The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s 70th anniversary season has been canceled through Nov. 8, the orchestra’s management announced Monday — the victim, ASO executives said, of a contract impasse.
The announcement sent ripples of despair through Atlanta’s arts and culture community. It angered musicians and focused renewed attention on their lockout from Symphony Hall, the Woodruff Arts Center venue where the ASO performs concerts from autumn through spring.
It also prompted Stanley Romanstein, the ASO’s president and CEO, to defend the move.
“It’s not a decision anybody’s happy with,” he said. “Least of all, me.”
Musicians were just as dismayed. “We had no notion they would cancel, especially large chunks of weeks,” said cellist Joel Dallow, a member of the contract negotiating committee of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players’ Association.
Those who support the orchestra decried the latest development in a drawn-out disagreement.
“This is a world-class orchestra that is out on the streets,” said Sally Kann, who’s performed in the ASO Chorus for 13 years. The chorus is a volunteer organization that accompanies the orchestra at some events. “This is shameful.”
At the heart of the dispute is a stalled negotiation. The two sides — management and musicians — were reputed to be at such odds in contract talks that ASO and Woodruff leaders on Sept. 6 declared a lockout. This Thursday’s debut, featuring a mixture of Strauss and Mozart numbers, was suddenly in question.
They differ on several items, including salary, health care and the process of filling vacant musicians’ spots. Another sore spot is the 88-member orchestra’s size: Musicians agreed to cut the ensemble from 95 players in hard, cost-cutting negotiations in 2012. Now, they want to up that number to 89.
Those proposals would add an extra $2 million in costs to a group that’s already in the red, Romanstein said. The orchestra finished the 2014 fiscal year with a $2 million operating deficit on a budget of $37 million.
“The orchestra needs to be financially sustainable,” he said.
Longtime supporter Paul Marston suggested that the ASO conduct a more diligent search for new donors, or suffer the consequences. Losing an orchestra, even for a temporary period, sends the wrong message to corporations and people looking to relocate, he said.
“If we lose that (ASO), people will not be attracted to Atlanta,” said Marston, who believes the ASO could find $2 million to meet musicians’ requests. “In the scheme of life, in Atlanta, it is not a lot of money.”
The orchestra is part of Atlanta’s image, said Elizabeth Morgan Spiegel, who has attended ASO concerts for more than 30 years.
“Music is important. We need it for various reasons — for enjoyment, for entertainment, for learning,” she said. “This certainly will be a detriment to our city.”
The lockout has repercussions beyond supporters. The ASO announced last week that musicians would not be available to judge auditions for the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, disappointing about 400 hopeful violinists, cellists and other high schoolers eager to take a crack at performing in the region’s premier youth ensemble. That season, too, could be in jeopardy.
The ASO chose Nov. 8 because that allows performers time to prepare for later concerts, Romanstein said. It’s also a benchmark for negotiations. If the sides can come to an agreement before then, he said, the season will begin as soon as possible.
For the latest updates on the ASO’s and musicians’ contract negotiations, visit artsculture.blog.ajc.com.
The current list of concerts that will not be performed includes:
Opening Weekend — Sept. 25, 27 and 28
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 — Oct. 2, 4 and 5
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 — Oct. 9 and 11
Lang Lang — Oct. 15
Ravel — Oct. 16 and 18
POPS! Jason Alexander — Oct. 24-25
Family Halloween — Oct. 25
Grieg — Nov. 6-8
ADVICE FOR TICKET HOLDERS
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is encouraging all ticket holders to keep their tickets until the lockout has ended. Ticket holders can:
- Exchange their tickets to a future ASO concert. A list of future concerts with good seating availability will be mailed out when the lockout is finished.
- Consider the full face value of any unused tickets as a contribution to the ASO.
- Request a full cash refund for any concerts that are canceled.
For more information, visit www.atlantasymphony.org.