Tuesday, October 01, 2013

No Equivalence

In the wake of Osmo Vänskä's resignation, I'm hoping for a few thundering editorials over this tragedy. I do realize that editorial writers just now are rightly more concerned with the fiasco of House Republicans shutting down the federal government's operations.

Still, I'm sorry to see a few people trying for some kind of equivalence, by saying that management and musicians are equally at fault. They are not. If you were locked out of your job for year because you refused to take a one-third cut in pay, would you be equally to blame for not accepting that giant pay cut? 

If you see such claims, remember, ignorance or ideology is at work; take your pick. It's apparent from the behavior of management that they do not understand what it takes to make a great orchestra.

They're happy to spend $50 million on concert hall renovations while claiming there's no money for musician salaries. And if you read the weasel words on the MO website carefully, you'll see that individuals in management haven't taken anything like the cuts they've asked the musicians to take. It is perfectly clear that management's priorities have nothing to do with making music.


naturgesetz said...

I'm coming late to this discussion, having seen only a few posts by Alex Ross over the past couple of months and the statements he gave links to. But from what I've seen, it seems to me that the "proof' that management is wholly to blame does not prove the case.

The centerpiece of the proof is that they spent $50 million on renovations. That may prove mismanagement at the time that decision was made, and the money could have gone into salaries if it had not been spent on renovations. But the question is always, "What do we do now," not, "What should we have done back then?"

IOW, now, in 2014, does the orchestra actually have the money to pay the musicians what they want? Can it reasonably expect a revenue stream sufficient to pay the musicians what they want? Whether paying the $50 million for renovations was prudent is completely beside the point. That was then, this is now.

Lisa Hirsch said...

As you say, you are very late to this discussion. There's plenty of history out there to be read.

Since management claims that there have been serious budgetary problems for several years, well, yes, it was a bad choice then. Also, you should look at what the MOA wants the orchestra to do: rent out small ensembles to play at bar mitzvahs and such. That is a time-honored chorus-fundraising strategy, but wholly inappropriate for a first-class international ensemble.

Anonymous said...

True....but a recent article about the last MOA proposal included an equal paycut for Henson. That said, this is still a catastrophe of epic proportions, and your perspective is eye-opening. It's important to remember why these musicians aren't just stepping back in. Management seems ill-advised at this point on how to move it forward.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks for that information about the MOA offering a pay cut for Henson - about time. If you happen to have a link, that would be great.

Management could say "we will continue your salaries at the pay levels in the previous contract, and here is our fund-raising plan to put the orchestra back on a good financial footing." People would CHEER and open their checkbooks. But the MOA is so deeply dug into their "things must change" position that they'd rather lose a great conductor and destroy the orchestra itself.

Anonymous said...

From the NY Times yesterday:

"Management’s current proposal for a three-year contract calls for an annual average salary of $104,500, compared to $135,000 in the expired contract. Michael Henson, the orchestra’s president and chief executive, has said he would reduce his compensation package in the same proportion."

Good faith, maybe. But, let's all agree this was a little too late, eh?

Anonymous said...

I'm not too impressed with the argument that those whose irresponsibility created the problem get to say "That's in the past; let's move on" to those whom their bad management victimized.

Anonymous said...

This seems to me a case of res ipsa loquitur ("the thing speaks for itself"). If any management team "suddenly" finds itself in a position in which it is necessary to cut the majority of its employees' salaries by an average of 33%, how can that be anything other than managerial malpractice? Without intimate knowledge of all the details, this seems obvious to me.

Lisa Hirsch said...

As Alex Ross said in his MO blog posting today, it is "a management failure of historic proportions."

CK Dexter Haven said...

The numbers given in the NY Times -- ""Management’s current proposal for a three-year contract calls for an annual average salary of $104,500, compared to $135,000 in the expired contract." -- are wrong and completely over stated.

I'm not the only one that has mentioned this. As someone I know said:
"This article is very misleading. According to ICSOM charts, the last (paid) year of the MSO contract pegged base salary at around $112K. Unless they are counting MD salary (and possibly guest artists, because even Vanska's salary wouldn't be enough), there is NO WAY to get the average salary to $135k - that is just an outright lie."

Lisa Hirsch said...

Base and average salary aren't the same thing by a long shot. The average would include:

1. Principal and associate principal players, who make a lot more than the base.

2. Players who have been there for a much longer time than a new player, for example, a section violinist with 20 years in the orchestra would be paid far over base.

During this year's SFS strike, similar figures about averages were tossed around, with an old base salary of $144K or so and an average player salary around $165K.

I don't know about Minnesota, but SFS's concertmaster has a salary around $515,000; David Herbert (timpani) was making $212,000. I think you can assume that principals make between $190K and Herbert's salary, since he had that job for 18 years.

There are at least 20 players in the principal / associate principal league, making much more than the base and more than a section player with 10 or 20 years of experience.

You can't extrapolate an average from a base, in other words. You have to include the principals.

Jim said...

naturgesetz: "But the question is always, "What do we do now," not, "What should we have done back then?""

How about the administrators step down, board fired, for having made a $50 million mistake, and forgetting about the musicians, and proving they have their priorities all wrong?

That would be the most appropriate "what do we do now." Rather than "Oops, we made a mistake, but trust us we'll do better. Meanwhile here's your pay cut."

Lisa Hirsch said...

That's not far off what I suggested a blog posting or two along.

CK Dexter Haven said...

