Amid strike, Downtown audience cheers PSO musicians at free concert
October 10, 2016 12:00 AM
Barbara Yahr, former resident conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, leads striking members of the PSO during a concert Sunday at Pittsburgh CAPA, Downtown.
By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Striking members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra found a largely sympathetic audience Sunday afternoon at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, where more than 200 people turned out for a free concert.
Supporters rose into a standing ovation after the nearly 90-minute performance, which featured about 70 PSO musicians and 20 students at the Downtown 6-12 arts magnet school. The musicians arranged the program in lieu of a Heinz Hall concert that was canceled after their strike began Sept. 30.
Contract negotiations with PSO management remain at an impasse over pay, benefits and other concerns, both sides said.
“It’s important to support the musicians because they’re our mentors as kids and they’e the ones we look up to,” said CAPA student Jim Cunningham IV, 17, who played alongside his viola teacher, PSO member Marylene Gingras-Roy.
He called the orchestra a longtime inspiration.
Performing with and for young people moves the professionals, too, “because we see the future of music,” said PSO violist Paul Silver. He said the musicians wanted Sunday “to be just about playing music.”
“There’s a natural link here because our members teach many of the CAPA students privately,” Mr. Silver said.
At least several concertgoers said they fear that concessions sought by PSO management, such as a proposed 15 percent cut in base pay, would diminish the quality of the 120-year-old ensemble.
“I think asking for a 15 percent cut is just too much,” said Kathleen Hagan, 74, of East Allegheny, who called the figure unrealistic. “They’d be better off asking for 5 percent.”
The PSO musicians’ base salary last season was $107,238. That would currently rank 10th among U.S. orchestras, according to figures assembled by the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians.
In an interview later Sunday, PSO president and CEO Melia Tourangeau said she did not think the pay reduction would damage the orchestra’s caliber. She said the organization is facing “a cash crisis that the musicians don’t seem to believe.”
“I don’t believe that the quality will change, and more importantly, we’ll be preserving the jobs of the orchestra members who are here,” she said.
PSO is projecting cash shortfalls of $1.5 million, $2.5 million and $4.5 million for the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, respectively, according to Ms. Tourangeau. She said the pay cut would yield about a quarter of the “new money” that the organization needs. The musicians have called into question PSO management’s gloomy financial forecast.
Further, Ms. Tourangeau said, the local philanthropic community has urged a “structural change” in salaries and benefits to “help correct this ship.” Management has offered to increase musicians’ pay by 2 percent and 3 percent in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively, following the 15 percent cut proposed for 2016-17.
“Let’s be clear: If they want us to come together and figure this out, they’ve got to come back to the table and work with us on this,” Ms. Tourangeau said of union members.
Micah Howard, a bassist who chairs the orchestra committee, said musicians would resume contract discussions if management will reconsider its most recent offer. That plan includes the 15 percent pay cut, among other changes.
In the meantime, Mr. Howard said, PSO musicians are planning to hold other concerts of their own. Most will probably be free, like a performance held Friday night at Carnegie Mellon University in place of a Downtown show, he said.
The canceled concerts at Heinz Hall would have been the first in the PSO’s 2016-17 core classical season. Violinist Pinchas Zukerman and music director Manfred Honeck had been scheduled to appear in the programs. Sunday’s concert at CAPA included works by Dvorak and Mozart.
“We’ve been trying to organize concerts to perform any time we would have performed at Heinz Hall while we’re on strike,” Mr. Howard said.
Staff writer Elizabeth Bloom contributed. Adam Smeltz: 412-263-2625, firstname.lastname@example.org, @asmeltz.
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