Symphony, musicians miss contract deadline

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The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's management and musicians failed to reach a new contract before their current deal expired Sunday night, and the parties aren't expected to meet again until mid-September.

The two sides did not resume negotiations after a bargaining session extended into Thursday evening.

"I really don't know what's going to happen," said Richard Graef, chairman of the ISO musicians' negotiating committee.

The union has balked at management's push to cut back musicians' 52-week contracts to 38 weeks, among other budgetary moves.

Jackie Groth, the ISO’s interim CEO, and John Thornburgh, chairman of the board of directors, told IBJ on Friday that the organization would continue operating year-round but would use outside artists for some performances, much as it does the last few weeks of its Symphony on the Prairie series every summer.

ISO executives said they want to reduce musicians’ annual pay by 40.8 percent and cut the orchestra's size from 87 positions to 69.

The job cuts, which Groth and Thornburgh hoped would happen largely through retirements and normal attrition, would occur mainly from string instruments. The ISO would use lower-cost contract musicians to replace eliminated positions.

Graef, a French horn player in the orchestra, said Sunday that the musicians’ union on Thursday evening proposed a one-year contract, with the intention that the two sides would use the extra time to agree on a longer-term deal.

That proposal called for more than $1.4 million in savings, the same amount musicians had previously proposed in the first year of a five-year agreement. Graef said management did not respond to the union's proposal by the 11:59 p.m. Saturday deadline set by musicians.

Legally, the two sides could have agreed to extend the 2009 agreement and operate under its terms until reaching a new pact. But there was no such extension.

Negotiators can’t meet again until mid-September, Graef said.

ISO spokeswoman Jessica Di Santo stated in an email:  “The ISO simply cannot continue to function under the last contract. Our management team cleared its summer calendars, offering more than 30 dates in order to work through these difficult issues."

“Unfortunately," she continued, "musician representatives offered far fewer dates, most of them in the last two weeks of August—bumping right up against the expiration of the contract. While the ISO was willing and open to negotiate through the weekend, regrettably the musicians were not. Thursday, Aug. 30, was the last day the musicians' union agreed to be available, and we met.”

Management last week gave the union until Sept. 7 to accept the steeper cuts. Otherwise, the ISO said it would cancel the first two weeks of its season and provide exchanges to anyone who purchased tickets.

Groth said Friday that the ISO issued the ultimatum because it did not want to move forward with concerts without knowing whether there would be musicians on the stage.