Lisa, I thought the same as you until I was given the numbers; I wish I could fine the analysis that someone did on how exactly those NY Times numbers are way off. Sadly, I can't find it. So I'm going to try to recreate some of it but with SFS figures instead of the other orchestra original discussed:

1. Sasha Barantchik is one of the highest paid concertmasters in the world. According to the SFS's IRS filings for the 2010 tax year, he made $440k+ of "reportable compensation" w/ an additional $70k of "estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations. Asink's two numbers amount to a nearly identical total, and no one else comes close. By comparison, Jorja Flezzanis made $215k+ in 2008, her last year as CM (no reports are yet since Erynn Keefe's was hired), while Barantchik made $465k+ total in that same year. Same thing for Assoc Concertmaster: Nadya Tichman made $309k in 2010, whereas Sarah Kwok made $211k the same year.

1a. At major orchestras, Concertmasters contracts are always negotiated separately than the other players. Many of the regular contract rules that apply to other players don't necessarily apply to them. For example, they can be hired & fired more or less on the MD's whim (ask Raymond Kobler about that) whereas there's a much more convoluted process for everyone else. I say all this because while it is perhaps mathematically accurate to include their salary, they actually are very different. In many ways, it'd be like including the Music Director's salary in the math.

2. The difference in salary btwn SFS & MO grows as you go down the food chain to Principals, Assoc/Asst Principals & section players. For example, the 3rd highest paid Principal in the MO is Douglas Wright & 2nd highest overall, who was lured back from being Princ in Cleveland even though they gave him tenure. Great player. In 2010, he made $211k. Compare that to Bill Bennett who made $290k. The #5 player at the MO in 2010 was Basil Reeve, Princ. Oboe, who had his job for 39 yrs (he retired 2 yrs later), and his salary was $191k vs. the #5 at SFS in 2010 was Mark Inouye who made $250k (and we all know he hasn't been in that chair for very long) . In other words, the 5th highest paid player in the SFS makes more money than the CM of the MO.

3. There is a rule of thumb I was told about Assoc/Asst Princials -- I believe it's 10-20% above base. Let's say it's as high as 20% -- if MO's ISCOM base pay was $112k, then those titled players are making about $135k which is right at the reported NY Times "average salary."

3. Based on what I've heard and read from some musicians, the bump up in salary above base for someone w/ 20-30 isn't as much as you'd think. The quote I can't find had a number, but I can't remember it at all, so I'm not even going to speculate. That said, I thought the same as you until I heard that number. So bummed I can't find it.

4. What I think is going on is that the NY Times ran with a $135k "average salary" number that isn't actually average salary. It probably includes things like overtime, doubling, allowances, and other cash payments that I can't think of here. But none of those things are salary. Note that in the LA Phil's latest successful contract negotiation, the annual bump in "salary" is officially only about 1% a year, but there is also an undisclosed "housing allowance" that has been added to the contract which bumps the annual increase in cash compensation non-trivially higher. Still, it's not actually "salary."

If I'm right (and unless I create an Excel spreadsheet, I can't prove it), then the NY Times gave out wrong info, accidentally or otherwise. Rather non-trivially wrong info, IMHO. I expect more out of them.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That is all really interesting - I presume those SFO numbers are from the last 990 you could find. I think I should resort to a higher authority on this, which is to say, Drew McManus. He knows this stuff much better than I do.

Yeah, I know Sasha has an enormous total compensation package. The only CM in the country in that $$$ range is Glenn Dicterow, who has either just retired or is in his last year at the NYPO. I think Dicterow is or was paid a bit more than Sasha.

I did not realize Inouye and Bennett had salaries in the $250K+ range. Both worth every penny, of course. Inouye is an incredible player, and Bennett was....

I have heard her only in chamber music, but Jorjia Fleezanus is a fantastic player. Our loss when she moved to MN.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, ah, you know, it is entirely possible that what happened with the Times article is that they swallowed a press release from the MOA whole and didn't bother running the numbers themselves.

Anonymous said...

But now we see the choice was not $104K or $135K. It was $104K or pack up, reshuffle your entire life, and (if you're lucky) get barely your six figures elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

The board and management can't be fired just as the musicians can't be replaced; you would have no orchestra. The board and musicians are stuck with each other. Whether the musicians trust the board or not is irrelevant. The board has made it very clear that there is a spending limit here, therefore the musicians should negotiate for better work rules.

Any emotions I have about sticking it to the man and standing up for the middle class are counter productive, and in the end advice like this might lead to the dissolution of the orchestra. I will not mindlessly advise musicians to stay the course and wait it out, since I see this as a foolish strategy that is not in the best interest of the musicians. They should make a deal soon, even if it means looking for work elsewhere after they return to the stage.

Henry Holland said...

There's a line of thought re: the dissolution of the New York City Opera that goes something like: Steele and the board dissolve the company > reform as a new corporation but still use the NYCO name > bingo! no union contracts for the musicians and others = Win!

I'm cynical enough to believe it will be tried.

CK Dexter Haven said...

I think your last statement about The NY Times getting their numbers from another source without checking them is very highly likely. Disappointing, but consistent w/ the rather sorry major media coverage of the MO situation.

One correction/clarification I need to make about the numbers I gave: Douglas Wright is the highest paid principal and the 3rd highest paid overall in the CM (after their CM Keefe and 1st Assoc CM Kwak).

Incidentally, in 2010 the next highest MO compensation after Wright was Burt Hara at just a few $Thousands below. Mr. Hara is, of course, gone from the MO and now plays Assoc Princ Clarinet w/ the LA Phil. The highest paid principals in LA make $300k-$250k according to their 2010 990's, so I would not be shocked if Mr. Hara is making the same or better $$$ even if he has "just" an Assoc. Princ. title.