Symphony Axes 3 More Weeks of Concert Season

San Diego County Arts Writer

The San Diego Symphony lopped off a second three-week block of its winter concert season Monday as stalled contract talks with musicians entered their fifth month.

The entire winter season will be canceled next Monday if "significant progress" toward an agreement is not made by then, symphony President Herbert Solomon has said. No new talks have been scheduled.

Originally, both sides were more than $1.5 million apart. The last fruitful talks were held two weeks ago. At that point, the money differences were reduced to a little less than $500,000, negotiators say.

Last month, the symphony canceled the first three weeks of the season, which was to have begun Oct. 23. Both sides are now using their biggest bargaining chips in the negotiations to put pressure on one another.

Management has not paid the players since Sept. 15, two weeks after the previous contract expired Aug. 31. The musicians' strongest leverage, a symphony official said, is its threat not to play without a contract. And musicians' representatives say they are not playing unless they are paid a reasonable wage.

Although the two sides differ on artistic matters such as auditioning procedures, the chief disagreement is salaries. The symphony has cut its expenses by 15% since last year and is asking the musicians to take an 11% pay cut.

Symphony officials, claiming they are acting as responsible stewards, maintain that last year's 45-week season was more than the orchestra could afford and contributed to its current $877,000 deficit.

Musicians say that the 19 players who were contracted at minimum scale are the lowest paid in the country among major symphony orchestras.

Last year, the minimum scale was $21,240 for a 45-week season. The musicians are holding out for a 45-week season with four weeks of paid vacation.

Management is offering a three-year contract. Not counting the six weeks already canceled, the first year would provide for a 39-week season at an annual minimum scale of $18,997. At the end of the three-year contract, that increases to a 42-week season at a minimum of $22,260.

The symphony's budget for the coming year already projects a $700,000 deficit on top of an unaudited $877,000 deficit from last season.

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