  • one more thing
    Jason- And may I respectfully caution you against falling into the same trap as George? He is someone who wrote some things on the internet that you and I find overly harsh and perhaps even counterproductive- this does not make him a "terrible person"!
  • to Jason
    Jason- I expressed my concerns about George's tone earlier today. All I can say now is that I hope you and other IBJ readers do not allow the excesses of passionate supporters to prejudice you against the cause they seek to advance. To be clear, I have written all of the posts that have appeared so far today under the name of "guest." The earlier posts under that name were written by someone else.
  • Response to George Evans
    You are an absolutely terrible person for demonizing someone who volunteers their time. This is clearly a tough situation that could be dealt with better. But all this hate is uncalled for and reflects you immature attitude. I have heard that your people have begun targeting board members through there personal telephone numbers. Seriously? Do you have no moral compass? These are just people just trying to make the best of a difficult situation. If I saw you in person my language would be a lot less courteous
  • The ISO Press Release
    As Guest indicates, the ISO does, indeed have a point of view as expressed in their release. I, too, encourage you to visit isomusicians.com to see the other side of the story. What the ISO press release also doesn't mention is that Detroit was on strike for almost a year and the deal they ended up with is better than the one being offered to the ISO. It also doesn't mention that Detroit, as a city, is in much worse shape than Indianapolis. It also doesn't mention that the Philadelphia orchestra declared bankruptcy ...another situation already conceivably worse than the ISO's. It also doesn't mention that Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York Phil, Baltimore and many others DIDN'T choose to gut their orchestras but instead understood their standing and importance to the community and worked with them accordingly. Above all else, the ISO has not been given the opportunity to rectify the situation...poor management, marketing that borders on rank amateurism and the lack of a full-time, resident music director all need to be rectified before the drastic demands made by the board are enacted. If actually running the symphony correctly doesn't work, then, sure, perhaps more drastic measures are called for. But the fact is, at current spend levels and with the money that remains in the endowment, the symphony could effectively operate another 8 years before it gets to be drastic enough to actually gut a cultural treasure (the orangutans at the zoo are getting $21 million for crying out loud). There are, indeed, two sides to this story...but only one that makes any real sense. The symphony must be given a chance to rectify its management/marketing/engagement problems before the enactment of a worst case scenario. None of the solutions presented by the musicians - the bringing in of an outside turnaround expert from the Kennedy Center in New York, an alternative financial plan developed by a financial consultant, furloughs and other cost cutting measures were summarily rejected by the board without any real consideration. I don't believe that current sponsors and funders would summarily give up on the symphony knowing how poorly managed and marketed it has been since effectively the departure of Maestro Leppard.
  • to Jason
    Jason- The ISO press release does an outstanding job of presenting the point of view of the organization. Please remember, though, that there is another point of view. I encourage you to visit the musicians' website so you can learn their perspective on this conflict as well. Maybe you will agree with them, maybe you won't- but once you appreciate both sides you will certainly have a more informed view. At the very least, you will understand how very complex this situation is. But please consider- When the ISO talks in their press release about how terrible things will be if things continue along their present course, it is important to remember that NO ONE IS PROPOSING THAT. The musicians are suggesting that substantial cuts be made, that permanent management be put into place and that management take counsel from people with a demonstrable history of turning troubled arts organizations around. They also do not seem to explain in their press release why they think it is a good idea to use their limited resources to put on concerts by "guest artists" instead of using those funds to preserve their own wonderful symphony. One more point- both the ISO release and the musicians' site are obviously biased. If you want a neutral view from a recognized authority in the field, I encourage you to read the blogging Drew MacManus has been doing on this subject as adaptistration.com
    • Thornburg theory
      "The beatings will continue until morale improves" is the first thing that comes to mind here.
    • thanks george
      Thanks for being open to my comment, George. As I say, I am on your side in this. I even understood the point you were trying to make with that old newspaper article. But I'm not sure how useful it is to talk about how great things were in the seventies or even to complain about mistakes that management might have made a few years ago. Why not focus instead on where the orchestra is today and where we would like it to be tomorrow? I agree that I would certainly love to see Thornburgh make more of an effort to appreciate the concerns of those who disagree with his approach. It has been reported, for instance, that symphony ticket sales have remained steady even though, to quote Thornburgh, "the public has more and more options for spending their time." I would argue that the reason why the audience has remained so loyal is because they believe it's worth paying to see a performance by a group of world class musicians. If Thornburgh guts the salaries of those musicians and they are replaced by lesser talents, I fear the decline in artistic quality would be quickly followed by a steep drop in ticket sales. That would lead to an even bigger deficit which would, I suppose, be dealt with by cutting salaries yet again which would result in still lesser musicians which would lead to another drop in ticket sales and, well, you get the idea. In short, I fear the Thornburgh approach would put the orchestra in a death spiral from which it could never recover. Businesses simply don't improve the bottom line by cutting the quality of their product. If Thornburgh has responded somewhere to the above argument, I have not seen it.Even if he disagrees with that view, I would still love to see him demonstrate that he understands that the musicians are not being selfish, that they are taking the position they are because they sincerely believe it is in the best long term interests of the organization. If he did, I truly believe it would help lead to a resolution sooner rather than later.
    • Tough Decisions
      The fact is that the management has done everything they can to avoid cuts. The money just doesn't add up right now. If you look at this ISO press release it explains pretty well that there are no other options. By the way, the Board of Directors are volunteers and not paid, so thus have zero incentive to cheat the musicians. http://www.indianapolissymphony.org/PressRelease9_3_12_FINAL.pdf
