Contract Disputed : Outgoing Leaders Say Agreement Raises Questions About Pacific Symphony’s Future

Times Staff Writer

While union and management representatives lauded Pacific Symphony’s new three-year contract earlier this week, the orchestra’s outgoing leaders say a close look at the 32-page document’s fine print and some reading between the lines suggest that serious questions remain about the orchestra’s direction and future.

Keith Clark, the orchestra’s founding conductor and music director who will leave the orchestra at the end of this season, and Bob Peterson, a Clark ally who recently resigned as personnel director of the orchestra, expressed their concerns in separate interviews.

The new contract gives “the non-musical side of the administration significantly more authority over what kind of music is going to be made than the (Pacific Symphony) Assn. originally envisioned,” Clark said.

In particular, there is a clear shift of power away from the music director.


Tenure is granted to an overwhelming majority of orchestra members, and final say on withdrawal of the guaranteed job security rests entirely in the hands of orchestra members. Orchestra members will also have an equal say with the music director on filling any vacancies.

In the past, the music director had the final say in both areas. Clark and his successor will have to live with these concessions for the length of the contract, which expires after the 1991-92 season.

“You can see that Keith is totally excommunicated,” Peterson said.

These changes are “certainly to the detriment of the new music director,” Clark said.


The new contract “completely removed decision-making from the hands of the music director and turned it into a complete democracy,” Peterson said.

Clark admitted to a preference for “strong leadership” in his approach to music but insisted that in the past the orchestra was not run as an autocracy.

Previously, Clark said, decision-making was “always done with guidance by and informal dialogue with the musicians,” and that was how the present orchestra was created.

“Musicians built it,” Clark said. “Bureaucracy didn’t.”

As these prerogatives shift under the new contract from the music director to orchestra members, the authority of Pacific Symphony executive director Louis G. Spisto appears to increase.

“The minute this guy came into his office,” Peterson said, “his mission began.”

Pacific Symphony spokesman W. Andrew Powell said he had no comment regarding any power shift resulting from the new contract.

Another contract provision gives orchestra members the right to choose representatives to serve as non-voting members of all the orchestra board’s standing committees. The only exception is the finance committee. In that case, the committee representative “shall be selected by the executive director from a list of names given to him/her by the orchestra committee. If the executive director feels that none of the names submitted are appropriate, the orchestra committee shall provide another list of names, etc.”


In July, the board’s bylaws were changed to exclude all orchestra employees from the board. At the time, the only member was Clark, who was effectively removed by the board.

The contract also addresses Pacific Symphony’s troubled finances. (The orchestra’s deficit is more than $250,000, according to its most recent report.)

A section entitled “Financial Emergency,” which does not appear in the previous contract, states that if orchestra management “foresees that it will be unable to continue the financial terms of this labor agreement,” the Pacific Symphony Assn. “may seek such protections as are available under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.”

Powell said the clause is “standard in the United States among symphony orchestras.”

The contract’s provisions for wage increases, which Clark characterized as “grossly inadequate,” have done little to attract and retain players to the orchestra, he said.

Instead of substantial increases, the contract provides for a liberalized absence policy for orchestra members. Previously, Pacific Symphony members were excused without question from one major subscription concert, if they chose.

Less than a week before the orchestra’s 1988-89 season opening on Oct. 12, Clark said, only six of the orchestra’s 16 first violinists had committed to performing.

Clark said better-paying jobs accompanying the Moscow Ballet and the Los Angeles Music Center Opera during the first week of the Pacific Symphony season have “cost us a number of musicians,” including a number of principal players.


Under the new contract, Clark said, “if you get a better-paying gig, call up and you’re excused at a time when we should be solidifying the personnel at the orchestra and insisting upon regularity of attendance at rehearsals and performances.”

Powell said the orchestra “will have a full complement of first violins up to the standards that our audiences expect.”