony Management Suspends Season

At the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where management and players have joined hands to damage that wonderful ensemble, guest conductors and soloists for the rest of the winter and spring are being cut loose. As the musicians' strike reaches week 20, management says it is suspending the remainder of the 2010-11 season (though experienced orchestra strike watchers know how quickly such decisions can be reversed after settlement).

From the Detroit News:

"Though the two sides reached consensus on a 3-year, $36-million framework, representatives from both sides said the biggest disagreements remain over base pay levels; control over scheduling public service work such as teaching, coaching and chamber music; and rules and pay governing Internet broadcasts, video and recordings."

Management has largely portrayed the issue here as players not willing to convert performance services into teaching and community service. But the Detroit News reveals the underlying problem:

"The DSO has lost $19 million since 2008, remains in default on the terms of its $54 million in real-estate debt and is rapidly depleting its endowment to cover the red ink."

A debt of $54 million? Not to take sides here, but what kind of management would take out $54 million in debt for an organization with a history of financial trouble in a city where the fund-raising climate is difficult at best? I wouldn't deny that players need to think more creatively about the role of a symphony orchestra in the community (though the idea that highly trained violinists and clarinetists are a good match for coaching beginners is misguided).

But about the larger issue of financial stewardship: Does it seem to anyone else that musicians, who have no fiduciary responsibilities, are being asked to pay for the mistakes of the board, which does?

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