      • Scheduling Conflict?
        I kept reading in the Star about "scheduling conflicts" keeping two sides from continuing to negotiate. What "scheduling conflicts" and whose "scheduling conflicts?" If this was important to both sides, what really kept them from neogtiating?
      • Guest, You Actually Make Sense.
        I agree with you about the level of discourse and the comportment of same in today's culture, and in that regard given the passions at hand, I wouldn't deny that some apologies may actually be in order...but more for the delivery than the message. Where you'll have a hard time selling me is with the notion that the board's ridiculous demands in any way reflect any consideration whatsoever about the true well-being of the ISO. And the point of the 30-year old article is that what they're attempting to do is eradicate in one ill-conceived fell swoop what has taken generations to build. Given that, and given that the symphony also went through "dire" straits in the '60's and early 70's and managed to survive to become a local, state and some would argue national treasure, that one more year in which a concerted effort is made to engage a real management team, a truly well-intentioned board and the musicians at large toward the SAME goal is not an unreasonable request. Mr. Thornburgh's own numbers don't justify what he and his board faction are proposing. It's the moral equivalent of euthanizing your dog because it has fleas. Thanks for the wake up call. But they've got to answer theirs as well.
      • The City Needs A Rap Group
        If the city is going to sponsor an orchestra, can it also sponsor a hip hop act or rap artist? I prefer this form of music over string, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments and would love it if the city would show some financial support.
      • Let's be constructive
        George- you are on the side of the angels. At the same time, though, you exemplify something I see too much of in modern politics- a tendency to demean and diminish those on the other side of a debate. Demonizing Thornburgh and those on the board who support him (or entertaining fantasies that he will somehow miraculously be replaced by someone who agrees with you and I) will not in any way help to lead to a constructive solution to this crisis. Perhaps we can take for granted that Thornburgh and those who support him care just as much about the future of the orchestra as you and I. Perhaps we can make an effort to understand what "logical reason" they may have for suggesting a plan we find so disagreeable. Perhaps those insights could help lead to an end point we all could live with. It would at the very least be more useful than trying to use a 30+ year old news article as a club against Thornburgh.
        • Public Outcry
          I don't know the proper vehicle at this point, but after reading the comments I think we need to find a way to contact the board of directors, the union, and our city officials to let them know how much the ISO means to the city and its people.
          • ISO At Carnegie Hall
            If the myopic members of the ISO board looking to gut your symphony care to see what they're messing with - and want to see what it means to put a city on the map – read this from the New York Times, April 19, 1978: "INDIANA sent a message to New York last night--an expensive one delivered at Carnegie Hall. Costly and dazzling though the transmission was, the message itself was simple. The Indianapolis Symphony, with John Nelson as music director, is on the move and seeking a place for itself in the nation's musical limelight." The rest of the article can be found here: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50910F93E5513728DDDA00994DC405B888BF1D3 John Thornburgh's brain can be found, ostensibly, in his head which can be found...well...you know where.
            • ISO=I Care
              There is more to a rich life than mere function. There is more to life than the day-to-day. There are many things in our world that add value to our lives which cannot simply be quantified narrowly by money. Quality news programming used to be subsidized by network programming. Now entire news channels must sell advertising and make a profit. Has the quality of journalism improved because of profits? Or has it had the opposite effect? Has the race for profits made journalism more superficial? So too with schools, museums, civic infrastructure, and yes, the arts. They are not frivolous at all. If those things meant nothing, why is the price of real estate higher in cities where there is easy access to those things? There is real value in the arts. I hope the Indianapolis community takes this time to re-evaluate its priorities. It has a major-league symphony orchestra. Will the community stand up and say "we want this?" The ISO has been built up over generations. It is for us, our children, and their children. Let's look after it now before it's taken away.
            • I agree, it's not the whole board
              It's a small faction of the board led by John Thornburgh who have actually worked to keep the majority of the board members at large in the dark. The sane, level headed members need to get those sane and level heads together with community leaders and city representatives and sponsors and they need to accept the musician's one year offer, oust Thornburgh and his flunkies, hire new management and a full-time music director and move on. It is the ONLY viable solution.
            • Most of Board Fine
              I don't know most of the symphiny board, but have met a few on occasion and they seem like wonderful folks I don't think it's fair to denigrate the whole board, as they have given much time and money to the symphony over the years, but I worry that they are being hoodwinked by a few into following along. Stubborn ultimatums don't get the job done.
              • Fair weather fans
                Fact is, if the Colts continue to lose, their fair weather fans wouldn't care if they moved to the Arena League. They've got maybe two years to turn it around before you hear more crickets than fans in the pole barn. Same with the Pacers. Until this year, there were more people at ISO concerts on Saturday nights than Pacers games. This doesn't happen in real cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Philadelphia and Baltimore. In those real cities, fans do understand the importance of having a sports teams (which are supported win or lose) as well as world-class cultural organizations like symphonies and ballet companies and opera companies and public theaters. The point is, we fall all over ourselves for the Colts and Pacers, we fall all over ourselves for a Super Bowl, simply because we're trying to shed our "Indian-noplace" image as a second-tier city. Our fair weather sports fans and the fact that people clearly don't understand the true value of a world-class symphony only mires Indianapolis deeper as a second or third-class city, which is a pity with so many world-class companies here to carry our standard in other areas. Fact of the matter is, people who get it do care. The problem with Indian-noplace is there aren't enough people who get it.
              • ISO = Who Cares?
                I see all of these comments about the money we spend on sport franchises, yet we ignore the ISO... Nobody cares about the ISO except for a select few. That is the problem. Would people care if the Colts moved to an arena league? Of course! Sports and symphonies are frivolous expenditures... both of them! So really it comes down to what do MORE PEOPLE care about, which is obviously NOT the ISO.
                • Why not play under old contract while talks continue?
                  I'm sure the musicians would be more than happy to play the concerts under either the old contract or the union's proposed contract until things can be worked out. There is no good reason for management to go to this extreme. If I were negotiating, I would want to wait till my lawyer could be present, wouldn't you?
                • The Colts Are Moving To The Arena League
                  Imagine if the Colts management decided to cut its payroll to half the salary cap, only play the away games and put Mayor Ballard in as head coach. That's exactly what's happening with your other home team, the Indianapolis Symphony. This would be a ridiculous analogy if it weren't for the fact that it was true.
                • No fault of Irsay or Simon.
                  I'd be remiss in not adding that this situation is not the "fault" of the Irsays or the Simons. They've got businesses to run and if the city is willing to pony up, more power to them. I've seen a lot of criticism of Mssrs. Irsay and Simon for not simply "writing checks and making this go away." But it's not their responsibility, its ours. Both headed a capital campaign to try and raise money for the symphony and were as much a victim of the ISO board and inept management as the ISO musicians and staff. The problem here is a board that has abandoned the mission of the Indianapolis Symphony after having allowed inept management to run amok for 10 years. The current endowment allows affords three years to fix this thing. At the very least, the board needs to give the musicians and a new full time management 1 year under ideal conditions to try and make a difference...something that wasn't afforded them in the past. The board, no matter how myopic, can't possibly object to this for any logical reason.
                • Extortion.
                  The city pumps more money into the Colts in a year than it contributes to the ISO in ten. The pole barn where the Colts play, which a large number of us voted against, could have paid for the entire budget of the ISO for 30 years. The extortion money the CIB pays to keep the Pacers ($10 million per year) would pay the entire salary of the symphony musicians every year. The extortion money we paid for the Super Bowl would sustain the symphony for years. I would rather my tax money go to the symphony than simply adding to the already burgeoning coffers of the Irsays and the Simons. The symphony defines us as much as the Colts and Pacers and the Super Bowl. The symphony contributes a lot more to the city than it is compensated for. Finally, supporting the symphony - unlike the support we're forced to give to the Colts and Pacers - wouldn't be abject extortion. The musicians represent this city, they serve this city and they contribute to this city and its culture and its reputation in ways that contribute to the bottom line and the heart line. With a few notable exceptions among our city's sports stars, the symphony musicians are better citizens, they're better role models and they're better contributors to this city's reputation. It all adds up to a huge injustice. You simply can't support extortion to keep our sports teams here and NOT advocate at least a little legitimate support for our symphony.
                • OPTION
                  Well.....obviously the "Board" of the ISO does not value what the ISO Musicians bring to our community. They do not see their role as the "BOARD" to be more than "budget slashers and schedulers". This means that as citizens we can look forward to a wonderful "REDUCED" 2013 Season consisting of a shortened schedule to consist of such prestigious acts as " The Hoosier Hog Callers", " Bubba's Singin'Saw Stompers" and " Aunt Nellie's Rooster Fugue ". Meanwhile I propose that Indy make some real money by selling the ISO to BAIN CAPITAL.
                • In Response to
                  My comment was in response to Mr. Evans
                • Agreed
                  Here, Here!
                  • Priorities
                    Two points 1, Apparently management expects all the sacrifice to be made by the musicians. The ISO budget is 25 million and musician salarys are less than 1/2 that anount. Where is the sacrifice (40% pay cuts, etc) by management If there were time here I would cite the efficiency experts in Boston in the 60s who reduced the Eroica to an Eb chord. 2, In addition, in the past 30 years this city spent over a BILLION dollars to keep a professional football team in town. Each year, this team costs the taxpayers more that the entire budget of the ISO. Apparently our values are so skewed that a world class symphony is not a priority.
                  • The only REAL Deadline....
                    The only real deadline is for the sane heads on the board of directors, influential members of the symphony society and key sponsors of the ISO to oust John Thornburgh who clearly has no idea what he is doing and actively obstructing any real effort to rectify this situation. By his own numbers, the symphony has 3 years to make a concerted effort to get new management in place (there currently is no management, only part-time interim players not qualified for the roles they're in). His assertion that the model doesn't "work" because they've been drawing on the endowment for a decade is flawed because his "model" doesn't take into account what would have happened over those ten years if management hadn't been so involved with self aggrandizement over running the symphony, if they hadn't been working with a tractor pull promoter and his clueless agency flunkies for the last 6 or 7 years (they've finally changed ad agencies after years of truly bad work and advice), if they hadn't had a succession of part-time, absentee music directors since the departure of Maestro Leppard, if they hadn't mismanaged the investment of endowment dollars, if they hadn't gotten enamored with Joseph Billby's fraudulent $20 million dollar phantom donation - and the list goes on. Given the failure of the board and management to serve the symphony and its mission statement, Thornburgh simply has no grounds to stand on in demanding crippling concessions from the musicians which are in direct contradiction to the mission precepts that he and his fellow board members are sworn to uphold (chief among those is the maintaining of artistic integrity, which can't happen under the board's current inane proposal) . There is a deadline - and that's for the board and the sponsors and key influencers in the symphony organization to fire John Thornburgh. Nothing constructive can happen here until he is gone. If I were the musician's union, I would file a vote of no confidence with those on the board driving this travesty, I would file a vote of no confidence with the current interim management and I would refuse to negotiate until there were qualified, motivated and trustworthy people with whom to negotiate in good faith.

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                    1. why oh why does this state continue to elect these people....do you wonder how much was graft out of the 3.8 billion?

                    2. i too think this is a great idea. I think the vision and need is there as well. But also agree with Wendy that there may be better location in our city to fulfill this vision and help grow the sports of hockey and figure skating in Indy. Also to help further develop other parts of the city that seem often forgotten. Any of the other 6 townships out side of the three northernmost could benefit greatly from a facility and a vision like this. For a vision that sounds philanthropic, the location is appears more about the money. Would really like to see it elsewhere, but still wish the development the best of luck, as we can always use more ice in the city. As for the Ice growth when they return, if schedules can be coordinated with the Fuel, what could be better than to have high level hockey available to go see every weekend of the season? Good luck with the development and the return of the Ice.

                    3. How many parking spaces do they have at Ironworks? Will residents have reserved spaces or will they have to troll for a space among the people that are there at Ruth Chris & Sangiovese?

                    4. You do not get speeding ticket first time you speed and this is not first time Mr.Page has speed. One act should not define a man and this one act won't. He got off with a slap on the wrist. I agree with judge no person was injured by his actions. The state was robbed of money by paying too much rent for a building and that money could have been used for social services. The Page family maybe "generous" with their money but for most part all of it is dirty money that he obtained for sources that are not on the upright. Page is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name. He paid off this judge like he has many other tine and walked away. Does he still have his license. I believe so. Hire him to get you confiscated drug money back. He will. It will cost you.

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